Occasionally, a samurai might be referred to by the province he 'held' as the result of the honorific title 'lord of…' (…no kami). Baba Mino no kami Nobufusa might therefore be referred to as Baba Mino, or simply Mino…although only be those of at least equal social standing.
The final name a samurai would assume was his death name, given to him posthumously-essentially, a spirit name, and in some cases to mark his deification. This would be used in ceremonies and observances regarding ancestor worship. Here are some famous samurai and their 'ancestor names'…
A Brief History
Perhaps one of the most fascinating arts that has come to be linked
with the samurai is the cha no yu, or tea ceremony. Few activities
in general are quite as thoroughly refined and thoughtful and yet evolved through
such troubled times. Complicated and yet utterly simple, at once straightforward
and deep, the tea ceremony in many ways could be a metaphor not only for the
samurai ideal but also for the land of Japan itself.
Tea was made popular in Japan during the early Kamakura largely thanks to the
efforts of the monk Eisai (1141-1215); fifty or so years later the Zen monk
Dai-o (1236-1308) returned from a visit to China and brought with him knowledge
of the tea ceremony as it was practiced in Chinese Zen monasteries. Successive
monks refined the art until the priest Shûko (1422-1502) presented a demonstration
to the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. Yoshimasa, already a man of the arts, took
to the tea ceremony almost immediately and at this point the cha no yu
began developing a secular following.
Initially, and unsurprisingly, the tea ceremony was an activity indulged by
the nobility, as tea itself was primarily the elixir of the upper class at this
time. This began to change with the advent of Sen no Rikyû. A man of merchant
background from Sakai, Rikyû (known for much of his career as Sôeki)
had been trained as a tea man in the elegant Ashikaga style; he would in time
reject this school in favor of a very different approach. The nobility's tea
ceremony had been developed to cater to the sorts of individuals that partook
of it, with elegant Chinese utensils and great pains taken to avoid offending
any guests of higher status. In his own take, Rikyû substituted the pricey
utensils with simple, practical ones, and replaced the expensive and often gaudy
teahouses of the nobility with the Sôan, or 'grass hut' style teahouse.
The only way into the tearoom of a Sôan was through a small door, the
nijiriguchi, which was only some two and a half feet square. Guests therefore
entered by crawling, a deliberately humbling device intended to create a sense
of equality once inside.1 Rikyû intended for the tea ceremony
to be an activity free from social and political trappings, though in this he
was to be disappointed. As Rikyû was making a name for himself, the warlord
Oda Nobunaga was also gaining fame
through his steady expansion and at length came to meet Rikyû. An enthusiastic
amateur tea man, Nobunaga made every effort to surround himself with men versed
in the cha no yu, which by 1575 included Sen no Rikyû, Imai Sokyu,
and Tsuda Sogyu. The great warrior also went to great lengths to secure valuable
tea items, which he doled out from time to time as rewards to his generals.
Nobunaga was killed in 1582 and in time Rikyû became a close companion
of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second
of the 'three unifiers'. Like Nobunaga, Hideyoshi was an aspiring tea aficionado,
and valued Rikyû's skills highly. Nonetheless, the two men did not always
see eye to eye when it came to the cha no yu. Rikyû is said to
have frowned on his master's use of the tea ceremony as a forum to discuss matters
of state, which he saw as disturbing if not altogether nullifying the harmony
of the ceremony. Hideyoshi in fact took the ceremony and turned it into an important
part of his statecraft. He organized grand tea gatherings, and sought out famous
tea items, although in the actual practice of the ceremony, he more or less
adhered to Rikyû's precepts. In the end, and for reasons unknown, Rikyû
was executed on Hideyoshi's orders, though not before leaving a lasting mark
on the art of tea, which by the Edo Period had spread through the classes.
