Tokugawa Period in Japan

Tokugawa Period, 1600-1867

Rule of Shogun and Daimyo

An evolution had taken place over the course of the centuries, from the time of the Kamakura bakufu, which existed in equilibrium with the imperial court, to the time of the Tokugawa, when the bushi became the unchallenged rulers in what historian Edwin O. Reischauer called a “centralised feudal” form of government in Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu was the primary benefactor of the victories achieved by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, and he played a pivotal role in the establishment of the new bakufu. Already a prominent figure, Ieyasu benefited from moving to the prosperous Kanto region once he was sent there. He was in possession of an extra 2 million koku of land and thirty-eight vassals in addition to the 2.5 million koku of land that he owned and managed. His new headquarters were located in Edo, which was a castle town in a strategic location that would later become Tokyo. After Hideyoshi’s death, Ieyasu wasted no time in seizing power from the Toyotomi dynasty and consolidating his position.

The victory that Ieyasu achieved against the western daimyo at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600) gave him almost complete authority over the whole of Japan. He swiftly eliminated a large number of the daimyo families controlled by his enemies, diminished the power of others like the Toyotomi, and dispersed the spoils of battle to his family and his friends. Ieyasu was not successful in gaining full control of the western daimyo despite assuming the title of shogun, which assisted in the consolidation of the alliance system. Ieyasu was able to put his son Hidetada (1579-1632) as shogun in 1605, after further consolidating his power base, which gave him the confidence to place himself in the position of retired shogun. Ieyasu believed that the Toyotomi posed a substantial danger and spent the next ten years working toward the goal of eliminating them. The Tokugawa army was successful in destroying the Toyotomi stronghold in Osaka in the year 1615.

Japan had two centuries’ worth of peace and prosperity during the Tokugawa (or Edo) era. The governmental structure eventually developed into what historians refer to as bakuhan. This name is a blend of the terms bakufu and han (domains), and it is used to characterise the administration and society of the time period. The bakuhan was a new unity in the feudal system, with the shogun holding national power and the daimyo holding regional authority. This organisation had an increasingly massive bureaucracy to oversee the combination of centralised and decentralised authorities. During the first century of their reign, the Tokugawa gained increasing authority as a result of many factors, including the transfer of land, which provided them with roughly 7 million koku, control over the most important towns, and a land assessment system that generated significant income.

The numerous classes of daimyo were the last pieces that finished the feudal structure. Shinpan, also known as “related dwellings,” were located in the area that was most immediately next to the Tokugawa home. They were all closely linked to Ieyasu and numbered twenty-three in all, and they were all located on the limits of Tokugawa territory. The positions held by the Shinpan in the Bakufu were mostly honorary or advisory in nature. The fudai, also known as “house daimyo,” were the second tier of people in the hierarchy. They were awarded with estates in close proximity to the Tokugawa holdings for their devoted service. By the time the seventeenth century came around, there were 145 fudai who governed these lesser han, the largest of which was estimated to be 250,000 koku. The majority of important bakufu offices were staffed almost entirely by members of the fudai elite. Ninety-seven han were included in the third category known as the tozama, which translates to “outside vassals.” These han were either previous adversaries or new friends. Nearly 10 million koku in total agricultural land was under the collective ownership of the Tozama people, who lived mostly on the archipelago’s outskirts and dominated the region. Even though they were not allowed to hold positions of authority in the central government, the tozama were shown the utmost deference and care due to the fact that they were considered the least trustworthy of the daimyo.

In addition to consolidating their dominance over a reunified Japan, the Tokugawa attained an unparalleled level of influence over the emperor, the court, the daimyo, and the religious orders. The shogun, who was theoretically a subordinate of the royal dynasty, was held up as the ultimate source of political sanction for the emperor, who was looked up as the ultimate source of political sanction for the shogun. Reconstructing the imperial palaces and providing the imperial family with additional territories were two of the ways in which the Tokugawa helped the royal family regain its former splendour. In 1619, Ieyasu’s granddaughter was elevated to the position of imperial consort in order to strengthen the relationship between the royal line and the Tokugawa dynasty.

In order to control the daimyo households, a set of rules and regulations was enacted. The code stipulated that bakufu regulations were the national law, prohibited the construction of ocean-going ships, outlawed Christianity, and regulated private conduct, marriage, dress, as well as the types of weapons and the number of troops that were permitted. Additionally, residents of Edo were required to spend every other year in the capital city. Even while the daimyo were not subject to taxes in the traditional sense, they were often required to make payments to the government in order to fund various public works projects, including the construction of palaces, roads, bridges, and castles. The many laws and taxes not only bolstered the power of the Tokugawa but also diminished the income of the daimyo, which in turn reduced the daimyo’s ability to pose a danger to the central government. The han, which were initially military-centered realms, evolved into just administrative entities at the local level. The daimyo did have complete administrative authority over their domain as well as the intricate networks of retainers, officials, and commoners that existed inside those domains. A wide array of control tactics were used in order to coerce loyalty from religious institutions, which had previously been significantly undermined by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi.

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