Things Japanese/Classes of Society
Classes of Society. Japanese mankind was formerly divided into four classes,—the Samurai, or warrior-gentry (of whom the Daimyōs were the leaders), the peasantry, the artisans, and the tradespeople. Notice the place in which commerce stood, at the very bottom of the scale, below the very tillage of the soil. Traces of this contumely have survived modern changes; for men naturally become what the world holds them to be:—the hucksters or traders (we will not dignify them with the name of merchants) were a degraded class in Old Japan, and degraded their business morals remain, which is the principal cause of the difficulties experienced by European merchants in dealing with them.
After the revolution a change was made in the classification of society, and three orders are now established by law,—the nobility (kwazoku), gentry (shizoku), and common people (heimin). The two former combined constitute five per cent., the common people ninety-five per cent., of the entire population. Some have used the word "caste" to denote these divisions; but the term is inappropriate, as there exists no impassable barrier between the different classes, nor yet anything approaching to Indian caste prejudice. The feeling only resembles that to which we are accustomed in England, if indeed it is as strong.
Japanese official regulations tolerate no subterfuges in matters of personal identity. Each citizen is required to nail up over his door a wooden ticket inscribed with his name and quality. Thus: "District of Azabu, Upper Timber Street, No. 8, a Commoner of the Prefecture of Shizuoka, So-and-So" (the surname followed by the personal name).
See also Article on Eta.