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Feudal Government

Feudal Government

Emperors, shogun, and samurai-oh my! These individuals and many others made up the Japanese feudal government during the Middle Ages. The medieval period of 1180-1600 CE was a time of change in government, religion, and the Japanese economy. Keep reading to learn about the changes the Japanese government experienced.

Lord Minamoto Yoritomo Visits Kyoto. Feudal Military Government. StudySmarter. Fig 1: Lord Minamoto Yoritomo Visits Kyoto

Feudalism Government Definition

In the Middle Ages, feudalism was a system of government that centered around an arrangement between two parties.

Feudalism

a government system in which people would pledge loyalty to a feudal lord for land and protection

Feudalism was experienced by those living in medieval Europe and Japan. There were many similarities between Europe and Japan. Both had a decentralized government, strong warriors, and a resurgence of religion.

In feudal Japan, the military dictatorship gave land to vassals in exchange for military protection.

Photographic Reproduction of Minamoto Yoritomo. Feudal Military Government. StudySmarter. Fig 2: Photographic Reproduction of Minamoto Yoritomo

Explaining the Feudal System

Feudalism in the Middle Ages often centered around two people: the feudal lord and the vassal. The lord would provide land and protection. In exchange, the vassal would provide a service to the feudal lord.

The feudal system was the chief way of government from 1185-1603 CE in Japan. The Japanese feudal system provided farmers with land in exchange for military protection.

At the beginning of the Kamakura period, military leaders called shoguns, took over the government and replaced the emperor, who had previously been the head of the government. The shogunate, or military dictatorship, began redistributing land to loyal followers.

Over time, the loyal followers of the shogunate gained more power. These powerful landowners were called the daimyo. Daimyo had their own small armies, and they were able to challenge the shogunate. This resulted in the traditional feudal relationship, but with a twist-it was samurai who offered their protection services to the daimyo.

Did you know? Many of the feudal relationships in Japan were inherited, meaning that they occurred because the people involved were related.

Feudalism Roles

The Japanese feudal structure had many key players. Below is a chart summarizing the title and the description of the role.

TitleDescription
Samuraia group of highly skilled Japanese warriors
ShogunateJapanese military dictatorship
Shoguna military leader
DaimyoJapanese feudal lord
MikadoJapanese emperor (a figurehead)

The mikado was the emperor, which is a deceptive title. The emperor in feudal Japan had little power. The shogun and daimyo were powerful, as they ran the shogunate. The shogun and daimyo were supported by the samurai.

The Kamakura Shogunate

The Kamakura Shogunate was the name for the feudal government that oversaw Japan between 1185 and 1333. This time period would later be known as the Kamakura period.

It was the first Japanese military dictatorship, and the first shogunate. It was established by Minamoto Yoritomo. The feudal government evolved as the warrior class separated from the emperor and developed its own power. The warrior class generally allowed the imperial court to have surface-level power.

Yoritomo was a military dictator, and members of his clan ruled Japan until 1226. Other clans ruled the shogunate until it was overthrown in 1333.

Social Stratification in Feudal Japan. Feudal Military Government. StudySmarter. Fig 3: Social Stratification in Feudal Japan

Feudal Government in Japan

You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that the feudal social structure was one that contained a hierarchy of power.

Feudal Social Structure

The emperor was the top of the feudal Japanese social structure. The emperor usually had inherited his power from another family member. The emperor traditionally had very little real power, making him a figurehead. Figureheads have cultural relevance, but no real power.

So, who had the power in feudal Japan? The true power rested with someone called a shogun. The shogun was a step below the emperor. He was a military leader who was the head of the shogunate. The shogun was often appointed to the position by the emperor and was tasked with being the commander of the military.

The shogun was supported by the daimyo, who were feudal lords and wealthy landowners. They pledged their loyalty to the shogun and were rewarded with land to control. The daimyos were in an interesting position. They had no one really watching over them to make sure that they were using their responsibility appropriately. They could be recruited to serve the shogun, but at the same time, if the shogun made the daimyo unhappy, they could rebel and unseat him.