A Brief Description
The tea ceremony normally took place in a tearoom, the chachitsu. The guests
entered through the nijiriguchi, with samurai leaving their swords outside (another
conscious equalizer developed by Rikyû) and the last to enter closing
the door behind him. The tearoom was arranged so that those entering would first
spy a scroll hanging in the tokonoma - or alcove. This scroll was normally
of calligraphy, with its subject often that of a simple observation such as
Honrai mu Ichibutsu ('Originally there is nothing').2 As this
scroll is carefully chosen by the host to reflect a mood or the season, the
guests customarily spend a moment appreciating it before seating themselves
around a small hearth in the center of the room.
At this point the host enters, and the principal guest thanks him or her for
their invitation and politely inquires about the scroll or some other object
in the room should one be present. However, and throughout the time spent in
the tearoom, conversations and articulations are brief, and it was considered
impolite to speak of things not related to the ceremony. The principle guest
then serves a light meal (kaiseki) that was intended to be pleasing to
the eye as well as the taste. At this time, a modest serving of sake is also
offered in shallow bowls, followed by a piece of fruit or some other light dessert.
The guests then exit the tearoom while the host prepares it for the drinking
of tea, replacing the scroll with a single flower in a vase. When the guests
return, the host heats water in an iron kettle, then rinses and wipes the tea
bowl and utensils. He places powdered green tea in a bowl with a bamboo dipper,
then whips the tea with a whisk (also bamboo) until the surface is slightly
frothy, then serves it to his guests.
Two kinds of tea will be served: koicha, which is the more formal of the two
and possessed of a thicker consistency and bitter taste, and usucha -
thinner and more 'informal'. Koicha is served first, and all the guests
drink a small quantity from the same bowl. Later in the ceremony, usucha
is served in individual bowls. The tea bowls themselves can vary in design according
to the host and the season. 'Winter' tea bowls are deeper, to help contain heat,
while 'summer' bowls are shallower and broader to release the heat and give
the impression of coolness.
A modern Japanese Tea House
overlooking a Zen rock garden in Ôita Prefecture, Japan
Throughout the ceremony, the hosts and guests both aspire towards a sense
of tranquility. The priest Takuan wrote of preparing for a tea ceremony
and said, "and let this all be carried out in accordance with the idea
that in this room we can enjoy the streams and rocks as we do the rivers
and mountains in Nature, and appreciate the various moods and sentiments
suggested by the snow, the moon, and the trees and flowers, as they go
through the transformation of seasons, appearing and disappearing, blooming
and withering. As visitors are greeted here with due reverence, we listen
quietly to the boiling water in the kettle, which sounds like a breeze
passing through the pine needles, and become oblivious of all worldly
woes and worries…"3
Sen no Rikyû himself left this piece of advice as the final of
his Hundred Rules for cha no yu: "Though you may cleave to these
rules and sometimes break them, and though you don't take them seriously,
don't quite forget them."4
1. The typical Ashikaga-style teahouse included a separate door for the
most exalted guest to enter through.
2. A famous phrase from the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch.
3. Zen and Japanese Culture pg. 276-277
4. Mirror, Sword and Jewel pg. 114
Elison, George and Bardwell L. Smith (ed.) Warlords, Artists, and
Commoners Hawaii 1981
Okakura Kakuzo The Book of Tea Dover 1964
Singer, Kurt Mirror, Sword and Jewel Kodansha 1981
Suzuki, D. T Zen and Japanese Culture Princeton 1970
JAPANESE FEUDAL LAWS
[BUKE SHOHATTO 1615]
THE LAWS FOR
THE MILITARY HOUSES
E. THE DAIMYOS)
[PROMULGATED BY HIDETADA,
2ND SHOGUN, 1615.]
1. - Literature, arms, archery and horsemanship
are, systematically, to be the favourite pursuits.
Literature first, and arms next to it, was the rule of
the ancients. They must both be cultivated concurrently. Archery and horsemanship
are the more essential for the Military Houses. Weapons of warfare are ill-omened
words to utter; the use of them, however, is an unavoidable necessity. In
times of peace and good order we must not forget that disturbances may arise.
Dare we omit to practise our warlike exercises and drill ?
