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Throughout most of history, Japanese political culture has centralized around the concept of imperialism. Only during the time period of 1192-1867 did the central imperialist government loose control. This was brought upon by the civil wars and the anarchy that Japan faced prior to 1192. These events set the stage for a new ruling system called Seii-Taishogun 1. Due to this type of military dictatorship the shogun ruled all of Japan. From the new administrative capital, Edo (present day Tokyo) the shogun era controlled by the Tokugawa family brought long lasting peace to Japan, increased wealth and influence of the warrior class, a distinct social status classification system, decreased power of the emperor, and created an isolationism policy for Japan.
Oda Nobunga (1534-1582) and Toyomoto Hideyoshi (1537- 1598) brought their opponents to knees. The process reached its climax in 1590, when Hideyoshi carried his banners into eastern Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) rose to power in this vortex of civil war, and succeed Hideyoshi as leader of the country s military estate. With Ieyasu in control of the country he wanted to establish a controlling government body that would keep his family in power for many centuries to come. “With the implementation of Tokugawa political rule, this sleepy, historic area was destined to become the capital of all of Japan. By the start of the century, roughly one century after the establishment of Tokugawa bakufu, the city of Edo already boasted a population of around one million in habitants.” With the government in the hands of Ieyasu it was clear that he wanted to create a new system of government that would separate the imperial nobles from the military nobles. decreed in Article 7 of the Rules for the Palace and Court that court ranks and offices of members o0f the military are to be treated separately from those held by court nobility. The imperial court that Ieyasu created which featured the emperor had no real power over the country while the members of the military court, led by Ieyasu controlled the country. The two main members of the military court were made up of the shogun, and the daimyo. The shoguns basic responsibilities to the military court was to supervise the court, while daimyo discussed issues, ensure domestic peace among the clans, and protect Japan from hostile outside threats. The daimyo were nobles/lords that that represented various clans and controlled parts of Japan through their regiment of samurai. Each daimyo could control there own section as they saw fit as long as it was is accordance to the regulations handed down by the shogun.
As a way to ensure peace, and a willingness of the daimyo to co-operate with the rulings of the court the daimyo had to put up retainers. Bannermen and household retainers were actually put to work as guards in charge of fortifying the surroundings of the castle; daimyo wives and children were required to in live in the capital; daimyo themselves were given no choice but to accept the system of alternate attendance. Also Ieyasu ensured that his family would be guaranteed the leadership of the country, and assurance that no one daimyo clan could over power the government. Imposing taxes and repercussions that would be to great of a risk to rebel against the shogun government. Ieyasu imposed strict controls on the daimyo families, in particular those which had opposed his own bid for power. They were forced to spend a large part of the revenue from their fiefs on road-building and other improvements, and also to maintain residences in Edo, the shogun’s seat of government, as well as in their fiefs. This kept them too poor to mount any effective opposition to the shogunate, even if they had been willing to sacrifice their families. 5 By means of these different types of influence that the shogun had over various government councils, this left the shogun with no serious challenges towards his authority. By the final decades of the seventeenth century, when the process of state building had run its course in France and Japan, the shogun and king embraced in principle and often exercised in practice and unprecedented degree of power. Each hegemon asserted the supreme right to proclaim laws, levy taxes, and adjudicate disputes. Each ruler presided over a bureaucracy that carried out the details of governance, and each state enjoyed monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, the better to impose its will. 6 Which is why the emperor, and the imperial court had no real power over the country and that the shogun reigned supreme it its military dictatorship.
Due to this new era of constant peace in Japan the demand for warriors, such as samurai greatly decreased during the shogun era. This left many people out of jobs and mostly samurai had to find a line of work in something else. But, in Edo the shogun was the only entity that kept a massive army for protection, and a massive migration of soldiers descended upon the city. For this reason many jobs became available for merchants, and artisans that were needed to help and supply the enormous amount of supplies that were being utilized in the great building (forts/castles) expansion that was occurring in Edo. Commoners began to stream into the city during the 1590 s, as Ieyasu promised his patronage to those who would help him construct his military headquarters and provision his warriors: armorers and smiths, lumber dealers and carpenters. 7 With all of these jobs that had been created by this migration the Japanese culture began seeing the emergence of a middle-class economic system that was mainly made up of these commoners that had gone to work in Edo.
