18th Century Japan: Culture and Society

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The political structure of Tokugawa society also favored the development of trade in two key respects.


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First, the shogunate had ordered that the daimyo , located throughout the country on their large landed estates, or han , organize their samurai governance along Confucian lines, like the shogun 's government in the eastern city of Edo Tokyo. Even more important was the shogunal requirement that daimyo from all regions of Japan travel each year to Edo and maintain a residence there, where they would reside for half of each year -- their close family remaining there as "hostages" to loyal daimyo behavior during the other portion of the year.

The procession each year of the wealthiest and most prestigious members of society and their extensive retinues to and from the capital was an enormous income generator for merchants -- and a great drain on the resources of the daimyo. It also led to the development of a vast network of high quality roads, which spurred the development of inter-regional trade. Part of a scroll depicting a daimyo 's procession to the capital is pictured at right. Consequently, the capital city of Japan, Edo, began to grow during the Tokugawa into the great city that has become Tokyo today.

By the 18th century, Edo was one of, or perhaps the largest city in the world, with a population approaching a million people. To sustain this growth, the government sponsored policies that would enlarge production and trade in non-agricultural sectors. Merchants were encouraged to develop large businesses, and the government reversed earlier policies restricting trade associations; consequently, large groups of merchants -- or more properly, merchant families -- promoted their businesses through a mixture of competitive and cooperative behavior that proved very beneficial to large-scale growth, a pattern that continued into and through the 20th century.

Commercial growth and the beginnings of industrial development and urban concentration of production led to inflationary prices throughout most of the Tokugawa era. This had a severe impact on the samurai living distant from Edo, serving their daimyo lords on their han. The samurai were allocated fixed stipends according to a system developed at the start of the Tokugawa era, and the daimyo were largely dependent on agriculture for income -- land taxes being the primary source of government wealth.

Food prices could not rise at the rates of other goods because the demand for food was spread among all members of society, rich and poor, and overly high prices could quickly cut demand. This limited daimyo income. On the other hand, the daimyo could not afford to allow themselves to slip into poverty -- on the contrary, as power holders over their samurai and the common people, it was essential that they maintain a lifestyle commensurate with their prestige, both on their han and in their required trips to Edo. This led the daimyo to borrow funds to sustain their social and material needs as cash ran low; the increasingly rich merchant class thus became moneylenders to the daimyo , ensuring a further transfer of wealth from the samurai class to the merchant class.

Other samurai, whose fixed stipends were losing value over the generations, began actively to farm in order to generate additional income. But with food prices rising more slowly than other prices, this was only a half-measure.

Japan Guide

Ultimately, many samurai voluntarily discarded the privileged class status they enjoyed, and left the service of their daimyo lords and re-registered as common people, in order to be able to engage in small business or the production of cottage goods, like sandals and baskets, types of commercial activities that were prohibited to samurai because they were beneath the dignity of the class.

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About C.

From the Edo Period to Meiji Restoration in Japan

Books by C. Trivia About 18th Century Japa No trivia or quizzes yet. Welcome back. The rigid separation of Tokugawa society into han, villages, wards, and households helped reaffirm local Shinto attachments. Shinto provided spiritual support to the political order and was an important tie between the individual and the community. Shinto also helped preserve a sense of national identity. Shinto eventually assumed an intellectual form as shaped by neo-Confucian rationalism and materialism.

The kokugaku movement emerged from the interactions of these two belief systems. Kokugaku contributed to the emperor-centered nationalism of modern Japan and the revival of Shinto as a national creed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some purists in the kokugaku movement, such as Motoori Norinaga , even criticized the Confucian and Buddhist influences—in effect, foreign influences—for contaminating Japan's ancient ways.

Japan was the land of the kami and, as such, had a special destiny. The Edo period was characterized by an unprecedented series of economic developments despite termination of contact with the outside world and cultural maturation, especially in terms of theater, music, and other entertainment.

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Music and theater were influenced by the social gap between the noble and commoner classes, and different arts became more defined as this gap widened. Several different types of kabuki theater emerged. Some, such as shibaraku , were only available at a certain time of year, while some companies only performed for nobles.

Fashion trends, satirization of local news stories, and advertisements were often part of kabuki theater, as well. The end of this period is specifically called the late Tokugawa shogunate. The cause for the end of this period is controversial but is recounted as the forcing of Japan's opening to the world by Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy , whose armada known by Japanese as " the black ships " fired weapons from Edo Bay.

Several artificial land masses were created to block the range of the armada, and this land remains in what is presently called the Odaiba district. The Tokugawa did not eventually collapse simply because of intrinsic failures.