2. - Drinking parties and gaming amusements must
be kept within due bounds.
In our Instructions it is laid down that strict moderation
in these respects is to be observed. To be addicted to venery and to make
a pursuit of gambling is the first step towards the loss of one's domain.
3. - Offenders against the law are not to be harboured
in the (feudal) domains.
Law is the very foundation of ceremonial decorum and
of social order. To infringe the law in the name of reason is as bad as
to outrage reason in the name of the law. To disregard the law (laid down
by us) is an offence which will not be treated with leniency.
4. - Throughout the domains whether of the greater
or lesser Barons (Daimyo and Shomyo) or of the holders of
minor benefices, if any of the gentry or soldiers (shi and sotsu)
in their service be guilty of rebellion or murder, such offenders must be
at once expelled from their domain.
Fellows of savage disposition (being retainers), are
an apt weapon for overthrowing the domain or the family employing them,
and a deadly instrument for cutting off the (cultivating common) people.
How can such be tolerated ?
5. - Henceforth no social intercourse is to be
permitted outside of one's own domain, with the people (gentry and commoners)
of another domain.
In general, the customs of the various domains are all
different from one another, each having its own peculiarities. To divulge
the secrets of one's own domain to people of another domain, or to report
the secrets of another domain to people of one's own domain is a sure indication
of an intent to curry favour.
6. - The residential castles in the domains may
be repaired; but the matter must invariably be reported. Still more imperative
is it that the planning of structural innovations of any kind must be absolutely
A castle with a parapet exceeding 100 chi is a
bane to a domain. Crenelated walls and deep moats (of castles) are the causes
7. - If in a neighbouring domain innovations are
being hatched or cliques being formed the fact is to be reported without
Men are always forming groups; whilst, on the other hand,
few ever come to anything. On this account they fail to follow their lords
or fathers, and soon come into collision with those of neighbouring villages.
If the ancient prohibitions are not maintained, somehow or other innovating
schemes will be formed.
8. - Marriages must not be contracted at private
Now, the marriage union is a result of the harmonious
blending of the In and You (i. e. the Yin and
Yang of Chinese metaphysics, the female and male principles of nature).
It is therefore not a matter to be lightly undertaken. It is said in the
"Scowling" passage of the (Chow) Book of Changes: - "Not
being enemies they unite in marriage." Whilst (the elders are) thinking
of making advances to the opponent (family), the proper time (for the marriage
of the young couple) is allowed to slip by. In the "Peach Young"
poem of the Book of Odes it is said: - "If the man and woman, duly
observing what is correct, marry at the proper time of life, there will
be no widows in the land." To form cliques (i. e. political
parties) by means of matrimonial connections is a source of pernicious stratagems.
9. - As to the rule that the Daimyos shall come
(to the Shogun's Court at Yedo) to do service.
In the Shoku Nihon ki (i. e. The Continuation
of the Chronicles of Japan) it is recorded amongst the enactments: -
"Except when entrusted with some official duty no
one (dignitary) is allowed at his own pleasure to assemble his whole tribe
within the limits of the capital, no one is to go about attended by more
than twenty horsemen, etc." Hence it is not permissible to lead about
a large force of soldiers. For Daimyos whose revenues range from 1,000,000
koku down to 200,000 koku, the number of twenty horsemen
is not to be exceeded. For those whose revenues are 100,000 koku
and under the number is to be in the same proportion.
On occasions of official service, however (i. e.
in time of warfare), the number of followers is to be in proportion to the
social standing of each Daimyo.
10. - There must be no confusion in respect of
dress uniforms, as regards the materials thereof.