Even though this was a major break through in terms of equality among people the same customs and community hierarchy as in the imperial era stayed mostly the same. Each rank of the feudal hierarchy was allotted clearly defined limits above or below which it was impermissible to pass. The principle of knowing one s place was of paramount importance: it was the iron law of feudal ethics. Today, knowing one s place generally implies not rising above what is deemed appropriate. But during the Edo period, falling below one s station was also prohibited. This ethic and the social order that supported it were firmly established during the century that followed the founding of Edo. 8 The definite social structure of the Edo period was similar to what was found in the imperial periods. The whole concept of knowing one s place in society was followed closely and strictly by the governing bodies. A perfect example of is the instance of the ranking of the daimyo. Principles of warrior rule governed the rank or status of individuals and families in the feudal hierarchy. Rules were drawn up stipulating the forms a daimyo was required to follow. Social rank determined the shape and size of the daimyo s Edo residence, the scale of his processions, and the kind of vehicles, furnishings, and clothing he was allowed to use. Distinctions of feudal rank were displayed to be immediately visible. These included the colours and designs of clothing, styles of architecture and materials used in buildings and gardens, and the methods and ingredients employed in manufacturing various goods consumed by the warrior. 9 These social classifications were closely watched and to disgrace the social conduct presented by these rules would result in a demotion of the daimyo s status in the society. This held true even in the instance of the society status of the emperor compared to shogun.
During the shogun era the power of the emperor was nothing. He was more seen as a symbol of Japanese culture and religion than an authoritative figure during this era. the powers the emperor delegated to the shogun were public, meaning that authority was to be exercised not in the private interest of the shogun and warrior estate but rather in a manner that contributed to the well-being of all of the people of the realm. 10 The whole meaning of it was to look out for the people of Japan rather than just the minority that ran it. This was clearly true as the shogun era progressed the emperor s duties were relegated to just ceremonies, and the separation of the Buddhist church influence in the politics of the country became a law. Toward the sovereign emperor and the aristocracy n Kyoto, for instance Ieyasu and his successors acted with appropriate deference, granting them sustenance lands and rebuilding long neglected palaces. But the shoguns also stationed a military governor in the ancient imperial capital.. Regulations concerning the Emperor and Court, which confined the emperor and nobility to a life of ceremonial and artistic pursuits. The same blend of coercion and patronage characterized the shogun s relationship with the Buddhist religious establishment. The policy of the Tokugawa shoguns was to keep the church fiscally dependent upon government and isolated from secular affairs. Thus the shogun s officials endowed important shrines and temples with landholdings sufficient to sustain them as religious centers, but in 1615 the government also announced a code that restricted priests to purely religious and ritual activities, and twenty years later it placed religious institutions under the careful purview of the commissioners of shrines and temples. 11 The shoguns policy towards the church and the imperial court was that they had no power over any policies and decisions made by the shogun government. There only reason was to be there as cultural symbols to the people of Japan. Also, the reason that the shogun government worked was due to its foreign policies, towards the isolationism of Japan from the rest of the world.
Through all of the social reform that the shogun era established probably the greatest achievement by this government was its isolationism from the outside world. During the opening decades of the seventeenth century, the Tokugawa shoguns prohibited Christianity and restricted foreign commerce to Chinese and Dutch traders at Nagasaki, thus ushering in the Pax Tokugawa two centuries of peace under a warrior government. 12 This stance on foreign relations was a great boost to the Japanese way of life. It made the country as a whole concentrate on what was going on inside the country rather than what was going on outside of Japan during the exploration and colonization period that occurred in most of the other continents. The fact that Japan as a country was cut off from the rest of the world allowed them to keep their culture strong. The conclusion of warfare and the beginning of the great Pax Tokugawa provided the shogun (and the regional daimyo as well) with an opportunity to convert their warrior corps into civilian administrators. 13 The time of peace allowed more people in the country to serve the government in other ways such as; farming, politics, blacksmith, etc.
The military government provided by the shogun era brought about many changes to imperial Japan. It established a secure government that kept the culture and unity of the country as a whole, very strong. This was because of the great achievements that were made by this type of government, such as; long lasting peace to Japan, the great city of Edo (present day Tokyo), increased wealth and influence of the warrior social class, creation of a distinct social pattern, decreased power of the emperor/religion in the policies made by the government, and the isolationism of Japan which saved its culture from outside influence.
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