Tokugawa period in japan 1: Tokugawa Japan

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1: Tokugawa Japan

  1. During the Tokugawa Period could you move from class to class?

  1. Who were the samurai? Who did they serve?

  1. Of 30 million Japanese, how many were samurai?

  1. What was the national crop of Japan?

  1. Describe what life was like for the farmers during the Tokugawa period?

  1. What were some of the common crafts done by the craftspeople?

  1. Although the merchants were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, why were some tempted to accept this lower status?

  1. Why was it sometimes advantageous to live “outside” the class system? What types of people were they?

  1. Who are the eta? Why are they at the bottom of Japanese society?

2: Samurai Bushido Code

  1. What was the Bushido Code?

  1. What did the code demand?

  1. What would a samurai have to do if he failed to uphold his honor?

  1. The Bushido of the Samurai was the spiritual basis for what acts during WWII?

  1. Name one common form of Bushido martial arts that is still practiced in Japan?

Station 3: Kabuki Theater

  1. Who developed this type of theater and for what purpose?

  1. Why are all the female roles played by men?

  1. Describe three interesting things about Kabuki theater?

  1. Who is dressed in all black?

  1. How does Kabuki Theater represent Japanese tradition?

4: Japanese Feudal Society

  1. Who was at the top of Japanese society? Did they have any actual power in society?

  1. Who were the landowners?

  1. In what class was most of the Japanese population found?

  1. What does this social hierarchy remind you of? What other periods in history have had similar social structures? During this similar period, was would have been equal to the samurai?

  1. Draw your own personal social hierarchy. (Use either- home life, RV, American society) What class do you fall into?

  1. Compare the class system in America to that of feudal Japan. How is it similar? How is it different?

5: Haiku Poetry

  1. What religion is Haiku closely tied to?

  2. Describe a well-executed Haiku poem?

  1. What is the purpose of the first line of the poem?

  1. What did the three great masters spend their lives doing?

  1. From what you know of Haiku, write your own!

6: Japanese encounter the West

  1. Who were the first Europeans to reach Japan? What did they arrive with?

  1. How did the Japanese feel about the Portuguese merchants?

  1. What effect did firearms have on the samurai?

  1. Who else arrived in Japan? What was their purpose?

  1. What is the “closed country policy”? Why was it enforced?

  1. How did the Japanese respond differently to the Westerners than the Chinese?

Japan: Life in Tokugawa Japan
   Life in Tokugawa Japan was strictly hierarchical with the population divided among four distinct classes: samurai, farmers, craftspeople, and traders. Prior to the Tokugawa period there was some movement among these classes, but the Tokugawa shoguns, intent upon maintaining their power and privilege, restricted this movement. In particular they tried to protect the samurai, making upward mobility from the farming class to the samurai impossible. The shogun Hideyoshi decreed in 1586 that farmers must stay on their land. In 1587 he decreed that only samurai would be allowed to carry the long sword, which would later define them as a class. As economic conditions changed, the shoguns were less successful, however, in maintaining the rigid boundaries separating the other classes.

   The samurai were the warrior class. At the top was the shogun himself. Beneath him were the daimyo, local lords who controlled large amounts of land. The daimyo had their own collection of samurai, who would serve them in various ways. Some were advisors, some guards for his castle, and some comprised his private army. In addition, samurai in the large cities such as Edo might fulfill a variety of functions--as officials in the Shogun's government or as policemen, for example. Finally, there were the ronin, who were "masterless" samurai, without a lord to answer to, but also without any definite means of support. The ronin might settle down in a particular location to teach or perform other duties, though many of them wandered the countryside, looking for gainful employment. Some sold their services as hired warriors to the highest daimyo bidder. Of the approximately 30 million Japanese during the Tokugawa period, about 2 million were samurai.

   The glue that bonded the social hierarchy was rice, produced of course by the farmers. The standard of measurement for rice was the koku, equivalent to approximately 5 bushels. One koku could feed one person for a year. The estimated annual production of rice in Japan at this time was 25 million koku. The shogun was responsible for the distribution of this national crop. He took 20% off the top for himself. In addition, he distributed significant amounts to the local lords, the daimyo. According to Charles J. Dunn, the most powerful daimyo (the Kaga in northern Japan) received 1,300,000 koku. There were over 270 daimyo in Tokugawa Japan who received at least 10,000 koku.