The distinction between lord and vassal, between superior
and inferior, must be clearly marked by the apparel. Retainers may not,
except in rare cases by special favour of their lords, indiscriminately
wear silk stuffs, such as Shiro-aya (i. e. undyed silk with
woven patterns), Shiro-Kosode (i. e. white wadded silk coats),
murasaki-awase (i. e. purple silk coats), lined murasaki-ura
(i. e. a silk coat lined with purple); nori (i. e.
white gloss silk), mumon (i. e. a silk coat without the wearer's
badge dyed on it), Kosode (a coloured silk wadded coat). In recent
times retainers and henchmen (soldiers) have taken to wearing rich damasks
and silk brocade. This elaborate display was not allowed by the ancient
laws and it must be severely kept within bounds.
11. - Miscellaneous persons are not at their own
pleasure to ride in palanquins.
There are families who for special reasons from of old
have (inherited) the privilege of riding in palanquins without permission
from the authorities; and there are others who by permission of the authorities
exercise that privilege. But, latterly, even sub-vassals and henchmen of
no rank have taken to so riding. This is a flagrant impertinence. Henceforward
the Daimyo of the provinces, and such of their kinsfolk as are men of distinction
subordinate to them, may ride without applying for government permission.
Besides those the following are receiving permission, viz. vassals and retainers
of high position about their lords; doctors and astrologers; persons of
over sixty years of age; and sick persons and invalids. If ordinary or inferior
henchmen (sotsu) are allowed to ride in palanquins it will be considered
to be the fault of their lords.
This proviso, however, does not apply to Court Nobles,
Abbots, or ecclesiastics in general.
12. - The samurai throughout the provinces are
to practice frugality.
Those who are rich like to make a display, whilst those
who are poor are ashamed of not being on a par with the others. There is
no other influence so pernicious to social observances as this; and it must
be strictly kept in check.
13. - The lords of the great domains (kokushu,
lit. masters of provinces) must select men of capacity for office.
The way to govern a country is to get hold of the proper
men. The merits and demerits (of retainers) should be closely scanned, and
reward or reproof unflinchingly distributed accordingly. If there be capable
men in the administration that domain is sure to flourish; if there be not
capable men then the domain is sure to go to ruin. This is an admonition
which the wise ones of antiquity all agree in giving forth.
The tenor of the foregoing rules must be obeyed.
Keicho, 20th year, 7th month (August 24th, September
. . .
SUCH WAS THE original statute imposed
by the Tokugawa Shogunate on all its vassals, the Daimyos of all grades.
Henceforth, from the time of the third Shogun onwards,
on every occasion of a succession to the office, as soon as the Emperor's
commission conferring it was received, the Barons great and small were summoned
to attend at the castle of Yedo, and these laws were read out to them; and
in this way became the established rules of the Tokugawa Bakufu (Shogunate).
However, in the course of time, considerable changes and amendments were
made in them, by way both of addition and omission, under successive Shoguns.
Accordingly the amendments that were four times made in them from the 6th
year of Kwan-ei downwards (1629) have been appended to the text, for the
sake of showing the course of development.
FROM: JOHN CAREY
HALL, THE TOKUGAWA
LEGISLATION, YOKOHAMA 1910,
JAPANESE FEUDAL LAWS
IN THE PRESENT paper I propose to
lay before the Society a translation of three district sets of laws promulgated
by the Yedo Shogunate: (1) those imposed upon the Daimyos (Buke);
(2) those prescribed for the Samurai (Bushi) the sworded retainers
of various ranks who were the immediate following of the Tokugawa house;
and (3) the proclamations posted up on tablets or notice-boards in the most
frequented thoroughfares of Yedo, emanating not directly from the Shogun
or his Council of government but from one or other of the subordinate Magistrates
(Bugyo) and imposing commands on the townsfolk. The first of these
is by far the most important, and calls for a few words of preface.
An oath of fealty from the vassal to the lord by whose
grant or sufferance he holds his fief is an indispensable element of feudalism.
It was in 1611 that the Shogunate felt itself strong enough to impose a
sworn covenant of submission and fealty on all the Daimyos of Japan.
