Edo period

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Tokugawa Ieyasu , first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate

The Edo period ( Japanese 江 戸 時代, Edo jidai ) or Tokugawa period is the period in Japanese history from 1603 to 1868 in which the Tokugawa shoguns ruled. The Edo period is named after the then name of the capital, Edo (now Tokyo ). It includes the longest period of peace in Japanese history (also known as Pax Tokugawa ) with a duration of more than 250 years.

The last phase of the Edo period, the years from 1853 to 1867, was characterized by so many upheavals that it is often referred to as a separate intermediate epoch , Bakumatsu . The Japanese term translated means "end of the shogunate". It ranges from the arrival of Commander Perry's " black ships " in 1853 to the return of rule from the Shogun to the Tenno in 1867, the so-called Meiji Restoration .


Edo Period City ( Kumamoto Castle )
Rural House ( Shirakawa-gō )
Artisan district
A trader's house

After the bloody unification of Japan under his predecessors Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi , Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu moved the new capital far away from the imperial court in Kyoto in 1603 in order to reduce the political influence of the Japanese emperor to a minimum. He established the seat of his government, the Bakufu , in the then insignificant fishing port of Edo. In order to ensure the stability of the newly united empire, the Shogun devised a complex balance of power.

Restrictions on the princes

The daimyō (princes) were divided into three groups: Relatives of the Tokugawa clan ( shimpan-daimyō ), those who had stood on the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu in the Battle of Sekigahara (October 22, 1600) ( fudai-daimyō ), and in former opponents ( tozama-daimyō ). The area directly ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate, called tenryō or bakufuryō , was composed of the best provinces of the defeated enemies. The provinces were divided in such a way that an ally always had his possessions between the respective tenryō of the Tokugawa and potential opponents. In each province only one castle was allowed to stand ( ikkoku-ichijō-rei ), all others were demolished.

The daimyo were forced to spend half of the year in the new capital and their families were not allowed to leave Edo at all. This practice, known as sankin kōtai , was legally established in 1635 and remained in force until 1862. The double court devoured enormous funds, which the daimyo could not use to finance a possible uprising. In addition, the daimyo's families served as hostages for the good behavior of the princes. Hostages have long been taken in Japan as a pledge of treaties and alliances. By assembling and taking all the royal families hostage it was ensured that none of the princes could dare to revolt without accepting the immediate execution of his family.

System of the four estates

The population was divided into four classes : At the bottom were the merchants, who represented the richest class, but were not considered much in Confucianism because they “only distribute what others work for”. Then came the artisans and above that the farmers. The samurai , the sword nobility, were the highest class from warlords to officials who administered the land and collected taxes in the form of rice . Above the class system stood the Kuge , members of the Kyōto court, but who were reduced to their ceremonial role and had no real power. The so-called burakumin , also called eta or hinin , were excluded from the class system . This included traveling people, prostitutes and professions that were considered unclean according to Shintoism and Buddhism (butchers, grave diggers).

To pacify the peasants, all swords were confiscated. Only the samurai were allowed to carry weapons that were longer than a short sword. All firearms were destroyed. They were originally introduced by Europeans, then Japanese blacksmiths produced over 100,000 pieces within a few decades, which means that more firearms were being produced in Japan at the end of the 16th century than in any European country at that time. In every major principality there was a samurai unit that handed down firearms ( Tanegashima rifle ) and firearm technology.

Prohibition of Christianity

To strengthen Buddhism as a pillar of power, Christianity was banned first in the Tenryo area in 1612 and then in all of Japan in 1615. All ordinary Japanese had to become parishioners in a Buddhist temple congregation.

All foreign missionaries (mostly Jesuits from Spain and Portugal ) were expelled from the country. The attempt of the Jesuits to colonize Japan through proselytizing failed . Japanese Christians were forced to renounce their belief. The process used to renounce Christians was known as fummy . For this purpose, a picture of Jesus Christ or another saint was placed on the floor. The potential apostate then had to kick around in the picture. If he refused, he was killed outright, otherwise he lived. In both cases, the entire family was closely monitored using the family log book for seven generations.

