A rōnin [roh-nin] was a samurai with no lord or master during the feudal period (1185–1868) of Japan. A samurai became masterless from the death or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master’s favor or privilege. The word rōnin literally means ‘wave man.’ The term originally referred to a serf who had fled or deserted his master’s land, and later came to be used for a samurai who had lost his master. According to the Bushido Shoshinshu (the Code of the Samurai), a samurai was supposed to commit oibara seppuku (also ‘hara kiri’ – ritual suicide) upon the loss of his master. One who chose not to honor the code was ‘on his own’ and was meant to suffer great shame.

The term rōnin is also used in modern Japan for students who fail the entrance examination for the high school or university of their choice, and then decide to spend the next year studying to retake the exam.

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