- 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. The population of the archipelago at that time is estimated to have been around 16 million, having grown by ten million since the end of the Heian period (1185).
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, with the port of Niigata joining them in 1843. The han were then divided among members of the Tokugawa family, Tokugawa retainers, and other clan heads, who thus became daimyô. This patchwork of shogunal, domainal, hatamoto, Imperial, and religious lands covered the entire archipelago. In each locale, peasants and commoners paid taxes only to the one authority that controlled that territory, whether it be a daimyô house, the shogunate, or a religious institution. The shogunate only collected taxes from its own territory, the tenryô, and did not gain any tax revenues directly from the daimyô or their domains; rather, what the shogunate got from the daimyô domains was service, in the form of corvée labor, funds and materials for construction projects, and formal attendance in the form of sankin kôtai.
However, in some places, multiple jurisdictions overlapped, such that a given village might fall within the territory of both a religious authority and a hatamoto, for example. Mark Ravina counts twelve villages where this was the case, and two where three authorities overlapped. This occurred chiefly in and around the major cities; in the 1840s, the five square ri surrounding Osaka included areas under 165 different authorities.
Descendants or other close relatives of Ieyasu granted land were known as shinpan, kamon, or "collateral houses." 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. Japan had very few true "cities" of any significant size prior to 1570 or so, but castle towns began to grow up around that time, and by 1700, Japan had some of the largest cities in the world. In 1700, the population of Edo is said to have been around one million people, with Osaka and Kyoto each boasting 300,000, and the castle towns of Nagoya and Kanazawa each home to roughly 100,000. In total, the 260 or so castle towns in the realm were home to around ten percent of the total population of the islands. Osaka, Edo, and to a lesser extent Kyoto emerged as major commercial centers over the course of the period, 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. Land reclamation took place chiefly in the northeastern and southwestern parts of the archipelago, which had been relatively undeveloped until then. Over the course of that hundred-year period, the total agricultural production of the archipelago is believed to have increased by about 40%, from 18 million koku to 25 million, in large part due to expanded use of fertilizer, improved tools and techniques, and practices such as double and triple cropping. This growth slowed considerably after the turn of the century, however, 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 (1709-1712) 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. While the expansion of irrigation systems raised the amount of rice produced in a given area in regular times, combined with deforestation and the expansion of rice agriculture into areas not as naturally well-suited to rice cultivation, it also made many areas or regions much more vulnerable to flooding; as a result, though most areas were thus doing better overall, many areas also experienced more frequently and more hard-hitting famines.
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. Tanuma's successor as Tairô, Matsudaira Sadanobu, 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 - by some estimates, as many as "465 rural disputes, 445 peasant uprisings, and 101 urban riots" just in the fifteen years from 1830-1844 alone.
Decline and Fall
The period of the shogunate's decline and fall is known as the Bakumatsu period, which is typically said to begin in 1853, with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and the Black Ships. Though most of the Western powers had similar interests in Japan, and similar geographic position of bases, colonies, or trade routes in East Asia and/or the Pacific, it has been argued that it was the acquisition of California in 1848 and the desire for a refueling station conveniently located between San Francisco and Shanghai that contributed to the US being the one to put sufficient force behind the effort to make it successful.
Perry arrived in Japan in July 1853 with four ships, then returned in February the following year in a fleet of eight ships. The Convention of Kanagawa signed at that time opened the ports of Hakodate and Shimoda to American ships, obligated the Japanese authorities to provide good treatment for shipwrecked sailors throughout Japan, and arranged for the establishment of formal relations in the Western mode, with an American consul to be sent to Japan soon afterwards. Japan concluded similar Unequal Treaties with France and England in 1855, and with Russia and the Netherlands in 1857. That first American consul, Townsend Harris, arrived in Japan in 1856, and soon afterwards concluded the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, also known as the Harris Treaty, which secured further benefits for the US; similar treaties were then signed between Japan and a number of the chief European powers.
