Compare and Contrast: Japanese and European Feudalism

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6 min read

Published: Mar 1, 2019

Words: 1041|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Mar 1, 2019

Feudalism was established in Europe by the 800s CE but appeared later in the 1100s in japan. European feudalism ended by the growth of a stronger political states in the 16th century, but Japanese feudalism held on until the meji restoration of 1868. Feudal Japanese and European societies were built on a system of heredity classes. The nobles were at the top followed by warriors, with farmers or serfs below. There was very little social mobility; the children of peasants became peasants, while the children of lords became lords and ladies.

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At the top of the hierarchy was the king, the king or the monarch ruled the whole kingdom and owned all the land in the country. The king had all the control and he decides how much quantity of land to provide to the barons. The barons had to swear an oath before taking up the granted land, so they can stay faithful to their king at all times. The king still has the power to withdraw the granted land and give it to someone else in the baron class, since all the judicial power was in the hands of the king/monarch. As in japan their leader was called an emperor. The emperor has the supreme power among all the classes. The highest ranking nobles were the emperor and the shogun. During Japan’s feudal period the shogun held most power while emperor had a little power. The shogun was a military leader, his sword (aka: nihonto in Japanese) was a very important part of his attire.

After the king, the nobles/barons had the highest power. Both Europe and japan had similarities between their baron/nobles. These were people with powers and privileges were bestowed on them because of their blood relations. Nobles were people who were majorly responsible for ruling the provinces and arranging the fighting men (skilled knights) for the king during wars. They were also established in designing currency, establishing the legal hierarchy systems and also for framing the tax regulation schemes for class below them. The barons or nobles leased lands from the kings, which was known as a manor. The barons in the feudal social hierarchy were the second wealthiest class. They were called as lord of manor.

They established their own legal systems, designed their own currency and set their own tax regulation schemes. In return of the land that they have taken on lease from the King, the Barons had to serve the royal council, provide the king with knights to tackle with any form of war, provide food and lodging facilities to the king, pay rents and taxes. After the nobles were the knights and samurai, in both feudal Japan and Europe, constant warfare made warriors the most important class. Called knights in Europe and samurai in Japan, the warriors served local lords. Knights were supposed to follow the concept of chivalry, while samurai were to go by the precepts of bushido or the way of the warrior. In feudal japan they had a daimyo’s that were made up of samurai warriors, but samurai worked under the daimyo class. Samurais needed to have privileges that included being able to have a surname, a family crest, and carry two swords. People that had samurai family names are still treated with great respect in japan today. Even though most samurai were not well educated, they had a strict code of honour or the “way of the warrior”, known as the bushido in Japanese. If a samurai broke the bushido code and brought dishonour to him/herself they would be expected to commit seppuku (aka: ritual suicide). Women were also allowed to serve as a samurai but always served under a male leader.

In feudal Europe they were also called as vassals. These were the people who were given the lands on lease by barons or nobles in return of their military services to the king during the time of the war. These were also responsible for protecting the barons and their families. They used to distribute their land which they have got from nobles to the people on the lower levels of society in return of their services. They were allowed to set their rent and taxation guidelines pertaining to their distribution of their feuds or lands. In addition European knights gained land from their lords as payment for their military service; they had direct control of the serfs who worked that land. In contrast, Japanese samurai did not own any land. Instead, the daimyo used a portion of their income from taxing the peasants to provide the samurai a salary, usually paid in rice.

Under knights were the peasants, this class in japan consisted of occupations such as farmers, artisans and merchants. The farmers played an important part in feudal japan, especially for the shogun and emperor. They got most of their food from the Japanese farmers. This helped them avoid having to import much foreign produce. Merchants were also in the lowest class in feudal Japanese hierarchy. One of the reasons why people looked down on them was because they sold things that other people made, taking credit and money with dishonesty. Even though they were not popular with the others and were in the lowest social class, they were wealthy and therefore, were considered as one of the most benefiting classes of feudal japan. Europe’s peasants were the same as Japanese’s peasants, they had the lowest social rank in the Middle Ages were the peasants.

The peasant class included Freemen, who had some rights and land, serfs, who had no rights, and slaves, who were bought and sold. Were required to provide food to the superior classes in the society and hence they engaged themselves majorly into agriculture. Since they did not own the land and hence were required to pay certain taxes in both cash & kind to the people who gave them lands.

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In conclusion even though feudalism in Japan and Europe has ended, the social hierarchy remain in both Japan and some European nations. Japan and Europe had a lot in common with their feudal systems, they had a lot of similarities and a bit of differences. European feudalism was a bit older than the Japanese system, having been established in the 9th and the 12th centuries.

Works Cited

  1. Adams, R. (2018). Feudal Japan. History Today, 68(4), 34-40.
  2. Bowman, J. (2017). The History of Feudalism. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
  3. Hall, J. A. (2015). Feudal Japan. Routledge.
  4. Kitagawa, J. M. (2018). Japan before Tokyo: Power and place in the premodern Japanese world. University of Hawai'i Press.
  5. Koen, L. (2015). The era of the warrior: Japan, 1600-1868. Routledge.
  6. Lacey, R. J. (2017). Feudalism in Europe. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
  7. Smith, T. C. (2015). Feudalism: Its Frankish Birth and English Development. Clarendon Press.
  8. Turnbull, S. (2014). Samurai: The Story of Japan’s Great Warriors. Routledge.
  9. Webb, M. (2017). The Evolution of Medieval Japan. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
  10. White, W. M. (2019). The Japanese and the Jesuits: Alessandro Valignano in Sixteenth Century Japan. Routledge.
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Compare And Contrast: Japanese and European Feudalism. (2019, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 24, 2024, from
“Compare And Contrast: Japanese and European Feudalism.” GradesFixer, 27 Feb. 2019,
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