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Tokugawa Japan, to 1700

In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu, a general who had served under Hideyoshi, defeated those who rallied around the heir that Hideyoshi had chosen. With Tokugawa having established his superiority by force of arms, in 1603 Japan's emperor appointed him shogun. And as shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu began exercising his power with Edo (present-day Tokyo) as his base. In 1615 he defeated the last of his competitors, capturing the Osaka castle. The Tokugawa Period of Japanese history had begun, to last into the 1800s.

The shogun directly administered a quarter of Japan's territory, and local lords – the daimyo – about 250 in number, administered the rest but under firm control of the shogun. The daimyo could not marry, alter their castles or pass property to their sons without approval of the shogun's government. Daimyo were required to spend every second year at Edo – a financial burden for  them.  The shogun maintained a monopoly over military force and forbade warring between the daimyo.

Tokugawa Ieyasu

Tokugawa Ieyasu

In the Tokugawa Period, unlike previous times, peasants were no longer part-time warriors. Warriors were required to live with other warriors in castle towns. Samurai found themselves without meaningful employment. Some of them plunged into the expensive delights in town amusement quarters. Many samurai went bankrupt and sold or mortgaged their right to collect rice from the villages. Some Samurai turned to studying not only the martial arts but also literature, philosophy and the tea ceremony.

Tokugawa Ieyasu established trade relations with the English and Dutch, but he became wary of Christianity. He was aware of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Europe, and he was aware of Jesuits in Japan trying to expel Franciscans and the Dutch. He was annoyed by Christian aggressiveness and saw the Spanish and Portuguese administration of Christianity in Japan as a dangerous political machine. In 1614 he outlawed Christianity. All European priests were ordered to gather at Nagasaki for deportation. Christian churches were ordered destroyed, and Japanese converts were ordered to renounce their Christianity.

The persecution of Christianity got off to a slow start, and Tokugawa Ieyasu died in 1616. He was succeeded by his son, Tokugawa Hitetada. The expulsion of foreign Christian priests was reiterated. It was made a capital offense for a Japanese to be a Christian, and daimyos were forbidden to have Christians in their employ. Military assaults were made against Christian strongholds. Captured European and Japanese Christians were executed, and some Christians survived to pursue their Christianity in secret.

Hitetada abdicated as shogun in 1623 in favor of his son, Tokugawa Iemitsu. Iemitsu banned all books from abroad, and in 1633 he forbade travel abroad. He saw overseas trade as potentially destabilizing, and in 1635 the travel ban was extended to Japanese ships. Dutch traders managed to hold on to a small trading post on the island of Deshima, next to Nagasaki, and to the south in the Ryukyu islands, south of Kyushu. The Dutch accomplished this by agreeing to give up all show of Christianity and by agreeing to restrictions regarding trading and place. And the Dutch  enjoyed seeing their trading rivals, the Spaniards and Portuguese, expelled.

Morality and the Economy

In Japan, the study of intellectual development in the West remained minuscule. The most influential philosophy during Japan's Tokugawa Period was Neo-Confucianism, which stressed the importance of morals, education and hierarchical order in government and society. Confucians were split between those who admired the homeland of Confucianism – China – and those who were nationalistic: the Kokugaku.

One moral position maintained was that a widow who had committed adultery soon after her husband's death was to be expelled from her town, with her late husband's relatives deciding who was to inherit the household. More significant was morality associated with economic activity. Peasants were expected to be dutiful in paying their taxes. They were to rise early and work diligently during the day and to make straw ropes and sacks at night. Members of farming families were not to drink sake or tea. They were urged to plant bamboo and trees around their houses for use as firewood and to collect their feces for fertilizer. They were urged to be frugal in eating, leaving themselves rice for sale to others. They were to try to have many children. A community of farming families were responsible for each other, with the father the most responsible figure in each family, and punishment administered by government authorities was applied against the entire community.

With internal order firmly established, and little concern about invasion, Japan's economy grew – despite its isolation internationally and despite its Confucianism. Shipping between Japan's islands and other domestic trade was rising, and agricultural production continued to improve, with the introduction of potato cultivation. By the early 1600s, the Japanese had replaced hemp clothing with cotton clothing, with cotton weaving having developed in Japan and cotton being grown around Osaka and in Kyushu. Regional specialization and handicraft production were growing. Japan's farming families prospered enough that they began buying things rather than making whatever they needed – including buying fertilizer. By the 1680s the use of money had spread to farmers. Although Confucianists attacked merchants, the economic power of merchants was entrenched. A department store was opened in 1683. More food and prosperity allowed growth in population. Japan's population was to double within a century. The shogun's capital, Edo, grew to more than 300,000 inhabitants. And merchant values, such as thrift and prudence in all things, mixed with Confucianism's regard for order. Japan had already begun its journey toward one of the world's more productive economies and more densely populated lands.

Sources

Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War, 1592-1598, by Stephen Turnbull.

The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 4, "Early Modern Japan," edited by John Whtney Hall, 1991

Japan: a Concise History, by Milton V Meyer, 1993

Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.