Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- For the movie, see Ronin (movie).
A ronin (Japanese: rōnin 浪人: literally, wave man - one who is tossed about, like a wave in the sea) was a masterless samurai during the feudal period of Japan that lasted from 1185 to 1868. A samurai became masterless from the ruin or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master's favor or privilege. The term originated in the Nara and Heian periods, when it originally referred to serfs who had fled or deserted their master's land.
During the over 250 years of the Edo period, with the shogunate's rigid class system and laws, the number of ronin greatly increased. During previous ages, samurai were easily able to move between masters and even between occupations, and marry between classes. However, during the Edo period, samurai were restricted from doing so, and were above all forbidden to become employed by another master without their previous master's permission. Also, low-level samurai, often poor and without choice, were forced to quit or escape their master.
Traditionally in Japanese culture, ronin were generally somewhat disreputable; a target of humiliation or satire. Their code required the samurai to commit seppuku (a form of ritual suicide) when they lost their leaders, or else afterwards suffer shame.
One of the most famous ronin was Miyamoto Musashi, the famed swordsman.
As an indication of the humiliation felt by samurai who became ronin, Lord Redesdale (British attache to Japan shortly after it was opened to the world during the Meiji Restoration) recorded that during his stay in Japan, when he lived two hundred yards from the graves of the Forty-Seven Ronin, a ronin killed himself at the gravesite. He left a note saying that being a ronin, and without means of honourably earning a living, he had tried to enter the service of the Prince of Chōshū, but was refused. That having been refused, he wanted to serve no other master, and being a ronin was hateful, so he had decided to kill himself, and what more fitting place could he find? Lord Redesdale noted that he himself saw the spot only an hour or two later, and the blood was still on the ground.
A ronin could also be that which is referred to as a rurōni which is a samurai who lost his path or is alone a wanderer at best or a rōshi (浪士).
Rurouni Kenshin is a fictonal Japanese anime TV show featuring a wandering Ronin.
"Ronin" as metaphor
The term rōnin is also used in modern Japan for those who have failed the college (or university, high school, etc.) entrance exam. This use probably derives from the analogy that they have no school to attend, as a ronin samurai has no leader to serve. There is also a parallel to the shame of the original ronin, in failing to pass the exam, as well as a darker parallel - the suicide rates of modern-day ronin are significantly higher than their contemporaries.
The official term for such a student is 過年度生 (kanendo-sei), 過年度卒業生 (kanendo-sotugyō-sei), 過年度卒業者 (kanendo-sotugyō-sha), or 既卒者 (kisotsu-sha), yet these terms are no longer common. While they roughly define as "student past year graduation", "ronin" refers only to a person who disqualified on something.
- Metaphoric use of "ronin" in the Japanese language Wikipedia
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