In Nagasaki there was still a clandestine Christian community (the Kakure Kirishitan ) that was completely isolated from the outside , but Christianity was not officially permitted again in Japan until 1873 during the Meiji period .

Closure of Japan

Foreign trade represented a potential power factor, especially for the daimyo on the island of Kyushu , who had often been opponents of the central government in the past. From the middle of the 17th century, the Tokugawa Shogunate ordered the isolation of Japan from abroad, a policy that is somewhat abbreviated as the policy of closure ( sakokuseisaku ). Only Chinese merchants, members of the Dutch East India Company and occasionally diplomatic embassies from the Kingdom of Korea were allowed to enter Japanese soil.

The Protestant Dutch demarcated themselves from the Catholic Spanish and Portuguese and indicated that they should not do missionary work. The artificial island of Dejima was raised in the port of Nagasaki in the 1630s . Originally one wanted to settle the Portuguese living in the city there. But with their expulsion this investment seemed to be lost, until in 1641 the branch of the Dutch East India Company was relocated from Hirado to Dejima. The Dutch were only allowed to leave this island on a few occasions, and only a limited number of ships were allowed to call at Nagasaki each year.

Despite the isolation, there was lively interest in the West, and the Europeans living on Dejima regularly supplied the Japanese with instruments, utensils and books that were intensively studied ( rangaku ).

Economic development

Prosperity of the Nihonbashi Fish Market (Edo Period) of Utagawa Kuniyasu
Broker of rice in Japan 1820. " 36 Views of Mount Fuji " Hokusai

Despite the external isolation, the Japanese economy flourished in the Edo period. After years of warlike devastation, the daimyō now focused on developing their own province instead of conquering land. Since their taxes were fixed to the central government, they could increase their own wealth by reclaiming land and increasing the yield of the fields.

In the course of the Edo period, an increased transport of goods began, a significant increase in domestic and initially (until it was closed) foreign trade and a spread of trade and craft enterprises. Feudal clans increasingly managed the increasing agricultural production and farming activities.

The onset of heavy urbanization meant that Edo had over a million people in the mid-18th century, and Osaka and Kyoto each had more than 400,000 residents. Other cities with rulers' castles grew just as quickly. Osaka and Kyōto developed into bustling centers of trade and handicrafts, while Edo became the center for the supply of food and essential urban consumer goods.

The real winners of the economic boom were not the daimyo, but a much lower class, namely the traders (e.g. the Mitsui family ). The samurai had only a basic fortune in kind and had to sell the rice they produced in order to finance their (sometimes dissolute) lifestyle. Many princes owed themselves to the merchants. The Shogunate had these debts canceled again and again, which in turn led to the fact that the dealers set the loan interest high from the outset.

Many banks emerged, often founded by sake brewers. A specialized pre-industrial manufacturing system developed in the craft sector . These preconditions made it possible for Japan to industrialize quickly after opening up.

Spiritual currents

Terakoya , a private school
Wadokei , Japanese clock, 18th century

The flourishing of Neo-Confucianism was the main intellectual development of the Edo period. While the teachings of Confucius were long kept alive by Buddhist clergymen, during the Edo period Confucianism broke away from Buddhist religious control. This system of thought placed an increasingly worldly view of people and society. The ethical, humanistic , rational and historical perspectives of neo-Confucian doctrine became more and more appealing to the ruling class. In the mid-17th century, Neo-Confucianism was the predominant philosophy in Japan and contributed directly to the development of the Kokugaku school of thought.

Advanced study and growing application of Neo-Confucianism contributed to the transition of the social and political order from feudal norms to practices that were class and larger group oriented. The rule of the people or the representatives of Confucianism were gradually replaced by the rule of law. New laws were developed and new administrative tools used. A new theory of government and new visions of society served to justify the growing power of Bakufu (military government). Each person had a specific place in society and should work to accomplish their mission in life. The people were ruled with kindness by those whose duty it was to rule. The government was all powerful, but responsible and humane. Although the class system was influenced by Neo-Confucianism, it was not identical to it. While the military and clergy were at the bottom of the Chinese model, some of them formed the ruling elite in Japan.

