The Tokugawa Shogunate, also known as the Tokugawa Period or the Edo Period, is the common name for the two centuries (1603-1867) of centralized military dictatorship in Japan. Founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Tokugawa Shogunate ruled over Japan’s feudal lords, the daimyos. The Tokugawa Shogunate was a period of relative peace and prosperity in Japanese history. The Shogunate was ended by a combination of factors, including the influence of Western powers as well as the Meiji Restoration, which returned the Japanese Emperor to a place of absolute power.
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SENGOKU PERIOD (WARRING STATES)
The stability of the Tokugawa Shogunate was preceded by over a century’s worth of unrest known as the Sengoku Period. Although Japan was nominally ruled by the Ashikaga Shogunate during this period, daimyos held the real power. Beginning with the Ōnin War of 1477, a series of civil wars for control of Japan ravaged the country. It wasn’t until the late 1500s that the efforts of warlords like Oda Nobunaga began to re-consolidate Japan. However, neither Nobunaga nor his immediate successor saw this reunification to its completion.
BATTLE OF SEKIGAHARA
In 1598, the great warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi died before realizing his ambitions to rule over a unified Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu sought to succeed Hideyoshi, but he faced a challenge from loyalists to Hideyoshi’s son. These loyalists were commanded by Ishida Mitsunari. In 1600 Ieyasu and Mitsunari fought at Sekigahara, near Osaka Castle. Although outnumbered, Ieyasu won out by convincing daimyos like Kikkawa Hirole and his Mōri clan to abandon Ishida’s alliance. Ieyasu’s victory ensured his dominance over Japan.
Japan had been a target for Jesuit missionaries since the mid 1500s, and several daimyos had converted to Christianity. However, these daimyos had fought for Mitsunari. The ascension of Tokugawa Ieyasu led to a brutal repression of Japanese Christianity in response. In 1637, a joint alliance of Christian peasants and dispossessed samurai revolted against the daimyos of Shimabara Peninsula. The revolution was brutally repressed in 1638, following a protracted and bloody siege at Hara Castle.
CONVENTION OF KANAGAWA
The Tokugawa Shogunate enforced a policy of strict isolationism, known as sakoku. Foreigners were expelled from the country, with the only limited exception being the artificial island of Dejima. Dejima was located in Nagasaki Bay, and it was the only area where Dutch traders were permitted to exchange goods with the Japanese. Sakoku was ended in 1854 with the arrival of United States Commodore Matthew Perry. Perry established friendly diplomatic relations with Japan through the Treaty of Kanagawa.
1868 saw the restoration of the Emperor and the dissolution of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The final Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, unsuccessfully resisted this restoration in the brief Boshin War. Other short-lived rebellions occurred, including the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. Despite this resistance, the Meiji Emperor was able to realize his goals of modernization established in the 1868 Charter Oath.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
The Tokugawa Shogunate saw a flowering of Japanese arts and letters. Visit this website to explore some of the art of the Edo Period.
The Tokugawa Shogunate pursued a strategy of punitive action against the Christians of Japan. Learn more about one of the rituals they forced Christians to undergo here.
To learn more about the circumstances that led to the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate, check out this video!
American composer Stephen Sondheim dramatized the ending of sakoku in his musical Pacific Overtures. Watch one of the numbers from it here, in which the characters describe overhearing the negotiations between Perry and representatives of the Shogunate.
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