The Japan in period of ruling Tokugawa Dynasty

The process of establishing the authority Tokugawa. The establishment of Tokugawa authority. The history of Japan during the power of this dynasty. Attention to the history of Japan during the reign of the Tokugawa. Features of the Bakufu-Han System.

Рубрика История и исторические личности
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Язык английский
Дата добавления 27.11.2011
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Literature review

Japan in the period of Tokugawa (economy and inner policy)”




Nowadays, Japan is a natural leader in the Pacific and the global financial world. It takes place in Group of Eight countries. The technology of Japan takes one of the first places in world. And in economy it's a main indicator of development. As all we know, Japanese are very clever and workaholic. They are also very unusual and, of course, their culture is something especially.

So why did I choose this theme? Firstly, I always feel some weakness for their culture, history and for Japan on the whole. And I want to know this country more and more closely. That is very interesting for myself. Secondly, I can feel like I'm taking part in these historical actions. Like a movie. Thirdly, I saw a film “The Last Samurai” with participation of Tom Cruise. And that film left a deep trace in my mind. I really like this film. Fourthly, I will know more in this field and my historical knowledge will increase.

This work covers a considerable period in the history of Japan from period when Tokugawa was a leader. This topic is very interesting because there a lot “white spots” in history of Japan in this period, and we still don't know exactly what and when there were historical actions.

The purpose of this study - to consider the process of establishing the authority Tokugawa , pay special attention to the history of Japan during the reign of the Tokugawa, as well as to see the period when Emperor returned. And try to get this topic in detail as best as I can. I will try to do my best.

The work will seek the following tasks:

- To consider the establishment of Tokugawa authority;

- Explore the history of Japan during the power of this dynasty;

- Find the reasons caused of the weakening power of the Tokugawa;

Finally, I will cover three scholarly articles to understand the topic in detail.

Literature review:

According to Rodriguez:

“Tokugawa tried to build in this two ways: firstly, to keep the peasantry and urban poor in check and not allow any exemptions that can give them any kind of opportunity to organize themselves to fight, and secondly, keep a watchful eye on foreigners and keep doors locked up in Japan.” New Histoty of Asia and Africa, A.M Rodriguez (Smolensk, 2004) page 61

There was a long term “preface” that Tokugawa dynasty got their power of Japan. When Tokugawa became a Head of Japan and become the Emperor, he created a lot numbers of changes in social, political and economy structure. He tried to unite all territories into one strong nation and state.

And also he wanted to build the politic of “Closed doors” and don't have any relations with European counties.

If continued cite Rodriguez, he wrote that

“To this end, the government practiced a broad intervention into the life and economy of the peasants in an effort to completely subjugate them to his administrative and political control.

Thus, in the village, crushed by heavy feudal oppression and self-political powerlessness, there were internal processes, undermining the principle of the immutability of the feudal system, which underlies the whole of the feudal regime and its policies”. New Histoty of Asia and Africa, A.M Rodriguez (Smolensk, 2004) page 63

But in another hand, Tokugawa took emergency measures to control all citizens. He tried to build some an Ideal Feudal State and he thought about profit only for Feudal Elites. And forgot, on the whole, about simple citizens. So that is because in period of Tokugawa were a lot different uprisings of peasants. He used a strict politic which were too cruel for commoners.

If we refer to journal named “Modern Japan” he see that:

“To stop the influence of "bad ideas" foreign neighbors, Tokugawa Iemitsu expelled all merchants out of the country. The reason for this was the charge of supplying firearms Japanese Christians. In 1635 he published segunsky decree forbidding under pain of death to leave the country. At the same time those of his subjects, who had previously gone on business or to study abroad, the Shogun forbade to return home. The gates to the country with a bang shut.” ; information used from journal “Modern Japan” (6 October,2011)

What about politics of closed doors? Tokugawa had a great result in building “closed doors” policy. But, any way, later or earlier, it must gave such results. He tried to control not only politics, but also a religion and point of view of all commoner. And also he thought that foreigners founders of dissent and this was the reason why he create a real cruel rules for foreigners.

Also, how was mentioned before, he changed social structure generally. And interesting and especial place took place of Samurais.

Meiji Isin wrote that:

“The samurai, of course, as a support Tokugawa's regime stood at the top of the social ladder, they were considered as the best people of the country, the honor of the Japanese nation. Hence the saying: "Among the colors - cherry, among people - the samurai." Meiji Isin - revolution or reform? S.L Agaev; The people of Asia and Africa, (part 2, 1978) Page 67

But there are still some controversial issues. Because Tokugawa wanted to have a peaceful state. And it's strange that he gave such important place to samurais, but they didn't take a great participation in building new strong state. And we can find this information from another source - Meg vanSteenburg

“The most of the samurai had no land, and received from the lord for the performance of services (hoko) payment in rice - rock. This ration samurai meet their own needs and family, from clothing and food, and ending with the luxuries (such as gold rim weapons which were given by inheritance, etc.).” Meg vanSteenburgh; Legal Systems Very Different From Our Own; (6 October,2011)

So a lot of them became useless. And some of them just couldn't use rice as a money and get profit from this product. Numbers of samurais became a thieves and were ready to do anything to got some money, because life only with rice was unbelievable.

