Comparing and Contrasting European and Japanese Feudalism

Samurai with a sword. This picture is in the public domain.

♦ A comparison of medieval Europe and Japan – handout based on the account by Kallie Szczepanski and adapted from

Referring to a comparison:

  • In both cases,…
  • In this way, each society/group/practice is similar
  • Compared to
  • This is comparable to…
  • This practice resembles
  • In both societies, …
  • Another common element is… 
  • In comparison,…
  • also
  • similarly | like

Pointing out a contrast:

  • One distinction is…
  • Knights and samurai warriors differed in their attitudes to…
  • Another difference is…
  • While …, …
  • Whereas …, …
  • In contrast to this, …
  • Attitudes towards …. were different from
  • Despite
  • On the one hand,…; on the other hand…
  • Although… | …though… | however | nevertheless
  • A (key) distinguishing factor is…
  • instead | rather than | unlike
  • yet | but | …, nor

Note that a semicolon [;] is the ideal punctuation mark for pointing a contrast between two people, experiences, social practices or societies. In effect, the semicolon alerts your reader to your intention of revealing the other side of the issue. Here are two examples:

  • On the positive side, Ms Green is generally a helpful and considerate teacher; one criticism, however, is that she has a tendency to ramble on when students wish to concentrate on their work.
  • In medieval Europe, noble women were sometimes considered to be fragile damsels who required protection from heroic knights; according to Japanese custom, in contrast, women were expected to be courageous and to face death without fear.

Task 1: After reading and completing the handout, write a comment in which you refer to one comparison and one contrast between Japanese and European feudal societies. Try to use some of the phrasing provided above.

Task 2: Then read your text (pp.358-60) and the links below before writing brief notes on each of these concepts:




The photo in the background of the crossword below is from Flickr via Madmrmox.

Task 3: Complete the crossword below on the full screen here.

Khan Academy: Introduction to Japanese Feudalism
(includes references to similarities between Japanese and European Feudalism)

Task 4:

Quick Quiz

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

17 Replies to “Comparing and Contrasting European and Japanese Feudalism”

  1. Though the European and Japanese feudal systems differed in many ways, there were also some key elements that both shared. Both systems were built on a rigid hierarchy, with little or no way for people to move between the classes. They both relied on a peasantry for agriculture, and a defined warrior class dedicated to military prowess.
    The socio-political systems in Europe in Japan had a superficially similar structure, but had many differences that distinguished them. Their warrior classes seemed similar at first, but there were critical distinctions. They differed in their ideals, habits, skills and garb.

  2. Japanese samurai were very different to the knights of the Middle Ages. They wore much lighter armor, as mobility is something they greatly valued. In contrast to this, the European knights wore heavy metal armor, which made it easier not to get hurt.

  3. Comparison: Whereas knights were prohibited from committing suicide by Catholic Christian law, samurai would have chosen to die in honour rather than live in defeat.

    Contrast: In contrast to the strong samurai women, European women were considered fragile flowers who required protection from chivalrous knights.

  4. European and Japanese Feudalism had a few similarities but also clear distinctions. While the European females were considered damsels in distress in the European society, Samurai woman were expected to be as capable physically as their male counterparts.

  5. Wednesday, 30 May 2018
    8:37 AM

    The Japanese and European feudal systems are very different in terms of their ideologies. The Japanese based their ideas to an extent on Confucianism, emphasizing the importance of those who produced things. The samurai were idolized, even worshipped, a great class of warriors, protecting the people. You can see it as a system in which the European idealized power, rather than the qualities of honour and respect in the Japanese system.

  6. Dear World,
    In both Medieval Europe and Japan, there was a warrior class. European knights had strong, heavy and protective armour, which immobilised them; however, Japanese samurai wore lightweight, more mobile armour at the cost of their protection.


  7. Comparison: Feudal lords in Europe built stone castles to protect themselves and their vassals, while the Japanese also built castles, but their castles were made of wood.

    Contrast: Samurai women were expected to be just as strong as the men; on the other hand, European women were considered fragile people who had to be protected.

  8. Comparison: Both feudal systems had the same order of class; Ruler, Noble, Miltary and Common Folk.

    Contrast: The two different Feudal Systems were based on different belief systems. The European Feudal System was based on the ideas of the Catholic Church, the teachings of Christ as Saviour and the contractual relationship between a lord and his vassals, whereas the Japanese Feudal System was based on Confucian philosophical ideas of morality and filial piety (respect for the elderly as well as other superiors), where the peasants paid the samurai taxes in exchange for safety and security.

  9. Despite both knights and Samurai being part of a similar class, they had rather different values and ethics. While Samurai valued mobility and wore light armour, knights valued protection and wore heavy, plate metal armour. Both were theoretically bound by a code of ethics, for knights it was chivalry, and for Samurai it was Bushido.

  10. In both Japanese and European societies, the people independently developed very comparable feudal systems, despite not having any direct contact with one another during the medieval period.
    The system in both lands allowed those higher in the hierarchy to control those who were lower, such as the peasants.

  11. While samurai were supposed to be cultured and artistic, able to compose poetry or write in beautiful calligraphy, knights were illiterate and would have favoured jousting. They would have scoffed at the mere idea of poetry.
    Yet both knights and samurai were bound by a code of ethics. Knights theoretically obeyed the precepts of chivalry, while samurai followed the way of bushido, ‘the Way of the Warrior”.

  12. Whereas Japan’s Samurai fought for honour and were bound by “The way of the Warrior”, European knights fought to gain glory and honour, as they yearned for power and land.

    A similar feature of the feudal system in Japan and Europe is that if you were born the child of a farmer, you would become a farmer in the future. Both systems lacked social mobility.

  13. In Japan, Samurai didn’t get their own land, while European knights were given land for their service.
    In Europe, knights wore heavy armour, in contrast to Japan, where Samurai wore light armour and preferred mobility to the heavy armour of the knights. One thing that both did was have a system we now call the feudal system, where peasants would farm the land, and someone would rule over them in a hierarchical system.

  14. In feudal Japan and feudal Europe, there were many similarities and differences. Both Feudal Japan and Feudal Europe had professional warriors: for Japan it was the samurai, and for Europe the knights. They both had religious beliefs such as Buddhism in Japan and Christianity in Europe. Japan was an island and was isolated, which resulted in fewer invasions and attacks, whereas Europe wasn’t isolated nor an island. Feudal Japan lasted from 1185-1603, while Feudal Europe lasted from the 9th to the 15th centuries.

  15. Comparison:
    In both cases of Japanese and European feudalism, the societies were built on a system of hereditary classes; however, the values of the two warrior classes were quite different.
    Both knights and samurai wore protective armour, but differing from knights, samurai went with light-weight armour that allowed them maneuverability and quickness, at the cost of protection.

    A key distinguishing factor between the two was land ownership. European knights gained land from their lords as payment, whereas Japanese samurai did not own any land.
    While knights strove to avoid death, samurai, on the other hand, would commit suicide to maintain their honour.

  16. Feudalism in Japan And Europe: Compare and Contrast

    In both Japan and Europe, during the Middle Ages, there was a hierarchical organisation, which allowed the people at the top more privileges, income, land and power, while the people at the bottom had to follow orders from those at the top.

    Whereas the European noblewomen were thought of as fragile and helpless, the Japanese Samurai women were strong, capable and respected.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *