Edo period

Dafato Team | Feb 11, 2023

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The Edo Bakufu (ago japonês: era), also known as the Tokugawa Period (徳񝷝時代, Tokugawa-jidai?), or Tokugawa Shogunate (rule of the shogun emperor) or Era of Unbroken Peace (1603-1868) is a division of Japanese history, extending from March 24, 1603 to May 3, 1868.

The period delimits the rule of the Tokugawa or Edo Shogunate, which was officially established in 1603 by the first Tokugawa shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Edo period ended in 1868 with the restoration of imperial rule by the fifteenth and last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The end of the Edo period also marked the beginning of the imperial period.

Ieyasu Tokugawa, the main beneficiary of the achievements of Oda Nobunaga and Hideyoshi Toyotomi, was an extremely powerful daimyō in the rich Kantō region. He owned land that produced two and a half million "koku"; he later settled in Edo (now Tokyo) and added to his holdings new land that generated another two million. After Hideyoshi's death, he was quick to maintain control over the Toyotomi family.

The victory of Ieyasu's army over the daimyō of the West at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 gave him almost total domination over Japan. After consolidating his power by eliminating his enemies and tightening control over other daimyo, Ieyasu ceded to his son Tokugawa Hidetada the title of "shōgun" and appointed himself retired "shōgun" in 1605. The Toyotomi were still a threat to his cause, so he devoted an entire decade to eradicating them. In 1615 the Toyotomi stronghold in Osaka was destroyed by the Tokugawa army.

The Edo period brought Japan two hundred and fifty years of stability. The political system evolved into what scholars call "bakuhan," a combination of the terms "bakufu" and "han," to describe the government characteristic of the period. In the "bakuhan" the "shōgun" enjoyed national authority while the "daimyō" held regional authority. The bureaucracy increased during this period in an effort to administer the combination of centralized and decentralized government. The Tokugawa consolidated their power during the first century of their rule: the distribution of land gave them about seven million "koku" and control over the most important cities.

The feudal hierarchy was completed with the different classes of "daimyō". The closest to the Tokugawa were the "shinpan" or related houses. There were at this time twenty-three "daimyō" on the borders of the lands belonging to the Tokugawa, which were directly related to Ieyasu. The second position in the hierarchy was held by the fudai, who had been rewarded with land near the Tokugawa domains for their loyal services. During the 18th century, 145 "fudai" controlled small territories, the largest of which numbered only 250,000 koku. Finally, 97 "han" formed the third group, the "tozama", which were mainly old enemies or new allies. The "tozama" were often located on the periphery of the archipelago, and between them owned land worth around ten million koku.

The Tokugawa not only consolidated their lordship over the reunified Japan, but also enjoyed unprecedented power over the emperor, the courts, the daimyō and the religious orders. The emperor only gave his approval as the last option in the country's political affairs; however, the Tokugawa helped the imperial family regain its glory days by rebuilding its palaces and securing for it the enjoyment of new lands. To ensure close ties between the imperial clan and the Tokugawa family, Ieyasu's granddaughter was appointed imperial consort in 1619.

A series of legal codes were established to regulate the property of the daimyō. These codes also provided for rules of conduct, marriages, clothing, type of weapons, number of troops the daimyō could own and also required that feudal lords reside in Edo for one year, prohibited the construction of transatlantic ships, banned Christianity, restricted the ownership of castles to one per manor among the major houses. Although in practice the "daimyō" did not pay taxes, they were regularly levied a series of military or logistical contributions, in addition to contributions for public projects such as the construction of castles, roads, bridges and palaces. The contributions they received not only strengthened the Tokugawa, but also weakened the "daimyō" economically and thus lessened the threat of an uprising against the central administration. What had previously been military fiefdoms were transformed into local administration units.

The legislative system was complex, and was subject to the administrative unit, which meant that the individual did not exist as such in the law, nor was he recognized by the State. He existed only insofar as he was a member of the family unit. The family was considered the basic unit of administration, and all its members were subject to it; the most common was the agrarian family. People who did not belong to a family clan or were not recognized by any family clan faced serious difficulties for survival. Not being recognized by the state meant not being able to own property, real estate or privileges.