The terms of the oath taken by the Daimyos at the Castle
of Nijo: -
"1. - We will loyally respect the institutions
of the Shogunate (Kubo) as established for generations since the
time of the General of the Right (Yoritomo); out of regard for our own interest
we will strictly obey any regulations which may hereafter be issued to us
2. - In case there should be any who refuse to
obey such regulations or disregard the instructions which may be given to
them (from Yedo) we each bind ourselves not to harbour any such in our respective
3. - In case any of the samurai in our employ
or others our subordinates should be guilty of rebellion or homicide, and
the fact be reported to us, we mutually engage to one another that we shall
not take the offender into our employ.
In case of any infringement of any of the foregoing articles,
on a careful enquiry into the facts being made (by the Shogun), we shall
be liable to be severely dealt with in accordance with the law.
Keicho 16th year, 4th month, 12th day" (24th May,
TO THE ABOVE the signatures of all
the Daimyo, viz. the Koku-Shu, and Ryo-Shu, both those present
in Kyoto and also those who were in their domains, were appended, each on
a separate copy.
This oath was the foundation of the Tokugawa feudal system.
From that time forth, says Mr. Konakamura, Hayashi Doshun and other scholars
were employed in investigating and discussing the ancient law sources; especially,
the feudal codes and their additions and amendments, from that of Tei-yei
(Editor's Note. - otherwise pronounced Jo-yei) onwards; the Yengi-Shiki,
the Shoku- Nihongi, the Gunsho-Jiyo, the Tei-gwan (Editor's
Note. - otherwise pronounced Jo-gwan) Sei-yo and the rest, with
the result that the promulgation of the Buke Shohatto of the 20th, year
of Keicho (1615) was successfully accomplished.
As regards these Laws for the Baronial Houses, it is
recorded in the work entitled Sumpu Seiji Roku (i. e. Record
of the Government at Sumpu, the castle of Shizuoka, the seat of Iyeyasu
in his retirement), under date the 2nd, of the 7th, month of 20th, year
of Keicho - August 25th, 1615: -
"The elder Councillors appeared before his Highness
(Iyeyasu) and submitted a draft of the Laws (for the Baronial Families).
He at once gave directions that it should be taken to Fushimi (where the
Shogun Hidetada was then residing) and submitted for approval. Under date
the 7th. day of the same month occurs this entry: -
At Fushimi there was a performance of No (musical drama)
..... All the Daimyos were there assembled to witness it. Before the performance
began, the Laws for the Military Houses consisting of thirteen articles
were announced and promulgated to them. One of the Elder Councillors (Denchoro)
read out the draft &c., &c. The whole text of the thirteen articles
was read over to them. The style was that of the ancient feudal codes (Shikimoku)."
FROM: JOHN CAREY
HALL, THE TOKUGAWA
LEGISLATION, YOKOHAMA 1910,
Japanese Architecture and Caste System
Japan’s architecture were first based on Chinese styles during the Nara
and Heian periods, but later on, the Japanese developed their own distinct
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when feudal lords held
a lot of power in Japan, they built fortified castles to protect themselves.
These fortress-palaces had barred windows, gates, trapdoors, and other
similar parts built in them. The Japanese also included designated places
within the castle as vantage points for firing arms when in battle. Generally,
castles were built on higher elevation and protection that surrounded
the castles included stone walls and huge moats. After entering the castle,
there were maze-like corridors to protect the fortresses even more from
Since Japan often experienced earthquakes, European stone castles were
not sensible. Wood was a common material used to construct buildings.
Post-and-beam structures were built on stone sheathed earthen bases which
endured the earth tremors. Using wood did have its downfalls though;
Japan also experienced a lot of fires. By the end of the feudal period,
there around 144 castles built, but because of fires and bombings, only
twelve of the original castles still exist. As adjustments to weather,
Japan’s hot and humid summers were withstood with sliding doors, windows
and interior wall panels. These adaptations made the buildings cooler
and more comfortable.