- bakuhan taisei, Shogun, Roju, Hatamoto, Daimyo (fudai and tozama)
Communications from Nagasaki to Edo by the fastest means possible could take about a week, while messages traveling through official channels could take at least a month. Adding in the time it took for shogunate officials to deliberate and make decisions, the overall decision-making process could take a considerable amount of time. During the Bakumatsu period, this would prove a source of irritation to representatives of Western countries, accustomed to steamships, railroads, and telegraphs, which allowed for faster communication times.
Economy and Trade
The Edo period saw considerable economic growth, including the intensification of agriculture; the expansion of domestic trade networks along road, river, and sea; the growth of merchant guilds and of proto-industrial production networks; and the emergence of a system of rice brokers which represented the first futures market in the world and something of a proto-modern banking system.
Guilds, abolished under Oda Nobunaga, were reinstated over the course of the period, with merchants paying a small fee for membership in organizations which enjoyed monopoly privileges at the marketplaces. The lords of many domains also secured for themselves monopolies on certain goods; to name one example, the Shimazu clan lords of Satsuma han held a shogunate-recognized monopoly on trade in sugar. Over the course of the mid-to-late 18th century, the shogunate reorganized these guilds, granting more official sanction to the kabunakama, and placing the za under more direct shogunate control; through a combination of these za, clearinghouses established in Nagasaki and elsewhere, and other systems, by the end of the 18th century, the shogunate was able to exercise direct control over the import and domestic shipment of a number of goods; whereas many of these goods had previously been purchased from the Dutch and Chinese by Nagasaki-based merchants, who then sold it to merchants in Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo, facilitating distribution and circulation through private channels, a variety of goods were now purchased from the Dutch and Chinese by the shogunate-run Nagasaki kaisho (Nagasaki customs house, or clearinghouse), which then sent them directly to shogunate-sanctioned za or shogunate-run storehouses in the three cities.
In the late 18th century, merchant houses worth more than 200,000 ryô numbered more than two hundred. With one ryô being ostensibly equal in value to one koku, this made the wealth of these merchant houses equivalent to that of some of the wealthiest daimyô.
Though taxation rates differed dramatically by region, farmers on average paid roughly 33-50% of their agricultural yields in taxes to their lords. For fishermen, the percentage of their catch was lower, around 20-40%. Throughout the period, only about one-third of taxes were paid in cash, with the rest paid in agricultural & other products and commodities. Taxes were based on land surveys conducted chiefly in the 17th century; reassessments of agricultural productivity were rare in the 18th and 19th centuries, and tax rates remained largely stable.
The chief exports from Japan in this period were precious metals (chiefly silver and copper), especially in the first half of the period, and marine products, which were divided into two categories. Tawaramono (goods in rice straw bales) included dried abalone, shark fin, and sea cucumber, while another category, shoshiki kaisanbutsu ("various kinds marine products") included dried kelp and, as the term suggests, a variety of other marine products. By the beginning of the 19th century, the flow of precious metals had reversed, with the shogunate successfully halting the outflow of gold and silver, restricting the outflow of copper, and then beginning to import silver in considerable quantities, exchanging for it, chiefly, marine products.
