Tokugawa Shogunate
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The symbol in the background and the above monument is the heraldic crest for the Tokugawa family. It is a "mitsu-aoi", meaning three hollyhock leaves.

Tokugawa Genealogy

Edo Period Timeline

Tokugawa Family Timeline


Other pages on my site:

The Shinmen Miyamoto Musashi Shrine (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)

My Colonial South Carolina Page

Tokugawa Period (1600-1867)

The Tokugawa Shogunate was founded by Ieyasu Tokugawa(Born Matsudaira Takechiyo of the Matsudaira military clan, later changed his name to Ieyasu Tokugawa), and achieved stability during the rule of the third Shogun, Iemitsu. By the time the fifth Shogun, Tsunayoshi, completed his rule during the Genroku period (1688-1703), an economy based on agriculture and commerce had fully developed to give Japan complete stability. After Hideyoshi died in 1598. Against his promises, Tokugawa Ieyasu didn't respect Hideyoshi's successor Hideyori, because he wanted to become the ruler of Japan.

In the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Ieyasu defeated the Hideyori loyalists. In 1603, Ieyasu was appointed Shogun by the emperor and established his government in Edo. The Tokugawa continued to rule Japan for 265 years. Ieyasu brought the whole country under tight control. He redistributed the gained land among the daimyo: more loyal vassals received strategically more important domains accordingly. Every daimyo was also required to spend every second year in Edo.

In 1570, he moved his headquarters to former Imagawa territory, and for the next 12 years expanded his lands and influence through Nobunaga's campaigns, despite being forced to kill his first wife and order his son's suicide in 1579 as proof of his loyalty to Nobunaga. After 1584, Ieyasu allied with Nobunaga's successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi and married his sister. Ieyasu continued to promote foreign trade. He established relations with the English and the Dutch. On the other hand, he enforced the suppression and persecution of Christianity from 1614 on. After the destruction of the Toyotomi clan in 1615 when Ieyasu captured Osaka castle, he and his successors had practically no rivals anymore, and peace prevailed throughout the Edo period. Therefore, the samurai were educating themselves not only in the martial arts but also in literature, philosophy and the arts.

In 1633, shogun Iemitsu forbade travelling abroad and almost completely isolated Japan in 1639 by reducing the contacts to the outside world to very limited trade relations with China and the Netherlands in the port of Nagasaki. In addition, all foreign books were banned. Despite the isolation, domestic trade and agricultural production continued to improve. During the Edo period and especially during the Genroku era (1688 - 1703), popular culture flourished.

The most important philosophy of Tokugawa Japan was Neo-Confucianism, stressing the importance of morals, education and hierarchical order in the government and society: A strict four class system existed during the Edo period: at the top of the social hierarchy stood the samurai, followed by the peasants, artisans and merchants.

The members of the four classes were not allowed to change their social status. Eta, people with professions that were considered impure, formed a fifth class.

Prior to the Tokugawa period there was some movement among these classes, but the Tokugawa shoguns, intent upon maintaining their power and privilege, restricted this movement. In particular they tried to protect the samurai, making upward mobility from the farming class to the samurai impossible. The shogun Hideyoshi decreed in 1586 that farmers must stay on their land. In 1587 he decreed that only samurai would be allowed to carry the long sword, which would later define them as a class. As economic conditions changed, the shoguns were less successful, however, in maintaining the rigid boundaries separating the other classes. Samurai-

Ieyasu's Armor

The samurai were the warrior class. At the top was the shogun. Beneath him were the daimyo, local lords who controlled large amounts of land. The daimyo had their own collection of samurai, who would serve them in various ways. Some were advisors, some guards for his castle, and some comprised his private army. In addition, samurai in the large cities such as Edo might fulfill a variety of functions--as officials in the Shogun's government or as policemen, for example. Finally, there were the ronin, who were "masterless" samurai, without a lord to answer to, but also without any definite means of support. The ronin might settle down in a particular location to teach or perform other duties, though many of them wandered the countryside, looking for gainful employment. Some sold their services as hired warriors to the highest daimyo bidder. Of the approximately 30 million Japanese during the Tokugawa period, about 2 million were samurai.


