- Japanese: 江戸時代 (Edo jidai)
The Edo period, also known as the Tokugawa period, covers the years during which the Tokugawa shogunate controlled Japan. It runs from around 1600 until 1868. A space of over 250 years of relative peace in between the countrywide wars of the Sengoku Period and the violence surrounding the Meiji Restoration, the Edo period was characterized chiefly by the rise of urban culture and modern economic structures. It is also known as the Early Modern period in Japan, and shares many of the features of social, economic, and political development of the same period in the West.
The period is sometimes said to begin in 1600, the year of the battle of Sekigahara, in which Tokugawa Ieyasu eliminated nearly all opposition to his rule. He was officially granted the title "Shogun" by the Emperor in 1603, so the period is sometimes said to begin then, or in 1615, following the Tokugawa victory over the Toyotomi clan in the siege of Osaka Castle, thus finally eliminating the last serious opposition.
Having defeated the armies of his enemies, and been named Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu began the process of establishing the legitimacy and stability of his clan's rule. It was not a rapid process, and many of these policies and structures were put into place by Ieyasu's successors over the course of several decades.
Ieyasu divided the provinces of Japan into several hundred feudal domains, called han. Some areas, including Edo, Kyoto, Nagasaki, and Osaka after its fall in 1615, were administered directly by shogunal representatives called Shoshi-dai in Kyoto and Machi bugyô in the other cities. Nara, Sunpu, Nikkô were also among the cities administered in this way. The han were then divided among members of the Tokugawa family, Tokugawa retainers, and other clan heads, who thus became daimyô.
Descendants of Ieyasu granted land were known as shinpan. Ieyasu gave his sons the provinces of Owari (Nagoya), Kii, and Echizen, and Mito in Hitachi in the Kantô Plain. Important Tokugawa retainers were made fudai daimyô and given territories in the Kantô or Kinai (the center of the country), or in strategic locations, such as overseeing important points along the Tôkaidô highway, or watching over the last group of daimyô, the tozama daimyô. The tozama were those who had not been retainers of Ieyasu at Sekigahara, whether they had supported him or not. Many of them held the largest, wealthiest and most powerful territories, and most were allowed by the shogunate to keep their lands in exchange for their loyalty. (One sometimes reads that the tozama were enemies of Ieyasu at Sekigahara, but that is a mistake.)
The Tokugawa state has been described as a "compound state", not a single unified state under a central government with absolute powers. The shogunate exerted direct control over roughly 15 percent of the archipelago, or roughly four million koku worth of lands. The hatamoto (direct vassals of the shogunate) controlled roughly ten percent, while about 500,000 koku worth of land was controlled by the Imperial family, major temples, and other such groups. The remaining 75 percent of the archipelago was controlled by the daimyô, who enjoyed a considerable degree of independence in the internal affairs of their domains (han).. Within a domain, the daimyô had more authority, or rather more direct authority, than the shogunate, which very rarely made efforts to directly impose or enforce policy within a domain. For this reason, a variety of systems were established to ensure the peace and to prevent daimyô rebellion.
Each han was ordered in 1615 to destroy all but one castle in its territory, and was not allowed to make repairs or expansions upon the domain's defenses without shogunate approval. Samurai were restricted to the castle towns, so as to prevent them from organizing rebellions or building armies in the countryside, and marriages between daimyô clans, which could represent the beginnings of alliances, were similarly forbidden without shogunate approval. The sankin kôtai system was another key element of these restrictive measures. Initially voluntary, the system was made mandatory in 1635; daimyô were obligated to maintain a residence in Edo, where members of their close family would reside as hostages against the daimyô's disobedience or rebellion. The daimyô were also obligated to make annual journeys to Edo, and to reside there for half of each year; the massive expenses associated with these journeys served to place limits on even the wealth of the most powerful daimyô.
The early decades of the Edo period were also marked by extensive foreign trade and cultural exchange. Continuing a system established by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the shogunate sent formally licensed ships called shuinsen (vermillion seal ships) throughout East and Southeast Asia. The region's seas were overrun with pirates and raiders, known as wakô throughout the Sengoku period and the 17th century; in theory, these licenses helped foreign authorities distinguish legitimate traders from wakô.
This trade came to an end in 1635 with the imposition of a set of maritime restrictions known as kaikin which forbade Japanese from traveling abroad or from returning to Japan. Over the course of the period from 1633 to 1641, the shogunate imposed a number of other related policies, restricting Chinese traders and representatives of the Dutch East India Company to Nagasaki, and all trade and relations to only four ports. Relations and trade with the Dutch and Chinese were managed at the shogunate-controlled port of Nagasaki; contact and trade with China was also effected through Satsuma han in the far south of Kyûshû and its vassal state, the Kingdom of Ryûkyû. The Sô clan of Tsushima han handled relations with Korea and Matsumae, the only han on Ezo (now known as Hokkaidô), managed relations and trade with the native Ainu. Relations also continued, albeit to limited degrees, with various Southeast Asian polities, through Chinese traders who carried gifts and missives.
