Samurai and ninjas are both integral and easily recognizable features of Japan’s history. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation about them both floating around online and even in some books. What about those sites claiming there were samurai-ninja wars; is there any truth to that?
Samurai didn’t often fight ninjas. Usually, samurai fought other samurai from warring clans. Occasionally, samurai would employ the services of ninjas when needed, and very rarely, such as in the War of Tensho-Iga, samurai clans would fight groups of ninjas. It wasn’t a common occurrence, though.
It’s important to note that when samurai and ninjas did fight, the samurai almost always won. This article will point out the key differences between Japan’s two most famous warriors and go into more detail about whether or not they were enemies. It will also outline the main fighting styles of both samurai and ninjas.
What’s the Difference Between Samurai and Ninjas?
Some of the main differences between samurai and ninjas were in their hierarchical class standings, the way they fought, their methods of training, and the weapons they used. Additionally, the two were granted differing levels of respect and pay for their services. Samurai were also more widespread.
Differences in Social Class Standing
First and foremost, the primary difference between the two warriors was their social class standing. Samurai were born into the nobility; they were the ruling classes of ancient Japan. Although they weren’t as high on the social ladder as the emperor or the shogun, they were still part of the aristocratic class.
Ninjas, on the other hand, were usually commoners or outcasts (“undesirables”). They were mercenaries, and the samurai often looked down on them as second-class citizens.
Differences in the Rate of Pay and Amount of Respect
The discrepancy between the samurai’s and ninjas’ social classes is perhaps directly responsible for the differences in pay and respect each of the warriors received, as well.
Samurai were highly respected and feared; people looked up to them and admired them. They were also usually paid handsomely for their work (though not always in money). While the higher-ranking samurai were paid better than the lower-ranking and less famous samurai, the pay rate remained steady and reasonably good.
Ninjas, on the other hand, were mercenaries. They didn’t receive a standard rate of pay of money or goods. Instead, people paid them only after they’d completed a task or done a particular job. It wasn’t a stable income. They were also less respected than the samurai, and the samurai themselves looked down on ninjas.
Differences in Attire and Weapons
The way art and movies depict samurai and ninjas is pretty accurate. Samurai usually had facial hair and a distinctive chonmage hairstyle. They traditionally wore kimonos; over the kimonos, they donned a two-piece suit called a kamishimo.  The top was slightly flared at the shoulders, and the bottoms were wide trousers.
As for weapons, samurai favored ranged weapons, such as the longbow, throwing spears, and shuriken. They also carried the two ceremonial Japanese swords (at least one of which was usually a katana) and smaller daggers. Later, samurai also used rifles.
Ninjas favored solid, dark clothing (usually dark blue or black) that covered them from head to toe, leaving only their eyes visible through a slit. They had no standard hair or facial hair markers. Like the samurai, they also used shuriken, but other common weapons were designed for closer combat than those of samurai. These weapons included the kunai knife and the kusarigama. 
Differences in Training and Fighting Styles
Training is one area in which samurai and ninjas shared at least one significant similarity – they were both “born into it” and began training from an early age. Some ninjas came to the profession rather than being born into it, but for the most part, both sets of warriors kept their secrets within the family.
The training styles, though, were quite different. Samurai focused on strength, distance, and sword training. Ninja trained for speed and agility, and they learned the more subtle arts of stealth strikes, poisoning, and guerilla warfare.
The two groups also used these different training methods in their fighting styles.
Did Samurai and Ninjas Fight Differently?
Samurai and ninjas fought very differently. For example, the samurai usually fought from horseback and preferred ranged weapons and distance attacks. Contrarily, the best ninjas were those who could kill without ever being seen. The samurai also put a much higher premium on honor than the ninjas.
The samurai followed the bushido code, which meant they fought with a certain amount of honor and followed certain principles on the battlefield. Even when dealing with their enemies, they adhered strictly to the code.
Ninjas, though, adhered to no code of conduct. They were sneaky and often underhanded. They also created an entirely new fighting style to play to their strengths – ninjutsu. Ninjas used their quickness, agility, and stealthiness to attack before anyone even knew they were there.
Were Samurai and Ninjas Enemies?
Samurai and ninjas weren’t natural enemies; in fact, they even sometimes worked together to achieve a common goal. While there are examples of the two groups fighting, overall, they collaborated more than they warred.
That doesn’t mean the two were friendly with one another, however. As mentioned above, samurai were from an entirely different social caste than ninjas, and most samurai looked down on ninjas as being low class and dishonorable.
Samurai also didn’t like the ninjas’ lack of code. Samurai valued their honor above anything else. They’d even commit seppuku – a ritual act of suicide – rather than letting themselves be taken alive and dishonored.
Ninjas had no such honor; they were hired to do a job and got that job done through whatever means necessary. If Edo Japan were an episode of Game of Thrones, the samurai would be the Starks, while ninjas would be the Lannisters (or maybe the Greyjoys).
Samurai and ninjas weren’t well-known for fighting one another, but when they did, samurai usually won. Perhaps that’s why ninjas preferred fighting for them instead.