Both Asian and Western cultures alike have had a fascination with the samurai class as they existed upon their creation. However, little is often known about the lives of the samurai during the Tokugawa period. It is often misunderstood that the peace the Tokugawa shogunate achieved cost the samurai class a great deal in terms of finances and security. It stands to reason that during times of peace the samurai could hardly benefit as they were not needed as direly as during the times of war that preceded Ieyasu Tokugawa’s appointment as shogun. However, what the samurai might have lost in the financial department, they gained and contributed in others.
Life as a samurai in Tokugawa Japan for a samurai often meant holding a position with daimyo as an advisor, member of personal army, or personal guard. Samurai employed by the shogun often worked as law enforcement officers, or other higher up positions in bureaucracy. These bureaucratic samurai often found themselves fairly well off, if not downright rich (for those with high positions with daimyo or prominent positions with the shogun). The worst off of the samurai class were the group that were called “Ronin.” These samurai were masterless (without a daimyo), and often roamed about Japan seeking employment where they could find it. Sometimes this employment meant acting as a hired hand on a farm or teaching, but it could also be as notoriously traditional as offering one’s services to the highest daimyo bidder.
The lack of money flowing into samurai hands turned some samurai into merchants, some farmers, but most scholars. Ieyasu Tokugawa encouraged the samurai of the time to take advantage of the peace and become educated. Many of the greatest scholars of the time happened to be samurai, many turned to poetry and other writing, art, and instructing others in the martial way of life. It may be due to this advancement of learning, and samurai interest in various arts that made the Tokugawa era usher in a great deal of new cultural art forms; some of which dealt with the former glory the samurai class had experienced during wartime.
In short, the samurai class suffered more than any other during the Tokugawa peace period. They struggled to remain in the social class that had once served them so well, and to maintain financial security in order to live by the way of Bushido. However, from this struggle also emerged some of the finest written works, some of the most beautiful artwork, and some of the most intriguing tales of romance and valor.