Japan imported a wide variety of goods, including ceramics, silks, aromatic woods, antlers, hides, and other animal products, and tea. Its primary exports were precious metals; throughout the 17th century, Japan was one of the world's primary sources of copper, silver, and gold. By the end of the century, however, due to a shortage of resources and shifting foreign demand, Japanese exports of precious metals suffered a severe decline.
Even so, the 17th century was a period of fantastic economic growth and development for Japan, as the foundations were laid for the nation's economic infrastructure. Osaka, Edo, and to a lesser extent Kyoto emerged as major commercial centers, and extensive transportation networks formed, shipping goods by road, river, and sea across the entire country. The primary thoroughfare on land was the Tôkaidô, connecting Edo and Kyoto. By the end of the 17th century, at least twenty-four shipping companies were operating out of Osaka, transporting goods to and from Edo.
Guilds also grew more numerous and more organized in this period, further expanding the organization of the economy as a whole. The medieval za were transformed into kabunakama, groups of merchants or artisans in a given specialty who were granted licenses by the shogunate to engage in a given type of work. Many merchants in the major ports of Nagasaki, Kagoshima, and Tsushima formed relations with shippers and warehousers called tonya, who organized the transport, storage, and handling of goods shipped from these ports to the markets of Osaka and Edo.
In addition, rice brokers, forerunners to a modern banking system, came to prominence at this time in Osaka, and were among the first futures exchanges in the world. Brokers took koku of rice from samurai, who were paid their stipends in that form, either paying the samurai in coin or holding onto the rice as a bank would, and issuing paper bills, representations of value. The brokers would then make loans of this rice to others, at high rates of interest. Networks of rice brokers across the country, acting as branch operations of the central exchange in Osaka, helped to ensure that samurai could have access to their funds wherever it was needed. The central exchange in Osaka, at Dôjima, was organized in 1697 and formally sanctioned and supported by the shogunate beginning in 1773.
In short, a wide variety of economic developments combined in this period with the widespread reclamation of land for agricultural purposes, and the intensification of agricultural production to create a powerful trend of growth over the 17th century, which ended around the turn of the century, leading to a long period of stasis and relative prosperity.
The period from 1688 to 1704 was known as the Imperial era of Genroku, and is remembered as a period of incredible wealth among the commoner merchant classes of Japan's cities, and of a great flowering of popular culture. Kabuki, jôruri puppet theatre, ukiyo-e and a wide range of forms of humorous literature, along with the culture of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters came into their own at this time, though they would mature later in the 18th century.
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi became shogun in 1680, and exercised absolute rule without a Tairô to serve as chief adviser. His rule was quite strict at times, but it was also quite arbitrary, and Tsunayoshi is generally regarded as one of the least competent of the shoguns. Even so, the bureaucrats and administrators under him did well, maintaining the day-to-day governance of the nation, and Japan saw several decades of incredible prosperity before the bubble burst and real problems began to sink in.
Even the peasantry of the most rural districts are said to have enjoyed some degree of prosperity at this time, but it was the merchant classes of Osaka, Kyoto and Edo who truly prospered. The myriad economic developments of the previous century converged at this time to create immense wealth for those best in a position to take advantage of it. Merchants flaunted their wealth, and while the period is remembered as a Golden Age of art and literature, it was also a period of hedonism and frivolous expense. Stories abound of merchants, courtesans, and others who frivolously wasted away their money on drink, clothes, and other pleasures; a few merchants are known to have even bought out the entire Yoshiwara solely for themselves for a night or two.
Overall, the 18th century was characterized by cultural maturation, and economic stability and stasis; political corruption and other factors led to decline towards the end of the century and a return to many of the problems of Genroku.
The years immediately following Genroku were characterized by reforms, leading into a century of relative stasis and stability as compared to the fantastic growth and change of the previous century. During the brief reigns of Tokugawa Ienobu (1709-1713) and Tokugawa Ietsugu (1713-1716), shogunal advisor Arai Hakuseki oversaw a number of reforms, principally a reversal of the currency debasement effected in 1695. Though this did not truly solve the financial problems of the shogunal treasury, nor of the country as a whole, it was an important step towards putting an end to the inflation and frivolous spending of the Genroku period.
