Anime Vocab Lesson: Ronin

If you’ve been an anime fan for long enough, chances are you’ve heard the word ronin being thrown around, especially in relation to sword-wielding characters, but what does it really mean? Well, to discuss ronin you first need to know about the warrior class known as samurai: during the feudal period of Japan, the samurai were elite swordsmen who served a master in return for land to cultivate and support a family. Once a samurai lost their master, they were honor-bound to commit seppuku, a ritualistic suicide in which you die by your own sword.

The masterless samurai who chose not to kill themselves were known as Ronin, literally “wave man” (drifter or wanderer). They were stripped of land and not allowed to take up a new trade, and as a result, many became wandering mercenaries. Some ronin lived by the law, protecting wealthy merchants, while others operated as thieves or sold their skills to gangs and brothels.


Anime is rife with examples of ronin. Samurai Champloo features Jin and Mugen, who both embody certain characteristics of the ronin archetype. In Lupin III, Goemon is a wandering swordsman, selling his skills to the highest bidder. But if you want a series that’s all about the ronin lifestyle, look no further than Sarai-ya Goyou (aka House of the Five Leaves), an anime about a samurai who loses his job because of his often timid nature, and must do work as a ronin that he finds ethically questionable in order to support himself and his family.

Which anime ronin would you hire to protect your precious jewels? Are there any we missed? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!


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