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Actors playing samurai and ronin at Kyoto's Eigamura film studio

Jidaigeki (時代劇) is a genre of film, television, video game, and theatre in Japan. Literally meaning "period dramas", it refers to stories that take place before the Meiji Restoration of 1868.[1]

Jidaigeki show the lives of the samurai, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants of their time. Jidaigeki films are sometimes referred to as chambara movies, a word meaning "sword fight", though chambara is more accurately a subgenre of jidaigeki. Jidaigeki rely on an established set of dramatic conventions including the use of makeup, language, catchphrases, and plotlines.


Actor Kotaro Satomi on the set of Mito Kōmon

Many jidaigeki take place in Edo, the military capital. Others show the adventures of people wandering from place to place. The long-running television series Zenigata Heiji and Abarenbō Shōgun typify the Edo jidaigeki. Mito Kōmon, the fictitious story of the travels of the historical daimyō Tokugawa Mitsukuni, and the Zatoichi movies and television series, exemplify the traveling style.

Another way to categorize jidaigeki is according to the social status of the principal characters. The title character of Abarenbō Shōgun is Tokugawa Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa shōgun. The head of the samurai class, Yoshimune assumes the disguise of a low-ranking hatamoto, a samurai in the service of the shogun. Similarly, Mito Kōmon is the retired vice-shogun, masquerading as a merchant.

In contrast, the coin-throwing Heiji of Zenigata Heiji is a commoner, working for the police, while Ichi (the title character of Zatoichi), a blind masseur, is an outcast, as were many disabled people in that era. In fact, masseurs, who typically were at the bottom of the professional food chain, was one of the few vocational positions available to the blind in that era. Gokenin Zankurō is a samurai but, due to his low rank and income, he has to work extra jobs that higher-ranking samurai were unaccustomed to doing.

Whether the lead role is samurai or commoner, jidaigeki usually reach a climax in an immense sword fight just before the end. The title character of a series always wins, whether using a sword or a jutte (the device police used to trap, and sometimes to bend or break, an opponent's sword).


Among the characters in jidaigeki are a parade of people with occupations unfamiliar to modern Japanese and especially to foreigners. Here are a few:


The warrior class included samurai, hereditary members in the military service of a daimyō or the shōgun, who was a samurai himself. Rōnin, samurai without masters, were also warriors, and like samurai, wore two swords, but they were without inherited employment or status. Bugeisha were men, or in some stories women, who aimed to perfect their martial arts, often by traveling throughout the country. Ninja were the secret service, specializing in stealth, the use of disguises, explosives, and concealed weapons.


Craftsmen in jidaigeki included metalworkers (often abducted to mint counterfeit coins), bucket-makers, carpenters and plasterers, and makers of woodblock prints for art or newspapers.


In addition to the owners of businesses large and small, the jidaigeki often portray the employees. The bantō was a high-ranking employee of a merchant, the tedai, a lower helper. Many merchants employed children, or kozō. Itinerant merchants included the organized medicine-sellers, vegetable-growers from outside the city, and peddlers at fairs outside temples and shrines. In contrast, the great brokers in rice, lumber and other commodities operated sprawling shops in the city.


In the highest ranks of the shogunate were the rojū. Below them were the wakadoshiyori, then the various bugyō or administrators, including the jisha bugyō (who administered temples and shrines), the kanjō bugyō (in charge of finances) and the two Edo machi bugyō. These last alternated by month as chief administrator of the city. Their role encompassed mayor, chief of police, and judge, and jury in criminal and civil matters.

Ban'ya, Toei Uzumasa Studios

The machi bugyō oversaw the police and fire departments. The police, or machikata, included the high-ranking yoriki and the dōshin below them; both were samurai. In jidaigeki, they often have full-time patrolmen, okappiki and shitappiki, who were commoners. (Historically, such people were irregulars and were called to service only when necessary.) Zenigata Heiji is an okappiki. The police lived in barracks at Hatchōbori in Edo. They manned ban'ya, the watch-houses, throughout the metropolis. The jitte was the symbol of the police, from yoriki to shitappiki.

A separate police force handled matters involving samurai. The ōmetsuke were high-ranking officials in the shogunate; the metsuke and kachi-metsuke, lower-ranking police who could detain samurai. Yet another police force investigated arson-robberies, while Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples fell under the control of another authority. The feudal nature of Japan made these matters delicate, and jurisdictional disputes are common in jidaigeki.

