Vertical Structure of Japanese Society

Topics: Confucianism, Japan, Sociology Pages: 3 (774 words) Published: November 5, 2013
This essay will discuss the vertical society (tateshakai) in Japan, namely its development in ancient and modern Japan and how it shapes attitudes and behavior, and thus providing insight into Japanese etiquette and culture. Tateshakai essentially describes the social hierarchy in Japan and how the Japanese place a huge emphasis on vertical relationships, much in contrast with Western attitudes which favour horizontal relationships and minimizing barriers between hierarchal rungs.

Tateshakai probably had it roots in the Kamakura period when Neo Confucian ideas were brought into Japan by Zen Buddhist monks. It promulgates the values of filial piety and harmonious relationship between the universe and oneself. It became the official guiding philosophy during the Tokugawa period and it helped legitimize the Tokugawa Shogunate rule through its concepts of “a hierarchical society in accord with nature, of benevolent paternalism in government, of an ethical basis for administration, and of a meritorious officialdom”[1]. Harmony was established through reciprocal benevolent ruling and obedience from their subjects. Social stratification of the Samurai, Peasant, Artisan and Merchant was also developed in a similar vein, with merchants seen as the lowest class as they are deemed as parasites under Neo Confucian values. It is not surprising that the ie (household/family) system was also created during this period. The ie system placed great emphasis on family tradition and its continuity. Members of an ie are expected to see themselves as one collective unit and work towards the greater good of the household and not for oneself. The head of the household is typically the eldest male heir and wields absolute power and responsibility. The ie system essentially placed emphasis on the parent-child (vertical) relationship over the husband-wife (horizontal) relationship. This can be seen in the code of obligations for samurai promulgated in 1684[2].

The hierarchical social...

References: Chie Nakane, 1972., Japanese Society, Current Anthropology, Vol. 13, No. 5, The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological
Research, pp. 575-582. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2741011. Accessed: 13/10/2013
Kenneth P., 1996. The Making of Modern Japan. “Chapter 2: Establishment of the Tokugawa System.” Lexington MA:D.C. Health and Company., pp. 11-40.
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