Social Class Social, Political and Economic Context

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Social Class

Social, Political and Economic Context

The chief of several clans became the Emperor when one of his class took political power. Figurehead.

The Emperor and the imperial family had the highest social status. He was a figurehead, a leader in name only. He was the religious leader, but had little political power, and in reality was under control of the shogun's clan. Economically, the people of all other classes of society provided for the Emperor and his court.

The shogun was part of the warrior class, and considered to be a noble. Real ruler of Japan.

The shogun was the military leader of the most powerful of the Emperor's clans. The clans often fought to acquire this high social status. The shogun was the actual political ruler. He had a high social status and those of the other classes provided for his economic needs in return for protection and privileges (e.g., a small portion of land, some of the produce of the land).

Part of the warrior class. They were nobles at the top of the samurai class.

The daimyos were the shogun's representatives. They ran the estates according to the shogun's rules. Their swords were their most valuable possessions because they were required to use them often to demonstrate their loyalty to the shogun. They had high social status as members of the warrior class. They lived in huge castles surrounded by moats.

members of the warrior class.

The samurai were professional warriors of the military aristocracy. They were loyal to the shogun and daimyos, in whose castles they resided. Their position gave them fairly high social status, but little political power. Their economic needs were met by lower classes similar to the arrangement with the daimyos and the shogun.

paid soldiers whose loyalty was with the leader they defended at the time.

The ronin were wandering samurai who had no daimyos. They worked as body guards for rich merchants or as paid soldiers during civil war. They had low social status, no political power and depended on others for their economic well-being.

the largest class, constituting 90% of the population.

Included farmers and fishermen. Had very low social status, no political power, very poor. Valued because they produced the food for all other classes, and often made the material for clothing. Paid taxes to the daimyos and shogun in the form of rice and work. Often peasants starved when they had to give up more than two-thirds of the year's crops to the upper classes in return for being able to remain on the land.

craftspeople who made a variety of wood and metal products.

The artisan crafted a variety of products including art, cooking pots, fish hooks, farm tools, utensils, ship anchors and swords. The artisans, who were well-known for their exceptional swords, were highly respected. However, on the whole, this class was not as respected as peasants because they did not produce food.


The merchants sold goods and produce made by others.

The merchants were of very low social status and seen as unimportant because they produced nothing of value and lived off the efforts of others' work. So low was the respect for these sellers that, often, they were made to live in separate locations and not allowed to mix with other classes except to do business.

Your social class ____________________________

After reading descriptions of each of the social classes, ruminate [think deeply about] on the following questions: What do you think your social class would answer?

  1. What is your role in society? Be descriptive!

  1. Are there any distinctive qualities regarding your social class?

3. How would you describe your quality of life? Why?

  1. Which social class is above you? Below?

5. Write a THESIS Comparing and contrasting the feudal systems of Japan and Western Europe during the medieval period.

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