|An Edo-era screen depicting Sekigahara|
Establishing Tokugawa Rule
As mentioned Ieyasu established his shogunate after the Sengoku period which saw over a century of warfare in order to unify Japan by leading samurai. The unifiers, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, never declared themselves emperor or shogun ruling with the existing emperors and Ashikaga shoguns under their rule instead. Although the shogunate had been abolished in 1573 the shoguns lived on and luckily for Ieyasu the last one had died in 1598. However, he had to face the fact that Hideyoshi's son, Hideyori, was still around. Hideyori would remain a thorn in the side of the Tokugawa shoguns as he served as a potentially legitimate opponent to their rule and making it worse was that Hideyori lived in Osaka Castle which was one of the most fortified settlements. In 1602 one of the most powerful daimyo, Shimazu Yoshihiro of Satsuma, who had supported Hideyori at Sekigahara personally met with Ieyasu where he pledged his loyalty to Ieyasu. The next year Ieyasu was officially declared shogun and to ensure Tokugawa rule remained he transferred power to his son, Hidetada, in 1605 so he could rule behind the scenes. By 1611 most lords had declared their loyalty to the Tokugawa. In 1614 Hideyori and the shogunate finally came to blows as Ieyasu had Osaka attacked. Using treachery and diplomacy Hideyori agreed to a truce if some of his defenses were dismantled but Ieyasu's workers overzealously removed more of the defenses than initially agreed. In 1615 they attacked Osaka again and Hideyori, and his mother, commit suicide.
There were also other ways the Tokugawa tried to establish their rule. Luckily for Ieyasu he had many children which he used to marry to into powerful families or established as major daimyō, and with Hidetada succeeding him as shogun. In 1610 as his adopted daughter was being married off to Tsugaru Nobuhira he sent as a dowry a pair of eight-fold screens depicting Sekigahara - your own wealth could be used to show your power. Later Hidetada married his daughter, Masako, into the royal family and her daughter became the Meishō Empress. From the Sengoku period regional leaders in the domains, han, had become powerful which the Tokugawa had to deal with. There were normally around 250 han but at one time there were just over 500 han meaning there were lots of potential opponents. As a result the Tokugawa has been described as 'centralized feudalism'. I should mention, however, that han and feudalism were applied to Tokugawa rule retroactively in the nineteenth century and most domains were actually fairly small. The Tokugawa used a system called kokudake where to hold the title of daimyō had to have land worth 10,000 koku, about US $6.4 million, and only sixteen domains had a koku rating of over 300,000. Even then only a few dozen, like Maeda, managed to retain their koku rating through the entirety of Tokugawa rule. After 1615 daimyō had to abide by the Code for the Military Houses which gave the domains power but also made them obey the bakufu. In 1622 it was amended to include a clause where daimyō had to leave a family member hostage in Edo but in 1636 this was expanded in a system called sankin-kōtai (alternate attendance). Daimyō were assigned plots of land in Edo for themselves to be kept hostage as their family remained at home and then the next year they would swap. As both their domain and their Edo plot (which could include three fully staffed mansions) had to be maintained this stripped the resources from potential rebels as well as dangling the threat of execution over their heads if they rebelled.
|A depiction of the Shimbara Rebellion - a rebellion by mostly Christian peasants|
There is a common misconception that the shogunate was totally isolationist and this was largely due to a Western bias, and even then a flawed bias. Ieyasu was eager to rebuild relations with Korea and China which had been destroyed by Hideyoshi's invasion. He officially declared peace with Korea in 1605 and when Hidetada became shogun Korea sent a mission of 504 men to honor him before visiting Ieyasu. The 1609 Treaty of Kisu resumed trade allowing the Strait of Tsushima to become a wealthy trading zone again where Japanese silver was traded for Chinese silk. Chinese neo-Confucianism came to Japan via Korea through the writings of Yi Hwang (1501-1570), Korean potters in Saga started reproducing blue slipware porcelain, and Korean medicine attracted wide interest. However, Korean-Japanese relations never recovered from Hideyoshi's invasion. The Dutch in Nagasaki were told that the Korean missions were from a tributary state and they celebrated Hideyoshi's 'victory' over Korea; meanwhile, diarist Sin Yu-han while visiting in 1719 complained about the extravagance of Japan and the lack of respect to Confucius. Korean books also referred to Japan as pirates. Also, due to China's wealth Ieyasu was eager to reopen relations and Chinese merchants regularly ignored Ming bans on trade with Japan. In Kwagoe, Odawara and Kyushu 'Chinatowns' even formed to accommodate merchants and over 130 artists were at Nagasaki at the same time once. One of the available contemporary accounts on Chinese families in the early-eighteenth century comes from a Japanese scholar. Like with Korea Chinese-Japanese relations were still hostile - a Chinese book portrayed Japanese as being ape-like so when it was translated into Japanese it had to be heavily edited. Furthermore, Japan continued relations with states in Indonesia, the Philippines and South East Asia as a whole. The Ryukyuan islands and Hokkaido were not under Edo rule at this period and trade occurred with them as well until the 1630s.