The shogun was responsible for the distribution of rice. He took 20% for himself. In addition, he distributed significant amounts to the daimyo. Though farmers held a privileged position in society, their lives were often hard. Rice requires a great deal of hard physical labor, and even today much of the work is done by hand. In difficult times, farmers were tempted to defy the prohibition of the shogun and move to the cities to engage in trade. Many younger sons did just that when their father's land was inherited by the eldest son.


The crafts that were most in demand by the samurai, such as swordmaking, were highly prized in Tokugawa society, so sword makers had a great deal of status. Common crafts in Tokugawa Japan included carpentry, stonemasonry, sake-brewing, and lacquering.


Merchants, especially those in the cities, were in a position to become wealthy, but they were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This was due to the Confucian belief that merchants did not produce anything, like farmers or craftspeople did. Instead they made their money off the productive labor of others. Though the road system was extensive and well-maintained, the shogun prohibited wheeled traffic on roads for his own military protection. Thus, most goods moved overland on the backs of horses or humans.

The eta were outcastes, forced to live in their own communities and avoided by other members of Japanese society. They held this low status due to their occupations, which were associated with death: disposing of animal carcasses and tanning animal hides, for example. Discrimination against the eta persists even in modern Japan, where lists of eta families secretly circulate in the society. Conservative Japanese families consult such lists to prevent the marriage of a son or daughter to someone with eta ancestry. In 1720, the ban of Western literature was cancelled, and several new teachings entered Japan from China and Europe. New nationalist schools that combined Shinto and Confucianist elements also developed. Even though the Tokugawa government remained quite stable over several centuries, its position was steadily declining for several reasons: A steady worsening of the financial situation of the government led to higher taxes and riots among the farm population. In addition, Japan regularly experienced natural disasters and years of famine that caused riots and further financial problems for the central government and the daimyo.

The social hierarchy began to break down as the merchant class grew increasingly powerful while some samurai became financially dependent of them. In the second half of the era, corruption, incompetence and a decline of morals within the government caused further problems. In the end of the 18th century, external pressure started to be an increasingly important issue, when the Russians first tried to establish trade contacts with Japan without success. They were followed by other European nations and the Americans in the 19th century. It was eventually Commodore Perry in 1853 and again in 1854 who forced the Tokugawa government to open a limited number of ports for international trade.

However, the trade remained very limited until the Meiji restoration in 1868. All factors combined, the anti-government feelings were growing and caused other movements such as the demand for the restoration of imperial power and anti western feelings, especially among ultra-conservative samurai in increasingly independently acting domains such as Choshu and Satsuma. Many people, however, soon recognized the big advantages of the Western nations in science and military, and favored a complete opening to the world.

Finally, also the conservatives recognized this fact after being confronted with Western warships in several incidents.

They realized that to achieve a position of power in the world, their country would have to be modernized. With all speed, it would have to catch up with the technologically advanced nations of the West. But modernization could never be accomplished without Western help and advice. A number of foreign technicians had already been employed both by the Shogunate and by certain feudal lords before 1868. But after that year, there were many more of them - British, American, French, German and Dutch - engaged by the Japanese government as pilots, railways and marine engineers, financial and legal advisers, agricultural experts, university and school teachers, military and naval instructors and at the same time, Japanese were sent abroad to learn from the West. But among the Japanese, there has never been the scornful indifference that has often characterized the Chinese attitude towards foreigners.

The Japanese have never been too proud to learn. It appeared therefore strange reversal of the whole situation for the anti-foreign monarchical party and, in effect, became pro-foreign almost overnight. In April 1869 the Emperor and his court left Kyoto to take up residence in Edo which was renamed Tokyo or Eastern Capital, had remained the imperial and administration center of Japan ever since.

The last shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, was forced to resign and yield administration of civil and military affairs to the emperor in what has been called the Meiji Restoration. In 1867-68, the Tokugawa government fell because of heavy political pressure, and the power of Emperor Meiji was restored. From then onwards, military power rather than traditional authority, public opinion or political skill was to be deciding future in Japanese politics.

(Emperor Hirohito,front row,center)

The Musashi

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