The Edo Period ( 江戸時代) 1600 - 1868






After securing power from Tokugawa and the strife of civil wars,Ieyasu and his successors ruled over a long period of stability and seclusion, unlike Qing China, which it antedates by 44 years . During the 17th and 18th centuries, Japan enjoyed peace, considerable economic growth and a flourishing urban culture .even though it is viewed as conservative and reactionary now, it did provide a stable base for the Japans quick modernization during the following Meiji period .


Control of the social order


Strict control was placed on the daimyo families for marriage and castle building , the daimyo families also had to spend every second year at Edo . Travel in the country was strictly controlled and many key industries, ports and mines were under control of the Shogun .Overseas travel for Japanese was banned and those who did travel were not allowed to return .Social stability was sought by freezing the classes . Society was divided into four main classes the shi samurai, no  farmers ko artisans and sho, merchants .In this way the Tokugawa shogunate hoped to prevent upstart groups such as the low level samurai from rebelling as they had done before .




Christianity and the West


Christianity was seen as subversive to the social order . Christian missionaries were expelled in 1614 and after the revolt of Japanese Christians in the Shimabara rebellion in 1638 Christianity was banned . Only the Dutch were allowed to stay and  trade in Japan on the tiny island of Dejima near Nagasaki, provided the Japanese with a tiny keyhole to view the rapidly changing outer world . The Dutch as a Protestant country did not have the negative image of the  Catholic countries of Spain and Portugal with their ties to the Vatican . The clever Dutch also managed to convince the Japanese that the British were catholic as well, barring them from Japan .Other Europeans who landed on Japanese shores were put to death without trial.



 The Shimabara Rebellion



 The Shimabara Rebellion Part 2

In Kyushu, Shimabara and Amakusa, the Christian population was particularly large, and the farmers continuously endured extreme pain and suffering under the oppression of the land's rulers. Unable to pay taxes because of severe famine, Christians watched their daughters taken away by the samurai and waited for a miracle that could save them. People lined up to follow Shiro of Amakusa in the belief that he was the one to lead them out of despair.


Stability was enforced with draconian laws and execution, often by crucifixion ( as seen in the tv movie Shogun ). The individual was held responsible for the actions of his family or village, thus a village chief could be executed by proxy  for the actions of a citizen from his village .

In this period of stability the Kabuki drama and Bunraku ( puppet shows ) thrived


The political system


 the essential political structure was devised by Ieyusu and his two successors Hidatada ( 1616 - 1623 ) and Iemitsu ( 1623 - 1651 ). The political system evolved into what historians call bakuhan, a combination of the terms bakufu ( the shogunate ) and han ( domains of the daimyo ) to describe the government and society of the period. In the bakuhan, the shogun had national authority and the daimyo had regional authority, a new unity in the feudal structure, which had an increasingly large bureaucracy to administer the mixture of centralized and decentralized authorities. All the daimyo were the shogun's vassals, bound by oath . A daimyo's heir had to sign an oath to the shogun in blood . To see that the daimyo were following the shogunate's orders, inspectors were sent out . the heads of the daimyo were required to travel to Edo every 2 years and their families were kept in Edo as hostages .



The beginning of the Edo period coincides with the last decades of the Nanban trade period during which intense interaction with European powers, on the economic and religious plane, took place. It is at the beginning of the Edo period that Japan built her first ocean-going Western-style warships, such as the San Juan Bautista, a 500-ton galleon-type ship that transported a Japanese embassy headed by Hasekura Tsunenaga to the Americas and then to Europe. Also during that period, the bakufu commissioned around 350 Red Seal Ships, three-masted and armed trade ships, for intra-Asian commerce. Japanese adventurers, such as Yamada Nagamasa, used those ships throughout Asia.


Economic Growth


There was much economic growth during the Edo period, banking and trade associations grew in importance and large production facilities were built . The use of money was increased and the surplus could be used to invest or lend .   Unlike before, when Japan had no population growth during the previous civil strife, the population of doubled by the middle of the Edo period .Merchants amassed great wealth in this period and some of the great commercial empires such as Mitsui go back to this period .




The flourishing of Neo-Confucianism was the major intellectual development of the Tokugawa period. Confucian studies had long been kept active in Japan by Buddhist clerics, but during the Tokugawa period, Confucianism emerged from Buddhist religious control. This system of thought increased attention to a secular view of man and society. The ethical humanism, rationalism, and historical perspective of neo-Confucian doctrine appealed to the official class. By the mid-seventeenth century, neo-Confucianism was Japan's dominant legal philosophy and contributed directly to the development of the kokugaku (national learning) school of thought


The Arts





For the first time, urban populations had the means and leisure time to support a new mass culture. Their search for enjoyment became known as ukiyo (the floating world), an ideal world of fashion and popular entertainment. Professional female entertainers (geisha), music, popular stories, Kabuki theater was wildly popular as was bunraku (puppet theater, large wooden puppets manipulated by 3 man teams, accompanied by singers), poetry, a rich literature, and art, exemplified by beautiful woodblock prints (known as ukiyo-e), were all part of this flowering of culture. Literature also flourished with the talented examples of the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724) and the poet, essayist, and travel writer Matsuo Bashō (1644-94). The haiku came into its own thanks to the works of Basho .



