January 1, 1100 - Japanese Feudalism

By: Konner Smith

​Japanese feudalism was a social, political, and economic system in Japan that lasted from the 11th century until it’s eventual demise in the 19th century. This system was structured very similarly to the system of feudalism in Europe seen earlier. In Japanese Feudalism, the structure or hierarchy of power was determined by the many different social classes, whereby power was reflected and represented through title and social status.

​The first class in this feudal pyramid was the emperor. Although emperors were at the top of the pyramid, they were nothing more than figureheads, or people who had little to no political power. The class below the emperor was the shogun, which was a part of the warrior division of classes in Japan. Although the shogun wasn’t technically the official leader, they held more power than the emperor and served as the true mastermind behind the emperor’s actions. The power and influence from these shoguns was immense and shown through the manipulation of the emperor. The emperor was simply a puppet to the shogun’s game and ambition.

​In addition to the shogun, the rest of this warrior class was made up of diamyo, samurai, and ronin. The daimyo’s responsibility was to assist the shogun and was in charge of the employment of samurai and the protection that those samurai provided to the upper classes of the feudal pyramid. The samurai’s duty was to protect and defend daimyo’s territory and land against rival daimyo. After the diamyo came the ronin, who were also samurai warriors, but did not have a daimyo to work for. This status of being a ronin could occur for multiplereasons. One way a samurai could become a ronin is if their master died. Furthermore, samurai could become a ronin if their master lost power and they were expelled.

​Next in line were the peasants. In feudal Japan, the peasants made up almost 90% of the population and were typically farmers and fishermen. The idea of strength in numbers really came into play when talking about the peasants of feudal Japan. Although they were near the bottom of the pyramid and seemingly played a small role in society, their value was enormous to the continuation of this feudal system and the survival of Japan as well. These peasants were depended on for food and labor. Without this group of people there truly would be no support for the entire system let alone the top of the pyramid. Finally, on the bottom of the feudal pyramid came the artisans and merchants class. This class consisted of craftsmen and traders who worked for a living trying to sell and perfect their trade. Even though these two classes were on the bottom of the pyramid, they still played a role in the spread of culture as represented through art and certain trades. All of these different social classes may appear to be completely different, but in reality they are essential to each other. Without one of these classes, the balance of this system is completely jeopardized. Each class can not exist without the others and the support they provide.

​In many ways this system of feudalism was similar to feudalism in Europe, and was only different from a cultural standpoint. One prime example of the many similarities between the two systems were knights and samurai. These two types of warriors virtually held the same concepts of protecting their leaders and doing everything in their power to serve their country. In the case of Japan, the leader that was protected was the shogun, and in Europe the feudal lord was protected by knights. In addition, they both followed a feudal lord and were split into different territories that fought each other for power.

​Lastly, Japanese feudalism ended abruptly when there was not enough resources to feed this growing population. Japanese feudalism is significant to world history because this system led to a closed country policy and an isolated Japan. Instead of exploring the world around them with the resources that they had, Japan kept to themselves and had minimal contact with outside sources. It is amazing that in a time filled with discovery and exploring, Japan saved and preserved what made their country and culture special and tried not to tarnished what they believed was the ideal lifestyle. Furthermore, it is significant to analyze the effects of this system because of the thought of what the world would be like today if this system didn’t exist and if Japan didn’t isolate themselves because of it. All in all, when the different classes did come together, a highly efficient, effective, and powerful system was formed that would prove itself throughout the test of time in Japan.