You are here: Home » History » The Similarities and Differences Between Japanese and European Feudalism

The Similarities and Differences Between Japanese and European Feudalism

This article will compare and contrast feudal Japan with feudal Europe while offering some explanations for the differences.

Although many people consider feudalism a European invention, the Japanese invented a form of feudalism independent of the Europeans at about the time that feudalism was at its height in Europe. Although these two feudalistic societies differed in several important ways, they also exhibited some key commonalities. This article will compare and contrast feudal Japan with feudal Europe while offering some explanations for the differences.

Since the ownership of land is what defines feudalism, both Japan and Europe had landowning and non-landowing castes during the Middle Ages. Unlike European feudalism, however, Japanese feudalism did not have a true pyramid form with the monarch presiding over a hierarchy of less important nobles. There are two main reasons for this. First, authority in Japan was much less centralized than it was in the nation-states of Europe. Although most of the local aristocrats paid lip-service to the emperor, the rugged terrain of Japan made it difficult for the emperor to fully control the local aristocracy. Thus, the local aristocrats had much more power in Japan than they ever had in France, Britain, or any other European country.

Secondly, although the lower nobility in Japan (the samurai) swore fealty to their local lords, the local lords did not give the samurai any land of their own. While the European nobility received land in exchange for their military service, the samurai did not join a landowning hierarchy. Instead, they were given an independent income from their local lord based upon what that lord’s lands produced. In contrast, European knights usually had their own serfs to work the land the knights received from their lord. While a Japanese samurai might have had servants, these servants did not work the land they way they would have done in Europe.

Obviously, the Japanese and European feudalistic systems were based on radically different legal and cultural structures. While the basis for feudalism was Roman and Germanic law and the Catholic Church in Europe, Chinese Confucian law and Buddhism were the basis of feudalism in Japan. Because of these differences in the basis for feudalism in Japan and Europe, feudalism developed in those two areas at different times. Although feudalism was largely established throughout Europe by the 9th century, it was not until the 12th century that feudalism began to appear in Japan. Thus, the Japanese Samurai system is not quite as old as that of the European knight.

Perhaps the most important similarity between Japanese and European feudalism for most people was the fact that they were both hereditary caste systems. In both areas, those who were born peasants had not chance of becoming anything other than peasants. Furthermore, they had no hope that their children would be anything other than peasants. Similarly, those who were born into the families of local lords or samurai would belong to the same caste as their parents, no matter how unqualified for leadership they might be. Over time, these caste systems began breaking down, but they severely limited the opportunities of the masses for hundreds of years.

Liked it
User Comments
  1. Kristen

    On August 11, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks so much!

  2. Graham

    On September 8, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    You have no idea how much this helped.

  3. J-Diddy

    On September 8, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    Thanks, this answered a essay question on my test perfectly!

  4. Carmelita

    On September 9, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Omg, thanks!

  5. LOL

    On October 3, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    i dun understand a word

  6. Samurai

    On October 3, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    this did not help me on my essay

  7. trisha

    On October 4, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    wow it really helped me a lot

  8. clone troopers rock

    On October 12, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    i love star wars especially clone troopers i play battle front 2 every day all day

  9. kaniera

    On October 13, 2008 at 8:25 am

    it gave me alot of info thanx

  10. Liandra

    On October 13, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    This was an alright essay- it was kinda vauge, and could have used a lot more detail, but it was useful. Told me some things I didn’t know, helped me out a bit. Thanks for writing it.

  11. yay!

    On October 14, 2008 at 12:23 am

    this is going to help me a lot with my essay i have to write. Thanks!

  12. Ricky

    On October 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    thanks. i got the last part i needed for my ap essay. really helped a lot.

  13. yA mUtAh

    On October 16, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    i hate reading im so glad this was a short paper & i didnt read it yet lmfao

  14. jimmylikespussy

    On October 19, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    it answered my question perfectly

  15. single and haten it

    On October 23, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    thtz this helped me on a project ALOT cz my stupid history teach makes everything more harder than it seems

  16. sincerly appreciative

    On October 27, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    thank you so much this was a huge help……i found out some key points that will really be helpful for my tests!

  17. Julio Night

    On November 23, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Awesome thanks a lot! i did not really understand this subject of feudal system now i do and i need it for AP class thanks you!

  18. dd anex

    On November 23, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    that was cool i used it for school lol but i would add more stuff about Europe and Japan in total.

  19. alex

    On November 24, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    This helped a little, but more information about their similarities would have been nice, since that’s what one of my essay assignments is on. Otherwise, this is a good paper.

