Japanese And European Feudalism Chart


Read the selection below to compare feudalism in Japan & Europe. Complete the chart on the back
Japan’s feudal culture was in many basic ways more like that of feudal Europe than China. The
warriors, who were known by the generic tern of samurai "servitors," placed great emphasis on the
military virtues of bravery, honor, self-discipline, and the stoical acceptance of death. Lacking any
religious injunctions against suicide, they commonly took their own lives in defeat, rather than
accept torture and possible humiliation in capture. Suicide by the gruesome and extremely painful
means of cutting open one’s own abdomen became a sort of ritual used to demonstrate will power
and maintain one’s honor. Vulgarly called harikiri, or "belly-slitting," but more properly known as
seppuku, this form of honorable suicide has survived on occasion into modern times, and suicide by
less difficult means is still considered an acceptable and basically honorable way to die.
The prime virtue in the Japanese feudal system, as in that of Europe, was loyalty, because the
whole system depended on bonds of personal loyalty. Of course, loyalty was in actuality the
weakest link in both systems, and the medieval stories of both Japan and Europe are full of cases of
turncoats and traitorous betrayals. In Europe, with its background of Roman law, the lord-vassal
relationship was seen as mutual and contractual – in other words, as legalistic. In Japan, the
Chinese system has placed less emphasis on law and more on morality – that is, on the
subordination of law to the moral sense of the ruler, since his right to rule was theoretically based
on his superior wisdom and morality. Hence, the lord-vassal relationship was seen as one of
unlimited and absolute loyalty on the part of the vassal, not merely one of legal contract between
the two. There was this no room for the development of the concept of political rights, as
happened in the West…
Still, family lineage and honor were of great importance in medieval Japanese society, because
inheritance determined power and prestige as well as the ownership of property. Family continuity
was naturally a matter of vital concern. The Japanese avoided many of the problems of Western
hereditary systems, by permitting a man to select among his sons the one most suitable to inherit
his position and also by using adoption when there was no male heir by birth. The husband of a
daughter, a young relative, or even some entirely unrelated person could be adopted as a
completely acceptable heir. While inheritance is no longer a keystone of Japanese society, these
types of adoptions are still common.
Japanese feudal society differed from that of Europe in two other revealing ways. In Japan there
was no cult of chivalry which put women on a romantic pedestal, as though they were fragile,
inferior beings. The Japanese warriors expected their women to be as tough as they were and
accept self-destruction out of loyalty or family. Also Japanese warriors, though men of the sword
like their Western counterparts, had none of the contempt that the Western feudal aristocracy
often showed for learning and the gentler arts. They prided themselves on their fine calligraphy or
poetic skills. Perhaps the long coexistence of the culture of the imperial court with the rising
warrior society of the provinces had permitted a fuller transfer of the arts and attitudes of the one
to the other.


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