Tokugawa Japan: an Institutional Analysis of Economic Development

Topics: Edo period, Samurai, Tokugawa shogunate Pages: 9 (3861 words) Published: May 9, 2013
By the start of the Japan’s Meiji Restoration, in 1864, many saw the Japanese economy as underdeveloped and would argue that only contact with the outside world could cause economic growth and development. When a certain American, Commodore Perry, arrived on warships in 1853 the Japanese society saw the growth that they were forgoing for their policy of seclusion and political control. Eleven years later the Meiji restoration removed the Tokugawa government and ended Japanese isolation, cementing the way for Japan’s rapid economic development in the Meiji era (Allison & Alexander, 2010:470; Crawcour, 1989:599-610). This rapid economic growth transformed the feudal remains of the Tokugawa economy into one of the fastest growing capitalist economies until the 1980’s. The following essay will examine the institutional development of the period preceding the Meiji era, the Tokugawa period from 1600-1864. The focus will be on political, legal and social institutions and its various effects on the economic development of pre-industrial Japan as well as its effects on Meiji growth. 2.The Tokugawa Shogunate: an institutional Analysis

Three years after the battle of Sheigahara, in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu took office as prime shogun, an office that gave him authority as head of the national government. Although the office of the emperor remained, it was diminished to be a figurehead of society while the shogun served as “the guardian of the state and protector of its people” with responsibilities in terms of both domestic affairs and foreign relations (Hall, 1991: 156-157). 2.1. Political Institutions: The Bakuhan system

The Tokugawa period saw the Shogun as the ultimate owner of all taxable land, yet the political structure was a feudal one as daimyo had significant control over their respective domains (Hall, 1991:156-157, 183; Horie, 1958:3). Each daimyo had a right to a single castle and a military force, they were not directly taxed, but were required to contribute to the bakufu castle infrastructure (Hall, 1991:159). In order to deter rebellion the Shogun restricted the army sizes of the lords along with their wealth, while also requiring them to reside at Edo castle in alternating years (Broadbridge, 1974:348; Weede, 2004:7). One of the most important aspects of the Tokugawa political system was its policy of isolation from the rest of the rest of the world, this resulted in stagnated growth. 2.2.Legal Institutions and Social Structure

In order to understand the legal institutions of Tokugawa Japan the rigid caste structure of the Tokugawa social order must first be explained. The western equivalent of royalty existed in four spheres. In descending order, it was the emperor, the shogun, the bakufu or daimyos and lastly the samurai administrators (Henderson, 1952:52). All of the royal classes were warriors, samurai in this context means warrior appointees of the daimyo or lords. The common class existed only out of peasants and farmers, below them were the artisans while the merchants were deemed to be the lowest class (Henderson, 1952: 92-93). The legal system of Tokugawa Japan can be considered as having four separate systems for each caste: it had one for nobles, one for the ruling samurai class, one for lesser warriors and one for commoners (Henderson, 1952:90). A fifth one can even be seen in terms of the merchant class, which were particularly marginalised by arbitrary laws (Hanley & Yamamura, 1971:374-375). Men were thus inherently unequal in Tokugawa Japan while was usually at “the whim of the enforcer” (Hall, 1991:158; Henderson, 1952:92-100). In this sense the law, especially when concerned with the upper classes, was usually general and vague enough to allow arbitrariness and was often misused by the shoguns to justify their own actions and condemn dissenting lords (Hall, 1991:158). Land taxation was determined by expected price yield by the Lords, it may be argued that this system was...
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