"In the two centuries immediately preceding the Meiji Restoration, Japanese society was divided into four clear classes. The samurai warriors were at the top, followed by farmers, artisans, and merchants, in that order. Everyone was supposed to remain within his or her own social category. Samurai warriors were empowered to maintain order by taking immediate retalization against overt expressions of rebellion by using swords they carried to decapitate the offender. Above the samurai, and assocated with ritual duties that placed them closer to the gods than to human beings and their affairs, were members of the nobility, which included the imperial family... At the other end of the scale were the "eta" or burakumin, who were assigned defiling occupations, such as burying the dead and tanning the hides of animals—the former polluting from a Shinto viewpoint, the latter in a Buddhist order of things... The system was abolished at the beginning of the Meiji period." (from Understanding Japanese Society, by Joy Hendry. 2004, London: RoutledgeCurzon, p. 104-5)
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