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A rōnin (浪人) was a name given to masterless samurai during the feudal period of Japan that lasted from 1185 to 1868. A samurai became masterless from the ruin or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master's favor or privilege. The name ronin has its origins in the Nara and Heian periods when it originally referred to serfs that had fled or deserted their master's land.

During the over 250 years of the Edo period, with the shogunate's rigid class system and laws, the number of ronin greatly increased. During previous ages, samurai were easily able to move between masters and even occupations, and marry between classes. However, during the Edo period, samurai were restricted from doing so, and were above all forbidden to become employed by another master without his previous master's permission. Also, low-level samurai, often poor and without choice, were forced to quit or escape their master.

One of the most famous ronin was Miyamoto Musashi. Ronin may be hired as yojimbo.

Traditionally in Japanese culture, ronins were a target of humiliation or satire. Their code requires the samurai to commit suicide or seppuku when they lose their leaders, or else afterwards suffer shame.

The movie The Seven Samurai features ronin.

The term ronin is also used in modern Japan for those who failed the college entrance exam. This use probably derives from the analogy that they have no school to attend as a ronin samurai has no leader to serve.

See also Ronin (movie)

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