|A painting of Dejima|
Culture under the Shogunate
Without the stress from war city culture boomed. This was particularly noticeable in Edo (modern Tokyo) thanks to the shogunate's sankin-kōtai policy. Normally the imperial court in Kyoto had been associated with culture but as the samurai, and their families, were confined to Edo they engaged in tea-drinking, poetry, art, and general literature. Under Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (r.1680-1709) we see the Genroku period known as a Golden Age of Edo culture due to peace and prosperity. We see a period where Edo became the center of Buddhist and Chinese studies as well as protection of animals. As Tsunayoshi opened the first kennels for stray dogs he became known as inu kubō, 'dog shogun'. In Edo we also see street gangs called kabukimono and the 'six gangs of Edo' made up of 'street knights' going around showing their machismo in fine clothes and garbings. The wealth of Tokugawa rule allowed merchants as well to take part in activities once reserved for the traditional samurai elite. According to R.H.P. Mason and J.G. Caiger the cities saw what they described as 'Japan's version of bourgeois individualism' through culture such as the novels by Ihara Saikaku (1642-93). Saikaku was the son of a wealthy Osaka merchant whose stories revolve around the theme of money and erotic love. One of Japan's greatest artists, Hokusai, made his mark during this period as well. Women could also engage in this culture by either making it themselves or consuming the arts. Rural culture was less vibrant compared to that of the cities, mostly as disposable wealth was less of a factor for a peasant compared to their urban counterparts. However, this does not mean that rural Japan was excluded from Tokugawa culture. The kabuki theater was extremely popular, so much so that they became popular in the cities, which is unusual. Travelers, among others, were seen as being at the bottom of society as they were not limited to their place of birth but the kabuki theater was popular. In a unique twist samurai and commoner sat together watching kabuki plays. Today kabuki remains a major part of traditional culture. Similarly rakugo gained popularity as much as their kabuki counterparts.
|Hokasai's Great Wave from the 1830s|
Society, Economy and Protest
In theory Japan based society on Confucian values with the samurai at the top then followed by peasants, then artisans, merchants and then a group similar to Indian Dalits called the eta, now known as burakumin. Women were in theory meant to be subservient to men. In practice this became much more blurred throughout Tokugawa rule. Wealthy women could produce arts and rural, poor women often escaped some of the more restrictive aspects of their wealthier counterparts. Compared to Meiji Japan which came later we see more acceptance to same-sex relations, although it was not accepted. The aforementioned Saikaku featured a bisexual main character in The Life of an Amorous Man (1692). Hokusai also portrayed same-sex relations in some of his paintings as well. As the Tokugawa required a widespread and lasting expansion of domestic trade merchants became wealthy and with them artisans did as well. In the cities guilds became fairly prosperous through a mixture of trade and stability following the Sengoku period. This prosperity benefited also from little taxation on urban merchants and artisans, and wealthier guilds could give 'thank-money' in return for licenses. Due to this boom in wealth many samurai chose to take up the abacus rather than the sword for a livelihood. For this reason the blurring of social boundaries happened. As we saw the kabuki theater became a place where social stratification was ignored but it became more evident elsewhere. As samurai became poorer and merchants/artisans became wealthier social distinctions blurred so a samurai could only be told apart by if they had a sword. Even then by 1853 some samurai had sold their swords to merchants, take loans from merchants or marry their children into merchant families. Some of the later major Japanese companies, like Mitsui, had their origins in the Tokugawa period. Sometimes shoguns would slap down too extravagant merchants - in 1705 Tsunayoshi had a lumber contractor's home confiscated for this reason.
