In a Nut­shell

A time when Ja­pan closed off its bor­ders and froze its so­cial or­der

History Revealed - - CONTENTS -

What was Edo-pe­riod Ja­pan like?

“Ja­pan with­drew from the world, but its econ­omy con­tin­ued to grow”

When was the Toku­gawa pe­riod?

The Toku­gawa pe­riod in Ja­pan – also known as the Edo pe­riod – lasted be­tween 1603 and 1868, and saw the coun­try flour­ish eco­nom­i­cally and cul­tur­ally. It is widely viewed as the fi­nal pe­riod of tra­di­tional Ja­pan be­fore it moved to a new, mod­ern era.

Who was re­spon­si­ble for this era of sta­bil­ity?

In 1603, war­rior and states­man Toku­gawa Ieyasu was given the ti­tle of shogun (mil­i­tary gover­nor) by Em­peror Go-Yōzei in recog­ni­tion of his suc­cesses in the coun­try’s civil war. The ti­tle ef­fec­tively gave him con­trol over Ja­pan, and he set about restor­ing sta­bil­ity to the coun­try. Among his achieve­ments was en­cour­ag­ing for­eign trade, par­tic­u­larly with Europe.

How was sta­bil­ity achieved?

To achieve peace and sta­bil­ity, the coun­try’s so­cial or­der was frozen and mo­bil­ity be­tween mem­bers of Ja­pan’s four classes – samu­rai (war­riors), farmers, ar­ti­sans and mer­chants – was for­bid­den. What’s more, peas­ants in the low­est class were only per­mit­ted to carry out agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, which in turn pro­vided those in the higher classes with a steady source of trade and in­come. Each per­son had their own strict place in so­ci­ety.

In or­der to pro­tect the tra­di­tional cul­ture of Ja­pan, which had pre­vi­ously been un­der threat by Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies from Europe, mea­sures were taken to re­move this ‘for­eign’ in­flu­ence from the coun­try and Chris­tian­ity was ef­fec­tively banned. In ad­di­tion, from 1633, Ja­panese peo­ple were for­bid­den from trav­el­ling abroad, and those who were al­ready over­seas were not al­lowed to re­turn home. Trade was con­ducted through the south­ern port of Na­gasaki, and only with se­lected Chi­nese, Korean and Dutch mer­chants.

Ja­pan with­drew from the world, but its em­pha­sis on agri­cul­ture meant that the econ­omy con­tin­ued to grow, aided by ex­pan­sion in com­merce and the man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try in big ur­ban cen­tres such as Ky­oto and Osaka. What’s more, im­prove­ments to trans­port and com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works meant that even re­mote ar­eas could now ac­cess goods pro­duced in other parts of the coun­try.

What hap­pened to art and cul­ture dur­ing the pe­riod?

In­ter­est in west­ern-style ed­u­ca­tion in Ja­pan in­creased, in par­tic­u­lar ge­og­ra­phy, sci­ences, art and as­tron­omy. Neo-Con­fu­cian­ism – a moral, eth­i­cal and meta­phys­i­cal Chi­nese philosophy in­flu­enced by Con­fu­cian­ism – flour­ished, and there was a re­newed in­ter­est in Ja­panese his­tory among the samu­rai class. The coun­try’s mer­chant class, which was en­joy­ing more wealth and leisure time thanks to the new regime, placed a greater value on sen­sual lux­ury, en­ter­tain­ment and leisure arts. Ma­jor cities, par­tic­u­larly Edo, boasted plea­sure quar­ters with shops, theatres and broth­els that catered for their mer­chant cus­tomers. Ro­mance lit­er­a­ture was pop­u­lar and cloth­ing be­came more elab­o­rate. Life in these plea­sure quar­ters be­came known as ukiyo – ‘the float­ing world’ – and this spirit was cap­tured in many of the art­works of the pe­riod. A new type of theatre per­for­mance also sprung up, known as kabuki. This type of op­er­atic pop­u­lar theatre de­vel­oped at the be­gin­ning of the Edo pe­riod, and was far more fun and rau­cous to that which had pre­ceded it.

Why did the Toku­gawa era come to an end?

De­spite last­ing for more than 250 years, the Toku­gawa pe­riod even­tu­ally came to an end in 1868. Sev­eral years be­fore this, in 1853, Ja­pan’s self-im­posed national iso­la­tion came to an abrupt end with the ar­rival of four Amer­i­can war­ships in Edo Bay. With the US de­mand­ing to be per­mit­ted to trade with Ja­pan, the ports were slowly opened to in­ter­na­tional trade once more.

The 18th and 19th cen­turies had also seen a steady weak­en­ing of the shogu­nate, as the samu­rai and feu­dal lords failed to flour­ish as much as the mer­chant classes. Op­po­si­tion to the shogu­nate mounted, while the peas­ant classes launched a num­ber of up­ris­ings, thanks in part to a lag­ging agri­cul­tural sec­tor and a se­ries of famines.

In 1867, two pow­er­ful clans (the Chōshū and Sat­suma) joined forces and top­pled the shogu­nate, declar­ing the im­pe­rial restora­tion of the 14-year-old Em­peror Meiji the fol­low­ing year. The Meiji pe­riod that fol­lowed is seen as the be­gin­ning of Ja­pan’s moder­nity.

STATE OF THE ARTS Theatre flour­ished pe­riod, dur­ing the Toku­gawa with the in­tro­duc­tion like kabuki of new gen­res – a fu­sion of dance and drama

EF­FEC­TIVE RULER As shogun, Toku­gawa Ieyasu held more power than even the Em­peror

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