Like Hideyoshi, Ieyasu encouraged foreign trade, but he was wary of foreigners. He wanted to make Edo a major port, but once he realized that Europeans favored different ports in Kyūshū and after learning of China's refusal of his trade plans, he began to control the already existing trade and only allowed some ports to trade, with specific products.

The beginning of the Edo period coincided with the last decades of the Namban trade period, during which interaction with European powers in the economic and religious spheres intensified. It was at the beginning of the Edo period that Japan began to build Western-type transatlantic ships, such as the Japanese warship "San Juan Bautista," a five-hundred-ton galleon that transported the Japanese embassy headed by Hasekura Tsunenaga to the American continent and Europe. Three hundred and fifty Shuinsen (ships bearing the royal seal), which had three masts and were armed, were also commissioned during this period to trade in Asia.

The "Christian problem" was, in effect, the problem of controlling both the daimyō converts in Kyūshū and trade with Europeans. By about 1600, there were between seven hundred and seven hundred and fifty thousand Christians in Japan. The Tokugawa and their supporters saw the new religion as a destabilizing factor that could threaten their power, especially in league with the remnants of the Toyotomi followers. In 1612 the shōgun's servants and residents of Tokugawa lands were ordered to disavow Christianity. In the Tokugawa fiefdoms Christian temples were demolished and preaching was forbidden. Further restrictions were announced the following year, including restrictions on trade with foreigners in Nagasaki and Hirado. In 1622 one hundred and twenty missionaries and converts were executed. In 1624 the Spanish were expelled and diplomatic relations between Japan and Spain were broken off. In 1629 hundreds of Christians were executed. The population was forced to register in Buddhist temples, which were transformed into unofficial registration offices. Faced with the impossibility of persecuting Christianity and maintaining foreign trade, the government opted to sacrifice it in the time of the third sogun. Through a series of decrees issued between 1633 and 1639, the country was isolated from the outside world. Finally, in 1635, all Japanese were forbidden to travel abroad and, if they did leave the country, they were never to return. Those who had settled abroad were forbidden to return home. The Portuguese and mestizos were also expelled from the empire.

The shogunate perceived Catholicism as an extremely destabilizing factor, so it was persecuted. The Shimabara Rebellion of 1637-1638, in which Catholic samurai and peasants rebelled against their feudal governments and the central government, was suppressed, forcing the Kakure Kirishitan to secretly profess their faith. Shortly thereafter, the Portuguese were also expelled and members of the diplomatic mission were executed.

By 1650 Christianity had been almost entirely eradicated and foreign influence in political, economic and religious affairs within Japan became limited. Only China, the Dutch East India Company and for a brief period the British were allowed to visit Japan during this period, only for commercial purposes and with restricted access only to the port of Dejima in Nagasaki. Other Europeans arriving on Japanese shores were executed without trial.

After a long period of internal conflict, the first objective of the newly established Tokugawa shogunate was to pacify the country. It created a balance of power that remained relatively stable for the next 250 years, influenced by Confucian principles of social order. Most samurai lost direct possession of land and were faced with two choices: lay down their arms and become peasants or move to the main town of their fief and become paid servants of the daimyō. Only a few samurai remained in the northern outer provinces or as direct vassals of the shōgun, known as the 5000 hatamoto. The sankin kōtai system was also established in which it was stipulated that the daimyo's families had to reside in Edo, and the daimyō had to remain in Edo one year and the following year in their province.

The population was divided into four classes in a system known as mibunsei (身分制, 'mibunsei'?): at the first level were the samurai (about 5 % of the population), at the second level were the peasants (over 80 % of the population), at the third level were the artisans and at the end were the merchants. Only the peasants lived in the rural areas. The samurai, artisans and merchants lived in the cities that were built around the castles of the daimyō, and each of the groups with a specific area to occupy within the city. This system prevented the marriage of people of different classes.

Outside these four social classes were the so-called eta and the hinin, whose professions broke the Buddhist pattern. The eta were butchers, tanners and gravediggers. The hinin served as guards or executioners. Other groups excluded from the social classes included beggars and prostitutes.

