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Q: Japan ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Japan
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: cati-ga
List Price: $7.50
Posted: 25 Oct 2003 01:26 PDT
Expires: 24 Nov 2003 00:26 PST
Question ID: 269567
A defination of the feudal system in Japan?
An explanitation on how the system worked and What was a Shogun,
daimyo, samurai and Zaibatsu?
If possibe a chart that illistrates how the Japanese feudal system
Subject: Re: Japan
Answered By: tehuti-ga on 25 Oct 2003 04:04 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello cati,

The Japanese feudal system was one of strict hierarchy, which in
effect provided people with protection in return for their total
loyalty.  It was based on the “han”.  A han was a very large estate,
which was ruled over by its lord, the daimyo (the word can be
translated as “great name”).  The daimyo, his family and servants
lived in a castle town, surrounded by the daimyo’s land. Similarly to
European feudalism, the common people  who lived and worked on the
daimyo’s estates were considered to be his property. They provided the
labour to produce food and all other goods.  They were not allowed to
travel outside the boundaries of their own han. The common people
formed three classes: artisans (craftsmen), farmers and merchants. 
They were at the bottom of the heap, with the merchants right at the
very bottom, below the farmers, who in turn were below the artisans.
This position of the merchants is interesting, given the later
development of the zaibatsu, which I will discuss below.

The daimyos were warlords. They were served by the samurai, members of
the warrior class, which formed a social level above that of the
common people. A samurai had to be totally loyal to his daimyo,
although there was also a subclass of warriors who served no one
daimyo and were called ronin.

The Emperor was at the very top of the pyramid. He was seen as a
descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and therefore as a god. 
However, during the Heian Period (794-1185), the military class began
to obtain increasing power, gradually superseding the officials of the
Emperor’s court.  In 1192, the Emperor appointed the military leader
Yoritomo Minamoto as the first Shogun.  The title was actually “sei i
tai shogun”, which means “Great Barbarian-Subduing Generalissimo”. 
Minamoto managed to gain military and political control of the whole
country.  For nearly 700 years, the shoguns were the true rulers of
Japan, while the Emperor remained only as a figurehead.  The shogunate
became dynastic, with the title being handed down through members of
one family, until they were overthrown by another family, and so on.

The feudal system became very firmly established during the time of
the shoguns.  The last family of shoguns was the Tokugawa clan, which
ruled from 1600 until 1867.  During their rule, Japan became a closed
society, with no travel being permitted to and from other countries.
The feudal system was rigidly enforced: “… four distinctly separate
social orders were discernible. In descending order of prestige, these
were the warrior, the artisan, the peasant, and the merchant. The
Shogunate issued explicit orders which defined the proper conduct for
each of the classes. One was ideally expected to be born into and die
in the same social position held by one's parents. Adherence to the
doctrine of hierarchy was so strict that families were made to post
their hereditary lineage outside their homes. The family itself, as in
China, was assumed to be the basic unit of society. It functioned
smoothly to the extent that the children were devoted to their parents
(i.e., filial piety). It is extremely significant that, unlike Chinese
society, this familial loyalty was frequently superseded in importance
by the obligation to the bushido [warrior’s] code or the daimyo
(feudal lords).” (Timothy J. Bergen, ref. 3 below).

Finally, in 1868, the Meiji Restoration restored the political power
of the Emperor, and Japanese society began to develop into its current

You can find a diagram showing the pyramid structure of Japanese
feudal society on the web site of Saskatchewan Learning at: 
(Student Handout 4)

As shown in the diagram and mentioned above, the merchant class
(called the chonin) formed the lowest level of the Japanese feudal
pyramid, being just above the outcasts (eta), who were not regarded as
being fully human.  However, during the Tokugawa shogunate, the
merchants began to work to develop their own power, security and
wealth. This formed the basis for the development of the zaibatsu,
which are large industrial and financial corporations, usually
controlled by a single family.  Timothy Bergen comments in ref. 3:
“The Mitsui and Samitomo zaibatsu, two of the largest industrial
conglomerate in Japan, both trace their beginnings to the early
seventeenth century. Mitsui Taketoshi, in fact, renounced his samurai
status to open a pawnshop and sak and soy-sauce brewery in Echigo
during the Geneva era (1615-1623 AD). The merging of samurai and
merchant traditions is clearly evident in the precepts and principles
laid down in the Mitsui kaken, or house constitution, of 1722. The
main body of this code was devoted to regulations preserving
solidarity, harmony, and rectitude, as well as assuring fair dealing
among family members.”

