The role of the emperor of Japan under the Tokugawa shoguns was effectively that of a figurehead. The emperor retained enough power to exert influence on popular public opinion but had no official power or influence beyond his symbolic role as a hereditary leader.
Feudal Japan under the shoguns was a caste system commonly described as having four tiers or levels. At the top were nobles followed by the wielders of formal power known as samurai. In turn came the peasants and farmers followed by craftsmen and artisans, including the geisha. On the next rung were merchants and business owners. The untouchable class known as burakumin included those with trades outside the bounds of acceptable society due to their occupational association with death. The caste system in feudal Japan was very complex, and some scholars have compared the emperor to a prisoner during this historical period.