Saitô Osamu identifies the 1820s as marking the key turning point in the significant shift in the Japanese economy from agriculture to proto-industrialization, in which local operations in both rural and urban areas began to focus on the more specialized production of specific goods expressly for the purpose of selling them in distant markets (i.e. in the big cities, and/or into the broader nationwide commercial networks). Trade networks had grown more and more integrated over the course of the period, reaching even into many rural provincial parts of the country, and so by the 1820s, not only did rural and provincial consumers have regular access to a wide variety of goods both imported and domestic, but they were also able to more intensively focus their own production efforts on a given product, selling it into these commercial networks, and being able to buy enough food and other goods to live on, in return. While much proto-industrialization and by-employments occurred within communities, or even within homes, for example where women spun, wove, or dyed cloth at home in addition to agricultural activity, commercial / capitalistic developments also took place in the form of people relocating across considerable distances in the off-season. Farmers from some of the smaller, more outlying islands in the Inland Sea, for example, are known to have worked in saké breweries elsewhere in the archipelago, or on whaling ships in the Sea of Japan, during the off-seasons. Activities such as these, as well as the more standard forms of commercial activity (e.g. port-based storage & shipping activities connecting the local into translocal commercial networks) made people more dependent on wages and prices in distant regions than upon communal inter-dependency within their own local communities, constituting, David Howell argues, a key marker of a commercialized/capitalist economy. Still, Howell also warns us against assuming that "economic growth" equates to improved quality of life for all involved; while many who took on by-employments may have been well-off enough to begin with, and were simply seeking to further enhance their prosperity, for many others, it is safe to assume they felt they had no choice but to take on by-employments, sometimes even at great distances from their hometowns, just in order to get by.
Many rural areas, particularly in coastal areas, also grew over the course of the 18th and into the 19th centuries, becoming more prosperous and more interconnected, transforming from mere fishing villages or merely locally active ports into more prominent regional ports. As storage & shipping agents (ton'ya) in these rural areas began to compete against those located in the more major cities, merchant shippers turned away from the urban ton'ya, to rely more heavily on those in smaller towns charging lower fees. In just the few decades between the 1750s and the 1780s, the number of ships putting in at Okayama, for example, dropped by a third, as many of them began to instead offload their goods at smaller harbors in the area. Similarly, the town of Kaminoseki in Suô province, a fishing village and harbor of local significance which grew to more prominence over the course of the Edo period, was by the 1840s home to warehouses storing just about every major type of goods that passed through the Inland Sea, from kelp to lacquerwares, timber, cotton, tea, salt, and sugar.
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.
The samurai, meanwhile, patronized and pursued a number of "elite" artistic forms which matured or blossomed in this period. Samurai retained their swords, which became a prime marker of their samurai status, and various martial ideals remained core elements of the ideology of samurai identity. However, the samurai were no longer true warriors, and their martial identity became a more abstract, conceptual one; within a few generations, a samurai's training in martial arts, for example, was no longer truly a matter of practical skills applicable to an actual encounter, but was more a matter of art, correct form, discipline, and spiritual focus, or, as one scholar has written, "a matter of formal gymnastics and disciplined choreography." 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. In securing, or honing, their position as the elite class, the samurai embraced a variety of arts, including painting, calligraphy, certain forms of pottery arts, tea ceremony, and Noh theatre, as well as ideologies of refinement, including Confucianism and the notion of pursuing or perfecting a balance between bun (the literary) and bu (the martial).
- 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. Roughly two percent of the archipelago's inhabitants were considered eta or hinin, classes of outcastes associated with physical and spiritual pollution.
- mibunsei, four classes of society, rise of merchant class, decline of samurai (warrior class in a peaceful time)
The population of the archipelago at the beginning of the Tokugawa period is estimated at roughly 18 million people, expanding to around 30 million by around 1750. The population fluctuated but did not grow significantly after that; records from 1872 indicate a population of 33.1 million. Many historians once attributed this stagnation in population growth to Malthusian causes, suggesting that the archipelago had reached the maximum it could support given the level of agricultural technology, etc., available at that time. Beginning in the 1970s, scholars such as Thomas Smith, Susan Hanley, and Hayami Akira argued that, instead, it was conscious social efforts at population control, including infanticide, later marriage, and abortion, undertaken not as a desperate response to extreme poverty, but out of a recognition of the need to have small families in order to preserve a certain level of quality of life, which caused this leveling-out of the population growth curve. Some have suggested, however, that while such an explanation may be appropriate for some regions, or some classes of society, it cannot necessarily hold true across the board.
