Tokugawa Shōgunate

Tokugawa Shōgunate
   The hereditary feudal military dictatorship of Japan, passed down the male line of the Tokugawa clan, which was toppled in 1868 and resulted in the Meiji Restoration. In 1603, following the warring-states period, political power was centralized by Ieyasu Tokugawa, who took the title of shōgun or military dictator. The shōgun ruled Japan from Edo (present-day Tokyo); the figurehead emperor and the imperial court were kept isolated in Kyoto. The Tokugawa shōgunate maintained a rigid feudal class structure, with the warrior-caste of samurai at the top of the hierarchy and farmers, artisans, and traders at the bottom. The daimyo, or feudal lords, attempted to challenge the rule of the Tokugawa clan but the shōguns were able to dominate them politically and militarily by virtue of their monopoly on the importation of gunpowder. Ieyasu Tokugawa had been in favor of foreign trade but his successors, fearful of foreign influence, placed heavy restrictions on contact with the outside world.
   The isolationist policies of the Tokugawa shōgunate have been credited for two centuries of relative political stability, but they also resulted in economic stagnation. The appearance of Commodore Matthew Perry’s squadron in Tokyo Bay in July 1853 threw the Tokugawa shōgunate into a state of political turmoil. Hoping to avoid the fate of Qing China, the shōguns signed a series of “unequal treaties” with the United States, Britain, France, and Russia, which opened up Japanese ports to foreign trade, granted extraterritorial rights to Western citizens, and ceded control of Japan’s foreign trade tariffs to the Western Powers. The daimyo of Chosu and Satsuma used the opening of Japan to foreign trade to acquire gunpowder superior to the old saltpeter of the shōgunate, and a Tokugawa army dispatched to quell the rebellion in Chosu and Satsuma was defeated. Sensing the weakness of the shōgun, the daimyo allied themselves with the new Meiji emperor, who, in January 1868, declared his own restoration to full sovereignty and the abolition of the shōgunate. The shōgun, Yoshinobu, declared the emperor’s act illegal and attacked Kyoto but was defeated by imperial forces and surrendered unconditionally in May 1868.
    Duus, Peter. Feudalism in Japan. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993;
    Jansen, Marius, ed. Warrior Rule in Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995;
    Mass, Jeffrey P., and William B. Hauser, eds. The Bakufu in Japanese History. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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