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Brad Fitzenreiter

HIST 483

November 9th, 2014

History of Japan

Essay 1

The Tokugawa period, which lasted from about 1603 to 1867, was the last era of

traditional Japanese government, culture and society prior to the Meji Restoration in

1868 which conquered over the Tokugawa shoguns and moved the country forward into

the modern era. This era provided many strengths and weaknesses to the traditional

Japanese people in terms of economy, society and political authority. Because of the

challenges faced during this time, the Tokugawa failed due to Japan’s mindset to restrict

Westernized ideologies, the attempt to restrict wealth within society and create a ‘back

to the soil’ policy in which the farmer was the ideal person in society. Through foreign

encroachment, Tokugawa political and economic instability, and the role changes and

actions of Japan 's samurais all were factors that led to the downfall of the

Tokugawa dynasty. Foreign encroachment was the main cause for the fall, and was

also a main factor for Tokugawa political and economic instability and the converting of

roles and actions of Japan 's samurais. In addition, without foreign encroachment, the

other factors would have been weaker and not powerful enough to bring down the

Tokugawa dynasty.

During the Tokugawa era there were many strengths that helped benefit society

and the government that kept it afloat for two plus centuries. Tokugawa government at

the time had belonged to the Shoguns and was very good in creating and preserving an

affordable system that had lasted almost two and a half centuries. Tokugawa

government’s goal was to maintain centralized power in the ideas of a

feudal system, in which the lords could keep their autonomy.

Tokugawa Shogun had his fortress in Edo and had also established the Shogun

government within Edo. The Edo government of the

Tokugawa was known as bakfu. The Tokugawa policy depended heavily on keeping the

status quo. The status quo reflected Confucian’s ideologies which

were made to suit the need of a traditional Japanese society. These Tokugawa bakfu

laws had given a rise to the culture within traditional Japan through the roles of samurai,

the merchants and the courtesans.

The Tokugawa bakfu had established a control system called alternate

attendance, in which the Daimyo had to be within Edo. Edo was also mostly made up of

males. The Daimyo’s job was to keep their wives and children within Edo as hostages.

In addition, Tokugawa society was divided into four quadrants: the samurai, the

peasants, the artisans and the merchants. The samurai were the masters of

agriculturalists, artisans and merchants and were required to display good character.

The official merchants job was to supply goods to the Samurai in which changed into

Edo a consumer capital. The power of these merchants had created most of the profit

for their feudal masters. The Tokugawa merchant officials contrasted from the rising

middle class of the West because they rejected their economic powers into political

rights. In Yoshiwara, which is the center of Edo social life had given the merchants the

chance to do more business by meeting wealthy customers such as the daimyo.

Daimyo and other high ranking officials had to change their lifestyle such as food,

housing and clothing since it was based on ancient warrior style practices. The warriors

participated in leisure activities such as farming, and had given a rise to the culture

within Japan. For example, the samurai worked in calligraphy, painting, the tea

ceremony, flower arranging, and even created poetry. According to Yamaga Soko, he

believed that the most important duty for the Samurai warrior was to above all else be

dedicated to duty. Soko also states that the samurai should also be extremely moral and

uphold the moral principles of the land when they have been broken. The activities that

the samurai took part in were all amongst the practices of Kyoto and Edo and had taken

up these traditional arts. The samurai and merchants participation in these exercises

had also heavily persuaded courtesans to give a rise to the culture within Japan.

However, the strengths and advantages that the rule of the Tokugawa brought to Japan,

such as the long periods of peace and the expansion of commerce was unfortunately

the contributor that caused it’s downfall.

