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Shimabara Rebellion During The Period of Tokugawa Shogunate

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Throughout the years of Japan, there has been many changes which revolve around the development of their society and culture. Rather it be a rebellion or sudden spark of a new popular interest, every event that has taken place in the 17th century Japan lead to its modern form. Though every event may be important, what stands out the most from them is the amount of documentations of the historical facts involving religion. Religion is an important factor to anyones culture, if not most countries as well.For decades, religion has been considered a power that has had a large influence in a person life. It is a large figure to increase humanities hope and faith — perhaps larger than any man on earth who had ever had a chance to rule. Such influences can be seen in sacred literature such as the bible or even ‘rules’ that individuals abide to in their daily lives. Despite this lessening in modern times where a lot more people have shifted their views to a more scientific view or are atheists, the impact in which religion has led in terms of fighting for the right to practice beliefs has stayed for many generations to come. An example of such a remarkable fight for faith is the short yet infamous Shimabara Rebellion from 1637 to 1638 that “remains one of the most historically divisive events in Japanese early modern history” (Farias 2016). This rebellion has sparked a huge impact in Tokugawa Japan that is based on the oppression of Christians, unfair taxations and debts placed on the local peasants and ronin. Furthermore, this research paper is focusing on the Shimabara Rebellion, starting from how it came to be, the events, and ending of such a rebellion including the consequences that correlate to what makes modern Japan the way it is today.

To begin, before explaining the course of the rebellion, it is important to touch upon life in the Tokugawa period, as it is key to why this infamous historical event occurred and implies a better understanding. In this period, from 1603 to 1869, Japan was ruled by a series of shogun known as the Tokugawa Shogunate, descended from Tokugawa Ieyasu. These shogunates were supreme military leaders appointed by the emperor and played a large role in generalizing the rules of the country. With that said, there came a period where the Tokugawa Shogunate would also get rid of incompetent Daimyo by entrusting them to kill themselves. These incompetent Daimyos were killed off due to their leniency and flexibility with peasants tax collections, unlike the government, which had the shogunate enraged. As this continued, times seemed to change and after the death of former Daimyo, his son became regent for exploiting peasant class for his own personal benefit. Due to this sudden change, hardships begin to form and no sooner then later would this spark the talks Sakoku Act of 1635, where all all relations and trade between Japan and other countries were limited, little to no immigration and the Japanese banned from leaving the country. With this act, there was a sudden limitation to religion, specifically Christianity as it became a threat to those in the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Under those circumstances, this would begin the fight of one of Japan’s most remarkable battle for rights, also known as The Shimabara Rebellion (島原の乱 Shimabara no ran). The Shimabara Rebellion remains a popular historiographical debate into the modern day. Some believe that the population of Japanese Christians in these distant provinces revolted in order to overthrow a government whose policy included the persecution, torture, and execution of Christians. Others argue that “economic oppression forced the peasants into revolt against irresponsible daimyo, or local lords, with the Christian element being overplayed in historical records”. Nonetheless , this rebellion that started in the autumn of 1637, had no singular cause. With that said, it is important to note that both causes mentioned only captured half of the nature of the rebellion. In truth, the rebellion was the last resort for desperate people pushed by economic suffering and held together by common culture, Christianity. The hardships that were in the time period that followed with persecution pressured peasants into rebellion and Christianity that helped tie the classes together (farmers, ronin, etc). As mentioned, by the time the early 1600’s came around, Christian faith was considered a crime. In 1619, there were hundreds of executions in Kyoto following executions in Nagasaki in 1622. Those who practiced the faith were imprisoned, burned alive, beheaded and many other horrific methods to place fear in others and expose the attitude towards Christians. This became a tactic to frighten the Japanese who adapted the Christianity principles. In effect, rose a figure of outmost importance in this rebellion that could be considered a tragic hero for his ability to inflict hope and will to stand for the rights to practice this faith. This infamous figure was named Amakusa Shirō, and at the young age of sixteen ,was able to led the Shimabara Rebellion in hopes to bring down the fews of the Shogunate. Along with the 30,000 peasant rebels of Shimabara, the rebels moved forward and placed themselves in the abandoned Hara Castle on the tip of the peninsula in 1638, about two months after the whole uprising began. As they settled, they “held out against overwhelming Tokugawa forces until driven to the brink by hunger and eventual massacre”. This was done after the rebels tried to insure the attempts and miscalculated commands by the Bakufu (military government) which brought them down to their lowest state. After numerous of attempts and the will to maintain their fortress, it came to an end.This was due to the rebel force, though maintaining good coordinated defence against the attackers, had no logistical support, which had the fall of Hara Castle presumed. An important notice to touch upon in terms of the defeat of the castle, is that there were other factors aside from the lack of support for the rebels. One factor that could be considered one of the important causes is one of the rebel soldiers, Yamada Umenosaku, betrayed Shiro and withheld information on supplies being strained. Due to this, there was a much more rapid fall of the rebels falling ill and were having a case of malnutrition. Another factor that ended the Hara Castle was “the use of ninja for espionage and subversion”. These Ninja tactics were extremely fatal to the rebels as they contained set of skills that provided them of uses. On the fourth of January, 1638, a small group of ninja from Koga arrived at the castle and began their espionage and subversions that lasted for more than two weeks. Through this, they were able to collect intelligence of the defences, provisions. In fact, they became a large part of depriving he castle of resources to survive , and with the help of the traitor Yamada, this was an easy tactic and downfall.Furthermore, with the help of these ninja tactics and an insider who was able to relate information and become a main source, Tokugawa Iemitsu, Shogun at Edo, “had responded by putting together a force of nearly 150,000 troops to besiege Hara Castle. The siege lasted for three months”. With the large Shogunate forces, on April 15, 1638, they were able to make a final assault and ended with a massacre of almost 40,000 rebels, including women and children. After the abandoned castle was taken, Shiro was taken captive and was executed.His head was then displayed on a pike in Nagasaki as a warning to potential Christian rebels.