These wealthy landowners were supported and protected by samurai, military warriors who lived by a strict moral code. Samurai usually lived in or near the daimyos castle and promised to serve for the rest of their lives. They had to obey a strict code of honor.

Together, these members of society wielded power over peasants, artisans, and merchants.

The Japanese Warrior Class

The Japanese warrior class was made up of a group of trained warriors called samurai. These warriors were part of an elite class, and they operated under a strict moral code. At first, samurai were relatives or dependents of the landowners. Over time, they were trained and developed a code of honor called Bushido.

Bushido demanded that those who abide by the code show respect and loyalty to one's family, community, and country. It was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism and Confucianism. Samurai were expected to display courage, honesty, politeness, and self-control.

Samurai training began when children were young. Both boys and girls were exposed to martial arts. Girls were expected to grow into women who could protect their homes and families. Boys were expected to grow into warriors.

Samurai were important because they worked to support the daimyo, thereby strengthening the shogun against the emperor.

A samurai. Feudal Military Government. StudySmarter. Fig 4: A Samurai

Feudal Military Government Summary

In the Middle Ages, feudalism was a system of government that centered around an arrangement between two groups. More often than not, the agreement was to trade a commodity, like land, for service and protection.

Feudalism

a government system in which people would pledge loyalty to a feudal lord for land and protection

TitleDescription
Samuraia group of highly skilled Japanese warriors
ShogunateJapanese military dictatorship
Shoguna military leader
DaimyoJapanese feudal lord
MikadoJapanese emperor (a figurehead)

The feudal system was the chief way of government from 1185-1603 CE in Japan. The Japanese feudal system provided farmers with land in exchange for military protection.

At the beginning of a period called the Kamakura period, the shoguns (military leaders) began absorbing the power that had previously been held by a weak emperor. The shogunate began redistributing land to loyal followers.

The emperor was the top of the feudal Japanese social structure. His surface-level power was hereditary. The true power rested with someone called a shogun, who in many ways was a step below the emperor. The shogun was often appointed to the position by the emperor and was tasked with being the commander of the military. The shogun was supported by the daimyo, who were feudal lords and wealthy landowners. These wealthy landowners were supported and protected by samurai, military warriors who lived by a strict moral code. Together, these members of society wielded power over peasants, artisans, and merchants.

Feudal Government - Key takeaways

  • Medieval feudalism was a stable form of government in which people would trade a commodity, like land, for service and protection. It occurred in both Europe and Japan.
  • In feudal Japan, the military dictatorship gave land to vassals in exchange for military protection.
  • The feudal system was Japan's chief way of government from 1185-1603 CE.
  • The Japanese emperor was a figurehead. The shogun, who ran the shogunate, had actual power. He redistributed land to loyal followers, who were later known as daimyo. Samurai supported the daimyos.

Frequently Asked Questions about Feudal Government

Feudalism was generally a stable form of government. 

 Yes, feudalism is a government system in which people would pledge loyalty to a feudal lord for land and protection.  

Feudalism is a system of government in which people would pledge loyalty to a feudal lord for land and protection. 

Feudalism diverted power from a weak central government to stronger feudal lords.  

Feudal Japan had a feudal government, which was a military dictatorship.  


Final Feudal Government Quiz

Question

Which word describes a government system in which people would pledge loyalty to a feudal lord for land and protection? 

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Answer

Feudalism. 

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Question

True or false: Feudalism was experienced by those living in medieval Europe and Japan. 

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Answer

True

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Question

The feudal system was the chief way of government from ___-___CE in Japan

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Answer

1185-1603

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Question

Which of the following are true for  the beginning of the Kamakura period? 

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Answer

Military leaders took over the government. 

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Question

Which of the following are true about daimyo? 

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Answer

They were loyal followers of the shogunate. 

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Question

Who were the skilled warriors that agreed to protect the daimyo?

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Answer

Samurai.

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Question

Who were the military leaders in the Japanese feudal system?

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Answer

Shogun. 

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Question

What was the mikado?

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Answer

The emperor. 

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Question

Which word describes the Japanese military dictatorship?  

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Answer

Shogunate. 

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Question

What was an effect of the shogunate taking power? 

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Answer

Land was redistributed to loyal followers. 

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