One of the distinctions between Japanese and European castle roofs is
a feature of decoration; the Japanese used gables to decorate the edges
of their roofs. Chidori hafu (plover gables) and kara hafu (exotic
gables) were triangularly shaped. Historians have reason to believe
that the extensive decorative features of Japanese castle roofs were
used as a form of defense . The gables on the roof confused the enemy
because they would have trouble determining the number of levels the
tenshu had. It was also difficult to tell the number of towers the
Until the Edo Period , the roofs of principal buildings in the castle
compounds were made of cypress bark, but because of the increasing number
of buildings, the wood was eventually substituted with copper and clay
tiles. This was to protect the building from fires. With the growing
number of buildings, if the roofs remained made of wood, fires would
grow much more rapidly. Fire was one of the main reasons for building
destruction. In 1657, the Edo Castle was rebuilt after a fire, and that
was when its roof was covered with copper tiles. In the Nijo Castle ,
clay tiles were used on the roofs of the Ninomaru Palace, the kitchen
building along with its adjacent buildings in the Nijo Castle compound.
A pair of dolphins made of tiles can usually be seen on Japanese castle
roofs. These pair of dolphins are called shachi. One of the pair would
be male and built on one side of the roof, while the other, a female,
would be placed on the other side. The Japanese were very scared of the
fires and susceptibility of their wooden castles that the shachi were
built on top of the whole tenshu and many other parts as protection.
The shachi were believed to be guardians angels of the castles.
There has always been a distinct class structure in society in Japan,
but during the Edo Period , it became very strict and could be clearly
seen. Even in the castles, the seating arrangements in the rooms symbolized
one’s status. Representative sitting arrangements have been a very
old practice in Japan. The descending order of highest to lowest levels
for seating arrangements is the jodan, chudan, and gedan.
The shoin style architecture was developed during the Momoyama period.
It was a type of residential architecture which is known for its reception
rooms where guests were received. This style can be seen in many castles
to serve the purpose of receiving the Tokugawa shoguns of the time. During
the earlier years of the Edo Period , this type of architecture was common,
especially in the Nijo , Osaka , and Edo Castles. The three castles were
decorated with a tokonuma, (a raise alcove where paintings or valuable
objects were displayed), chigaidana, (interconnected shelves with different
levels of elevation), and tsukeshoin, (a small study attached to a room).
The highest ranking person in the room, whether he was the owner of the
castle or not, sat in the highest level with the tokonuma behind him.
The chigaidana would be in the center of another alcove next to the highest
ranking person. The tsukeshoin would be at the right angles of the tokonuma
Thought the tokonuma, chigaindana, and tsukeshoin helped distinguish
the high ranking of one’s status, the most obvious architectural detail
that distinguished social classes was the jodan. For example, in the
Nijo Castle’s ohiroma, (audience hall), there are no fusuma (wooden panels)
that separate the jodan and gedan. The jodan has forty-eight tatami mats
while the gedan has forty-four. Tatami are woven straw mats which cover
the wooden floors of the rooms. Since there are no fusuma to distinguish
between the jodan and gedan, two other architectural details are used.
One is the black-lacquered sill and the other is the kokabe. The kokabe
is a small wall that comes down from the ceiling between the two sections.
The beam at the bottom of this partial wall is called an otoshigake.
In the Nijo Castle and Edo Castle , even more distinctions were made
by placing more tatami mats on the jodan sections of the room. The shogun
and his heir used these additional tatami mats as their seats. Another
example for using different seating levels in rooms is the Edo Castle.
Its audience hall was divided into three section, the jodan, chudan,
and gedan. The people sitting in each of these levels determined their
rank in society. Even the gifts each one brought had a specific place
it was set.
The Azuchi-Momoyama Period began in 1576 when Oda Nobunaga came into
power. The Azuchi castle became his home when it was finished in 1579.
Inside the castle were beautiful walls made by members of Kano Eitoku’s
studio. The finish of the Azuchi castle started off the Azuchi-Momoyama
Period, (named after the castle-towns of the time).
Kano painters had worked for the Shogun for many generations. By the
Edo Period, they formed the style for the time for the Tokugawa shogunate.
