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Terms of Feuadlism in Japan

Shogun: (seii tai shogun, barbarian-subduing generalissimo), title of the military dictators who ruled Japan almost continuously from 1192 to 1867. The term was first used for generals sent against restless tribes in the north-east. It then lapsed until Minamoto Yoshinaka claimed it when he seized the capital Kyoto and cowed the imperial court in 1183. After his death, the emperor awarded it in 1192 to Minamoto Yoritomo, already overlord of Japan, giving him right to crush anyone he deemed to be disturbing the peace, and to appoint officials to supervise the country. This new regime was known as the Kamakura shogunate, since Yoritomo kept his bakufu (literally "tent government") at Kamakura, away from corrupting court life in Kyoto. After Yoritomo's death in 1199, his line died out, and was supplanted by his in-laws, the Hojo, who installed aristocrats as puppet shoguns while governing as regents. Interrupted by the anti-Hojo "restoration" of 1333-1336 led by Go-Daigo, shogunal rule was restored by the Ashikaga, who governed in alliance with the daimyo, until rivalries exploded around 1470. This period was known as the Muromachi shogunate after the Ashikaga residence in Kyoto's Muromachi district. The last Ashikaga shogun abdicated in 1588, but power had already passed to Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Tokugawa Ieyasu then became shogun in 1603. Tokugawa shoguns governed for over 250 years, a period called Edo after their capital Edo (now Tokyo). Tokugawa rule lasted until 1867, when its impotence against Western encroachment led to a radical rebellion to "restore" direct imperial rule, the Meiji Restoration.

Daimyo: ("great holders of private land"), feudal lords who dominated Japan from the 12th to the 19th century. They arose as leaders of the samurai class, who during the peaceful Heian period (790-1185) administered provincial estates for the civil nobility residing in the capital Kyoto. In 1192 a member of this class, Minamoto Yoritomo, established a military dictatorship as shogun. He and his successors, the Hojo and the Ashikaga, rewarded followers with lucrative administrative rights over estates, creating the daimyo families. All were potential rivals for power unless checked by central authority. When this collapsed in the 15th and 16th centuries, the great daimyo destroyed each other and were replaced by sengoku (Warring State) daimyo, who feuded constantly and actually owned their lands, which they ruled from castles. Unity was finally restored by the daimyo leader Oda Nobunaga and his successors Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Under the Tokugawa there were between 200 and 300 daimyo families, all virtually autonomous within their own estates but subordinated to the shogun and obliged to leave their families as hostages in Edo and to attend him regularly there. The daimyo were officially defined as lords whose lands yielded over 10,000 koku of rice annually. The daimyo class was abolished in 1871, after the fall of the shogunate, and its members absorbed into a new pensioned nobility.

Samurai: warrior class in Japan, or a member of that class. Samurai first arose as provincial administrators acting for absentee estate-owning courtiers who remained in Kyoto. In the unruly provinces, these officials were recruited from local warrior clans bound by bonds of fealty, and led by offshoots of the imperial family, such as the Taira and Minamoto. By the 12th century, the term had come to denote the retainers of a daimyo. The replacement of the Hojo shogunate with the Ashikaga in the 14th century led to an even more feudal system, where samurai held lands awarded by their daimyo, and collected taxes. During the turbulent 15th and 16th centuries, the samurai formed the backbone of the armies whose feuds convulsed Japan. The Tokugawa shogunate segregated the samurai in castle towns. The now samurai formed a distinct class in the rigid Tokugawa system, wearing two swords as a symbol of their caste. In the peaceful Edo period, the samurai became shogunal or diamyo officials, or simply idle stiperdiaries. Poverty led some to ronin. In 1867 the last shogun resigned, and the samurai class lost its privileges when the whole feudal system was abolished. The daimyo returned their lands to the emperor, granted pensions, and the practice of wearing swords was prohibited. In 1878, the names daimyo and samurai were changed to kazoku, nobility, and shizoku, gentry, respectively.

Ronin: class of masterless samurai, who had lost their place in the normal loyalty pattern of Japanese feudal society. Samurai could become ronin for various reasons, such as the death of their lord, their own transgressions, or defeat in battle. Although some ronin, once they had lost their fiefs, became farmers or even monks, others found it difficult to adjust to their new status and tended to become a disruptive element, sometimes resorting to banditry. The peace established by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603 drove many to take up professions. The famous incident of the 47 ronin took place in 1703. While attending the shogun at Edo in 1701, the young daimyo Asano Naganori, lord of Ako, attacked Kira, the shogun's master of etiquette, who had supposedly provoked him beyond endurance, inside the shogunal castle. For this crime, he was ordered to commit hara-kiri, and his estates were forfeited. Now ronin, 47 of his followers swore vengence on Kira, and spent two years planning their revenge. They stormed Kira's mansion, killed him, and presented his head at Asano's grave. The ronin were ordered to commit suicide, and were buried near their master's grave. The incident became a favourite theme of fiction and drama.

Bushido: ("the way of the warrior") code of ethics observed by the samurai. Like the rules of chivalry that prevailed in medieval Europe, Bushido was based on such virtues as rectitude, endurance, frugality, courage, politeness, veracity, and, especially, loyalty to ruler and country. Only through the exercise of these could a knight maintain his honour, and one who had forfeited honour was compelled to commit hara-kiri. Fully developed by the late 12th century, Bushido became a written code in the 16th century. When feudalism was abolished (by about the middle of the 19th century), the code was abandoned, but its influence, mainly on the army, persisted.

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