Consequently, The Shimabara Rebellion marked the end of Japanese foreign relations for two centuries and left a legacy that is talked about to this day. The rebellion was considered as the final push for the Shogunate needs to stop foreigners from coming to their lands. As mentioned in the beginning of the paper, there was talk of a Sakoku Act — this act became a reality by the end of the rebellion and this had Japan into a form of isolation until the trade reopened with U.S, Navy Commodore Mathew Perry in 1853. Another factor involving the legacy of this rebellion is that years after the fall of Hara Castle, the Nakuru enforced anti-anti-christian edicts much more rigidly, with overwhelming results. According to Joseph F. Loh, it is said by the beginning of 1660, Christianity was almost by wiped out, with the occasional secrecy of the practice in isolated areas, with arrests falling between 1639-1658 as the number of survivors lessened. The rebellion was also the spark towards the Tokugawa Shogunate entering a period of unchallenged power for almost 250 years, which has become one of the longest periods of unbroken peace in the history of the world. Despite the failure of the rebellion, it is fair to say that Shiro’s impact and bravery of his leadership was admirable at his young age. So much so that it made him a folk saint, according to many of the Japanese. The rebellion also ca be regarded as “ a precursor to a series of major transformations — transformations which would unravel and reweave the fabric of Japanese society”. In addition, this rebellion has been able to help others around the world take interest in standing up for their own beliefs and is believed to have paved the way for conquistadors from abroad. It is then safe to say the this rebellion, no matter how it has ended, many including historians admit that The Shimabara Rebellion (島原の乱 Shimabara no ran) has had great importance and should not be understates. The reason for this is present in the issues that surrounded the rebellion involve the foreign influence in Japan, national integrity and the organized resistance against government authority. These acts of uprising has become important so much that it has been implanted in other generations in Japan. With this rebellion, the Japanese people felt the need to capture and use the memory of the rebellion ad implant them in their own political and ideological ends. Some examples of future generations using such ideas can be in future wars. Rather it be within World War one of two, the Japanese fought for what they believed was their own rights. They defended their title and tried to ensure their views were being implemented. Another example can be the movement of women rights in Japan. Anything that has to do with being able to speak for ones believes can be recognized from the rebellion all those years ago. Furthermore, the rebellion has placed an important part in the heart of Japan and therefore, should be taken into deep consideration when talking about Japan’s past.

In conclusion, The Shimabara Rebellion (島原の乱 Shimabara no ran) has had a significant part in Japan’s 17th century. It implied the force of will and hope to pursue what one wishes to believe in and has even sparked the many souls of the Japanese to freely pray to whom they wish to. The Shimabara Rebellion, though ended in unfortunate circumstances, has become an important part in Japan’s history in general as it is indeed one of the most documented events that has ever taken place in the country. It might be of use to many of this generation to remember the lost souls of the rebellion along with the tragic hero, Shirō who has died in honour of protecting the rights of his fellow Japanese people. Shirō has become a prominent figure in Japan, as shown many of todays recent media and literature such as in anime, manga, and books that talk about his will. In the end, though the rebellion has landed a defeat, it can be believable and not reached to think that perhaps it has implanted a long lasting effect for the future of Japan. 

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