Japanese society was highly structured at the beginning of both the Edo and contemporary periods. As economic and social power shifted between classes, however, hierarchies began to change
One of the most creative ways in which Japanese people have expressed their status — and sometimes even subverted conventions — is through their personal appearance
At the beginning of the Edo period, there were rigid social divisions among the different classes: the shogun at the top, then the daimyo (lords) and samurai, with merchants, craftspeople and farmers at the bottom.
As time went on, the importance of the samurai diminished because they no longer needed to be warriors. Merchants — who had long been despised as "unproductive" — now began to enjoy greater social mobility as their wealth increased.
Following the Second World War, social status in Japan was closely tied to corporate positions, but after the economic bubble burst in the 1990s, people grew wary of traditional corporate hierarchies.
Japanese companies once provided lifetime security, in return for loyalty and a strong work ethic. In recent years, however, companies have not been able to offer this security, and many young people are now questioning the rewards of a corporate life.