Individuals had no legal rights in Japan. The family was the smallest legal entity contemplated, so maintaining the status and privileges of the family was of great importance at all levels of society. For example, the criminal laws of the Edo period prescribed "unfree labor" (slavery) to the immediate family of executed criminals in Article 17 of the Gotōke reijō, but its practice was never established. The Gotōke reijō of 1711 was the compilation of statutes proclaimed between 1597 and 1696.

The obligatory influx of feudal lords to Edo, an insignificant village at the beginning of the 17th century, the settlement of merchants, artisans and the transfer of Buddhist and Shinto temples to it led to a rapid growth of the population. In the middle of that century, the population was already around four hundred and thirty thousand inhabitants, half of them military. By the middle of the following century, the city had already reached one million inhabitants, a third of them military. The commercial importance of Osaka also caused it to grow considerably: from two hundred thousand inhabitants in 1660, it grew to three hundred and eighty thousand in 1736 and then to four hundred and twenty thousand in 1765.

By the mid-17th century, Edo had a population of more than one million, while Osaka and Kyoto had more than 400,000. Some other castle towns experienced significant growth. Japan had a growth rate of practically zero between the 1720s and 1820s, which is generally attributed to a low birth rate as a consequence of famine, but some historians have put forward various theories such as a high percentage of infanticide to artificially control population growth.

Sources of manorial income

The country was economically divided according to its political structure: a series of autonomous fiefdoms, the main one being the Tokugawa family group and their relatives, who controlled land that produced some seven million koku (four and a half million koku for the shogunal clan itself and the rest for their allies), about a quarter of the country's agricultural production, and in the 17th century, the income of the various lords came mainly from taxes paid by farmers, about 40% of the harvest. In the 17th century, the income of the various lords came mainly from the taxes that farmers had to pay, around 40% of the harvest. In 1728, taxes rose sharply. The responsibility for payment was not individual, but multi-family: the peasant population was grouped into groups of five families, which were made responsible for paying a certain amount; this system dated from the government of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but the Tokugawa extended it to the whole country.

The shogunal estate also obtained income from the cities, which it dominated through the appointment of its governors, often trusted vassals of the Tokugawa. The sogun obtained even greater funds from the exploitation of the mines. The production of gold and silver reached its peak in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, thanks to the implementation of methods brought from Spanish America, which allowed Ieyasu to have enough ore to prohibit the daimios to mint coins and reserve this activity for himself.


Agriculture was the main economic activity of the empire and during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it had a remarkable development. The cultivated land increased, irrigation techniques, tools and methods of cultivation improved and productivity grew considerably. Both the sogun and the daimios encouraged the cultivation of new lands, usually through tax exemptions to the peasants who carried them out. The seventeenth century was the one that produced a greater ploughing of new lands. The increase in production and cultivated areas was mainly due to the development of public works dedicated to the extension of irrigation, which coincided in the second half of the 17th century with the founding of new villages, dedicated to the cultivation of the new lands under tillage. This new impulse of agriculture was concentrated in the east of the island of Honshū, since in western Japan the same evolution had already occurred earlier.

In addition to improving rice production, which was fundamental in Japan, the cultivation of other plants also increased: other cereals (wheat, soybeans, millet, etc.), mulberry, tea, indigo, flax, tobacco, grapes, mandarins, pumpkins, potatoes and carrots. Between the early 17th and early 19th centuries, silk production quadrupled; this made it possible to eliminate imports from China and later to make silk the country's main export. The spread of cotton, which arrived in the country at the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century, brought about a major change in national clothing: the less privileged classes went from wearing linen to cotton. The production of this new plant was concentrated in Kinai, the region that held the economic primacy of the empire. It was also where items requiring specialized labor, such as weapons, art objects and high-quality garments, were manufactured.

Trade, population and urban life

The seventeenth century also saw a great increase in interregional trade, due in part to a large increase in population, which in the middle of the following century rose from twelve to thirty-two million. This increase led to a greater demand for agricultural and handicraft products.

