Mar 24, 2020 in History

The Japanese Samurai And European Knights


The epoch of Middle Ages serves as a linking bridge between the antic society and the modern world. This period is also famous as a military one. Due to the wars between the civil societies, states, and even continents, there was a new redistribution of the world. The armies began to grow numerically, and the process of militarization especially intensified in the sixteenth century. Interestingly, similar movements took place in Japan in the same period. That is why is it important to explore the influential military groups on various continents as well as to analyze their similarities and differences. The key objects are Kamakura samurai and the group of Teutonic Knights. Although the samurai of Japan and the knights of Europe had a lack of contact with each other, they shared many common features. It might have been an outcome of numerous similarities cultural and social impacts practiced by those two separated nations. Therefore, this research paper will compare the Japanese samurai and European knights feudal class systems, codes of honor, loyalty to the feudal lord, and the attitude of both groups toward death. Additionally, the paper aims to identify which class looks greater: Japanese samurai or European knight.


A deep research of the chosen sphere requires the application of an empirical way of analysis, as well as comparative approach. The usage of the mentioned methods will enable to define which group fits the idea of Middle Ages and which one is more extraordinary.


Historical Background

To find out the differential features of chosen groups, it is important to describe the historic environment and its influence on their formation. In the Medieval Ages, the preliminary forms of kinship organization evolved and remarkably affected the political and social life. Lineage together with clientage and patronage describe the power relations between different social classes. These relations were also the tools of power distribution from an emperor or king to his subordinates and served the foundation of the feudal system. Although Japan and Europe did not contact directly with each other, they autonomously developed similar socio-political systems defined as feudal.

During the research, some similar features of feudalism between the regions were revealed. First, both European and Japanese feudal institutions evolved from the crumbling of a centralized imperial system and its legal-administrative bodies. Second, the development of contractual relationships between the feudalists and vassals in both regions rested on former juridical and administrative basis. That is why the Japanese feudal system is so similar to the European one.

However, there were different bases of the estate in the Japanese and European economies. While the first one based on rice production and demanded a cooperative labor from cultivators, the rainfall-dependent agriculture of Europe caused individual peasants to work on the land. What is more, the feudal system differentiates in the concept of moral beliefs of the explored societies. In Japan, the ethics centers on paternalism and the idea of duty. The daimyo and samurai have an obligation to protect the peasants who live on their land and pay food taxes in return. On the other hand, the European knights and peasants view feudalism as a mutual benefit. Consequently, they are more flexible on the moral duties.

Description of the Focus Groups

Rarely known as the Knights Templars, the Teutonic Knights carried the spirit and traditions of the orders of the Middle Ages. During the siege of Acre, which took place between and 1189-1191, the Teutonic Order got its complete organizational structure and further developed into one of the most powerful military and religious orders of Europe. The rules were harsh because all the members had to live according to strict conditions. The Teutonic Knights had a duty to attend the church and learn the prayers by heart. Without the allowance of the mentor, the soldiers could not contact their relatives and the outside world in general. Average soldiers wore simple fit, as well as arms, while the most skillful ones had a personal servant and several horses.

It is also important to highlight the organization structure of the order. The grand master took the top position, elected only by the members of the order. The next place in rank belonged to the preceptor, whose functions lied in the supervision of the clergy and replacing the grand master in a chapter when he was absent. After the preceptor, there was the marshal that in the battle performed as a lieutenant general under the supervision of the grand master. The hospitaler, trapper, and treasurer took the third, fourth, and fifth positions accordingly. In the battle, the Templar worrier had to show compassion for the enemy and, nevertheless, kill him. Controversially, when being captured, the warrior could not ask for mercy but could hope for it.