Cultural forms introduced in the previous century developed and coalesced, and many now-famous styles, works, and masters emerged. This period saw the production of the three most popular and famous bunraku and kabuki plays of all time: Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, Kanadehon Chûshingura and Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami in 1746-1748. Full-color ukiyo-e woodblock prints, known as nishiki-e, were introduced by Suzuki Harunobu in 1765.
The economic stasis of the century was reflective of poor financial policies on the part of the shogunate, and the effects of numerous natural disasters and famines. However, it was also the result of the fact that many economic developments simply reached their maximum levels. Agricultural intensification of land had reached its fullest possible extent, as did the reclamation of land for these purposes. Trade routes, by land, river, and sea, were fully established and operating at a regular pace, with little room for growth or expansion, as were business operations in the major cities and ports. Silver, gold, and copper mines were largely exhausted, and deforestation was becoming a serious problem in some regions.
Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune (r. 1716-1745) had previous administrative experience as the daimyô of Kii province and took steps to stabilize the economy, recover the shogunate's financial situation, and consolidate its power. He created a Treasury department within the shogunate, reduced the number of hatamoto, and oversaw a number of other reorganizations to these ends. He also sought to encourage further production, both in agriculture and in goods such as textiles and oils. These policies were well-intentioned, but yielded limited results in a country already producing more or less at maximum capacity, given the technologies and economic structures of the time. Efforts to stabilize the currency, balance the government budget and ensure an adequate food supply throughout the country were likewise challenged by typhoons, famines, and other unavoidable phenomena; some degree of stability was achieved, but not necessarily with true assurances of prosperity.
Perhaps the most crucial economic and social developments of the 18th century can be seen in the gradual restructuring of rural society over the course of the period. Urbanization caused extended families to break up, households to shrink, and family structures to change. This, combined with new technologies, increased access to markets, and the dangers of crop failures led to the development of increased by-employments on the part of rural farmers; many people across the country came to take part in secondary economic activities, such as artisan work, in addition to farming. By the end of the 18th century, rural cottage industries had sprung up all across the archipelago, producing a wide variety of goods, primarily textiles; these rural "country places," as Thomas Smith calls them, were closely connected to the nation's trade networks and to merchant establishments in the cities. Proto-industrialization in Japan, unlike in Europe, was based in the countryside, where materials, labor, and land were cheaper, and where businessmen could avoid the taxation and oppressive guild structures of the cities.
Due to these developments, the expansion/development of roads and trade networks, and other developments, a myriad of goods began to be produced commercially, in large quantities, often in the countryside to a greater extent than in the past, and to be distributed widely throughout the archipelago. New techniques allowed saké to be transported more easily, and thus to be more easily produced in rural areas and then distributed via the cities; soy sauce began to be produced commercially at this time as well, and Kikkoman, which remains one of the most prominent soy sauce producers today, claims to have been established in 1630. Ramen (adapted from the Chinese lamian) was another product which became far more widely available in the Edo period.
The reigns of the shoguns following Yoshimune show the beginnings of decline, the final decades of the century being characterized primarily by political corruption and rampant inflation. The problems of these decades are usually associated with a shogunal official by the name of Tanuma Okitsugu, who gained significant power and became Tairô in 1767. Bribes became quite common within the halls of power, and morals decayed on the streets.
The 1783 eruption of Mt. Asama, combined with the Great Tenmei Famine, which lasted almost ten years, was widely taken as an ominous omen and symbol that the country was in need of serious change and a return to virtuous leadership. Following Tanuma's death, Matsudaira Sadanobu rose to prominence among the rôjû and oversaw extensive financial reforms and the imposition of strict sumptuary laws known as the Kansei Reforms. These reforms, like others earlier in the Edo period, were based on notions of propriety and the idea that if people dressed and acted according to their traditional roles, society as a whole (i.e. the nation) could return to prosperity. In other words, the reforms were founded more on Neo-Confucian philosophy than on practical understandings of the economic and social reforms that were needed. Nevertheless, even as the government cracked down on free expression, economic benefits were seen.
The end of the 18th century also saw the emergence of significant expressions of anti-shogunate sentiment. A number of writers and thinkers spoke out against the shogunate, seeking not the overthrow of the entire system, but still a return to virtuous rule. The Mito school and rangaku and kokugaku movements were just two of the schools of thought that emerged significantly in this period, alongside a number of shinshûkyô (New Religions) and writers such as Ogyû Sorai and Hiraga Gennai. Discontent was of course not limited to the elite, and the period saw a great many peasant uprisings as well.
