The fight for Land, Power, and Wealth in Feudel Japan
The Feudal in Japan
Feudalism in Japan was experienced as the struggle for individuals to accumulate more wealth, for those without and those with land to conquer more land and ultimately those in power and with the power to have more power as indicated in (Hall 16). The medieval Japan was organized with an emperor and the court to settle disputes among themselves. The Japanese administration had become weak, and the wealthy landowners became rowdy as they sorted to grab each other’s land. The emperor was the head of the Japanese political system but did not rule. Fujiwara clan came to rise in the 800s became influential and led for 300 years, it was a wealthy family of nobles as indicated in (Hall 46). They held all the power as they controlled large tracts of land. They started to lose power as their administration collapsed with various daimyo members fighting against each other to protect themselves and their wealth. Daimyo was a group of wealthy private land owners who had strong connection with the Fujiwara clan, which was the ruling power. They hired samurai soldiers to protect them and in case they wanted to attack a fellow daimyo in times they had a misunderstanding.
The origin of the Japanese feudal system
Kamakura shogun family was established at around 1192 to rule the Japanese, who had no defined form of leadership although there were few vassals’ families by then. The emperor was the ultimate leader, but the administration had started to decline due to the cropping up of some domains in the public that were independent of the emperor. The rich persons had vast lands and formed own military for security purpose as shown by Hall (50). The Yoritomo’s were important in the establishment of the feudal system; he introduced the system of regulating soldiers my ensuring they take pledges to protect their master. Yoritomo was seen as the powerful army commander and was mandated to appoint stewards known as jito and constables also known as shugo in times of danger or attack. The Yoritomo had gained more power the feudal nexus in the leadership system and those being ruled. The Yoritomo gained more vassals and in return earned them more power and wealth and power that they had to rule all of the Japanese countries. The feudal system took roots across Japan in the fourth century and was strengthened by the war that was being fought in this era as indicated by Hall in the history of Japan. The war forced more small land owners to seek protection from specific shogun and, as a result, paid their allegiance to that. The shogun that had more vassal was the most powerful and also had a powerful army and conquered another daimyo that wanted to become a shogun. Once a daimyo was defeated he lost his land and wealth and became a peasant or would re-organize and try to get back what they lost.
Between 1338 and 1573, the Ashikaga was the ruling shogun and was the grand center of all the authority but had lost the grip on the leadership. But the emperor during this period remained stable since he played the crucial role of the countries spiritual leader. The Ashikaga had lost his power in the system but delegated some duties to the emperor and ruled in the background by securing some of his interest as explained by Hall in the history of Japan. With the expansion of the feudal system in Japan, the shogun had entrusted power at the regional level to the Shugo, who ruled on behalf of the Shogun as overlords. The local overlords paid tribute to the Shogun, who was the ultimate power delegator stationed at Kyoto. The overload represented the shogun in official function and served his interests and also spread his ideologies of leadership over the locals. The Shugo were not only the political heads in the region they represented but also the political leader.
The Shugo were imposed leaders and military heads and were not skilled in leadership like the shogun. For this reason, the shugo started to lose their grip on power to the new local persons who begun to run some fragment of the regions headed by the shugo as indicated by Sansom, volume 1 of the history of japan. These changes happened in 1500, and this meant that the imperial power had weakened and eroded to the ground.
The end of Shogun leadership was replaced by a new form of power headed by Tokugawa as he headed the kind of government that was centralized. The centralized Tokugawa regime was based on feudal structures of leadership. The Tokugawa government lasted between 1603 and 1867 and had actively weakened the feudal system. The feudal system had regional heads who had equal power as the chief in the central government but represented the shogun, more like a puppet of the leading shogun as explained in (“Feudal Japan – Simply Japan.”…..). Tokugawa deprived the regional leaders the autonomy and had given them limited powers, hence making them less efficient and dismantled the whole system with time.
Feudal Japan hierarch
Japan feudal hierarchy is not different from that of Europe as it assumes the same pyramid shape. Fujiwara clan took over, and the emperor became the real leader and was at the top of the pyramid. After the emperor were several groups of worriers, who formed the army that was used by the government and hired for private missions by the wealthy land owners. Peasants followed and represented the largest group close to 90% of the Japanese population as indicated in (Ratti, and Adele 136). Artisans were the second last as the bottom least at the pyramid was occupied by the merchants. The merchant was not at the lower part for being poor but rather for being rich, in a manner that was assumed not upright. They exploited the society as they sold their goods at high prices and hence were despised by the society. On the other hand, the merchant would gain more wealth that made them influential in the community. Some out of being so wealthy intermarried with the ruling class and became even more dominant. Confucianism suggests that individual in the society are valued proportionately for their contribution. Unlike the merchants who despised for exploiting the community while conducting business, the artisans were valued above the merchants for they made tools that help the society in their daily activities, but still farmers gained the ultimate general admiration for feeding the society as indicated in (Ratti, and Adele 140). Japanese society is the only one that has peasants above farmers, merchants, and artisans as indicated in (Ratti, and Adele 114). They were considered highly resourceful since they provided labor in all sectors of the Japanese feudal economy and paid the tax that was used by the government. Samurai were also classified as the army and were respected for their duty. Male and female could become samurai who is also a striking aspect of samurai soldiers in the medieval era. But male samurai was considered superior to female samurai. Female samurai was above men lower in the pyramid as shown in (Ratti, and Adele 114). Samurai had a code of honor guide their conduct, which was known as Bushido Shoshinshu.