The Tokugawa social system, which sharply separated the peasantry from the military and forced soldiers to reside with their lord, favored the growth of cities. Each great lord - of which there were some two hundred and sixty throughout the country - formed towns around his castle with a population of between ten and thirty thousand people. The military quarters, inhabited by soldiers whose income depended on pay and lacked their own fiefs, stood out as centers of large-scale consumption. The lack of sufficient production of their own fueled trade, necessary to supply them with the articles they demanded. The main nucleus of union of the manorial economies with the national economy was the region of Kanai, primary supplier of processed products to the rural areas, more backward, and buyer of part of their rice harvests, due to its large population.

Another driving force for trade was the need of the daimios to buy gold and silver to cover their obligatory stays in Edo and their travel between Edo and their fiefs, as required by law. Given the need to cover these expenses in gold and silver and the prohibition on mining and minting money, the feudal lords had to acquire the precious metals by selling their goods, mainly agricultural products obtained from taxes levied on the farmers. This was yet another incentive for trade and for the development of transport. The continuous movement of the lords led to the improvement of the road network and communications: five major roads were created linking Edo with the rest of the country, on which a system of lodges and inns arose that favored transit. Another reason for the multiplication of trade was the great demand of Edo, whose population was growing rapidly, but which had a meager production that required the arrival of goods from other regions. Until the 19th century, Edo did not produce in sufficient quantities to supply itself or send products to other regions. The distribution center for manufactured products and rice from the fiefdoms was Osaka. Between one and one and a half million koku from the country's western fiefdoms were traded in Osaka. In order to link the two cities, coastal shipping was extended, as it was easier to transport goods over long distances by sea than by land. In the 17th century, four main sea routes were established: Osaka-Edo, Kyushu-Osaka, Hokkaidō-Honshū and Tōhoku-Edo.

In terms of foreign trade, the main task at the beginning of the Tokugawa period was to restore foreign relations, which had been disrupted by the activities of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Trade with Korea and Manila was restored, but not with China. Government control of trade between the daimios and abroad, which tightened rapidly in the early 17th century, eventually eliminated it. Ships needed official permission to engage in trade with other territories. The main import item was quality silk, which accounted for 50-60% of total imports. The main export was silver, which was delivered to balance the trade balance, which was in deficit. Some seventy thousand Japanese traveled abroad (mainly to Southeast Asia), of whom ten thousand settled there, several thousand of them in the Spanish Philippines. The main suppliers of silk to the avid Japanese market were first the Portuguese, who in the 17th century had to face competition from the English and the Dutch. The government also tried to moderate the huge profits of the Portuguese merchants, who had initially succeeded in fixing the selling price of imported silk. Trade relations with the Dutch and English arose from Tokugawa Ieyasi's need to compete with Toyotomi Hideyoshi's trading activities from Osaka; to do so, he established ties with the newcomers. Competition between the various nations disrupted the former Portuguese trade monopoly in the islands. After the English withdrew from trade in 1623 and the severance of relations with Spain in 1624, foreign trade was limited to Portugal and the Netherlands. In 1639 the arrival of Portuguese ships was banned. Chinese ships, which until then had been able to trade on the Japanese coast, were restricted to Nagasaki. Dutch ships were restricted to Dejima in 1641. The almost total closure of foreign trade continued until 1853. Subsequently, new measures were introduced to limit the export of gold and silver, which had grown despite the limited trade. Gradually, the amount and quantity of imports - which could only be checked by Dutch and Chinese merchants tolerated by the government - was reduced.

Economic development during the Tokugawa period included urbanization, shipments of various consumer goods, early foreign trade and the spread and sale of handicrafts. Construction treaties increased along with the development of banks and the growth in the number of merchant associations. The various have throughout the country enjoyed the increase in agricultural production, as well as the increase in the production of rural handicrafts.

Osaka and Kyoto became important centers of trade and handicraft production, while Edo was the most important center for providing food and essential consumer goods.

Rice was the basis of the economy, as the daimyō collected taxes from the peasants in kind. Taxes could be as high as 40% of the harvest. Rice was sold in the Fudasashi markets of Edo.

