Japan

“Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love.”

Morihei Ueshiba

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out our last blog in the History Around the Globe Series – Egypt!

By: Kristina Dong

Coming up – Japan!

Country of Samurai (warriors), Sake (rice wine), and Shintou Shrines. Ancient Japan has made unique contributions to world culture today through its refined arts and architecture, along with its mythical tales and religious rites.

Photo by DSD on Pexels.com

Feudal Japan (1185-1603 CE)

What was the feudal system in Japan?

Feudal Japan was built on a system of hereditary classes. With the emperor at the very top, followed by the Shogun and Daimyo (ruling nobles), the Samurai (warriors), peasants and artisans, and finally merchants. 

Feudal Japan Hierarchy Structure | Image from libguides.msben.nsw.edu.au

Historical Figures

The Strongest Samurai.

The one closest to attaining this prestigious title – that was Miyamoto Musashi. Born in 1584 in the Hariama province in Japan, Miyamoto began serving the way of the sword at the early age of 13.

During his time, he set out on a personal quest to develop a perfect sword technique. He invented the nitō ichi-ryū, where he fought with dual swords, and is often referred to today as kensai (‘‘sword saint’’). Musashi claimed to have fought in more than 60 individual sword fights, many of which were to the death and all of which he won.

Illustration of Miyamoto Musashi | Image from mindspeaks.co

Interesting Note: The samurai class had its own code of honour – Bushido, a form of warrior philosophy.
Perhaps you might have heard of the term ‘Seppuku‘ (切腹) or ‘Harakiri‘ before which translates to ‘Cutting Belly’. This was an act of extreme bravery and self-sacrifice embodied in the Bushido. ▬ι══════ﺤ

Religion

Shinto* and Buddhism* were the most commonly practiced religions in feudal Japan. Shinto was mainly concerned with daily life, while Buddhism prepared the people for the life to come. The two religions were often practiced together in households.

*Shintou
The main belief in Shinto is the worship of ‘kami‘, which are spirits that inhabit the natural world. There are kami dedicated to landscapes and forces of nature, as well as to people and animals (both living and dead).
Shrines are places of worship for Shinto followers and Tori Gates are an iconic feature of these shrines.

*Buddhism
Buddhism in feudal Japan reinforced the idea of a layered society with different levels of social status with the emperor very much at the top and protected by the Four Guardian Kings of Buddhist law.
Temples are places of worship for Buddhist followers and pagodas are an iconic monastery.

Popular Culture

Do you want to know more about life in feudal Japan?

Look no further! From phenomenal myths surrounding lives of ninjas to the glorious retellings of the lives of samurais, there have been numerous remakes of the stories and historical tales surrounding feudal Japan.

Our recommendation is the 2006 anime series Gintama, a comedic fictional approach to the life of samurais in an alternative ‘Feudal Japan’.

Gintama (2006) | Image from themoviedb.org

Keen to go on exchange to Japan?

Want to know more about the history of Japan and its romantic tales by applying for exchange to a Japanese partner university? Check out UNSW’s list of partner universities spanning across Japan!

Check out our interviews with Japan exchange returnees for more interesting experiences around the region!

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