#Thread My talk last night with @OutlawHistorian has inspired me, so-- here is a #japanesehistory thread about ashigaru, as an introduction for those who haven't heard the term before.

This is a beloved topic of mine, because as you'll see, it's a grey area in Japanese history.
So. "Samurai" is a catch-all term used more in the west than in Japanese. These terms vary, but the short answer is that samurai were low ranking members of the warrior caste, and warriors in general were called bushi. All samurai are bushi, but only some bushi are samurai.
Ashigaru 足軽 is spelled "foot-light." Different clans and regions used terms differently, of course, but generally speaking, ashigaru are a gray area. They were part of feudal armies and part of lordly retinues in the Edo period (1600-1868), but were they bushi?

In general, ashigaru are of very modest rank-- they're the infantry grunts. Sometimes, they're peasants by origin. Their stipends are small, their clothing and weapons and armor are not particularly fancy, and in general, they're the bottom of the bushi hierarchy.
Are they bushi? It depends on who you ask. Rather famously, in the Edo period, one ashigaru by birth, Harada Sanosuke, was once insulted by more highborn bushi with "you're so poor you're not a real bushi, you don't even know how to commit seppuku properly."
Ashigaru I've studied, who served the Date clan of Sendai, were solidly working class, more peasant or townsman than soldier. They had stipends, but they were pitifully insufficient. They would recognize the modern gig economy, I think, because they had any number of side jobs.
For instance, 3 groups of ashigaru were assigned as permanent security detachments on key roads and bridges out of Sendai. The one at Imaichi, on the road between Sendai and Shiogama, made its living not by its security duties, but by selling okoshi (pastries) to travelers.
And yet, they were still warriors....-ish. My PhD advisor, Dick Smethurst, calls them "the privates in the feudal army." And in fact, he wrote a book about arguably the most famous ashigaru in modern Japanese history:

Prime Minister Takahashi Korekiyo.
Takahashi was ashigaru by adoption, and served the house of Date; he was one of its first study-abroad students, having gone to San Francisco just before the Boshin War. He went on to become prime minister and finance minister; his policies brought Japan out of the Depression.
He pissed off the IJA so badly with his internationalist approach to politics and his opposition to unquestioned military power, that rogue soldiers of the 1st Imperial Guards Division had him rather high on their hitlist, in the February 26 Incident of 1936.
But regardless of how high he rose in adulthood, his story began as an ashigaru-- as a hereditary private in the Date clan's feudal army.


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