European knights- Japanese samurai. Two groups from similar time frames, both of whom made their marks on history. Yet only history buffs and renaissance faire reenactors remember the knights, while everyone and his brother and his brother’s cat and that cat’s scratching post mystifies either the samurai or some aspect thereof. Why?
After a long and genuinely exhaustive study that totally didn’t involve browsing pictures on the internet and ignoring anything vaguely text-laden, I’ve reached a conclusion: the samurai had style. European knights always showed their status through their equipment, but usually that just meant more plate armor on the knight. If the knight had enough, he’d put more on his horse. What did the samurai invest in? Fancy scabbards, kanji engraved into their katana, war masks that still scare me a little after all the instances I’ve seen, and some of the most ornate non-ceremonial armor ever devised.
And style is memorable, extraordinarily so, hence why everyone puts the ninja on a pedestal over both. Fun fact: most ninja wouldn’t have deliberately engaged in conventional blade-on-blade combat with their opponents. Their mission was to kill someone so their clan gets paid, not go seeking glory and honor on the open field. That’s an extremely knightly/samurai thing to do, and the ninja were all about pragmatism from what I’ve read.
Back to the topic arbitrarily at hand, even though many people have suggested that samurai would fail utterly against their European contemporaries, this idea of samurai as the ultimate front-line medieval warriors persists. I’m sure the real reasons are as complex and varied as the cultures that propagate them, but for my part it’s a style thing; the samurai knew how to present themselves, and as an author I greatly respect that.