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General Life in Feudal Japan


Samurai Names



During the course of his life, the samurai could expect to be known by a series of names. Sometimes confounding to the historian, this tradition occasionally produced a myriad number of tags for a single well-known samurai. Each name carried with it a certain significance, as we will see in the following, brief overview of this topic. As the samurai of the 15th to 16th Century provide us with the best-documented examples, these will be drawn on for cases in point. Taken generally, these customs may be assumed to have been historically universal (with the exception, of course, of Christian names).

Childhood. At birth, a samurai was given a name by which he would be known until his coming of age ceremony. These were occasionally chosen to sound fortuitous or simply by fancy. In a well-known example of the former, Takeda Shingen was born Katsuchiyo, or '1000 Victories in Succession', or, simply, 'Victory Forever'.

These childhood names were often superceded to an extent within a samurai's household by a certain nicknaming custom. By tradition, the eldest son in a household was known as 'Taro', the second, 'Jiro', and the third, 'Saburo'. (Fans of Akira Kurosawa's films may remember this convention being applied in the movie Ran). These familial names might even linger into a samurai's adulthood, especially while his father was still in charge.
Famous samurai and their childhood names….

Date Masamune: Bontenmaru
Ii Naomasa: Manchiyo
Kobayakawa Takakage: Tokyujumaru
Môri Motonari: Shojumaru
Oda Nobunaga:
Sanada Yukimura: Gobenmaru
Takeda Shingen: Katsuchiyo
Tokugawa Ieyasu: Takechiyo
Tokugawa Hidetada: Nagamaru
Uesugi Kenshin: Torachiyo

Adult Names. A samurai typically received his 'first' adult name upon the event of his coming of ag ceremony (normally conducted in his 14th year). This almost always consisted of two characters, one of which was hereditary to his family and another that might have been given him as a gift from an exalted personage (including the shôgun), or simply by whim. The hereditary character was often but not necessarily to be found in his own father's name. Often, a number of characters might be associated with a given family, changing with the fullness of time. To illustrate this point, we shall use the Môri lords as an example (covering from the mid-14th Century until 1600)….


The Môri also provide an example of 'gifting' characters. Môri Okimoto (the more famous Motonari's elder brother) received the Oki in his name from the powerful Ouchi YoshiOKI, a daimyô whose lands lay just to the west. Môri Takamoto, Motonari's son, recived the Taka in his tag from Yoshioki's son YoshiTAKA. Terumoto received the Teru in his name from the Shoôgun Ashikaga Yoshiteru. However incapacitated the Ashikaga shogunate may have been as a political power, it WAS nonetheless considered an honor to receive the award of a character from the shôgun's name.
Other well-known daimyô that received the honor of a shôgunal character….

Asakura YOSHIkage
Date TERUmune
Imagawa YOSHImoto
Matsunaga HisaHIDE
Shimazu YOSHIhisa
Takeda HARUnobu (Shingen)
Uesugi TERUtora (Kenshin)

Some samurai, especially lords, might opt to change the characters in their name at some future date, often as a result of the sort of reward mentioned above. Occasionally this name change might be made to mark a fortuitous event, or for political expediency. This could even extend to family names. Date Masamune, for example, was given the honorific family name Hashiba by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. During the 1590's he became close to Tokugawa (Matsudaira) Ieyasu and as a way of demonstrating his loyalty in a unsubtle gesture, he changed his family name to Matsudaira.

Uesugi Kenshin provides us with a nice example of the various reasons a daimyô might change his name around. Originally called Nagao Kagetora, Kenshin later changed his name to Terutora when he was honored by the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiteru (Kenshin being exceptionally filial to the Ashikaga). He changed his name again, to Masatora, when he was adopted by Uesugi Norimasa around 1551.

Religious names. Of course, the name Kenshin is the best known, and this provides us with an example of a Buddhist name. Many samurai - both daimyô and retainer - adopted Buddhist names at some point in their life, at least nominally taking up a monk's habit and shaving their heads. Some daimyô took this much more seriously then others (Kenshin being one of those), while a certain few, including Ôtomo Sorin, went from layman to Buddhist monk to Christian - and sometimes back again to Buddhist monk.
The following are some better-known daimyô who adopted Buddhist names (their secular names in parenthesis)...

Asakura Soteki (Norikage)
Hôjô Soun (Nagauji)
Ikeda Shonyû (Nobuteru)
Maeda Gen-I (Munehisa)
Miyoshi Chokei (Nagayoshi)
Ota Dôkan (Sukenaga)
Ôtomo Sorin (Yoshishige)
Takeda Shingen (Harunobu)
Uesugi Kenshin (Terutora)
Yamana Sozen (Mochitoyo)

In a practice unique to the mid to late 16th Century in Japan, samurai who had converted to Christianity were baptized with a western name. These are, of course, rarely used today in reference to any given figure, but were not uncommon. The following are examples of famous samurai and their 'Christian' names…

Gamo Ujisato: Dom Leao
Konishi Yukinaga: Dom Agostinho
Kuroda Yoshitaka: Dom Simeo
Omura Sumitada: Dom Bartolomeu
Ôtomo Sorin: Dom Francisco
Takayama Ukon: Dom Justo

Finally, certain well-known samurai names include titles or positions they held. These are not names in the truest sense, but might be applied to them as such. The following are some examples…

Furuta Oribe (Shigenari)
Takayama Ukon (Shigetomo)
Yamamoto Kansuke (Haruyuki)
Yamanaka Shikanosuke (YukiMôri)

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'…

Ôtomo Sorin: Sanhisai
Takeda Shingen: Hôsho-in
Tokugawa Ieyasu: Tosho-daigongen
Toyotomi Hideyoshi: Hokoku daimyôjin
Uesugi Kenshin: Sôshin

The Tea Ceremony



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.


  Photographed 1995, by C. E. West
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






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 avoided.

A castle with a parapet exceeding 100 chi is a bane to a domain. Crenelated walls and deep moats (of castles) are the causes of anarchy.

7. - If in a neighbouring domain innovations are being hatched or cliques being formed the fact is to be reported without delay.

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 convenience.

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 23rd, 1615).

. . .

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.




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 from Yedo.

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 domains.

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, 1611).

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)."




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 style.

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 enemies.

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 castle had.

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.

Seating Arrangements
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 and chigaidana.

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 day historians.

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 and interacting.

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 section:


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 and features.

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 officials stayed.

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 castlegrounds.

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 wealthy merchants.

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.


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