It was during the Edo period that Japan developed a sustainable system of forest management. Increased demand for timber for building, shipbuilding and fuel led to rapid deforestation resulting in forest fires, flooding and soil erosion. The shōgun's response, around 1666, was to implement a series of policies that included reducing the amount of trees cut, increasing the number of trees planted in addition to only the daimyō and the shōgun being able to authorize the use of timber. By the 18th century Japan developed specific scientific knowledge of forestry and forestry.

During the period, Japan progressively studied Western scientific techniques and advances (called rangaku) through information and books received from Dutch merchants in Dejima. Areas of major study included geography, medicine, natural sciences, astronomy, art, languages, physics concepts such as the study of electrical and mechanical phenomena. There was also a great development of mathematics, in a stream totally independent from that of the Western world. This strong current was called wasan.

The flowering of Neo-Confucianism was the major intellectual development of the period. The study of Confucianism had long been kept active by Buddhist clerics, but during this era this belief system drew strong attention to the conception of man and society. Ethical humanism, rationalism and the historical perspective of Neo-Confucianism were taken as a social model. By the mid-17th century, Neo-Confucianism became the dominant legal philosophy and contributed directly to the development of the national system of learning, kokugaku. Its main virtue for the shogunal regime was its emphasis on relations of hierarchy, submission to the superior and obedience, which extended throughout society and facilitated the preservation of the feudal system.

The increasing application of neo-Confucianism as well as advanced study contributed to the transition of the political and economic order of the social classes. New laws were developed, new administrative systems were instituted. A new vision of government and society emerged in search of a more comprehensive mandate. Each person had a distinct place in society and was expected to work in a way that fulfilled his or her mission in life. Citizens were to be governed with benevolence by those assigned to rule. The government was all-powerful, but at the same time responsible and humane. Although Neo-Confucianism influenced the social class system, it was not applied in the same way as was customary in other countries such as China, where soldiers and clerics occupied the bottom rung of the social classes, while in Japan some of these members constituted the ruling elite.

Spiritual life experimented with traditional culture, based on Buddhist principles, and Confucian principles. Two different ways of conceiving life: Buddhism gave great importance to the outer world and Confucianism gave greater strength to humanism and practice.

Members of the samurai class added the traditions of bushido to their ideology and renewed their interest in Japanese history, resulting in bushidō. A new way of life called chōnindō emerged in cities such as Osaka, Kyoto and Edo, which aspired to achieve the qualities of bushido such as diligence, honesty, honor, loyalty and frugality. The study of mathematics, astronomy, cartography, engineering and medicine was also encouraged. The new culture's pursuit of new forms of entertainment became known as ukiyo and included geisha, music, folk stories, Kabuki theater, bunraku, poetry, and art, which is reflected in the style known as ukiyo-e. Literature also enjoyed great talents such as Chikamatsu Monzaemon or Matsuo Bashō.

Legislative and administrative transformations influenced intellectual and cultural revolutions. During the Tokugawa Order, education was developed at all levels. Various educational centers were established to meet the needs of different social classes. In each feudal domain, schools were established to teach the sons of samurai families; they taught cultural and moral subjects and martial techniques.

Farmers claimed their need for education and instruction. Beginning in the 15th century, terakoyas (temple schools) began to appear, teaching reading, writing and arithmetic to middle-class children, especially in urban areas. It consisted of one class and one teacher, and was attended by twenty to thirty students. In rural communities there were schools for the children of wealthy members of the merchant class and farmers.

Ukiyo-e drawings began to be produced in the late 17th century, but it was not until 1764 that Harunobu produced the first polychromatic print. Designers of the next generation such as Torii Kiyonaga and Utamaro created elegant depictions of courtiers. The Ukiyo-e style gained great importance during the 19th century and even many Western painters such as Edgar Degas or Vincent Van Gogh were influenced by its techniques (see Japonisme).

Buddhism and Shintoism remained an important part of Japanese society in the Edo period. Buddhism mixed with neo-Confucianism provided standards of social behavior and, although it no longer had the same political force as in the past, it was promoted and practiced by the upper classes. With the banning of Christianity in 1640, Buddhism benefited, as the bakufu ordered that all inhabitants had to register at one of the temples. Thus, while Buddhism served as a social base, Shinto served as a basis for the political system and helped preserve the national identity.