Much of Kano Eitoku’s work has been destroyed because some of the castles
are no longer existent, but there are still a few monasteries and temples
with his paintings.
A famous painter of the Edo period was Kano Tanyu. He was the grandson
of Eitoku and painted in Edo and Kyoto for palaces and in the Nagoya
castle. He was interested in all different types of painting, whether
it was Japanese of Chinese. This was because of the collections of art
records he studied. He then started recording himself. He took clear
notes and simplified sketches of original works. Tanyu’s followers followed
this recording tradition. These records are great resources for modern
Japanese mural paintings did not start with those found in castles,
but from earlier years. These large paintings began as early as the 700’s.
The castle murals covered the sliding doors and walls inside the castle.
Many of these include nature related topics such as mountains, flowers,
and animals. For example, in the Nijo Castle in Kyoto, there is a room
where the Great Pine murals cover the interior walls.
The following are examples of castles with work by the Kano painters:
The Himeji Castle has small windows, so in order to help reflect light
into the larger, dark, rooms, painters screen painted on gold surfaces.
There were also complete walls and ceilings finished this way.
The Nijo Castle’s Ohiroma, or Great Audience Hall is located on the longer
side of the castle where it faces the garden. The room has two main
sections: a lower part for the shogun’s vassals and an upper part where
the shogun sat. The back wall of where the shogun sat was where the
Great Pine was located. It represented the great boldness and authority
of the shogun.
Walls of the Momoyama Castle were covered with paintings of landscapes
and flowers on gold foiled walls and sliding doors. White Peonies is
a piece of work by Kano Sanruku on the panels of sliding doors in the
Momoyama Castle. The petals and leaves of the painting stress the showy
characteristics of the time.
Early on in the Edo Period (1603-1867), society in Japan began to organize
itself into several well-defined social classes. The rights, responsibilities,
circumstances, and routines of each of these classes were unique. In
short, each class had a distinct lifestyle; and there was no better place
than the castles and castle towns to see all of these lifestyles meeting
While this section will deal with the social system as it existed during
the Edo Period, it is important to remember that the social climate had
been constantly changing up until then. Especially in the last years
before the Edo Period, there had been relatively easy mobility between
classes, and a lowly peasant could conceivably work his way up to the
top of the elite samurai class (as was the case with Toyotomi Hideyoshi).
Below is a list of the social classes that we will examine here in this
From their emergence around the early Kamakura Period until their last
days during Meiji Restoration, the samurai (warriors) were the highest
and most influential class in Japan. This fact alone illustrates the
martial nature of Japanese government in feudal times. Any study of
Japanese history will reveal that the course of events in the country
during this time was overwhelmingly controlled by the warrior class.
In studying history, the samurai are always easy to distinguish from
other classes because they were the only ones to have two names: both
their esteemed family name and their personal name.
Being the most priveleged class, the samurai had both the greatest rights
and the greatest responsibilities of any class. Following Hideyoshi's
1588 "Sword Hunt", only the samurai were allowed to carry weapons.
The two swords (the katana and the wakizashi) carried on the samurai's
left side became symbols of power that the lower classes had no choice
but to respect. Should a peasant (that is, a non-samurai) offend a samurai,
the latter had the right to punish the offender by death; there is one
story told where one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's retainers cut an old merchant
clean in two for trying to take advantage of Ieyasu.
Ronin is the term used to describe a masterless samurai. During the peaceful
centuries of the Edo Period, these grew to great numbers. Many of the
ronin used their time constructively, working as writers, Confucian
scholars or teachers, martial arts instructors, or as bodyguards. Truth
be told, many of the greatest writings and works of art from this period
were produced by ronin. One thing they could not do was to take up
farming or any of the merchant crafts, as this would be considered
a drop in class. As a result, many ronin, being on fixed incomes, became
poor and unhappy. This is in stark contrast to the portrait painted
by some samurai movies of a romantic lone warrior travelling across
the countryside and engaging in swordfighting duels.
