Robert Oxnam :: The term "feudal era" has often been used to describe the Japanese medieval period. Historians have been fascinated by the similarities, and by the differences, between Japanese and European feudalism.
H. Paul Varley :: When Japan entered the modern
age and learned about Western history and Western historians began to study
Japan, people were struck by the fact of what appeared to be great parallels
between this kind of feudalism in Europe and in Japan. And as the comparative
study developed, people went so far as to say that the kind of feudalism
that we are talking about existed in only two places, at two times, in world
history, and that was Europe, western Europe, during its medieval period,
and Japan during its medieval period.
The problem however with this is that Western feudalism was taken as the model and people looked at Japanese history and sought to find things that were comparable to the Western model. And that brought about, inevitably, a certain distortion of the Japanese case. Japan was made to fit the Western model. And in recent years both Japanese historians, and perhaps particularly Western historians, have begun to rebel against the whole business of comparative feudalism with the particular desire, Western historians of Japan particularly, a particular desire to see and understand Japan on its own terms. That having been said, there still are remarkable similarities.
Now, stated in simple terms, what we mean by this kind of feudalism is, we have the premise of a society that is overwhelmingly agricultural; there's very little commercial development. Most of the people are peasants, they're serfs tied to the land, and you have a ruling military or warrior class. And the two most critical elements in that warrior class are the lord-vassal relationship and the fiefholding.