Decline of the Tokugawa shogunate

The end of this period is called bakumatsu. The causes of the end of this period are the subject of great controversy, but it can be seen that the common factor was the forced opening of Japan to the rest of the world by Commodore Matthew Perry and his navy known as the "black ships", which fired on the city of Tokyo.

The Tokugawa shogunate did not collapse simply because of its intrinsic flaws. The intrusion of foreigners helped precipitate a complex political struggle between the bakufu and the coalition of critics. The continuation of the anti-bakufu movement in the mid-19th century would eventually topple the Tokugawa shogunate. From the beginning the shogunate attempted to restrict the accumulation of property in families and tried to promote the "back-to-the-land" policy, where farmers, the primary producers, were the ideal person within society.

Despite efforts to restrict assets, the standard of living for urban and rural dwellers increased significantly during the period, largely because of the period of peace experienced during this time.

A major challenge faced by the political class was the nascent entrepreneurial class. The governmental ideal of an agrarian society failed, as it was neither compatible nor realistic with the new commercial distribution. A series of droughts and thus complete crop failures resulted in twenty major famines between 1675 and 1837. Unrest among the peasants increased and by the end of the 18th century mass protests against high taxes and food shortages became almost routine. Now homeless families became tenant farmers while the rural poor moved to the cities. As the fortunes of formerly well-to-do families declined, others were able to accumulate more land so a new wealthy farming class emerged. Those who were able to benefit were able to diversify their production and hire employees, while others became disgruntled. Many samurai fell on hard times and were even forced to produce handicrafts or work for hire for merchants.

Although Japan was able to acquire and refine a wide variety of scientific knowledge, the rapid industrialization process of Western countries during the 18th century created for the first time a large gap in terms of technology and weaponry between Japan and the rest of the industrialized countries, forcing the country to abandon its policy of isolation and contributing to the end of the Tokugawa regime.

Western intrusions increased in the early 19th century. Russian warships and merchants settled in Karafuto (on Sakhalin Island, called Sakhalin Oblast under Russian and Soviet control) and on the Buril Islands, of which the southern ones are considered the northern islands of Hokkaidō. An English warship entered Nagasaki harbor looking for Dutch enemies in 1808, in addition to increased sightings of warships and whalers in the 1810s and 1820s. U.S. whaling and merchant ships also reached Japanese shores. Although the Japanese made a number of small concessions and allowed some landings, what they intended was to keep foreigners out of the country altogether. The Rangaku became crucial not only to understand the "foreign" barbarians, but to fend for themselves without the help of Westerners.

By the 1830s there was a widespread sense of crisis. Famine and natural disasters took a heavy toll on the population. The widespread unrest led to a peasant revolt against officials and merchants in Osaka in 1837 and, although this revolt lasted only one day, it had a dramatic overall effect. Some of the shogun's advisors believed that the solution lay in a return to the martial spirit, imposing more restrictions on foreign trade, suppressing rangaku, censoring literature and eliminating the "luxuries" of the government and the samurai class. The opposition saw an opportunity to end the Tokugawa and used the political banner of sonnō jōi ("Revere the emperor, expel the barbarians"), which called for unity under imperial rule and opposed the intrusion of foreigners. The bakufu's concern increased as they learned of the successes of Westerners in establishing colonial enclaves in China after the First Opium War of 1839-1842, so further reforms, especially economic ones, were implemented to try to strengthen the country against the foreign threat.

Japan rejected a demand by the United States (which greatly increased its presence in the Asia-Pacific region at this time) to establish diplomatic relations in July 1846 presented by Commodore James Biddle.

End of isolation

When Commodore Matthew Perry showed up with a squadron at Edo Bay in July 1853 Abe Masahiro was responsible for relations with the Americans. Masahiro had no experience or precedent for how to handle this kind of threat to national security, so he tried to balance the desire of senior advisors who wanted compromises with Westerners, that of the emperor who wanted to keep foreigners out, and that of the daimyō who wanted to go to war. Due to the lack of consensus, Masahiro decided to accept Perry's demands to open Japan to international trade, but at the same time ordered military preparations. In March 1854 the peace and amnesty treaty "Treaty of Kanagawa" opened two ports to American ships seeking supplies, guaranteeing them good treatment for American sailors, and allowed a consul to settle in Shimoda, a port on the Izu Peninsula south of Edo. A trade treaty seeking to open more trade zones was forced five years later.

