Feudal Japan Essay, Research Paper
During the period of Japanese history known as Feudal Japan, there were many warring fiefs, orstates, with different lords. Their objective was unifying Japan. and, it couldn’t have been donewithout the help of samurais and ninjas. Samurais had masters and went by a code of conductknown as Bushido. The ninjas were just thieves and hired assassins. What else can be learnedabout these warriors? Some questions that might pique a person’s curiosity are many. How didthey training? What requirements had to be met to become a master? How has modern day Japanbeen influenced by its medieval history? Feudal Japan has had much influence on Japan’s shapeinto modern day. “The kami came into existence on a plane parallel to the Prime Materia, whence Japan iscreated after Izanagi (the male) ‘dips his spear into the ocean and creates Japan along withIzanami (the female). They procure a pantheon of gods, and it is through this natural divinity thatthe hegemony of the Yamato House is mythically legitimized” (Lewis 1999). Here Lewis explains the myth of how Japan was created. He uses reference in relating the relationship of man, with thekami, or gods. “Kobutai refers to the traditional assertion that feudal Japanese have divine roots, and butone Imperial Line.” (Lewis 1999) . This explains of how the Japanese felt about themselves, and how proud they were of their own culture. Not only that, they felt as if to be more superior beingsthan any other race on the planet. “Although the Emperor is the logical apex of thisstructure…..the lower classes were not allowed to lay eyes upon him.” (Staff 1999). Like allfeudal systems there were many classes. Only a few lived lavish lifestyles, while many work asslaves. At the top of the chain was the emperor, he spent most of his time isolated in the palace. The emperors felt so bored that they often became monks. This allowed for more freedom andthe ability to travel beyond Kyoto, (Japanese capital). Many times the emperor was only asymbolic representation of authority, because the real power holders of Japan were the Shoguns,(Japan’s top military oligarchy). Next in line were the Kuge, “The Kuge ran Japan’s central government….they held manypowerful positions.” (staff 1999) Indeed, just as in any feudal system, they were the nobles, andaristocrats. Their lives were based upon the government most of the time, which in occupied alltheir spare time. Just below the Kuge came the Buke. They were Japan’s military class. Started around1100, this class includes samurai, ashigaru (foot soldiers), and daimyo (governor-general). Theirmain duty was to act out the duties enacted to them by the Kuges, some of which includedleadership of different geographic regions. At the bottom of the list are the Bonge. They were the common people. “Theseunfortunate people have the lowest social ranking besides the Ainu. Who are considered wildbarbarians.” (Mcdowell 1996) The people of this class often wanted to distinguish themselves sowithin this class were subclasses. Ryoke were independent land owners and farmers, Gesakukinwere renter farmers, and Genin were craftsmen and laborers. These common people struggledand worked like slaves for the higher classes. A good example of this is that 95% of the peoplesupported the rice needs of the 5% who were higher class. This often caused many riots andrebellions. The samurai were called upon to break up the turmoil. This lead to the samurai becoming an official class. The Samurai became an official class, but how did that happen? “War played a centralpart in the history of Japan.” (Staff 1999) For the most part, the struggle was the one oftenrepeated thoughtout history, the controlling of land. About 20% of Japan’s land was fit forfarming. No wonder it was so valuable. This struggle, along with the rebellion of the lowerclasses helped the samurai to be distinguished as a class. “Emperor Keiko was cunning, fearless,strong, and a great marital artist” (Mcgee 1999). Emperor Keiko was an important person. Legend says he was the first person obtain the title of Shogun, or General of Japan. He wasimportant because the legend goes on to say his son Prince Yamato, through his father’steachings, set the role for the samurai. Ancient Yayoi warriors developed weapons, armor, and a code which, during thecenturies, became the core of the samurai. The ancient weapons were bows, arrows, and swords. Armor included a helmet protecting the head and neck, a breastplate for chest protection, arm andshoulder protectors, and a belly wrap. Later forms of armor came to include leg and thigh
protectors. The reason for changes in armor was the change in fighting technique. In the fifthcentury, horses were being imported to Japan. This led the samurai to fight with bows and onhorses. “After seeing the skill of Mongols on horseback…the samurai later changed their ways offighting .” (Mcgee 1999) Later on, in the 13th century, when battling with Mongols, theirmethods changed to ground. They used swords during close range combat for beheading foes.The long sword was 24 inches, while the short was between 12 and 24 inches. The samurai oftenbelieved their swords were their souls. With the demand for stronger swords over the centuries, the straight swords became thelong curved ones seen today. The sword began as iron combined with carbon. The swordsmithsused fire, water, anvil, and hammer to shape these swords. After forging the blade, the swordwas then polished. Then the sword was tested for its sharpness. “The sword tester took the bladeand cut through bodies of criminals”(Mcdowell 1999). Tests of these swords were often recordedon the nakago, or the metal piece attaching the sword blade to the handle. Against such a skilled warrior class, how were the common people of Japan going tostrike back? “The ninjas came from the working class people, the farmers” (Tanemura 1994).Their only hope was finding a way to fight back. The ninja became the form of defense againstthe samurai. Ninjas originated more than 800 years ago among the common people of Japan. Theninjas (Japanese for stealers-in) were those who revolted against the warrior class. They left tothe barren, cold and mountainous regions of Iga and Koga. There is were they trained in the artsof war. Their training is based upon a great Chinese book written by Sun Tzu called the Art of War. Over centuries they trained in every martial art known. Their main objectives wereespionage and assassination by any means possible, but their training also took them to spiritualstates. They trained to increase mental abilities and expand their human endurance. In order to train for a ninja, a child started at a young age around 2. The kids playedgames that taught them unarmed combat, swordsmanship, use of weapons, camouflage, andescape. With ninjas earning a name among the warrior class, the warrior class started to fearthem. even the samurai, when approaching a particular region known to be controlled by ninjaswatched his back. Over the centuries, the ninjas practiced all in secrecy, no one knew anything about themexcept the ninjas themselves. They had many power techniques. The physical ones were calledoutside techniques. The more complex and deadly moves of the ninja were in the insidetechniques. “The basics of running, camouflage, and stealth were the outside techniques of theninja. The inside techniques were dangerous. ” Certain secret medicines can be very dangerous iftaught the wrong people. Masters, and only masters with kind hearts are taught these techniques.They are taught through direct teachings” (Tanemura 1994). These secret techniques include useof poisonous powders, ways to kill a person with a single blow, and torture techniques. So with the warring states of Japan in constant warfare, what happened?After the break up of Feudal Japan during the 1900s, the once warrior class of the samuraibecame modern martial artists. The techniques of the ninja have been absorbed into Japan’sSecret Service. Today ninja has developed into a modern form of martial arts known as Ninjitsu,practiced by many from around the world. The traditional art, once used for self-defense, now isused as a way to maintain the body, mind and soul. The samurai sword techniques are taught as asport. Though out history, not just in Feudal Japan but in Europe, people have developed waysto put up with oppression and unfair treatment. As we look though history most conflicts wereover land and oppression. An example we all are familiar with is immigration to the Americas. Itstarted with white settlers coming over and taking the land of the Native Americans, andcontinues with struggles of Afro-Americans and others for the right to claim America as theirhomeland too. Whatever the case cannot put a whole people at a lower class and treat them less humanthan yourself, put more of a burden on them than what they are able to do. Just as the higherclasses of Japanese society, did to the common people, as the white slave owners did to theslaves. In the case of Japan the samurai and ninjas, so if we treat each other fairly maybe theworld would be a better place, but that rarely ever happens. Why? Because It is human nature towant more and be better than those around us.