“Rise and Fall of the Tokugawa Regime”
The Tokugawa period (1603-1868), also called the Edo period, was the final phase of traditional Japan. It was a time of internal peace, political stability, and economic growth under the shogunate founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu. As shogun, Ieyasu achieved dominance over the entire country by balancing the power of “potentially hostile domains with strategically placed allies and collateral houses” (McClain 1944 pg. 31). It was an era of oppressive rule where the hierarchical division between samurai, peasant, artisan, and merchant were strictly maintained. As a further strategy of control, Ieyasu’s successor required the daimyo to maintain households in the Tokugawa administrative capital of Edo and reside there for several months every other year. This resulting system of semi-autonomous domains directed by the central authority of the Tokugawa shogunate lasted for more than 250 years. However, the eventual breakdown of social hierarchy and the failure to prevent foreign visitations led to the gradual downfall of the Tokugawa regime. As part of Ieyasu’s systematic plan to maintain stability, he prohibited the mobility between the four classes (i.e., samurais, peasants, artisans, and merchants). The military caste of the samurai dominated the politics of Japan. A lot of members of the samurai resided in the capital and other castle towns where many of them became bureaucrats. Peasants, who made up 80 percent of the population, were forbidden to engage in non-agriculture activities and were to give a good portion of their products in tax so as to insure a stable and continuing source of income for the ruling classes. Artisans used their skills to craft necessary non-food items. Finally, goods that could not be acquired through any other means could be purchased from merchants. Even though there was social discrimination, this hierarchy brought stability and a boost in the economic system. The national economy expanded...
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