- Apr 2010
- T'Republic of Yorkshire
The rigidity of society was codified in law. Hideyoshi's Edict on Changing Status fixed everyone's status in law. Of course, there were ways around it, such as by being adopted, which some rich merchants did to give themselves samurai status. But it was not a route that was avilable to the common man.I doubt Japan (at least by the Edo period) was as rigid as you portray. Slavery was outlawed; perhaps even serfdom at some point.
To say there was no social mobility would probably be wrong.
Societies as rigid as you describe would not have had such large cities (such as....Edo); or been a prime candiate for modernisation. You seem to describe a society more akin to Russia then Japan. (though, I suppose, like Russia, Japan combined a lot of progressive and feudalist tendencies..) (so did high medieval Europe but Edo Japan was considerably in advance of a high medieval feudal society.)
Except for certain religious sects and professions, people were not free to travel. There were checkpoints at the borders of domains through which you could not pass unless you had papers. In practise, that meant peasants were confined to the place where they lived and worked.
And during the Edo period, the country was closed under the sakoku policy. Society was so rigid that laws decreed what clothes people were allowed to wear and what foods they could eat. Edo was certainly a large, and comparatively well administered city, but it thrived because of the rigidity, not in spite of it. Japan, by the time of the Meiji restoration was indeed ripe for modernisation.