The resulting damage to the bakufu's image was significant. Debates over government policies were not unusual and had generated strong criticism in the bafuku. Masahiro then began to seek the support of new allies so he made various consensuses with the fudai, the shinpan and the tozama. The Ansei Reform of 1854-1856 sought to strengthen the regime by ordering the purchase of warships and armaments from the Netherlands, and the construction of new port defenses was begun. In 1855, a naval training school with Dutch instructors was established in Nagasaki, a Western-style military school was established in Edo, and by the following year the translation of Western books began.

Opposition to Masahiro grew among fudai circles, who were opposed to opening the bakufu councils to the daimyō tozama, so he was replaced from his post and in 1855 was appointed chairman of the Hotta Nariaki council. At the head of the dissident faction was Tokugawa Nariaki, who professed strong loyalty to the emperor coupled with strong anti-Western sentiments and who had been appointed in charge of national defense in 1854.

In the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate, contacts with foreigners increased due to concessions granted in the treaty with the United States in 1859, which included more ports being opened for diplomatic representatives, unsupervised trade in four additional ports, and foreign residences in Osaka and Edo. The concept of extra-territoriality (foreigners were subject to the laws of their country and not those of Japan) was also accepted. Hotta lost the support of key daimyō and when Tokugawa Nariaki opposed a new treaty, Hotta sought imperial support. Court officials, sensing the weakness of the shogunate, rejected Hotta's requests and for the first time in many centuries involved the emperor in domestic politics. When the shōgun died without a designated heir, Nariaki appealed to the court for the support of his own son, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, a candidate who had the support of the shinpan and tozama. The fudai won the political struggle by installing Tokugawa Yoshitomi, arrested Nariaki and Yoshinobu, executed one of the intellectual leaders of the sonnō-jōi named Yoshida Shōin, and signed treaties with the United States and five other nations, ending more than 200 years of isolation.

Modernization of the Bakumatsu and its conflicts.

During the last years of the shogunate, known as bakumatsu, the bakufu took a series of strong measures to try to regain its dominance, although its involvement with modernization and relations with foreign powers were about to make it the target of the anti-Western sentiment that prevailed in the country.

During this period the army and navy were modernized. A naval school was established in Nagasaki in 1855 and large numbers of students were sent to other countries for several years for training, beginning a tradition of future leaders being educated abroad, as in the case of Admiral Enomoto Tateaki. French naval engineers were hired to build naval arsenals. By the end of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867, the Japanese navy already had 8 steam warships, which were used against pro-imperial forces during the Boshin War. A French military mission was also established to modernize the shōgun's army.

Some extremists who visualized the emperor as a symbol of unity incited various sectors of society to violence against the shogunate, the authorities of the various feudal domains and against foreigners. The outcome of a new conflict known as the Anglo-Satsuma War led to a new treaty to extend trade concessions in 1865, but Yoshitomi was unable to cope with the military might of the Western countries. Finally in 1867 Emperor Kōmei died and was succeeded by his youngest son, Emperor Meiji.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu reluctantly became the head of the Tokugawa house and shōgun. He sought to reorganize the government under the figure of the emperor while trying to preserve the active role of the shōgun. Fearing the recent power of the Satsuma and Chōshū daimyo, other daimyō called for the shogun to return power to the emperor as well as a council of daimyō headed by the Tokugawa shōgun. Tokugawa Yoshinobu accepted the plan in late 1867 and resigned, announcing the "imperial restoration." The leaders of Satsuma, Chōshū and other domains anyway decided to revolt, besieged the imperial palace and announced their own restoration on January 3, 1868.

After the Boshin War, the bakufu system was abolished and Tokugawa Yoshinobu was reduced to the rank of a mere daimyo. Resistance continued through 1868 and the shogun's naval forces under Admiral Enomoto Takeaki continued the struggle for another six months in Hokkaidō, where they founded the short-lived Ezo Republic.


  1. Edo period
  2. Período Edo
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