  20. emilyyyyy

    On February 8, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    this stuff is so confusing..
    but your paper will help, so thanks :)

  21. sam

    On February 8, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    some of this helped, but I’m pretty sure that some data is wrong. I don’t think the Japanese developed feudalism independently of Europe (they were connected via the dutch) and you didn’t mention the shoguns (the emperor was kind of a figurehead from 1600-1800). The confucian stuff helped a lot

  22. dani

    On March 4, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    thanks! extremely helpful for my DBQ

  23. thank u

    On March 4, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    thanks, it helped a lot. thanks

  24. cx2

    On March 19, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    i really needed this!
    i would be dead without it!

  25. BillSquirrel

    On March 31, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    dude. thankyou.

  26. dunndouche

    On April 2, 2009 at 2:57 am

    wow that helped thanks

  27. thanx

    On April 19, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    hey…thanx alot this helped me with my school paper i needed to do…u guys rock..thanx alot

  28. shAkEiitx33

    On April 21, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Thankss! this really helped mee ;]

  29. theperson

    On April 23, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Wow this answered my AP prompt exactly! So helpful. Thank you genius person who wrote this.

  30. c

    On July 24, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    very helpful!

  31. Alie Loyola

    On December 3, 2009 at 12:25 am

    This was short, sweet, and straight to the point. My teacher told me to read it and I found it very helpful

  32. waaad

    On December 8, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    this doesn\’t helps at all

  33. gdtekidt

    On December 8, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    iloveangel m

  34. j-boy

    On February 9, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    i dont get this at alll!!!!!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

  35. Matt

    On February 28, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    wow thx so much, helped a bunch with my hw :)

  36. Thankful Reader

    On March 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    This is a great article and very helpful! I’m so glad that this is available as it is going to help me a lot in my essay I’m supposed to write on this topic.
    Brilliant job!

  37. Gelii

    On March 14, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    this stuff helped alot thanks :)

  38. CalLMeDMoN3y**$$#@

    On April 5, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    it didnt give me much info on the real subject whick was knight against samuri

  39. Rodeo_Clown

    On April 11, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    This helped me a little. Thanks for the information!

  40. Matt

    On April 13, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Most scholars would agree that the “nation-state” system didn’t come into existence until the 19th century. Your statement “authority in Japan was much less centralized than it was in the nation-states of Europe” is at best misleading. Not sure what you mean by authority was less centralized. Authority in Japan was focused in Edo for a good period of its “feudalistic” period.

  41. yo+*****##

    On April 17, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    I think you got a like the whole last paragraph wrong
    In both Europe and Japan a lower class citzen could in fact be trained in knighting hood or to be a samurai and tehrefore their social ranking would increase in fact it was a way to avoid poverty i’v eheard of cases were the families would give their children away to give them a better life in total though ur wrong.

  42. not happy

    On April 27, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    you have more comments from the people than you do in the actal infomation

  43. jack

    On May 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    da nu nu nuuuuu

  44. ocean

    On May 25, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    this is so cool.

  45. THANKS :)

    On June 6, 2010 at 12:21 am

    ooo thanks very much i think it will help me more than anything :* :* :D :D

  46. kayla

    On October 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    it gave me alot of info we have a pre-test tommorrow our teacher told us to think of what weve learned other years

  47. Ruy the Samurai

    On October 17, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    You\’re a little wrong, European peasants indeed could not become knights or lords but Japanese peasants could be trained to become samurai.
    Proof: WORLD CIVILIZATIONS textbook.

  48. Scott

    On November 14, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Whaaaa-HooO! Thanks! This helped me out on my documents I have to questions on!

  49. Mikayla

    On November 15, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Thanks so much! You helped alot :)

  50. ?

    On March 11, 2011 at 9:27 am

    isso me ajudou muito thx

  51. saaaaaaaamurai

    On March 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    the person who wrote this is a genius!
    Thanks so much, it helped heaps :D

  52. Linda

    On March 29, 2011 at 12:34 pm


  53. mmmmppppppppppppppp

    On November 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    I KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

  54. your mom

    On November 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    ASS MY BUTT;))))))))


    On November 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    BUTT MY ASS SIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    On November 11, 2011 at 3:54 pm


  57. Bell

    On November 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    This helped with my test alot. thx

  58. ayeDESSIE

    On January 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    i dont get thiis lmao

  59. bob

    On March 14, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    ansered homework

Post Comment
Powered by Powered by Triond