As the Merchant class grew wealthy the samurai who had always been the ruling class were dropping into poverty, which was caused by the result of the now peaceful time the country was experiencing. No longer required defend their feudal lords and emperor, the samurai had to find other activities to partake in. They also found themselves without money because of the transition in profession in which they were forced to borrow from merchants. But as some families lost their influence, the merchant class was in decline due to restrictions, and many samurai were reduced to a life of day to day subsistence. This led to a breakdown in society that was built upon traditional Japanese cultures, as the merchants because of their wealth began to marry above their class. For example, in the code of Merchant Houses, Shimai felt it necessary to write the code in order for merchants to succeed in not only their business, but in life as well. The code is more of a how to on what other merchants should follow in order to keep good faith among family, community and business matters. Along with the fall of the samurai, the daimyo role also changed because of constrictions placed on them by the Tokugawa government. Trying to preserve this expensive way of created an uprising of taxes on the peasant class. In addition with famine and debt, there was no doubt that uprisings and rebellions became more common. While the country was dividing within, Japan was also now being targeted by foreign countries. The fall of the Tokugawa Dynasty fell for many reasons, however, the main factor contributing to it was strict social orders that exploited the peasant and farmer class. During this period of Japanese history the country suffer from a feudal military dictatorship under the rule of the shoguns of the Tokugawa family. The Feudal period in Japan, also known as the Edo period, was a time when the caste system was very firmly fixed and only the feudal lords and the samurai stood on top. Japan also became isolated because of foreign policies rejecting any offers from western nations to trade with the exception of the Dutch. Eventually due to the strict social orders and the exploitation of the peasants by the government, Japan became socially unstable. It was until the arrival of the United States naval ships that Japan was forced to end its isolation from the western countries. This event created conflict within the country leading to the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Opposition forces in Japan used the humiliating intrusion of foreigners as an excuse to overthrow the discredited shogun and the Tokugawa bakfu. The fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate was a result of many events such as bloody wars, rebellions, and treaties that caused the Tokugawa to fall. Historians debate the importance of the events that occur during the fall of the Tokugawa but they all admit that foreign interests, economic crisis, and revolutions are huge causes for the collapse of the government. The Tokugawa Shogunate was abolished in year 1868 when the imperialist rebels shutdown the shogunate forces and brought back power to the emperor of Japan. The defeat of the Tokugawa government was a result of the anger Japanese people had of the western invasion, economic crisis, and abuses of their shogunate rulers. In 1853 a fleet of U.S. warships steamed into Tokyo Bay and demanded permission to establish trade and diplomatic relations with Japan. This event is considered to be critical to the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan. The nineteenth century Western impact on Japan led first to the opening of the country to foreign trade and then in 1868 to the end of the Tokugawa era. According to Hall, western pressure was acutely felt first as a threat to national security and secondly as a stimulus to reform. The Japanese at the time felt that seclusion from foreign policies was good because they needed nothing from the western nations. They also feared that the western nations would invade their nation and colonize their territory. The Japanese knew what happened to the Chinese and how they were forced to sign unequal treaties during the Opium Wars. For these reasons the people of Japan saw this western invasion as dangerous for their country and they blamed the Tokugawa Shogunate for being weak.

Bibliography
Soko, Y. (n.d.). Excerpts From The Way of the Samuai. Retrieved November 8, 2014, from http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/ps/japan/soko_samurai.pdf
Yamaga Soko. Excerpts From The Testament of Shimai Soshitsu. In “Codes of Merchant Houses: The Testament of Shimai Soshitsu”.SourcesofJapaneseTradition,editedbyWm.TheodoredeBary,CarolGluck,andArthurL.Tiedemann,2nded.,vol.2(NewYork:ColumbiaUniversityPress,2005),310‐313
Library of Congress. “Decline of the Tokugawa” In Japan: Country Studies - Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. 2010. Accessed October 24, 2014. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/jptoc.html#jp0013.

Bibliography: Soko, Y. (n.d.). Excerpts From The Way of the Samuai. Retrieved November 8, 2014, from http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/ps/japan/soko_samurai.pdf Yamaga Soko. Excerpts From The Testament of Shimai Soshitsu. In “Codes of Merchant Houses: The Testament of Shimai Soshitsu”.SourcesofJapaneseTradition,editedbyWm.TheodoredeBary,CarolGluck,andArthurL.Tiedemann,2nded.,vol.2(NewYork:ColumbiaUniversityPress,2005),310‐313 Library of Congress. “Decline of the Tokugawa” In Japan: Country Studies - Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. 2010. Accessed October 24, 2014. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/jptoc.html#jp0013.

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