The code of honor for the Japanese samurai was similar to the code of chivalry used by the knight from European nations, who were both supposed to devote their loyalty to their masters. Japanese samurai were supposed to commit suicide once they had lost their master as shown in (Ratti, and Adele 135). The suicidal act was like a sacrifice to cleanse the blame of losing the master from the samurai group. Both knights and samurais code were influenced by a religious entity. The samurai revered Buddhism and the notion of Confucius while the knight observed laws based on the Roman law.
The daimyo was the rich landowner who never paid taxes to the government but also controlled a section of a samurai. Small landowners were called vassal and paid allegiance to the daimyo in return for protection as shown in (Ratti, and Adele 75). The daimyo gained their power from the vassal who paid allegiance to them, the more vassals one had, the more the power and wealth they controlled equal to the respect they got from the society. Some daimyo were military head in their samurai army and were more powerful than ordinary daimyo and were called shogun which mean military head as indicated in (Ratti, and Adele 80). The shogun directed the emperor, and that’s why he was assumed not be the real Japanese ruler. The daimyos always fought each other to be the shogun and the one with the powerful army became the shogun and earned the ultimate power and directed more wealth to himself. 1603 new leadership family came into power, it was known as Tokugawa family, and it had a strong samurai worrier’s team and made the shogun power hereditary for those in the family who inherited the post. Minamoto Yoritomo was the first shogun who ruled the whole samurai soldiers and also the Japanese country. Shogun as hereditary as it was ruled Japan for 700 years by 15 succeeding generations. Although the emperor was a leading puppet used by the Shogun, during a major event he was consulted and asked to officiate. Most of the time the emperor was seen as the link between an ordinary person and the gods. His power as an emperor was based on the fact that he could link the society to the gods, and the post was hereditary for this reason.
The origin of a samurai is not definite, but they were used by the shogun leader as warriors of a military to exert their leadership to the locals and to subdue other leaders like the daimyos who had their organization of the samurai. The samurai was fearsome on during war due to their high skills on using martial art and other weapons like the sword and the bow in combat as indicated in (Ratti, and Adele 186). They were also recognized to the fastest on a horseback and so were used as messengers by their masters. They were so disciplined, and their code devoted them to place their master’s interest before even their life. Yoritomo Minamoto was a samurai when he came to power, they had fought the previous shogun for five years and finally took power. During his error as a shogun he, the samurai became very influential, and Yoritomo came up with guidelines for the samurai to guide their conduct. Mina Moto subdued many opponents who were feared as barbarians and was recognized for his ability to suppress his rivals as indicated in (Ratti, and Adele 196). He was known as “sei-I Tai Shogun meaning the great general who conquered his opponents who were considered to be barbarians.
They were governed by Bushido and observed Buddhism and were expected to kill themselves once they violate any of the bushido code of conduct. They were so disciplined and so other countrymen respected them and gave them a high social status as indicated in (Ratti, and Adele 188). Hara-kiri was the form of suicide that they were expected to perform on themselves. They were supposed to take their sword and cut themselves open, to bleed to death. They were devoted to fighting for their master’s life and wealth, using their life, dying in the act of defending a master was considered an act of honor and the rest of the samurai would be proud of such a worrier. In non-combat times, the samurai never resided in the camps but their lands that they had been awarded by the shogun. During a war, their armor was made of metal and leather that were joined by cords of different colors and headpiece. The shogun made it illegal for anybody else other than the samurai to carry the sword. They carried two types of swords; both were made by the artisan. They had the katana and wakizashi; both were a symbol of their power and once they stormed an area people knew there would be a problem, or they had come to deal with a barbarian as indicated in (Ratti, and Adele 184). The samurai had many unique elements from the ordinary Japanese where they were the only Japanese allowed to ride on a horse, apart from being the only one authorized to carry swords, they are the only persons who had the last name. They were so valued by the shogun and the privileges they enjoyed made them so high in the social ladder. The samurai were expected to show a lot of kindness to the poor, at the same time they were authorized to kill any person of a lower rank than theirs once they got insulted as indicated in (Ratti, and Adele 187). The samurai position were hereditary, and their son took over once their father stopped working for any reason. The samurai boys were trained and prepared for this duty of honor.
The samurais would lose their master once he lost his power as a shogun or the master may relive the samurai off his duty. Such samurai will have no master ad would be referred to as a Ronin samurai. During peaceful times like the Edo shogun period and would become scribes, teachers, the scholar of Confucius writings, and would become martial art trainers. The Ronin Samurai was below the worrier samurai active in the army. Most samurai were not interested in becoming a Ronin Samurai since they lost their power, dignity, and ultimately became poor peasants in the society.
In conclusion, the Japanese’s feudal system was fueled by the urge of big land owners need to gain more land and hence power, in times where the leading institution became weak. The daimyo was wealthy Japanese, who never paid taxes and controlled their army. With time the emperor leadership collapsed and daimyos started to rule by the use of samurai as their soldier. Later the shogun who was the leader of a samurai began to govern until early 1600 when the shogun form of governance lost it legitimacy in the leadership system.
“Feudal Japan – Simply Japan.” Feudal Japan – Simply Japan. Web. 5 Nov. 2015. Retrieved from http://veryasian.weebly.com/index.html
Hall, John Whitney. “Feudalism in Japan—A Reassessment.” Comparative studies in Society and History 5.01 (1962): 15-51.
Hall, John Whitney. The Cambridge History of Japan. Vol. 4. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Ratti, Oscar, and Adele Westbrook. Secrets of the Samurai; A Survey of the Martial Arts of Feudal Japan. Tuttle Publishing, 1991.
Sansom, George Bailey. A History of Japan to 1334. Vol. 1. Stanford University Press, 1958.