This section attempts to list some of the essential information about roles in Sengoku era Japan.
There were many different occupations in Sengoku era Japan. The occupations belonged to one of the socio-economic classes. At the end of the Sengoku period a hierarchy of classes developed along the four major occupations, namely: samurai, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants. This hierarchy was known as shinokosho. The majority of the roles belonged to one of these classes and subclasses. From high to low these were:
Despite this strict hierarchy, social mobility was rather high in the Sengoku period.
The warrior class was subdivided in two classes known as Daimyo and Samurai. The Daimyo were the feudal rulers and the Samurai were the retainers of the Daimyo.
The ranking of precedence of the daimyo, was determined in part by the kokudaka of the territories under their administration. Kokudaka was a system of expressing the value of land in terms of koku of rice. One koku was generally viewed as the equivalent of enough rice to feed one person for a year.
Most of the Daimyo developed from provincial rulers known as Shugo and thus came from the ranks of Shugodai or deputy rulers. Other Daimyo developed from local landed elites or gentry, known as jizamurai or kokujin, so the distinction between Samurai and Daimyo was malleable. This process whereby capable underlings overthrew an emancipated aristocracy, became known as gekokujo, or low overcoming high. Their income came from the taxes they could impose on the lands they held.
The same loose distinction also applied between warrior and commoner. Peasants who could afford their own weapons and armour could be drafted into the samurai class and often started out as a lowly foot soldier or Ashigaru. Most of these ashigaru would not receive ordinary pay, but derive their income from the loot gained in battle. Higher ranking samurai on the other hand received a stipend from their feudal lords.
The Samurai was the quintessential warrior. The archetypical Samurai was the warrior on horseback, who wielded a bow. Their weapons of prestige were a set of swords, known as the Katana.
The Bugeisha was the female equivalent of the Samurai. The archetypical Bugeisha was the lady, who wielded a naginata, but many were also versatile with daggers.
The Ashigaru was the quintessential foot soldier. The archetypical Ashigaru wielded the yari and wore the jingasa helmet. Though by the latter part of the Sengoku period, many Ashigaru had arquebuses. Paid only in loot, these mercenaries were not well-trained and thus could not always be depended upon in battle.
Jito were medieval land stewards. Jito managed manors and land holdings and helped with tax collection and administration.
Soke were usually masters of a martial art school. They excelled at ancient martial arts, such as Kenjutsu or Naginatajutsu and trained others in these martial arts.
Bunjin were artists. They tended to open schools of painting or calligraphy.
Geisha were the archetypical female entertainers, they generally made their living as hostesses, whose skills included performing various arts such as music, dance, games and tea ceremonies.
The Yamabushi was a mountain ascetic. These mountain hermits typically were solitary, but sometimes banded together with Sohei or acted as advisors for Daimyo or acted as mountain guides.
Komuso were Buddhist mendicant monks. The archetypical Komuso wore a large straw basket over his head and played the Shakuhachi flute.
Miko were the archetypical Shinto shrine maidens. They made their living by performing the sacred Kagura dance. They also performed some Shinto rituals and cleansed the Shrines.
Sohei were Buddhist warrior monks attached to a Buddhist temple complex. The archetypical Sohei wore a kimono like robe, straw sandals and a hachimaki headband. A Sohei typically wielded the naginata, but Sohei were also proficient with the bow, dagger and sword.
Ama were the archetypical Buddhist nuns. They usually were retired ladies, who went to a convent.
Most trade on land took place on horseback. There were special teamsters or cargo carriers in Sengoku era Japan known as Bashaku. Cargo carriers who used cows instead were known as shashaku. The transportation method of the bashaku was to hang the cargo from the back of their horses and then drive them to their destination. During the Sengoku era this was a full-time occupation. The bashaku lived in groups in towns along major highways and important sites of water to land traffic including Otsu, Sakamoto, and Yodo. They carried goods brought by boat to areas where consumption was at that time high such as Kyoto. Because of their organizational strength they also became a source of rebellions. Enryaku-ji took the lead in suppressing the bashaku, during the Hokke Rebellion of 1532. Bashaku members blockaded checkpoints connecting to Kyoto and thus imposed an economic embargo on the city where the power of militant Nichiren Buddhists held sway.
The typial Chonin was a townsman. The majority of chonin were merchants, but some were craftsmen. Theoretically they were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, but at the end of the Sengoku period, when the political situation started to stabilize, they began to flourish, often at the expense of the daimyo and samurai.
The Tekiya were street peddlers. Generally they made their living by selling flowers, tea and books on the streets.
Ninja were scouts, spies, saboteurs, and assassins. Ninja generally spied under the disguises of Komuso, or Yamabushi, or Ronin.
Kunoichi was the female equivalent of the Ninja. They generally spied under the disguises of Miko or Geisha.