These early ashigaru were invaluable to warrior clans because they added significant manpower at little to no extra cost, but they were totally unreliable. As soon as they'd done their share of looting they would desert, and were just as likely to follow a rival if they thought they had better opportunities on his side.
— Unknown

Ashigaru were infantry employed by the samurai class of feudal Japan, known to be the first type of soldier to use gunpowder weapons in Japan.

While at first the foot soldiers were somewhat unimportant compared with the far more skilled samurai at a warlord's disposal, as time went on, battles grew more strategic. Warfare became less about the one on one fighting the samurai specialized in, and more about group fighting. These peasant soldiers proved most effective when armed with the long yari spear, especially against cavalry.

The fate of Japanese warfare was practically sealed when a Portuguese ship landed on the island of Tanegashima in 1543. While he was disgusted with their manners, the lord of the island noticed their strange weapons they carried with them, and after seeing a demonstration, bought two of their matchlocks and gave them to a swordsmith to recreate. These weapons, while not having as long a range as the local bows, were simple, required little training to use, and were more effective against armor. It was through tanegashima (the type of Japanese matchlock was named after the island) armed ashigaru that Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun.

Battle vs. Yeoman Archer (by Ekreture)

Yeoman=Yx6 Ashigaru=Ax6

It was early morning, and the sun beamed down on the plain, which was lightly dotted with trees. In the center of the plain stood the Yeoman camp, where six Yeoman archers were. While one kept watch, five other wnet about their business. That's when the watchman yelled out to get the other's attention.

Six Ashigaru were marching towards the camp, ordered by their daimyo to eradicate the yeomen archers. When the yeoman on watch yelled out, the foot soldiers started running forwards.

Once in range, the watchman took aim with his bow, pulling back an arrow, the bowstring pressing into his cheek. He fired, hitting an ashigaru square in the chest. The soldier rolled forward, landing on his back, dead. Ax5

The other yeomen then scurried around the camp, grabbing their bows, bucklers, and swords, putting the blades in their belts and the bows and shields in their hands. Meanwhile, the ashigaru ran closer. One got on a knee and discharged his arqebus, killing the watchman. Yx5

Once they had their bows, the yeomen ran back to face the foot soldiers. The ashigaru who had shot the watchman rann to find cover behind a tree and reloaded, however once he turned to face the yeomen and fire, he was shot with an arrow to the face. Ax4

Another ashigaru had ran around the camp without the archers noticing. He carried no tanegeshima, but instead carried his yari spear. Before one could notice him, he let out a warcry and charged at two of the yeomen. He impaled one of them with the spear, sending him flying into a tent, and before the one next to him could react, he pulled out his sword and sliced his throat. Yx3

One of the other yeomen, all of whom were engaging the ashigaru in missile fire, noticed the man who charged down his comrades, and turned to face him, dropping his bow and pulling out his sword. The footman then ran at him with his wakizashi, which he blocked with his buckler, and quickly stuck his arming sword in his stomach. He went to pull it out, but found it was stuck. Cursing under his breath, he ran into a tent and grabbed a quarterstaff. Ax3

Back to the firefight, one of the ashigaru found his gun was misfiring, and throwing it to the side, pulled out his sword and charged, but was met by an arrow to the throat. Another ashigaru saw his fallen comrade while lying in the grass and aiming, and, yelling out a veangeful cry, shot the yeoman who killed him between the eyes. Yx2 Ax2

The yeoman with the quarterstaff quickly ran over to the ashigaru who just shot his fellow and, before he could get up, pulled an arrow out from his quiver and stuck it in the side of his neck. When he looked up, he saw an ashigaru aiming his gun at his face. Ax1

Before the ashigaru could react, the archer jabbed him in the gut with his staff, then lept up and ripped the gun from his hand. The ashigaru tried to fight back, but he was winded, and the yeoman kept at his attacks, throwing him against a tree, where at the base lied the dead ashigaru and his loaded tanegashima.

Rushing at him, he pressed his staff against the footman's throat, trying to choke him to death. When he realized he couldn't push him up, the ashigaru knew he had only one hope left before the life was choked out of him. He moved his foot over to the gun on the floor, and, with all the strength he could muster, took it and fired a shot into the yeoman's stomach. The yeoman flew back, dead, and the ashigaru fell to the base of the tree, exhausted. Yx1

Then he felt a sharp pain rise up. He looked down. An arrow had landed in his left chest. He was too exhausted to do anything, the yeoman's quarterstaff having taken its toll. Another arrow landed in his stomach. Looking up to face his killer, he saw one final yeoman let loose an arrow at his face.

That would be the last thing he ever saw.



Expert's Opinion

While the ashigaru had more advanced technology, the longbow's range and speed had him beat, and the sword and buckler combination was far superior to the lone wakizashi.

To see the original battle, weapons, and quotes, click here.

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