“After hundreds of years of civil wars, the fifteen Tokugawa shoguns made their foremost goals political stability and complete isolationism. The rice-based economy of Tokugawa period Japan was a complex form of feudalism.” Meg vanSteenburgh; Legal Systems Very Different From Our Own; (6 October,2011)

According this passage the period of Tokugawa has a good influence for the development of Japan. But in other sources are another information. That this period on the contrary inhibited all state, as said Meiji Isin:

“The severe political, military and administrative control of the shogunate, bloody ruthless massacre of any opponents of the regime and the dissidents led to the civil strife that lasted for centuries, have succeeded” Meiji Isin - revolution or reform? S.L Agaev; The people of Asia and Africa, (part 2, 1978) Page 71

After reading of three different scholars, we I understood that every scientist has his or her own vision of period of ruling Dynasty of Tokugawa. According to Rodriguez, there were as positive and negative consequences. But from another hand,opinion of Meiji Isin there were more positive than negative. And tha last one - Meg vanSteenburgh, to contradict, thought that there were more negative. As for me, I agreed with Rodriguez. Because it's obvious and we can't argufied that information about this Dyansty.

From the late 12th century through the 17th century, Japan was ruled by samurais (military leaders) but politics remained unstable. Internal wars and power shifts were very frequent, especially during the late 15th century to the end of the 16th century (called Sengoku Jidai, or warring period).

Finally, Ieyasu Tokugawa unified the country after the decisive Battle of Sekigahara (located between Nagoya and Kyoto, visible from Shinkansen) in 1600 and the attacks on Osaka Castle in 1615 where the rival Toyotomi family perished. Ieyasu established a new government in Edo and became the first shogun of the Edo Bakufu in 1603. Edo, a sleepy little town until then, was transformed into a huge political city by aggressive public works including land reclamation, new canals and clean water supply systems. The Tokugawa family ruled the country in the next 264 years (15 shoguns in all). Ieyasu Tokugawa was deified and worshiped in Nikko Toshogu Shrine (even today).

We start the story of Japan's economic development from the Edo period because pre-conditions for later industrialization and modernization were created internally during this period (moreover, quantitative data for earlier periods are very limited). The following are the pre-conditions that were generated:

(1) Political unity and stability

(2) Agricultural development in terms of both area and productivity

(3) Development of transportation and the existence of nationally unified markets

(4) The rise of commerce, finance and the wealthy merchant class

(5) The rise of manufacturing (food processing, handicraft, etc)

(6) Industrial promotion by central and local governments (sometimes successful but not always)

(7) High level of education

These are the features of the Edo period which are commonly cited by many researchers. The remainder of this lecture discusses them in detail. Note that some of these conditions are not achieved even today in some countries. In fact, developing countries that are equipped with all these conditions are relatively rare.

Here are some basic terminology for the Edo period:


The old name for Tokyo. Edo literally means the mouth of bay. Incidentally, Tokyo means eastern capital (the western, or the traditional, capital is Kyoto).


Regional samurai ruler. During the Edo period, it meant the head samurai of a local government (han).


Originally, the supreme commander of dispatched army. But it usually means the head of a central military government.


Residence of a military ruler. Later it meant the central military government itself.


A local government (like province or prefecture) in the Edo period.

Features of the Bakufu-Han System

The basic characteristics of the Edo society and politics were as follows.

(1) It was a class society: The ruling class was samurai (military men who were permitted to carry a sword). Then farmers (ranked no.2), craftsmen (no.3), merchants (no.4). There was a big gap between the samurai class and other classes. Farmers were officially placed no.2 because they paid the rice tax, but they were not particularly respected. Below all of these classes, there were also outcasts (eta and hinin).

(These four classes were called Shi-Nou-Kou-Shou (from top to bottom). Historically, Vietnam also had the distinction of Si-Nong-Cong-Thuong (Chinese characters are the same, only the pronunciation is different). It is clear that the idea originally came from China. In Vietnam, however, the top class "Si" meant scholars or literary bureaucrats, not fighting men. Moreover, it merely showed what types of people were important and respectable in society without political implication. The Edo government changed this idea into an ideology that legitimized a class society with samurais on top.)

(2) Politically, it was a centralized system. The Bakufu (central government) had absolute political power over the fate of hans (local governments) and could even remove or abolish them. It was a feudal society in the sense that the shogun gave daimyos the land to rule. In return, daimyos pledged loyalty to shogun. Any sign of disobedience was met with sternest punishment (often seppuku (ritual suicide) and/or the termination of the family).

