The Fortress of Xie'e Wu Xing
Tradition is of the utmost importance in the life of every Nipponese. Many traditions have been practiced and honored for as long as anyone can remember. Almost every activity is governed by a ritual or ceremony of some sort – even violence is perfectly acceptable, so long as it is done within the bounds of tradition. Manners and etiquette are not just social graces; they are law. To violate or fail to follow them is a crime, with penalties ranging from public humiliation to death. No one is immune – a breach in protocol can be as deadly for the Shogun as for a peasant, if not more so.
Honor and loyalty are the most valued characteristics of a person; even life is a lesser concern. To be shamed beyond redemption is a fate worse than death. One’s lord and clan are more important that one’s own life – to die in service of the clan is the greatest honor one can hope for. However, one’s actual deeds are quite often less important than the perceptions that others have of those deeds. Treachery and deception are all too common the upper tiers of society, though such actions are carefully plotted so as not to be discovered. To lose face in such a gambit is to bring shame (and thus often death) upon oneself and one’s family.
Nipponese society is extremely sexist: women are traditionally the property of their fathers until marriage, then of their husbands. An old saying goes, “A man who loves his wife is spoiling his mother’s servant.” Even more so, however, the society is xenophobic. Gaijin (outsiders) are lower than peasants, little better than outlaws. They are viewed as uncouth, ill-mannered, foul-smelling barbarians, and are treated accordingly.
All people in Nippon legitimately fall within the structure of caste, birth, and status. A person’s caste determines who he is and what laws govern him. Nominally, there are three castes: the bushi (“warriors,” the samurai caste), the heimin (“half-people,” the commoner caste), and the hinin, “non-people.”
Nippon is a warrior society, and those who fight hold the power. The daimyo and the samurai make up the bushi caste. The samurai are military officers, police, and magistrates, with vast authority to enforce the strict laws. They directly serve the daimyo (clan leaders and feudal lords); the PCs all serve daimyo who are nominally loyal to the Shogunate.
Male samurai learn kenjutsu (swordsmanship) and kyudo (archery) – only samurai may carry the katana (or other long blades, such as the nodachi) and the dai-kyu (great bow); commoners caught with these weapons are guilty of a capital offense, which any samurai may discharge on the spot. Samurai women are taught the use of the naginata (sword-staff), but may never lead men in combat. Even ronin, clanless samurai, are considered members of the caste, though they make up the very bottom of this stratum.
Anyone who formally renounces all family ties, and is accepted into a temple or monastic order, is a priest. Priests technically have the status of the bushi caste – although not allowed to bear the weapons of the samurai, nor to dispense summary justice upon commoners at will, they are at least not subject to the murderous whim of any passing samurai. Instead, they are answerable to the heads of their own orders, in much the same way that a samurai answers to his daimyo. Rather than Bushido, priestly orders have vows and disciplines of their own, although the codes of warrior orders tend to closely resemble the samurai’s.
Craftsmen, farmers, merchants, and (non-noble) soldiers are of the heimin caste, and make up the bulk of Nipponese society. Of those, farmers are considered the highest, and merchants the lowest, although in practice this tends to be reversed, with peasant farmers often exploited by their lords, and canny merchants sometimes holding wealth and power over the nobles.
Unlike nobles, heimin aren’t a part of clan, so much as the property of the clan whose lands they live in. Those heimin who make themselves indispensable (expert craftsmen, high ranking soldiers) enjoy a fairly comfortable life, though not as opulent as the nobility. The majority of commoners, however, are often treated very poorly by the nobility – little better than animals (and in some cases, worse). Any noble may condemn any commoner to death at a whim, and execute the sentence on the spot if so desired. Of course, it’s considered rude to murder another daimyo’s subjects without good cause, and imprudent to kill one’s own.
Despite the rigidly stratified social order, one may aspire beyond his birth. Excellence in an art or craft is very highly valued, and can elevate a person in standing with his clan. Though a mere craftsman is not bushi, a master may hold status equivalent to a lesser noble – a weaponsmith of legendary skill is an extremely useful asset, easily worth a dozen average samurai. A soldier who proves his valor, loyalty, and prowess can even be promoted to the status of samurai, gaining the prestige of a family name.
The hinin are the outcastes of Nipponese society: outlaws, beggars, ninja, and the untouchable Eta. Even for a peasant, killing a hinin isn’t a serious crime, usually punishable by a fine paid to the local Eta magistrate.
The Eta are hereditary outcasts, whose professions are traditionally “unclean:” butchers, undertakers, sanitation workers, and so on. Though they are hinin, the Eta are indispensable to the other castes, so are given more leeway than other non-people – they make up a ubiquitous underclass throughout the Lands of Nippon, living on the outskirts of virtually every community; other hinin tend to fall in with them, wanted or not.