Squires were an essential part of many great warrior- and army-based societies. Even the legendary knights of the round table had them, and some of the early legends say that King Arthur was a squire himself. What about Japanese samurai, though; did they have squires or something similar?
Some samurai had squires, but they didn’t call them that. Instead, a samurai’s squire was a kosho, which was roughly a Japanese page boy. Not all samurai had kosho attendants, but many did. Other samurai had servants, as well, but they were less like squires and more like personal assistants.
This article will provide more information about samurai squires – kosho – including where they come from, what tasks they performed for the samurai they served, and more.  It’ll also touch on the specific time in Japanese history when samurai had squires and the difference between kosho (squires) and other samurai servants.
Also see Did Samurai Kill Civilians? to learn more.
Who Were Samurai Squires, and Where Did They Come From?
Samurai squires, kosho, were the attendants and companions of samurai. They typically came from within the samurai clan and were young men who had recently reached the age of maturity and wanted to work their way up through the ranks in the samurai class or were non-military samurai themselves.
What many people don’t understand about samurai is that they weren’t just warriors. A samurai clan included the warriors, of course, but there were also generals, non-military samurai, wives, and children of a group (usually a family) of people. They were an entire caste of people, not just a small, elite group of warriors.
Sons born to samurai parents were samurai, even if they were nowhere near old enough to fight. Similarly, not all samurai in the samurai clan were fighters; instead, some were non-military samurai.
Instead of fighting, these individuals would act as servants or kosho to other samurai.
Kosho vs. Servant/Assistant
The higher-ranking samurai officials were usually the only ones who had genuine kosho. Occasionally, a samurai warrior renowned for his skills in battle would also have a kosho. Everyone else, though, simply had helpers, assistants, or servants.
But what precisely was the difference?
Differences in Duties
The difference between the two primarily lies in the duties the individual samurai’s helper performed for him.
Samurai who had servants and helpers depended on them to cook for them, tend their horses, maintain and help them put on their armor, carry their swords into battle, and manage other day-to-day tasks to which the samurai didn’t have time to attend.
Genuine samurai squires, or kosho, performed many of these same tasks, but they usually did so for lords, generals, or other high-ranking samurai. However, they also had additional duties.
For one thing, some – though not all – of them fought alongside the samurai they were serving. Some even acted as bodyguards and human shields in the event their samurai were injured or fell in battle.
They took on secretarial-like roles, as well, and often delivered messages within the clan or acted as envoys to outside groups. They may have even handled the samurai’s finances and served much as a modern-day butler would during more peaceful times.
Different Reasons for Attending to Samurai
Additionally, kosho were usually young samurai who had just celebrated their genpuku (coming of age ceremony).  They aspired to become samurai warriors and perhaps high-ranking officials within the clan. They rarely received payment for their duties, though the samurai would provide them with a home, food, and a rising path to better things.
Non-kosho assistants usually performed their duties in exchange for pay or some other form of compensation. They may or may not have aspired to become warriors, and most were non-military by choice or necessity (age, illness, etc.).
Also see Did Samurai Have An Honor Code? to learn more.
What Did the Squires of Samurai Do?
The squires of samurai perform various tasks for the samurai they served, including:
- Carrying the samurai’s sword into battle
- Caring for the samurai’s horse
- Polishing, sharpening, and maintaining weapons and armor
- Relaying messages from person to person
- Handling financial-related tasks
- Handling menial tasks (cooking, tending fires, etc.)
- Packing and transporting the samurai’s equipment
- Fighting alongside the samurai (kosho only)
- Protecting/acting as bodyguards for the samurai (kosho only)
Some samurai squires and servants also served the samurai in more intimate ways. Homosexual relationships weren’t uncommon between the samurai and their attendants, and it wasn’t something that others viewed as unnatural or morally wrong. 
Instead, most people treated it as a matter of convenience. When samurai warriors were fighting, they often spent months (or longer) away from their homes and wives. Needing some way to vent their sexual desires, they turned to their attendants.
However, this practice slowly halted sometime during the Edo period, and today, homosexuality is just as taboo in Japan as it is in other parts of the world. It isn’t, however, illegal.
Also see Did Samurai Carry Two Swords? to learn more.
What Time Period Did Samurai Have Squires?
Samurai had squires during the Sengoku, or Warring States period. The time frame for this period was between 1467 (some sources say 1493) and 1573. It was a time of great upheaval in Japan, with multiple samurai clans fighting for control of the country. Kosho and servants were popular then.
History recognizes 1868 as being the official end of the samurai period, but samurai squires and servants fell out of popularity long before that. 
Japan entered a relatively peaceful era during the Edo period, which began in 1603 and lasted until 1867. There were few battles and grabs for power during this timeframe, which made the warrior samurais’ jobs relatively superfluous.
Since there were no samurai fighting, there was also a lesser need for samurai servants. The samurai themselves became the “stewards and chamberlains of the daimyo estates,” so they didn’t necessarily need servants of their own.
Some higher-ranking and wealthier samurai retained their kosho, of course, but they mainly fulfilled secretarial roles and were nothing like squires anymore.
Also see Did Samurai Exist? to learn more.
Some samurai had squires, though they called them kosho instead of “squires.” Other samurai had servants that fulfilled many of the same roles, though.