This kept strict limits on society and what it could accomplish. In addition, Japan placed extreme importance on the family, with a very strong paternal leader, who was the "law" of the family unit. Thus, the landowners were powerful in society, but in the community, the fathers were the most powerful, and who the family looked to for guidance and understanding. Therefore, complete control did not lie with the feudal lords, and so, society was less constricted, and held on to feudal values longer. In fact, much of modern Japanese society still has roots in the feudal system, such as the continuing importance of the father in Japanese families and society. Writer Scalapino continues, "The element of feudal influence can be seen most clearly in two respects: the feudal system greatly strengthened the hierarchical nature of the family, and also facilitated the integration of the family into larger social-economic units" (Scalapino 127). In addition, feudalism did not begin in Japan until the late tenth century, and it remained until the late nineteenth, while feudalism flourished in Europe between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. The Europeans learned from feudalism and moved on, while Japan stubbornly held on to an antiquated system far longer than it was necessary.
Japan's construct, socially, politically, and economically, can certainly be applied to various societies around the globe, particularly China's, which followed in Japan's footsteps to an extent. However, it can also be applied to many European countries, Japan just took longer to mature and develop. European countries threw off feudalism much earlier, and nations like Great Britain and France developed into great nation-states, which replaced the liege lord with early kingdoms and then democracies, and developed their political systems to include rule by the people, not by a single, despotic entity. Economically, nation-states grew much more quickly than their feudal predecessors, because more people would profit as economic trade grew, and more people had a vested interest in trade progressing. When only the lord profited, it was difficult for the vassals to see any point in working harder or faster, but when they too could profit, they had more incentive to work harder and more creatively. It is doubtful if the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century could have occurred in a feudal society, there simply was not as much incentive for innovation and technological change on a grand scale. Socially too, the feudalistic towns of Europe had significant classes and stigmas, and many of these ended when feudalism ended, creating more of a feeling of community in the nation-states. Feudalism came to Europe as a result of a feeling of fear and unrest after many attacks from foreign nations. Feudalism served a purpose, but could not last forever, because it was too limiting and undemocratic. Feudalism spread throughout the world, so it certainly was not only applicable to European society. It was a rigid form of life, which did not allow for much freedom or equality, and gradually, people wanted more than their plot of land and lord over their dominion. They wanted their own rights and freedoms, and that feeling also spread around the world.
In conclusion, feudalism can be applied to many early societies, and it served a valid purpose at a time when people needed structure and strong leadership in their lives. Feudalism gave the world some of the greatest monuments to culture, from castles to cathedrals that still stand today. It also created some despotic rulers who cared more for their profits than they cared for their peasants. It was a time of change, and a time that led to greater freedoms and societies than were ever known before. Modern nation-states owe much of their current success to the feudal system, as Japan clearly shows. The feudal system could still exist today in some areas, where the government is still strong, and relies on keeping the people weak, but it is not a valid modern way of life, it is antiquated and limiting, but it did serve a vital purpose at the time it developed and thrived.
Bloch, Marc. Feudal Society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1961.
Sansom, G.B. Japan: A Short Cultural History. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1978.