Feudal Japan

The beginning of the feudal era of Japan is institutionally dated back to 1185, the year that marks the end of the prosperous Heian period, following the so-called Genpei Civil War between the Minamoto and Taira clans. Feudal Japan saw the succession of three main shogunates: Kamakura, Ashikaga and Tokugawa. The shogun distributed the land to its most loyal officers, called jito or shugo, who would control and rule it in its name. The position was often hereditary and initially, unlike in European feudalism, the land did not become their property. As time passed, however, the shugos, exercising their functions far from the central government, gradually gained more and more power, becoming in effect the lords owners of their lands, also called daimyos.


The social structure was based on military clans strongly rooted in the territories of the provinces and impatient of any central authority. The clans were composed of local lords (the daimyos) united by blood constraints or vassalage relations. The struggle for supremacy between the different clans was therefore permanent and, consequently, war was the habitual state of things. In Fact the history of ancient Japan is full of violent and frequent peasant revolts against the embezzlement of their lords. Armed with tools of work, best arranged as weapons, the peasants knew how to face the samurai with no inferior warrior skills and with equal value. The cases in which the peasants managed to defeat the armies sent to repress them were not uncommon.


Samurai were warriors of the noble class and were treated with extreme reverence and respect. They were loyal to martial virtues and had unflinching discipline, engaging in many local battles and wars, according to the bushido (literally "way of the warrior"), an initially unwritten code that was based on seven fundamental principles of Buddhist and Confucian doctrine: honor, courage, loyalty, justice, compassion, courtesy and sincerity.

The samurai believed that dying for their lords was more honorable than living without showing courage. When the noble master to whom a samurai was attached died or lost faith in the latter, the samurai lost his honor, becoming a wandering warrior, called “ronin”. The bushido provided that to make amends for one’s guilt, and regain the honor lost with the death of one’s master, one had to resort to the practice of harakiri, which literally means "cut off the belly" and represents the culminating part of the practice of ritual suicide called “seppuku”.

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