The most important element of society during the castle period was the
farmers and their villages. Villages were little societies that consisted
of a farmer's house, the rice field, mountains, and the seashore. There
was autonomous organization, which supported the farmers in each village.
The majority of these villages were farm villages, but there were also
a few fishing and mountain villages too. Each of them had different
populations and incomes, but on the whole, they had similar functions
Usually, three officers, called "Nanushi", "Kumigashira",
and "Hyakusyoudai", governed the village. Officers were also
called "Honnbyakusyou""; they managed the race and land,
and worked on the disaster prevention. This was very important because
the villages were the food source for the castle town and order was needed
to make sure everything needed was provided. The expenditure was called "Murairiyou" and
was paid by each person in the village. People were separated into groups
of 5 people. These groups were called "Goninngumi", and they
had a joint responsibility.
There were several social classes in a village. The upper class had
its own rice field, but the lower class did not even have a steady job.
One can see the separations in social classes not only here, but within
the living quarters of the castle grounds and where different ranking
The farmer's burden was called "Nengu", and is like a tax.
About half of their harvest was taken away by the lord of the castle.
The famers grew a lot of rice, but could rarely eat it, because they
were forced to pay high taxes and the price of rice was expensive. Instead,
they would usually eat barnyard grass or millet. With no money even for
rice, of course their clothing style was simple. It was usually made
of cotton or hemp. They had a few days off in each year, and the farmers
enjoyed their vacation drinking, or arm wrestlinging. Sometimes a few
days break was allowed to do annual events and festivals.
Merchants and Craftsmen
Merchants were part of the class of chonin (townspeople). According to
ruling powers, the highest ranking people would live closest to the
castle and the area around it. Usually, this included the samurai,
but there were also rich merchants who obtained the privilege to live
in these close quarters instead of the area near the outline of the
Merchants and craftsmen were the people who supported Edo's prosperity.
Craftsmen included carpenters, coopers, lumberers, and cutlers. These
people were very important in making and providing goods for the castle
town and not only for trade within the castle town, but outside as well.
This brought in new things and let the people enjoy different goods.
The merchants and craftsmen accounted for 3% of the population. 70% of
them lived in nagayas. There was large difference between wealthy merchants
and poor merchants. Wealthy merchants were even richer than samurai.
Since the samurai had such high ranking status, it said a lot for the
Merchants and craftsmen usually lived in rows of houses called "Nagaya".
Nagayas had sizes of about 9.8 cubic meters, and and there were ditches
in the center of the lanes. Wells, restrooms, and dumps were used often
and were common in most nagayas. Lanes were a common place for children
to play, women to chat, and merchants to sell their goods.
Shops and Entertainment
Edo was a busy city full of working people and visitors from all over.
Because there were a lot of single men who visited Edo for business,
booths were made so they could eat meals and drink. This business for
the Edo people was a good way to make money and both sides were happy.
Entertainment was also essential in this great city. Theaters showing
Kabuki or Ningyoujyoururi were made. Ninngyoujyoururi is like a puppet
play. Public baths, barber's shops, book stores, and other stores were
popular with visitors. Barber's shop were called Kamiyuidokoro, and
it was a common place for people to chat.
One of the lowest class of the Middle Ages was called "Eta",
or "Hinin". They were totally separated from upper classes
of people. Eta and Hinin people were distinguished from other people
by their living quarters, the cloth their clothese were made of, and
their hairstyle. Eta people worked on the lands and made leather, but
they were also forced to handle dead cows and horses. Eta were also forced
to carry out criminal's penalties. Some people became Hinin because of
their poverty or penalty for crime. They engaged in guarding and cleaning
their village or town.
There are some other classes in the social structure besides samurai,
farmers, and merchants. For example, court nobles, priests, and oracles
belonged to the upper class in addition to the samurai. The priests were
teachers at Terakoya schools where they taught reading, writing, and
abacuses. Sometimes they became the intercession of the disputes among
villagers. The oracles also provided medical services.