   What was left for the farmers? That depended on the weather. Often farmers gave up over half of their rice crop to the system. In bad years the shogun and the daimyo did not reduce their demands, so the farmers were forced to live on even less. Famine in the countryside was not uncommon during this period. Thus, though farmers held a privileged position in society--just below the status of the samurai--their lives were often hard. Rice requires a great deal of hard physical labor, and even today much of the work is done by hand. In difficult times, farmers were tempted to defy the prohibition of the shogun and move to the cities to engage in trade. Many younger sons did just that when their father's land was inherited by the eldest son.

   The dividing line separating craftspeople from merchants was difficult to determine because their economic activities often overlapped. A clothmaker, for example, would likely engage in the selling of his products and the enterprise might also extend in other directions, to moneylending perhaps. Those crafts that were most in demand by the samurai, such as swordmaking, were highly prized in Tokugawa society, so sword makers had a great deal of status. Common crafts in Tokugawa Japan included carpentry, stonemasonry, sake-brewing, and lacquering.

   Merchants, especially those in the cities, were in a position to become wealthy, but they were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This was due to the Confucian belief that merchants did not produce anything, like farmers or craftspeople did. Instead they made their money off the productive labor of others. Nevertheless, there was money to be made, and those in the other class positions--even the lower ranking samurai--were sometimes tempted to accept this lower status. Furthermore, as the Tokugawa period progressed and the economy gradually shifted from a feudal to a commercial one, merchants as a whole were able to improve their social standing. Trade was generally a slow and cumbersome enterprise in Tokugawa Japan. Though the road system was extensive and well-maintained, the shogun prohibited wheeled traffic on roads for his own military protection. Thus, most goods moved overland on the backs of horses or humans.

Other Groups
   Several other groups of people existed outside this class system, including actors and entertainers, priests, and the eta. In some respects, this outsider status allowed members of these groups a relative degree of freedom, since it was the class system that organized Japanese society in rigid patterns. However, living outside the system also brought its disadvantages because the system also afforded protection of life and livelihood.

   The eta were outcastes, forced to live in their own communities and avoided by other members of Japanese society. They held this low status due to their occupations, which were associated with death: disposing of animal carcasses and tanning animal hides, for example. The eta faced a double religious whammy. Japanese were generally vegetarians as a result of Buddhist influences which prohibited the taking of life. And Shinto required purification following any contact with death. Discrimination against the eta persists even in modern Japan, where lists of eta families secretly circulate in the society. Conservative Japanese families consult such lists to prevent the marriage of a son or daughter to someone with eta ancestry.

2. Samurai Bushido Code

Originators of the "way of the warrior"

The Samurai Bushido Code (Japanese "way of the warrior", or bushido), was the warrior code of the samurai.

Samurai Warrior Code was a strict code that demanded:

 loyalty

 devotion

 and honor to the death

Under this code, if a samurai warrior failed to uphold his honor he could regain it by performing seppuku (ritual suicide).

The samurai bushido code is an internally-consistent ethical code, grounded in the spiritual approach of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism.

In its purest form, it demands of its practitioners that they look effectively backward at the present from the moment of their own death, as if they were already, in effect, dead.

The Bushido of the Samurai was also a spiritual basis for those who committed kamikaze attacks during World War II.

For this reason many of the martial arts that are rooted in Japanese Bushido were banned by the occupying Americans during the post-war occupation.

Bushido is still practiced today (in modified forms) and in many of today's modern martial arts. The most common forms of bushido martial arts, still practiced in Japan today, are:

  • judo

  • karate

  • jujutsu

  • aikido

  • kendo

The modern sport of kendo takes its basic philosophy from Japanese Bushido, in particular, the theory that the entire purpose of the sport is "one cut, one kill".

Unlike in other martial arts, extended contact, or multiple strikes, tends to be discouraged in favor of clean single strokes on the body or the head.

There are seven virtues associated with the samurai bushido code:

  • Gi - Rectitude

  • Yu - Courage

  • Jin - Benevolence

  • Rei - Respect

  • Makoto - Honesty

  • Meiyo - Honor

  • Chugi - Loyalty


Kabuki, one of Japan's traditional entertainments, originated in the 17th century. It was developed by merchants during Edo Era as a way to express their emotions. Although many women played female roles in early times, the Tokugawa Shogun banned appearance of women in Kabuki plays in the early 17th century. As a result, all female roles are played by male actors called Onna-gata and the beauty of the Onna-gata became one of the most distinctive features in Kabuki performances.

Part of the excitement of watching Kabuki comes from the audience. During a play, the audience shouts the names of actors during short pauses. The timing of the shout must be just right. It's an interesting phenomena. Other interesting things to notice during Kabuki are the colorful and gorgeous costumes and make-up which the actors wear. Also, you might want to pay attention to how the stage is equipped. When shifting scenes in a play, the stage revolves. This is called Mawari-butai and is one of the famous characteristics of Kabuki theater.