Samurai are believed to have comprised, during the Edo period, roughly six percent of the population of the archipelago, while merchants or townsmen (chônin) comprised another 7-8%, and peasants or villagers (hyakushô) the remaining 87% or so. 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). Roughly 80% of daimyô were paying out stipends to their retainers by 1700, and roughly 90% of samurai were reliant on such stipends by 1800, with only ten percent earning their incomes more directly, locally. This latter group, in many cases, earned their incomes more directly on account of being subinfeudated with their own sub-domains. Though most han eliminated sub-fiefs and turned all their retainers over to stipends during the 17th century, some, such as Tosa han, allowed as many as 400 senior retainers to maintain their own sub-fiefs as late as the beginning of the Meiji period; those men levied taxes on the peasants on their lands and received incomes directly in that manner. 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).
According to some sources, the flattening of population growth in the 18th to early 19th centuries was caused largely by the maxing-out of agricultural lands, and of the production possible with the technology available at that time. With agricultural production static, many peasant families turned to limiting the size of their households in order to maintain or raise their quality of living. Rural households in at least one domain shrank from an average of 7 family members to 4.25 over the course of the period; infanticide, known as mabiki after the practice of thinning rice crops within a paddy, was widely practiced.
Many peasant families continued to own their own land, but many others became tenant farmers, or landlords whose lands were cultivated by tenant farmers. Unlike in China, where landlords typically lived in the major towns, in Japan, landlords were typically wealthy farmers or village heads within the villages. By the middle of the 19th century, roughly one-quarter of agricultural land in the archipelago was cultivated by tenant farmers.
Education was widespread in Tokugawa Japan, with every domain maintaining samurai schools both in the domain, and at their mansions in Edo, by the end of the 18th century; temple schools for commoners, called terakoya, were also quite numerous, and private academies began to sprout up in significant numbers in the early 19th century. Many of these schools employed the Thousand Character Classic as a model for learning and practicing characters (kanji), alongside a number of other texts for moral education. As a result, Tokugawa Japan enjoyed a higher level of literacy than most other parts of the world, with some estimates indicating that as many as 40-50% of men, and 15-20% of women, were literate.
- 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.
- Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, 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.
- Schirokauer, Conrad, et al, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013).
- Toby, Ronald. State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
- Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, Second Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 42.
- Sansom, George. A History of Japan 1615-1867. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963
- Hellyer, 139.
- Ravina, Land and Lordship, 17.
- The term shinpan is more common in scholarship today, but was not used at the time; kamon was somewhat more typical in the Edo period. Ravina, Land and Lordship, 234n5.
- 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.
- Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (1995), 18.
- Ravina, Land and Lordship, 7.
- Roberts, Mercantilism, 74-75.
- Kaplan, Edward. The Cultures of East Asia: Political-Material Aspects. Chap. 16. 09 Nov 2006. <http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~kaplan/>. p16-13.
- Schirokauer, et al., 154.
- Schirokauer et al., 161-162.
- Mitani Hiroshi, David Noble (trans.), Escape from Impasse, International House of Japan (2006), xxxiii.
- Albert Craig, 79-80.
- Schirokauer, et al., 135.
- Albert Craig, 71-72.
- Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 55.
- Hellyer, 117.
- Martin Dusinberre, Hard Times in the Hometown: A History of Community Survival in Modern Japan, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 191-192, citing David Howell, Capitalism from Within: Economy, Society, and the State in a Japanese Fishery, University of California Press (1995), 7-8.
- Dusinberre, 32.
- Lane, Richard. Images from the Floating World. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky, 1978. pp11-34ff.
- Lane. pp308-9
- Schirokauer, et al., 136.
- Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence, Princeton University Press (2000), 35.
- Schirokauer, et al., 133.
- Luke Roberts, Mercantilism in a Japanese Domain: The Merchant Origins of Economic Nationalism in 18th-Century Tosa, Cambridge University Press (1998), 62.
- Craig, Teruko (trans.). Musui's Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai. University of Arizona Press, 1988. p.xii.
- Roberts, Mercantilism, 89-90.
- Albert Craig, 88.
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