On the other hand, in Japan within the background of the ruling emperors and their regents, civil power was completely controlled by the political elite of that time. The thing worth mentioning is that the samurai have taken the place of the court government and started managing the local government. In 1185, the Minamoto’s family in Kamakura introduced a new authoritative body and further in 1192 established the control over the country. As a progressive structure, a number of samurai ran the Kamakura government over the country, aimed to keep the peace. Since they exercised real power on the spot, they started to deal with the landowners, functionally weakening the local government in Kyoto. Gradually, the samurai group took more legislative power and began to develop the laws for the whole country.

A Comparative Analysis of the European and Japanese Warriors

The investigation of the academic sources and historical works during the research enabled to identify the key differences between the European knights and Japanese samurai. First, in the sphere of morality and ethics, both samurais and knights were the protectors of their feudalists. However, in Japan, warriors followed the code of Bushido, took the second position in the hierarchy, and women also could join samurais. At the same time, the European soldiers kept to the code of chivalry, were the third ranked in the structure, and females could not become knights. Moreover, the knights and samurai perceived the death in a different manner. Catholic Christian law strongly prohibited order members from committing suicide. On the other side, for samurai committing suicide was a kind of salvation in the face of death. By showing that they did not have fear, samurai tried to defeat their honor.

Second, for both groups religion was a way of life, which they did not have a right to disobey. That is why the religious values have played an influential role in the formation of warriors’ beliefs. The majority of Romans believed only in one God, obeying the dogmas of Catholic Church. The polytheistic incline is also the result of soldiers’ belonging to the feudal because they had the same religion as their landlord. By contrast, the Japanese were polytheistic and adhered to such religions as Zen, Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shintoism. The Eastern system of beliefs taught self-discipline and fearlessness in the face of death.

Third, when considering materialistic side, two groups also differed in the type of land ownership. In Europe, the knights got land from their lord for the military service or protection. With the owned territory, warriors had control over the servants that were working on their lands. In comparison with this, the Japanese samurai instead of land gained salaries from their daimyos. Quite often, the feudal paid warrior not money, but portions of rice, relevant to the size of a salary. In the concept of intellectual development, samurai were mainly educated and quite intelligent. It was pride for a man to become a samurai, and he tried to correspond to this title. Instead of reading books, the European soldiers preferred hunting and other male hobbies. They did not aim to know more, but they had many practical skills due to the permanent housework.

The last but not least point in the differences between researched groups was the quality and comfort of the used armor because this factor was decisive in the outcome of each battle. Consequently, the knights wore heavy armor, which included metal rings put together and other ammunition. Those clothes put the warrior into uncomfortable conditions and remarkably restricted his physical strength. On the other hand, samurai wore light leather armor, which was made of bamboo. In spite of comfort, some parts of the body were still exposed to the enemy, and this kind of armor was a quite unreliable one in comparison with the European ammunition.

As for technological advancement, in this field, Europe has progressed more than Japan. Specifically, the European soldiers had such inventions as a longbow and various types of cannons, which they could easily use in terms of necessity. Controversially, in Japan samurai were not so advanced. Their main traditional weapon was a katana – long sword with a sharp blade, and managing this armor demanded a lot of practice. Although samurai had much better tactic approach than the knights, the Japanese armor was much harder and less comfortable in the usage than the European one.


With the definition of the main characteristics of the medieval period and the historical background that have influenced the evolution of feudalism, it is necessary to determine which of the researched groups fits that epoch better. The features of this class have to be similar to the common trend of that age. On the other hand, the second group has to be extraordinary and have the characteristics of either former or next period. Therefore, when considering the results of the analysis, there are valid proofs for the group of knights as the best one that fits the concept of medieval era. The arguments for this are that the European group is more materialistic, profit-oriented, and less intelligent than the Japanese one. These social features are general for the whole period of Middle Ages as well as for various communities from distant and remote countries. Although the samurai were more mentally developed, disciplined and gender equal, this group has some common features with the New Age. The Japanese in the field of moral norms and ethics advanced the European community. That is why the Teutonic knights fit the idea of Medieval Ages much better than the representative group from Japan.


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