The age of the samurai is generally considered to have begun with the start of the Heian Period in 794 AD, and was pretty well winding down by the late 17th century towards the twilight of the Edo Period. During the early years of the samurai age, bandits were a very real danger to owners of small farms. Large landowners would grant physical protection as well as tax exemption to the smaller farmers in exchange for a large percentage of their crop yield. The landowners would then hire bands of fighting men to protect their land. This spurred the growth of a class of expert fighters known as samurai. These warriors worked for the proprietor, but also fought for their own honor, and to gain power for their families . The leaders of these mercenaries were often either officials from the then capital of Kyoto, or the younger sons of noble families. By 1185, Japan had two rulers: the emperor in Kyoto who was a mere figurehead, and a military dictator known as a Shogun who held most of the real power.

During the many wars fought the victorious samurai were often granted land or titles by the emperor, or their lord to honor them for their service. But after the repulsion of the Mongol invasions, the victorious rulers had little land to give away, because there had been no conquest, and therefore no new additional land was gained. What little land remained to be distributed was often given to nobles who had done little or no fighting, as opposed to the actual soldiers themselves. As this trend continued past the wars with the Mongols, soldiers started becoming very dissatisfied, and civil war soon broke out. These civil wars resulted in almost constant warfare between various daimyo (local rulers) that ripped the country apart, and destroyed the power of both the Shogun and the emperor.

By the beginning of the 17th century Japan had once again been united under a single ruler, and gunpowder began to dominate the battlefield. At this time the samurai were the highest class made up of government officials, daimyo, and local administrators of the daimyo, and made up roughly five percent of the population. The new lasting peace left as many as half a million samurai out of work, and unlike the ones who came before them, were forbidden to farm the land. Many served in the government bureaucracy or set up military schools within cities to train future samurai. Others became teachers, and some even renounced their class and learned a trade. This still left a large population of roaming, unemployed, master-less samurai known as ronin, who often caused trouble. As time continued to pass, and European influence over the area increased, the samurai became more of just a title, and by the beginning of the 19th century, the samurai name, if not the ideals they lived by, was pretty well extinguished.

The staple food of a samurai would have been rice. In fact the daily ration for a soldier at war was 900 grams of rice. This food was so important, that it was considered a sign of wealth, and was often the form of tax paid to an overlord. This rice-based diet could be supplemented by potatoes, radishes, beans, cucumbers, chestnuts, apricots, apples, peaches, or oranges. Meat, when eaten at all, would be provided by fish, clams, or whale, wild geese, quail, deer, or even boar in a pinch. The most popular drink among samurai (aside from tea) was known as sake, a type of light alcohol made from rice. When sake was served, drunkenness was not considered rude, and sometimes sobriety was.

Before heading off to war, the typical samurai would eat a meal consisting of dried chestnuts, kelp, and albalone. Sake would complement the meal, and be served in three cups, because three was considered a lucky number. Although not included in this meal, one of the favorite foods of a soldier was the sour plum.

During his life, a samurai would hold many different names, the first of which was his childhood name, granted to him at birth. Within the household these names would be replaced by a nickname. The eldest son of the house would be known as Taro, the second as Jiro, and the third son would be referred to as Saburo. He would hold this birth name until his coming of age ceremony (which in general occured around the fourteenth year) where he received his adult name. His adult name would hold two characters, one that was hereditary to his family, and another, which could be given to him as a gift from some person of dignified position. Later in his life a samurai would often adopt a Buddhist name, and "at least nominally take up a monk's habit and shave his head." Towards the 16th century, some samurai even took on western, Christian names. Other samurai had their names preceded by their title or position if it was lofty enough. When a samurai died, a final name would be granted to him and used by his descendents for ancestral worship.

*The information in this writeup was found at:
"What Life Was Like Among Samurai and Shoguns" by the Editors of Time-Life