During the Meiji era, the zaibatsu continued to increase in power,
with family members marrying into families of politicians and the
military.  Members of the zaibatsu often took up positions in the
government.  The American occupation of Japan saw an effort to
dissolve the power of the zaibatsu in the period 1946-1949, however,
this program was abandoned when the Americans realised that the
zaibatsus could help the economic reconstruction of Japan and
therefore help guard against Communism.

In recent times, the zaibatsu have recovered much of their former
power under the keiretsu system, where the companies own pieces of
each other to form an interlocking system of cooperation.

The traditional structure of the zaibatsu has been preserved in many
instances.  The zaibatsu can be seen as continuing the feudal
traditions of old Japan.  Here is how Paul Herbig (ref 1) describes
it: “Today the largest Japanese corporations (viewed as contemporary
fiefs) may be considered modern hans—they act and are treated as if
nothing has changed over time. The parent company is the daimyo, the
supreme power, the apex of a pyramid in which production flows from
the bottom up and rewards from the top down—a vertical hierarchy. In
the pyramid are layers of subcontractors whose only function is to
produce a small quantity of goods for the company just above them in
the pyramid. No matter how bad times may get, companies can never
leave their industrial group to seek employment elsewhere. If they
tried, no one would hire them. This provides obvious benefits to the
parent companies in that it provides a group of highly skilled and
motivated captive workers.”

Timothy Bergen (ref 3) makes a similar observation in this comment: 
“The zaibatsu industrial combines have indeed developed very much
along traditional lines. The basic structure of the leading houses had
four levels.
     The zaibatsu family or families; 
     the top holding company, usually termed housha; 
     the major operating subsidiaries; 
     and the underlying corporate network of lesser subsidiaries and
It was not unlike the structure of the Tokugawa shogunate, with its
fiefs and subfiefs. Other feudal
overtones also prevailed in the personal relations within the
combines. The paternalism of the
hierarchic society manifested itself in such things as wage bonuses,
retirements allowances, and so

Even though more modern ideas are starting to penetrate Japanese
corporations, together with more public ownership and management
rather than the dominance of one family, elements of the old feudal
culture can still also be seen in the values that are cultivated among
the employees.  Timothy Bergen (ref. 3) shows this clearly in a
quotation from a present day Japanese businessman, which reflects how
the paternalism of feudal times has survived:
“In our personal relations with people outside our families, we
Japanese follow somewhat the same pattern as inside our families. We
have what is called the oyabun-kobun, which is father-son relations,
all through our business-world, in the political habatsu, the
bureaucracy, and in labor. The oya is the senior, the ko is the
junior. My oya is the senior, the ko is the junior. My oya is the head
of my department, who went to Keio University many years before I did
and who has taken an interest in me since I entered the company. Three
of my classmates entered at the same time, and  we have also become
his ko. As our oya, he looks after our general welfare in all sorts of

I hope this has given you the information you were seeking. Please ask
for further clarification if required.

Sources of information:

1. Japanese Marketing Lecture Series Lecture #12: Keiretsu by
Professor Paul Herbig 

2. Lesson plan: “Feudal Japan: Shogun” developed by Jackie Crandall,
Beachwood School District, Beachwood, Ohio  
(You need Adobe Acrobat reader to view this pdf file. This can be
downloaded from )

3. Educational fascination in Japan by Timothy J. Bergen, Jr., Lock
Haven University of Pennsylvania 

Search strategy
1.	“feudal system” Japan
2.	zaibatsu, feudal

Clarification of Answer by tehuti-ga on 28 Oct 2003 03:44 PST
Cati, I tried posting here yesterday, but it didn't seem to have got
through.  If you want a specific researcher to answer a question, you
can put that researchers name as part of the subject, eg for tehuti
cati-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00
A great complete and well answered question. Please from now on answer
all my Questions, I have one on the International Criminal Court, if u
have time for that, I would love to have u answer it!

Subject: Re: Japan
From: kik-ga on 27 Oct 2003 01:49 PST
Thats really very well answered. Thanks!

What does 'tehuti' mean in Japanese? Oops! I shouldn;t be posting a
question in comments area.

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