You will also see people dressed all in black on the stage. They are called Kuroko, and their jobs are to take care of props and actors. When they appears on the stage, the audience is supposed to treat them as invisible. Also, the traditional Japanese music that accompanies Kabuki performances might interests you. The musicians rotate in and out of sight on the stage, which carries them.

Most of all Kabuki plays were written during 17th-18th century, so the language is hard to understand, even for Japanese people. There are about 300 plays in the conventional kabuki repertoire. In the Kabuki-za theater, you can buy English programs or rent earphones with which you can listen to the explanations of shows in English. 


Emperor- Held the highest rank in society but had no political power.

Daimyo- Large landowners

Shogun- Actual ruler

Samurai Warriors- Loyal to daimyo and shogun

Peasants- Four-fifths of the population

Artisans- Craftspeople such as artists and blacksmiths

Merchants- low status but gradually gained influence

aiku is both a type of poetic pattern and a way of experiencing the world. This short, 17-syllable form, usually written in three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable count, focuses our attention on a single, insightful moment. Closely tied to the Japanese aesthetic of Yugen and the spirituality of Buddhism, Haiku looks deceptively simple, yet can take years to master. A well-executed haiku is rooted in the physical world of our senses, yet suggests something deeper, often evoking the mysterious, transitory nature of all existence.


Lightning flash—
what I thought were faces
are plumes of pampas grass.



Haiku derives from a type of Japanese court poetry called tanka that was popularized and refined during the 9th through 12 centuries. Tanka was often written to explore religious or courtly themes and had a structure of five lines with 5-7-5-7-7 syllable structure. During this period, it became a popular activity to write long strings of linked tanka verse. One person would often contribute the first three lines (5-7-5) of the poetic chain and a different author would complete the chain by composing a 7-7 section. Then another author would build on the previous 7-7, with another 5-7-5 passage. This chaining of verses called renga, could sometimes add up to hundreds of linked tanka.

The first part of the poem, called hokku or "starting verse," frequently set the tone for the rest of the poem, and the authors of hokku often earned the respect and admiration of their follow poets. By the 19th century, largely through the work of Masaoka Shiki, hokku began to be written and read as individual poems. From the word hokku derives our word haiku.

Three great masters of hokku, Basho, Buson and Issa, lived during Japan's Edo-period (1600-1868) and their work still exerts a great deal of influence on how haiku is written today. All three men were born in rural villages and spent many years practicing and refining their art form as well as wandering the countryside, observing nature and the human condition. They followed in a long Japanese tradition of poet-wanders, who seek to experience the word through direct contact.

Basho (1644-94), considered the father of haiku, studied Taoism and classical Chinese poetry in his youth. At first he wrote derivative verse, but eventually broke free from the conventions of Japanese poetry, which at the time, had an elegant, refined style full of allusions to the court. He began to wander the countryside and write travel journals as well as tanka. During the last part of his life he attempted to live with "karumi" or "lightness." Or as he said in one of his poems "like looking at a shallow river with a sandy bed."

Here is an example of one of Basho's poems:


Autumn moonlight—
a worm digs silently
into the chestnut.


6. Japanese Encounter the West
In 1543 the Portuguese traders reach Japan (are actually shipwrecked there) and many more merchants soon follow. The Portuguese arrived with clocks, eye glasses, tobacco, firearms, and many other unfamiliar items. The Japanese merchants, unlike the Chinese, were eager to expand their markets and were happy to receive the newcomers and their goods. The Japanese daimyo were especially interested in the firearms. Firearms forever changed the traditions of the Japanese warrior, the Samurai. Many samurai who retained their swords as their main weapons were killed by musket fire in future combat.

The Portuguese traders were soon followed by the Christian missionaries. The Jesuit missionary order arrived in Japan to attempt to convert the Japanese. Missionaries converted about 300,000 Japanese to Christianity by the year 1600. The invasion of Christianity upset many of the Japanese who valued traditional Japanese culture and in 1612 the Shogun banned Christianity and focused on ridding the country of all Christians. This persecution of Christians was an attempt by the Japanese to control Western influence in Japan. The Japanese leaders had enjoyed trading with the Western merchants but dislike their ideas and ways. The shoguns eventually realized that they did not need anything from the missionaries or merchants and they sealed Japan’s borders and instituted a “closed country policy”. For almost 200 years, Japan remained basically closed to the Europeans. During this period Japan remained a self-sufficient country.

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