Decline and Fall
- bakuhan taisei, Shogun, Roju, Hatamoto, Daimyo (fudai and tozama)
Economy and Trade
- kaikin (sakoku), intensification of agriculture, development of domestic trade networks, merchant guilds and organization, rice brokers --> banks
Many aspects of Japanese culture which are today stereotypically considered to be quite "traditional" in fact had their start in the Edo period. Kabuki and jôruri puppet theatre (also known as bunraku) developed over the course of the 17th century, reaching their climax around 1690-1750. Ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world", developed over the course of the 17th century, emerging in earnest in the Genroku period; but full-color prints did not appear until 1765.
The Yoshiwara and other realms of the courtesans likewise did not appear until the Edo period, and developed over the course of the period from a simple place for prostitution into the highly romanticized and ritualized subject of countless works of art and literature, both contemporary and modern.
Bushidô, or the "Way of the Warrior", was likewise codified and established in the Edo period. Though it certainly drew upon earlier notions of honor, loyalty, and a particular code of ethics, the concept only truly coalesced in this period. Tsuramoto Tashiro, the compiler of the Hagakure, along with Miyamoto Musashi, Yagyû Jûbei, and many other great philosophers of the warrior code lived during this period.
- ukiyo-e, urbanization, kabuki & bunraku, kibyoshi/sharebon, pleasure quarters (Yoshiwara)
- It has been estimated that in the 18th century, 22% of the population of the archipelago lived in cities.
- mibunsei, four classes of society, rise of merchant class, decline of samurai (warrior class in a peaceful time)
Samurai are believed to have comprised, during the Edo period, roughly six percent of the population of the archipelago. Government work was the chief avenue seen as an honorable path for samurai, while most forms of merchant or artisan (craftsman/manufacture) work, as well as agricultural labor, were seen as being beneath them, unfitting for someone of samurai status. Since samurai were so numerous, however, and there were only so many government positions, by 1705, it is believed that roughly one-quarter of the shogun's vassals were unemployed.
Samurai earned their incomes as stipends paid by their lords in fixed amounts of rice (measured in koku). As stipends were not reassessed and rarely increased (without a promotion in rank or position), by the late Edo period, many samurai became impoverished, even as many members of the commoner townsman class (chônin) became wealthier and wealthier, earning their incomes off economic activity (i.e. manufacture and trade).
- Sansom, George. A History of Japan 1615-1867. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963
- Sansom. p3.
- Ravina, Mark. "State-Building and Political Economy in Early-Modern Japan." Journal of Asian Studies. 54:4 (Nov 1995). p1017.
- Ravina. "State-Building." p1000.
- Sakai, Robert. "Feudal Society and Modern Leadership in Satsuma-han." Journal of Asian Studies 16:3 (May 1957). pp366-7.
- Sansom. pp7-8.
- Sansom. p20f.
- Arano, Yasunori. "The Entrenchment of the Concept of 'National Seclusion'". Acta Asiatica vol 67 (1994). p98.
- Arano. p83.
- Kobata, Atsushi. "Production and Uses of Gold and Silver in Sixteenth- and Seventeeth-Century Japan." The Economic History Review. New Series, 18:2 (1965). pp245-266.
- Kaplan, Edward. The Cultures of East Asia: Political-Material Aspects. Chap. 16. 09 Nov 2006. <http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~kaplan/>. p16-13.
- Lane, Richard. Images from the Floating World. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky, 1978. pp11-34ff.
- Lane. pp308-9
- Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence, Princeton University Press (2000), 35.
- *Craig, Teruko (trans.). Musui's Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai. University of Arizona Press, 1988. p.xii.
- Arano, Yasunori. "The Entrenchment of the Concept of 'National Seclusion'". Acta Asiatica vol 67 (1994). pp83-103.
- Berry, Mary Elizabeth. "Public Peace and Private Attachment: The Goals and Conduct of Power in Early Modern Japan," Journal of Japanese Studies, 12:2 (Summer 1986). pp237-71.
- Kobata, Atsushi. "Production and Uses of Gold and Silver in Sixteenth- and Seventeeth-Century Japan." The Economic History Review. New Series, 18:2 (1965). pp245-266.
- Lane, Richard. Images from the Floating World. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky, 1978.
- Ravina, Mark. Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
- Ravina, Mark. "State-Building and Political Economy in Early-Modern Japan." Journal of Asian Studies. 54:4 (Nov 1995). pp997-1022.
- Sakai, Robert. "Feudal Society and Modern Leadership in Satsuma-han." Journal of Asian Studies 16:3 (May 1957). pp365-376.
- Sansom, George. A History of Japan 1615-1867. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963.
- Toby, Ronald. State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
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