Edo had three fire departments. The daimyō-bikeshi were in the service of designated daimyōs; the jōbikeshi reported to the shogunate; while the machi-bikeshi, beginning under Yoshimune, were commoners under the administration of the machi-bugyō. Thus, even the fire companies have turf wars in the jidaigeki.

Licensed quarter on a set at Toei Uzumasa Studios, Kyoto

Each daimyō maintained a residence in Edo, where he lived during sankin-kōtai. His wife and children remained there even while he was away from Edo, and the ladies-in-waiting often feature prominently in jidaigeki. A high-ranking samurai, the Edo-garō, oversaw the affairs in the daimyō's absence. In addition to a staff of samurai, the household included ashigaru (lightly armed warrior-servants) and chūgen and yakko (servants often portrayed as flamboyant and crooked). Many daimyōs employed doctors, goten'i; their counterpart in the shogun's household was the okuishi. Count on them to provide the poisons that kill and the potions that heal.


The cast of a wandering jidaigeki encountered a similar setting in each han. There, the karō were the kuni-garō and the jōdai-garō. Tensions between them have provided plots for many stories.


There are several dramatic conventions of jidaigeki:

  • The heroes often wear eye makeup, and the villains often have disarranged hair.
  • A contrived form of old-fashioned Japanese speech, using modern pronunciation and grammar with a high degree of formality and frequent archaisms.
  • In long-running TV series, like Mito Kōmon and Zenigata Heiji, the lead and supporting actors sometimes change. This is done without any rationale for the change of appearance. The new actor simply appears in the place of the old one and the stories continue. This is similar to the James Bond film series or superhero films, in contrast with e.g. the British television program Doctor Who.
  • In a sword fight, when a large number of villains attacks the main character, they never attack at once. The main character first launches into a lengthy preamble detailing the crimes the villains have committed, at the end of which the villains then initiate hostilities. The villains charge singly or in pairs; the rest wait their turn to be dispatched and surround the main character until it is their turn to be easily defeated. Sword fights are the grand finale of the show and are conducted to specially crafted theme music for their duration.
  • On television, even fatal sword cuts draw little blood, and often do not even cut through clothing. Villains are chopped down with deadly, yet completely invisible, sword blows. Despite this, blood or wounding may be shown for arrow wounds or knife cuts.
  • In chambara films, the violence is generally considerably stylized, sometimes to such a degree that sword cuts cause geysers of blood from wounds. Dismemberment and decapitation are common as well.

Proverbs and catchphrases[edit]

Authors of jidaigeki work pithy sayings into the dialog. Here are a few:

  • Tonde hi ni iru natsu no mushi: Like bugs that fly into the fire in the summer (they will come to their destruction)
  • Shishi shinchū no mushi: A wolf in sheep's clothing (literally, a parasite in the lion's body)
  • Kaji to kenka wa Edo no hana: Fires and brawls are the flower of Edo
  • Ōedo happyaku yachō: "The eight hundred neighborhoods of Edo"
  • Tabi wa michizure: "On the road you need a companion"

The authors of series invent their own catchphrases called kimarizerifu that the protagonist says at the same point in nearly every episode. In Mito Kōmon, in which the eponymous character disguises himself as a commoner, in the final sword fight, a sidekick invariably holds up an accessory bearing the shogunal crest and shouts, Hikae! Kono mondokoro ga me ni hairanu ka?: "Back! Can you not see this emblem?", revealing the identity of the hitherto unsuspected old man with a goatee beard. The villains then instantly surrender and beg forgiveness.

Likewise, Tōyama no Kin-san bares his tattooed shoulder and snarls, Kono sakurafubuki o miwasureta to iwasane zo!: "I won't let you say you forgot this cherry-blossom blizzard!" After sentencing the criminals, he proclaims, Kore nite ikken rakuchaku: "Case closed."



Video games[edit]

The following are Japanese video games in the jidaigeki genre.

Although jidaigeki is essentially a Japanese genre, there are also Western games that use the setting to match the same standards. Examples are Ghost of Tsushima, Shogun: Total War series or Japanese campaigns of Age of Empires III.