|A kabuki theater from the 1600s|
Protest from commoners did happen throughout the period, even before the shogunate's collapse, like many other contemporary societies. As mentioned earlier we had the Shimabara Rebellion thanks to famine, local misrule, and religious issues. Local misrule and problems in the countryside regularly caused protest among the peasantry, both violent and non-violent. Throughout the roughly two-hundred and fifty years of Tokugawa rule peasants 'rebelled' over 2809 times and 1000 riots took place. From 1621 to 1720 daihyō osso (direct petition) was the most common form of protest followed by gōso (violent collective action) and uchikowashi (smashing and breaking) after the 1730s. Often during the late Tokugawa peasants, tenants, artisans and day laborers would protest together ignoring social boundaries. Although Confucianism helped enforce conformity it could be used to validate protest. In 1726 a peasant rebel leader in Mimasaka said that their revolt was due to the local official misrule and in 1653 daimyō Hotta Masanobu crucified village elder Sabura Sōgorō for presenting a petition to the local lord. He was then seen as a martyr as he had presented his grievances in a respectful way but had been killed anyway. Even though peasants viewed themselves as righteous the bakufu did try and limit protest: 1622 collective protests were banned, 1633 justifiable grounds for a petition were narrowed, and 1721 the shogun revoked the rights of peasants to protest against misrule of lords. However, by the end of the shogunate merchants began funding peasant rebellions over disgruntlement that they were wealthy but seen as being below the samurai who had largely become bureaucrats or drunken brawlers in Edo.
Why did the shogunate decline?
By the nineteenth century the economic boom of the shogunate had started to drop. Inflation rose and unrest began over general disgruntlement. Samurai were losing their wealth, merchants were angry that they were seen as being below others in society, certain samurai were disgruntled over their position, and generally the domestic trade was decreasing through inflation. The bakufu could likely have lasted longer than it did if not for the events of 1853. Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States with his 'black ships' demanding Japan open its ports for trade with the US, and later over European powers began signing the 'unequal treaties'. We'll discuss this with a later post so I'll summarize it hit. These treaties gave foreign powers preferable rights over Japan, including allowing foreigners to abide by their own laws rather than that of Japan. This caused what can be described by a nationalistic backlash called sonnō jōi (revere the emperor, expel the barbarian). Foreign powers used this to get more treaties from the bakufu fueling a bigger nationalist backlash. Meanwhile, samurai from Satsuma and Choshu, who had become wealthy but were not respected, decided to take control leading to the Meiji Restoration. However, that is a story for another day.
|A Japanese depiction of Perry's black ships|
The Tokugawa shogunate greatly influenced Japanese history. Here the institutions and economic boom planted the seeds for the modern Japan. Samurai contributed to the emergence of a new Japanese culture as merchants benefited from a stable society allowing the old feudal order to begin to be challenged. Largely separated from the rest of the world it allowed a distinctive Japanese identity to emerge which would influence the future post-shogunate Japan. The later Meiji reformers would look at the Tokugawa and learn from them, and later Japanese governments would constantly look at them for inspiration. Similarly many aspects of Japanese popular culture have taken inspiration from the Tokugawa era ranging from kabuki plays to anime and manga.
The next World History post shall take us to China to look at the Qing dynasty. The sources I have used are as follows:
-R.H.P. Mason and J.G. Caiger, A History of Japan, (Melbourne: 1997)
-Marius B. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, (Cambridge, MA: 2000)
-Nishiyama Matsunosuke, Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600-1868, trans. Gerald Groemer, (Honolulu, HI: 1997)
-Irwin Scheiner, 'Benevolent Lords and Honorable Peasants: Rebellion and Peasant Consciousness in Tokugawa Japan', in Tetsuo Najita and Irwin Scheiner, (eds.), Japanese Thought in the Tokugawa Period, (Chicago, IL: 1978)
-James White, 'State Growth and Popular Protest in Tokugawa Japan', Journal of Japanese Studies, 14:1, (1988), pp.1-25
-Chie Nakane and Shinzaburō (eds.), Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan, trans. Conrad Totman, (Tokyo: 1990)