Members of the Samurai class followed the traditions of the Bushi with a new interest in Japanese history and in the cultivation of the ways of the Confucian teachers, so that the concept of Bushidō ("way of warriors") was developed. Another special way of life - the Chōnindō (町 人道, dt. "Way of the citizens") - also emerged. Chōnindō was primarily a culture that originated in cities like Osaka, Kyōto, and Edo. It encouraged the pursuit of the qualities of Bushido - hard work, honesty, honor, loyalty, and frugality - using beliefs of Shinto , Neo-Confucianism, and Buddhism. Studies in mathematics , astronomy , cartography , engineering, and medicine were also funded. Also appeared during the Edo period, numerous computer books, including such influential as the Jinkōki of Yoshida Mitsuyoshi . Special emphasis was placed on the quality of the workmanship, especially in art. For the first time, the urban population had the means and leisure time to promote a new mass culture. Their search for pleasure came to be known as the ukiyo (浮世, "fluid world"), an ideal world for fashion and folk entertainment. Professional female entertainers ( geisha ), music, famous stories, kabuki and bunraku ( puppet shows ), poetry, and the arts, such as the Ukiyo-e block prints , were all part of this burgeoning culture. Literature also flourished, for example in the works of the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724) or in the haiku of the essayist and travel writer Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694).

Buddhism and Shinto were both still important in Tokugawa Japan. Combined with Neo-Confucianism, they set standards for social behavior. Although not as powerful as it was in the past, Buddhism was associated with the upper classes. He benefited from the ostracism of Christianity in 1640 when the Bakufu instructed everyone to register at a temple. The strict separation of Tokugawa society into fiefs ( Han ), villages, boroughs and households strengthened the bond with the local Shinto. The Shinto provided spiritual support for the political order and was an important link between the individual and society. He also helped to maintain a national awareness.

Eventually the Shinto took on a spiritual form that was shaped by neo-Confucianist rationalism and materialism. The Kokugaku movement came from these two belief systems. Kokugaku contributed to the imperial-centered nationalism of modern Japan and the resurgence of Shinto as a national creed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Kojiki , Nihongi and Man'yoshu were re-studied in search of the Japanese spirit. Some purists in the Kokugaku movement themselves criticized the Confucian and Buddhist influences for their contamination of the ancient Japanese ways due to their actually foreign origins. Japan was the land of the kami ( gods ) and therefore had a special fate.

Knowledge of the West in the early Edo period was limited to a small school of thought called Rangaku . It was mainly based in Nagasaki , where the Dutch outpost was on Dejima Island .

List of Shoguns of the Edo period

Surname Life dates Reign
1. Tokugawa Ieyasu 1543-1616 1603-1605
2. Tokugawa Hidetada 1579-1632 1605-1623
3. Tokugawa Iemitsu 1604-1651 1623-1651
4. Tokugawa Ietsuna 1641-1680 1651-1680
5. Tokugawa Tsunayoshi 1646-1709 1680-1709
6. Tokugawa Ienobu 1662-1712 1709-1712
7. Tokugawa Ietsugu 1709-1716 1713-1716
8. Tokugawa Yoshimune 1684-1751 1716-1745
9. Tokugawa Ieshige 1712-1761 1745-1760
10. Tokugawa Ieharu 1737-1786 1760-1786
11. Tokugawa Ienari 1773-1841 1787-1837
12. Tokugawa Ieyoshi 1793-1853 1837-1853
13. Tokugawa Iesada 1824-1858 1853-1858
14. Tokugawa Iemochi 1846-1866 1858-1866
15. Tokugawa Yoshinobu 1837-1913 1866-1867

Special events in the Edo period


Individual evidence

  1. Japanese Art of the Edo Period , CD-ROM, The Yorck Project, Berlin 2004, Directmedia Publishing , Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-936122-23-7

Web links

Commons : Edo Period  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files