Usagi grew up in a small village in the Northern Province. Usagi's father, Magistrate Miyamoto, was the head of the village. Very little is told of Usagi's life before he leaves for training.
Miyamoto Usagi was created by Stan Sakai, and was inspired by the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi. This makes his name, Miyamoto Usagi, a simple pun--"Usagi" simply means "rabbit" in Japanese. Yojimbo means "bodyguard", and is not part of his name. Usagi is a Ronin, or masterless samurai, and walks the warrior's path having adventures in a feudal period Japan populated by anthropomorphic animals.
Usagi has been loosely tied into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe since the 1980s resulting in a number of crossovers in both series. He has also appeared in both the original 80's animated series and the more recent animated series that began in 2003 (see below for other media).
Usagi's childhood and training is told through a series of flashbacks across several stories, including:
He was very close with Mariko, his childhood sweetheart. He vied for her attentions, along with other petty rivalries, with his 'friend' Kenichi. When Usagi and Kenichi became of age to begin their samurai training, Usagi's father send them off together to train at the Dogora Fencing school in the city of Sendai.
Along the way Usagi and Kenichi came upon a scene of several Dogora students harassing an old man. The old man turned out to be Katsuichi a practitioner of the sword and a mountain hermit. the Dogora students charge Katsuichi swords drawn, in a flash Katsuichi defeats all four students in a single graceful stroke. Amazed by Katsuichi's powers with the sword, Usagi wanted Katsuichi to be his teacher. Kenichi mocks Katsuichi and Usagi's decision to follow the old man. never the less Usagi chooses to abandon his journey to the Dogora fencing school and follow Katsuichi back to his home. Along the way Katsuichi makes it very clear that he has no desire to train Usagi. Still Usagi stays persistent and waits a whole day outside of Katsuichi's home. The next morning Katsuichi surprises Usagi by sneaking up behind him. It is implied that Katsuichi was testing Usagi's devotion through his determination and refusal to give in and quit. Katsuichi then tells Usagi to fetch him some firewood. And so begins Usagi's training under Katsuichi.
Surpassing his Master
Six months go by and Usagi soon learns that Katsuichi is a very strict teacher. In essence his whole life becomes a lesson, from his daily walks with Katsuichi to his sword training. through this time Usagi grows both spiritually, physically, and mentally. After two years Usagi was finally able to beat Katsuichi in a sparring match. Katsuichi then knew Usagi's training was nearly complete. Usagi had been with Katsuichi for nearly four years, Katsuichi and Usagi traveled to a local tournament held by the Dogora Fencing School, where Usagi would first meet his future lord, Mifune who attended the a tournament in search of possible samurai candidates to serve under him. Usagi defeated all his opponents with considerable ease, however at the final round Usagi was set to face Kenichi, who rose in his year's training at Dogora as it's best student. before the match Kenichi told the head teacher of the Dogora school that if he were to lose he would leave the school in disgrace and return to his village. The battle was a quick one, and Usagi, with minimal effort defeated Kenichi. Upon his victory he was presented, by Lord Mifune himself, a wakizashi (short sword) and a Katana(long sword), as well as a invitation to serve as one of Mifune's personal bodyguards. Usagi would remain with Katsuichi for two more months, as a parting gift Usagi left a stack of firewood and a bucket of water, and left to hone his skills on his own.
Major Story Arcs
Life as a Samurai
Usagi Yojimbo Volume 2 Issue #4-8
Taking his teacher's advice, Usagi secluded himself in the mountains, honing his skills till he felt that he was ready to serve Lord Mifune as a samurai. In that time Usagi was scouted out by Mifune's right hand Gunichi. Gunichi wished to test Usagi's skill and challenged him to a duel. The two agreed to fight using their real blades as opposed to wooden bokken (wooden training/sparring swords). The two began a fierce duel, but were interrupted by several Dogora students who were seeking vengeance upon Usagi for disgracing the school. Usagi and Gunichi team up and defeat the students with ease. The two agree to postpone their duel for later. Gunichi is impressed with Usagi's skill, so much that Gunichi becomes much like an older brother. After a month Usagi left his mountain solitude and visit his home village. Along the way Usagi stops at an inn and is asked by the innkeeper to help take care of a rowdy customer. Usagi agrees, but finds that the customer is Kenichi! Kenichi is too embarrassed to return home due to his failure at the tournament, has been living in a sake bottle for the past couple of months. Kenichi has a breakdown and passes out, Usagi nurtures him back to health. The two have an argument, And Kenichi realizes that his misplaced blame on his failures are his own fault. The two seemingly gain a better understanding for each other and create a friendship they never had as kids. The two soon learn that their home village is being held hostage by a band of brigands. Setting aside what differences they had the two set out to liberate their home. Usagi's father refuses to give into the brigand's demands and a battle breaks out between Usagi's father and the bandits. A childhood friend of both Kenichi and Usagi, Mariko saves Usagi's father from death by interfering. The leader of the bandits decides to take her as well as what little food and money the village has. Before the bandits are able to ride away, Usagi blocks their path. Kenichi then uses arrows to take out several of the bandits as well as cause confusion within their ranks. Seeing the opportunity Usagi and Kenichi's kinsmen strike back at the bandits. In the confusion the bandit leader tries to use Mariko as a hostage to use as leverage against Usagi and Kenichi, however Mariko picks up a nearby sword and kills the leader. The battle ends quickly and Mariko collapses into Usagi's arms. From future events in Usagi Yojimbo it is implied that after that battle Usagi and Mariko have an intimate night together. The next morning Usagi tells his two friends that he will leave to serve Lord Mifune. shortly after Usagi joins Mifune's army and quickly moves up the ranks, thanks to the guidance he receives from Gunichi.
