People and Social Classes

The Rokugani believe all living beings, indeed all of existence, are organized into a hierarchy set in place by the will of the Celestial Heavens. This hierarchy - known as the Celestial Order - was revealed to the Rokugani by the Kami at the founding of the Empire, and they regard it as the sacred and unquestioned expression of divine will. To ignore or violate the Order is to blaspheme against the cosmos itself. Thus, the citizens of the Emerald Empire are organized into three distinct castes, each of which is divided into several smaller ranks and sub-castes. Typically, a person is born into a caste and remains within that caste for their entire life, although exceptions are possible.

At the top of the social order are the samurai, the rulers of Rokugan. They are the only "real people" of Rokugan, and have complete power and rights over all below them. The samurai caste itself is, of course, divided into social ranks ranks of its own - the Kuge (nobility) and the Buke (those who serve). The Kuge include the Emperor, the Imperial officials and daimyo, the Clan Champions who rule over the various clans of the Empire, and the daimyo of the various families within each clan. All other samurai belong to the Buke. Of course, there is considerable social striation within the buke as well, ranging from the top tier of provincial daimyo and city governors, down through magistrates, advisers, military officers, and other officials, and ending in the vast numbers of simple warriors, courtiers, and priests who serve the Empire - the so-called "ji-samurai." In general, a samurai is not permitted to question or oppose someone of higher social rank without the strongest possible justification. Conversely, a samurai can easily lord it over those of inferior social rank, and it is expected that such abuse will be endured honorably. Samurai are supposed to always treat each other with extreme respect and politeness, even if they are actually bitter enemies, for to fail in public manners is to violate Courtesy and possibly even "lose one's face," an unforgivable social error.

Below the samurai are the Bonge - the common folk, also known as heimin or "half-people." These comprise the vast majority of Rokugan's population, and are the ones who keep the nation and economy running. They are generally not permitted to use weapons, although exceptions are made for specific duties such as ashigaru (peasant military levies) or budoka (personal armed retainers to samurai). Samurai can demand anything from heimin without recompense, and can kill any heimin who disobeys or fails to show respect. However, the Celestial Order also dictates that there are responsibilities between the different castes of society, something emphasized in writings like the Articles of Heaven. So while it is the heimin's duty to produce and obey, it is the samurai's duty to protect and administer. Nevertheless, the life of the bonge is a hard one, full of difficult labor and suffering. Only a few commoners are fortunate enough to serve a samurai who truly cares about them - for the most part, their lords treat them with indifference, if not outright cruelty. Naturally, heimin are always respectful and obedient toward samurai, since the alternative is to earn their wrath, but they seldom feel anything toward their masters other than fear and wary respect. However, the rare samurai who goes out of his way to fulfill his duties to the heimin caste will soon draw their notice, and such exceptionally compassionate samurai are often rewarded in turn by extra loyalty and effort.

Even within the ranks of the bonge, there are social striations. the highest-ranking of the heimin are the peasants, for they grow the food which all the Empire needs to survive. Slightly below the peasants are the artisans and craftsmen - carpenters, blacksmiths, stonemasons, brewers, seamstresses, and so forth. Although they do not grow food, these persons still create things of use and value, and truly skilled heimin artisans can actually earn the respect of samurai who admire their work. (In fact, some samurai are artisans themselves, although they pursue rarified arts such as painting and sword-making rather than simple things like building furniture or forging horseshoes.) At the bottom of the bonge's ranks are merchants. Merchants are regarded with contempt by samurai, since they do not actually make anything for themselves - they simply buy and sell things made by others. However, commerce is important to the Empire's economic health, and many clans rely on commercial activity to swell their coffers - a contradiction which troubles more than one samurai. To get around this problem, some samurai appoint themselves as "merchant patrons" watching over and supervising the activities of commoner merchants, thereby allowing them to conduct commerce without directly dirtying their own hands with such distasteful activities.

Monks occupy a peculiar position within the social order. They are not samurai, and by strict interpretation of Rokugani social system they cannot be considered anything other than heimin. However, their role as upholders of the Empire's religious traditions afford them a respect which other commoners do not enjoy. Most samurai treat monks with a certain deference, and prominent members of the Brotherhood of Shinsei are sometimes invited to court to provide counsel and guidance to daimyo.

If the position of monks is peculiar, that of ronin - those samurai who have no lord, no clan or family to call their own - is far more difficult. A ronin is technically still of the samurai caste, but with no lord or clan to protect or care for him, he must make his own way through the world, tossed by the waves of fate - hence the name ronin, or "wave-man." Since ronin cannot rely on a stipend or household, most of them are forced to work as mercenaries or bodyguards, earning food and lodging by the strength of their swords. Some ronin ultimately must engage in manual labor to earn their keep, but as samurai they consider this bitterly shameful, and many of them resort to crime or banditry rather than live like common folk.

Belower the bonge are the lowest of Rokugan's social order, the hinin or "non-people," who are born into those tasks which the Rokugani consider to be intrinsically spiritually impure. Primarily, this involves activity which leads to touching "unclean" substances such as blood, garbage, or dead flesh. Morticians, leatherworkers, and refuse collectors (known collectively as eta) form the bulk of the hinin caste. Such persons are regarded as less than nothing, and even peasants look down on them and abuse them. The eta's life is bitter and unpleasant, and their only hope under the rules of the Celestial Order is to fulfill their duties well enough to be reborn into a higher station in their next life. The rest of Rokugan ignores the eta as much as possible. Nevertheless, these people have a vital role, performing the "unclean" jobs no one else will touch.

Although most of the hinin are eta, the ranks of this caste also include a few other individuals. Torturers, who must constantly inflict harm and touch blood and sweat, are also considered hinin, although they are permitted to serve samurai more directly than the eta. Finally, geisha - those who offer samurai entertainment and companionship - are considered to be hinin, although unlike eta and torturers they are accorded certain fame and respect by the rest of society.

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