Japanese Family Life: A Historical Perspective

Foreign intrusions helped to precipitate a complex political struggle between the bakufu and a coalition of its critics. The continuity of the anti- bakufu movement in the midth century would finally bring down the Tokugawa. Despite these efforts to restrict wealth and partly because of the extraordinary period of peace, the standard of living for urban and rural dwellers alike grew significantly during the Tokugawa period. Better means of crop production, transport, housing, food, and entertainment were all available, as was more leisure time, at least for urban dwellers. Despite the reappearance of guilds , economic activities went well beyond the restrictive nature of the guilds, and commerce spread and a money economy developed.

Although government heavily restricted the merchants and viewed them as unproductive and usurious members of society, the samurai, who gradually became separated from their rural ties, depended greatly on the merchants and artisans for consumer goods, artistic interests, and loans. The government ideal of an agrarian society failed to square with the reality of commercial distribution. A huge government bureaucracy had evolved, which now stagnated because of its discrepancy with a new and evolving social order.

Compounding the situation, the population increased significantly during the first half of the Tokugawa period. Although the magnitude and growth rates are uncertain, there were at least 26 million commoners and about four million members of samurai families and their attendants when the first nationwide census was taken in Drought, followed by crop shortages and starvation, resulted in twenty great famines between and During the Tokugawa period, there were famines, of which 21 were widespread and serious. Newly landless families became tenant farmers, while the displaced rural poor moved into the cities.

As the fortunes of previously well-to-do families declined, others moved in to accumulate land, and a new, wealthy farming class emerged.

Those people who benefited were able to diversify production and to hire laborers, while others were left discontented. Many samurai fell on hard times and were forced into handicraft production and wage jobs for merchants. Although Japan was able to acquire and refine a wide variety of scientific knowledge, the rapid industrialization of the West during the 18th century created a material gap in terms of technologies and armament between Japan and the West, forcing it to abandon its policy of seclusion and contributing to the end of the Tokugawa regime.

Japan : Tradition & Culture

Western intrusions were on the increase in the early 19th century. A British warship entered Nagasaki harbour searching for enemy Dutch ships in , and other warships and whalers were seen in Japanese waters with increasing frequency in the s and s. Whalers and trading ships from the United States also arrived on Japan's shores. Although the Japanese made some minor concessions and allowed some landings, they largely attempted to keep all foreigners out, sometimes using force.

Rangaku became crucial not only in understanding the foreign " barbarians " but also in using the knowledge gained from the West to fend them off. By the s, there was a general sense of crisis. Famines and natural disasters hit hard, and unrest led to a peasant uprising against officials and merchants in Osaka in Although it lasted only a day, the uprising made a dramatic impression.

Remedies came in the form of traditional solutions that sought to reform moral decay rather than address institutional problems. The bakufu persevered for the time being amidst growing concerns over Western successes in establishing colonial enclaves in China following the First Opium War of — More reforms were ordered, especially in the economic sector, to strengthen Japan against the Western threat.

Japan turned down a demand from the United States, which was greatly expanding its own presence in the Asia-Pacific region, to establish diplomatic relations when Commodore James Biddle appeared in Edo Bay with two warships in July When Commodore Matthew C. Perry 's four-ship squadron appeared in Edo Bay in July , the bakufu was thrown into turmoil.

The chairman of the senior councillors, Abe Masahiro — , was responsible for dealing with the Americans. Lacking consensus, Abe decided to compromise by accepting Perry's demands for opening Japan to foreign trade while also making military preparations. In March , the Treaty of Peace and Amity or Treaty of Kanagawa opened two ports to American ships seeking provisions, guaranteed good treatment to shipwrecked American sailors, and allowed a United States consul to take up residence in Shimoda , a seaport on the Izu Peninsula , southwest of Edo.

The resulting damage to the bakufu was significant. The devalued price for gold in Japan was one immediate, enormous effect. In the Ansei Reform — , Abe then tried to strengthen the regime by ordering Dutch warships and armaments from the Netherlands and building new port defenses. In , a naval training school with Dutch instructors was set up at Nagasaki, and a Western-style military school was established at Edo; by the next year, the government was translating Western books. At the head of the dissident faction was Tokugawa Nariaki , who had long embraced a militant loyalty to the emperor along with anti-foreign sentiments, and who had been put in charge of national defense in The Mito school—based on neo-Confucian and Shinto principles—had as its goal the restoration of the imperial institution, the turning back of the West, and the founding of a world empire under the divine Yamato dynasty.