 Matsuo Basho was one of the most famous Zen poets of Japan, who alerts us to the neglected

 beauty and interest of everyday life, and thereby reconciles us with our own circumstances.


Intrusion of the West and internal trouble


Japanese print of a Russian ship


By the 1830s, there was a general sense of crisis. Famines and natural disasters hit hard, and unrest led to a peasant uprising against officials and merchants in Osaka in 1837. Although it lasted only a day, the uprising made a dramatic impression. Remedies came in the form of traditional solutions that sought to reform moral decay rather than address institutional problems. A struggle arose in the face of political limitations that the shogun imposed on the entrepreneurial class. The government ideal of an agrarian society failed to square with the reality of commercial distribution. A huge government bureaucracy had evolved, which now stagnated because of its discrepancy with a new and evolving social order. Compounding the situation, the population increased significantly during the first half of the Tokugawa period. Although the magnitude and growth rates are uncertain, there were at least 26 million commoners and about four million members of samurai families and their attendants when the first nationwide census was taken in 1721. Drought, followed by crop shortages and starvation, resulted in twenty great famines between 1675 and 1837. Peasant unrest grew, and by the late eighteenth century, mass protests over taxes and food shortages had become commonplace.


Since the start of the 19th century, more and more Western ships began to appear in Japanese waters .The rapid industrialization of the West during the 18th century created for the first time a material gap in terms of technologies and armament between Japan and the West (which did not really exist at the beginning of the Edo period, indeed, Japan had one of the largest, best trained army with firearms at the time), forcing it to abandon its policy of seclusion and contributing to the end of the Tokugawa regime.


Japan turned down a demand from the United States, which was greatly expanding its own presence in the Asia-Pacific region, to establish diplomatic relations when Cmdre. James Biddle appeared in Edo Bay with two warships in July 1846.When Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry's four-ship squadron appeared in Edo Bay in July 1853, the bakufu was thrown into turmoil. In March 1854, the Treaty of Peace and Amity (or Treaty of Kanagawa) opened two ports to American ships seeking provisions, guaranteed good treatment to shipwrecked American sailors, and allowed a United States consul to take up residence in Shimoda, a seaport on the Izu Peninsula, southwest of Edo. A commercial treaty, opening still more areas to American trade, was forced on the bakufu five years later. In the Ansei Reform (1854–1856), ministers tried to strengthen the regime by ordering Dutch warships and armaments from the Netherlands and building new port defenses. In 1855, a naval training school with Dutch instructors was set up at Nagasaki, and a Western-style military school was established at Edo; by the next year, the government was translating Western books in the final years of the Tokugawa, foreign contacts increased as more concessions were granted. The new treaty with the United States in 1859 allowed more ports to be opened to diplomatic representatives, unsupervised trade at four additional ports, and foreign residences in Osaka and Edo. This signing of treaties with the United States and five other nations, thus ending more than 200 years of exclusion.


Anti foreign acts and The Boshin War 1868 - 9


The Confederate CSS Stonewall, bought by the Japanese government in 1869


The humiliation of the shogunate was seized upon by the anti-shogun samurai in the daimyo of Satsuma and Choshu  and a movement arose to ' protect the emperor and expel the barbarians .'  The Emperor Kōmei agreed with such sentiments, and–breaking with centuries of imperial tradition–began to take an active role in matters of state: as opportunities arose, he spoke against the treaties and attempted to interfere in the shogunal succession.




His efforts culminated in March 1863 with his "Order to expel barbarians". Although the Shogunate had no intention of enforcing the order, it nevertheless inspired attacks against the Shogunate itself and against foreigners in Japan: the most famous incident was that of the English trader Charles Lennox Richardson, for whose death the Tokugawa government had to pay an indemnity of one hundred thousand British pounds. Other attacks included the shelling of foreign shipping in Shimonoseki . During 1864, these actions were successfully countered by armed retaliations by foreign powers, such as the British Bombardment of Kagoshima and the multinational Bombardment of Shimonoseki.


In 1866 the emperor Komei died was succeeded by the emperor Meiji . In the Boshin War that followed, the shogunate forces fought those supporting a restoration of the emperor. An alliance of southern samurai and court officials secured the cooperation of the young Emperor Meiji, who declared the abolition of the two-hundred-year-old Shogunate. Military movements by imperial forces and partisan violence in Edo led Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the sitting shogun, to launch a military campaign to seize the emperor's court at Kyoto.


The military tide rapidly turned in favor of the smaller but relatively modernized imperial faction, and after a series of battles culminating in the surrender of Edo, Yoshinobu personally surrendered. The Tokugawa remnant retreated to northern Honshū and later to Hokkaidō, where they founded the Ezo republic. Defeat at the Battle of Hakodate broke this last holdout and left the imperial rule supreme throughout the whole of Japan, completing the military phase of the Meiji Restoration








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