(3) Economically, it was more decentralized. The Bakufu was not very capable of (or interested in) imposing consistent economic policies. Its policies were often unstable and short-sighted. Each han could decide its tax rates and other economic regulations, or encourage certain industries (so long as it was not explicitly prohibited by the Bakufu).

(4) The Bakufu imposed the following expenses on hans. (i) sankin kotai, bi-annual commuting between home and Edo (one year the daimyo must live in Edo, next year in his han, then Edo, then home, ad infinitum) -- a large number of retainers also moved with him. This cost a large sum of money and usually constituted the largest part of han's expenditure; (ii) public works ordered by the Bakufu, such as building castles, moats, roads, irrigation ponds and canals, waterworks, etc; (iii) other ad hoc and arbitrary taxes and charges.

Imposition of these financial expenses on hans had the effect of weakening the financial capability of hans so they were unable to build military forces to rebel against the Bakufu.

Budget and money

tokugawa japan dynasty history

The Bakufu's revenue sources included the following:

--Rice tax from land directly held by Bakufu (land not distributed to other daimyos)

--Monopoly on mining, foreign trade and minting money

--Direct control on major cities (Edo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagasaki, Sakai, etc)

--Financial contributions from merchants in exchange for monopoly & cartel permission

--Charges on and borrowings from rich merchants (sometimes not repaid)

--In addition, the Bakufu assigned hans to various public works, as noted above

Hans' revenue included the following:

--Rice tax from its territory

--Revenues from local industries (if industrial promotion was successful)

The entire fiscal system was based on the rice tax. The unit of fiscal account was "koku" (about 180 liters of rice). The han's economic size was measured in koku and samurai's salaries were paid in rice (but of course they had to convert it to cash to buy things). Rice was physically collected from each village and transported to the major rice markets (Osaka was the most important national rice market), then redistributed to the rest of the country. The "koku" size of each han was based on cultivated areas at the beginning, but as new fields were opened and productivity rose, the official "koku" size and the actual "koku" size of each han deviated.

This rice-based system had the following consequences:

(1) Since rice had to be actually shipped across regions, this tax system required a nationally unified transportation and distribution mechanism. Private merchants provided such services but the Bakufu and han governments often guided and supported them. Land transportation (on horseback) was very costly and inefficient, so sea and river transportation was mainly used.

(2) Economic activity gradually shifted from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture and handicraft industries. But the government's tax base basically remained on rice. There were some taxes on commerce but this did not become the reliable tax base. As a result, the Bakufu and han governments faced fiscal crisis while farmers and merchants were allowed to increase their income and wealth.

(3) Faced with chronic fiscal crisis, the Bakufu responded in the following ways: monetary debasement (similar to printing money, which leads to inflation), spending cuts, tax increases, price controls, administrative reforms. Some commercial policies were tried, including providing certain merchants with the exclusive right to market a product (i.e. monopoly) in exchange for financial contribution to the government.

Money consisted of both gold and silver. Gold was popular in Edo and silver was mainly used in Osaka. Copper money was also used for small transactions. Hans could also issue local paper money. Inflation rose at the time of famine and accelerated toward the end of the Edo period (especially after international trade was resumed).


I had known a lot different interesting information about Japan in period of dynasty of Tokugawa. As in any kind of history, there are good points and bad points. Some historians think that it's period had a good influence to development of Japan and call this period as “250 years of calm”. Because Tokugawa, anyway, made this state more cohesive. Maybe he took just too much cruel actions under commoners, but is worked. And another historians says that Tokugawa on the contrary made some problems in progress of this state. Cause of long term policy of “Closed Doors”. But, anyway, both of these historians agrees that Tokugawa had a great influence to history of Japan, good or bad, but left huge trace in history.

In my opinion, to have this dynasty was very important to modern Japan. All difficulties and obstacles- make us stronger. And I think that Tokugawa did all his policy in interesting of his nation.

So there are still be some unknown facts in history, because we can only suppose and use some written works and imagine situation. But we can't see all picture clearly. And I think that everyone must make his own opinion about Tokugawa period in History of Japan. Was it good, or bad?

I think that it was good. Maybe Japanese are workaholic because they have this in their blood after Tokugawa regime about commoners.


1. New Histoty of Asia and Africa, A.M Rodriguez (Smolensk, 2004)

2. New Histoty of Asia and Africa, A.M Rodriguez (Smolensk, 2004)

3. ; information used from journal “Modern Japan” (6 October,2011)

4. Meg vanSteenburgh; Legal Systems Very Different From Our Own; (6 October,2011)

5.Meiji Isin - revolution or reform? S.L Agaev; The people of Asia and Africa, (part 2, 1978) Page 71

6. Dean, Japanese Legal System: Text and Materials (Cavendish Publishing Ltd. 1997)

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