Underneath their armor, samurai feudal warriors were just ordinary mortals with their all-too-human weaknesses and shortcomings.

That was what I gathered from seeing “Samurai--Peacekeeping Contributors in Edo Period,” a special exhibition running through Nov. 4 at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Tokyo’s Ryogoku district.

For example, they bore their loneliness and sometimes drank in excess to drown their miseries while serving on posts that took them away from home and family. Once retired, they fussed over how their own funerals should be conducted.

An “emaki” illustrated handscroll tells the story of retainers of the Kurume Domain (present-day Fukuoka Prefecture) stationed in Edo (present-day Tokyo) during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

They are upset by news that their imminent--and much-awaited--return to Kurume has been postponed by order of the government. Eleven of them go on an outraged rampage at a drinking party, knocking down a door and smashing bottles of sake.

I imagine that any salaryman today, whose promised return to the head office was abruptly called off at the last minute, can fully relate to these hapless retainers.

Back then, life expectancy was much shorter than what it is now, and many samurai had their last will prepared after they turned 50.

“Don’t let my children become slackers,” went one will.

Another gave detailed instructions on funeral procedures, such as, “Let my funeral be as simple as possible, preferably just a cremation.”

The last will and testament of ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) caught my attention.

A samurai by birth, Hiroshige specified that his funeral be conducted in keeping with samurai custom.

Instructing that his possessions be sold to pay off his outstanding debts, he concluded wryly to the effect, “Money talks. But it’ll talk even more when it’s time to clean up things after my death.”

Daigo Kosakai, 42, the museum’s curator in charge of this exhibition, explained: “Prices were high in Edo, and samurai from the provinces serving in the capital lived quite frugally.”

According to Kosakai, they tried to eat in as much as possible, buying and cooking cheap food. For entertainment on their days off, they busied themselves by visiting such places of interest as Asakusa and Mukojima.

When they finally received orders to return home, they attended farewell parties every day.

I thought of samurai as stern, forbidding individuals bound by the feudal code of conduct in every aspect of their lives.

In reality, they lived with pretty much the same worries, disappointments and so on as we do today.

Suddenly, I felt a close affinity to them as if they were my colleagues.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 19

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.