Time goes by and Usagi serves his lord faithfully. Usagi and Mifune gain a bond very much to the level Usagi had with Katsuichi. Usagi is happy with his life. However happiness never lasts forever and the dark times began, with the Shogun not fully establishing his power, Japan was in a constant state of civil war. A dark night would change Usagi's happy life forever. A minor lord of a neighboring province by the name of Hikiji sought the lands that Mifune controlled. Hikiji sent his Neko Ninjas to assassinate lord Mifune. The ninjas nearly succeeded, if it weren't for Usagi and Gunichi. Although Mifune survived the attempted assassination, the ninjas succeeded in killing Mifune's wife and only son. Filled with grief and anger Mifune sought to end Hikiji's aggressive expansion once and for all.
Six months later, there was full scale war between Mifune and Hikiji. The deciding battle was fought on Adachigahara plain. The battle started out well for the Mifune clan, Hikiji's forces were seemingly being crushed before Mifune's tactics. At a deciding moment Mifune chose to enter the battle, despite Gunichi's wishes. Mifune charged in with a masterful strategy which relied heavily upon one of Mifune's retainers Lord Toda. When victory was in sight Mifune signaled Toda's forces, however Toda's forces were not following the battle plan. Lord Toda and his forces turned and sided with Hikiji and began engaging Mifune's forces. In the confusion Mifune's forces were being routed by the combined forces of Hikiji and Toda. Gunnichi seeing no possible outcome of victory, asked Usagi to abandon Lord Mifune with him. Usagi was angered by Gunnichi's thought of abandonment and sought to kill him, however the two lost each other in the sea of enemy forces. Usagi returned to Lord Mifune's side to help his lord fend off the enmities. Mifune asked Usagi where Gunnichi was. Not wanting to upset Mifune with Gunnichi's betrayal, Usagi replied with "fallen sir" at that instant a hail of arrows fell down upon the remaining forces of lord Mifune. Of the many to fall from that barrage, Lord Mifune was one of them. Usagi cut Mifune's head from the lifeless corpse so that the enemy wouldn't display and dishonor his lord's head on a stake. As Usagi tried to wade through the sea of enemy troops, he came face to face with Hikiji himself! Enraged Usagi entered a beserker state and engaged Lord Hikiji in his anger Usagi left an opening and Hikiji dealt a sever blow to Usagi's head, thanks to Usagi's helmet he remained conscious and saved himself from getteng half his face cut off, however Hikiji's blow left a deep enough wound to give him his trademark scar. The head wound knocked Usagi out of his Beserker Rage and he focused on getting out of the fray. After much difficulty Usagi was able to break free and ride into the mountains, where he buried Mifunes head in a place where no one would find it. Usagi rushed back as fast as he could to help out the remainder of Mifune's forces, but found that his comrades had been decimated. Usagi then spent a week hiding in the mud surviving off of grubs and rain water.
After the loss of his lord Usagi was a ronin a "masterless samurai". Usagi then started a warriors pilgrimage where he has made many friends and enemies. He has made friends with the gruff bounty hunter Gen, the beautiful female samurai Tomoe and her lord Noriyuki, the wise priest Sanshobo, the deadly Lone Goat and Kid, the unusual Zato Ino the blind sword pig, the skilled samurai Nakamura Koii, the sly fox thief Kitsune, and lady leader of the neko ninja clan Chizu. Usagi has also revisited old friends and family like Katsuichi. Interestingly on one occasion he has returned home to find that Mariko and Kenichi have started a life together and have a son Jotaro, whom Usagi has learned that he is the boy's father.
Usagi still travels a warriors pilgrimage, doubtless he will meet new friends and enemies, as well as face challenges that will put his skills as a samurai to the test. As Japan changes and brings influences from western cultures, Usagi will learn more about the world and it's people through his warrior's pilgrimage.
As an ally of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Usagi has had cross-overs with them in animation as well as in comics. Usagi appeared twice in the original 1987 TMNT television animation Season 3, Episode 32: "Usagi Yojimbo" and Episode 34: "Usagi Come Home". Although in these episodes, they incorrectly state his name as Usagi Yojimbo, not Miyamoto Usagi.
Usagi has also appeared in the third TMNT series that began in 2003, voiced by Jason Griffith. He appeared with Gen in the Big Brawl story line, Season 2 Episodes 23, 24, 25, & 26. He and Gen make an appearance in the "Christmas Aliens" Season 3, Episode 11. There is a two part story arc called "The Real World" Season 3 Episodes 22 & 23. In part one, the turtles visit Usagi's world, and have an adventure with other characters, including Gen, Tomoe, Noriyuki, and Lord Hebi. Usagi and Gen along with Lord Hebi, and an assassin from Usagi's world named Kojima return for adventures in Season 4, Episode 13: "Samurai Tourist". Finally Gen and Usagi couldn't miss April and Casey's wedding in, Season 7 Episode 11 "Wedding Bells and Bytes", the very last episode of the show. There is a new TMNT show planed, and it is likely Usagi will continue his supporting role. There was a pilot made for a Space Usagi series but it was never picked up.
Usagi has also appeared in two video games. The first was a side scrolling fighting game titled Samurai Warrior: The Battles of Usagi Yojimbo. It was released for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC platforms in 1988. It was also released under the title "Usagi Yojimbo". Usagi encounters friends and foes, and score is kept based on a karma system, tracking good and bad deeds. There was a training option, as well as in game gambling to earn money.
More recently, Usagi appeared as a non-playable opponent in: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus. This was released in 2004 for all the major game platforms. He also makes a brief cameo appearance in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare game released in 2005