Anime and manga[edit]

Live action television[edit]

Title Network Notable cast Duration Notes
Zenigata Heiji Hashizo Okawa 1966–84
Akakage, The Masked Ninja Fuji TV Yūzaburō Sakaguchi, Yoshinobu Kaneko, Fuyukichi Maki 1967–1968
Mito Kōmon TBS Eijirō Tōno, Ichirō Nakatani, Ryōtarō Sugi, Kōtarō Satomi 1969~2011
Ōedo Sōsamō TV Tokyo Tetsurō Sagawa, Takeya Nakamura, Ryō Kurosawa 1970–1980
Ōoka Echizen TBS Go Kato, Takashi Yamaguchi, Chiezō Kataoka 1970-99
Daichūshingura NTV Toshiro Mifune, Tetsuya Watari, Masakazu Tamura 1971
Kogarashi Monjirō Fuji TV Atsuo Nakamura 1972
Ronin of the Wilderness NTV Toshiro Mifune 1972-1974
Hissatsu Shikakenin TV Asahi Ken Ogata, Yoichi Hayashi, Sō Yamamura 1972–1973
Kaiketsu Lion-Maru Fuji TV Tetsuya Ushio, Akiko Kujō, Norihiko Umechi, Kiyoshi Kobayashi 1972–1973
Nemuri Kyōshirō Kansai TV Masakazu Tamura 1972
Fuun Lion-Maru Fuji TV Tetsuya Ushio, Kazuo Kamoshida, Masaki Hayasaki 1973
Lone Wolf and Cub NTV Kinnosuke Yorozuya 1973~1976
Hissatsu Shiokinin TV Asahi Tsutomu Yamazaki, Masaya Oki, Makoto Fujita 1973
Oshizamurai Kiichihōgan NTV Tomisaburo Wakayama, Shintaro Katsu 1973-74
Tasukenin Hashiru TV Asahi Takahiro Tamura, Ichirō Nakatani, So Yamamura, Hiroshi Miyauchi 1973–1974
Zatoichi Fuji TV Shintaro Katsu 1974~1979
Onihei Hankachō NET Tetsurō Tamba, Takahiro Tamura, Akihiko Hirata, Ichirō Nakatani 1975
Edo no Kaze Fuji TV Yūzō Kayama, Keiju Kobayashi, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi 1975–1979
Shin Hissatsu Shiokinin TV Asahi Tsutomu Yamazaki, Shōhei Hino, Makoto Fujita 1973
Abarenbō Shōgun TV Asahi Ken Matsudaira, Ichirō Arishima, Saburō Kitajima 1978–2003
The Yagyu Conspiracy FUJI TV Sonny Chiba, Hiroyuki Sanada, Mikio Narita, So Yamamura, Yūki Meguro 1978-79
Akō Rōshi (1979 TV series) TV Asahi Kinnosuke Yorozuya, Masakazu Tamura, Mikio Narita, Ken Matsudaira 1979
Hissatsu Shigotonin TV Asahi Makoto Fujita, Gorō Ibuki, Kunihiko Mitamura 1979–1981
Shadow Warriors Fuji TV Sonny Chiba, Mikio Narita, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shōhei Hino 1980–1985
Tōyama no Kin-san TV Asahi Hideki Takahashi 1982-86
Ōoku TV Asahi Tomisaburō Wakayama, Tetsurō Tamba, Masaya Oki, Masahiko Tsugawa 1983
Sanada Taiheiki NHK Tsunehiko Watase, Tetsurō Tamba, Masao Kusakari 1985
Onihei Hankachō Fuji TV Kichiemon Nakamura, Meiko Kaji 1989–2016
Kenkaku Shōbai Fuji TV Makoto Fujita 1998–2010
Ōoku (2003 TV series) FujiTV 2003
Jin TBS Takao Ōsawa, Miki Nakatani, Haruka Ayase 2009–2011

Prominent directors[edit]

Names are in Western order, with the surname after the given name.

Prominent actors[edit]


Star Wars creator George Lucas has admitted to being inspired significantly by the period works of Akira Kurosawa, and many thematic elements found in Star Wars bear the influence of Chanbara filmmaking. In an interview, Lucas has specifically cited the fact that he became acquainted with the term jidaigeki while in Japan, and it is widely assumed that he took inspiration for the term Jedi from this.[3][4][5]


  1. ^ "時代劇(ジダイゲキ)とは? 意味や使い方".
  2. ^ "1980". Sega Arcade History. Famitsu DC (in Japanese). Enterbrain. 2002. pp. 40–42 (40).
  3. ^ Duggan, Jedi M. "History of the Jedi & The Jedi Religion". Jedi Sanctuary. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-07-19.
  4. ^ "Trivia for Star Wars (1977)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-07-19.
  5. ^ "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed". Star Wars. 2007-05-28. about 90 minutes in. The History Channel.

External links[edit]