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When Hideyoshi dies in 1598, he had hoped to have his five-year-old son continue his “dynasty,” initially under the tutelage of five regents. But one of the regents was Leyasu Tokugawa, who had been biding his time at Edo for 12 years, nurturing dynastic ambitions of his own. Of the cunning, ruthless triumvirate that came out on top at the end of the country’s century of civil war, Tokugawa was without doubt the most patient, the most prudent- and most treacherous. Tokugawa crushed his rivals in the year 1600 at the Battle of Sekigahara.
During its subsequent two and half centuries of rule from the new capital established at Edo, the Tokugawa organized a tightly controlled coalition of some 260 daimyo in strategic strongholds throughout the country. The allegiance of this highly privileged and prestigious group was ensured by cementing their ethical principles in the code of bushido, “the way of the warrior”: loyalty to one’s master, defense of one’s status and honor, and fulfillment obligations. Loyalty was further enforced by holding the vassals wives and children hostage in Edo. All roads into Edo, the most famous being the Tokaido Highway, had checkpoints for guns coming in and for wives going out.
One of the most effective ways of keeping a tight rein on the country was to cut it off from the outside world, to keep Japan Japanese. At first, leyasu Tokugawa was eager to promote foreign trade. He wanted silk and encouraged the Dutch and British as good, nonproselytizing Protestants just interested in trade. But he didn’t like the Portuguese and Spanish Catholic missionaries, who he felt were undermining traditional Japanese values. He banned their activities in 1612 and two years later ordered the expulsion of all missionaries and unrepentant Japanese converts. Executions and torture followed. Converts were forced to renounce their faith by trampling crucifixes and effigies of Jesus and Mary.
The Catholic Church has counted 3125 martyrs in Japan from 1597 (beginning under Hideyoshi) to 1660. In 1635 the Japanese were forbidden, on pain of death, to attempt to travel abroad, and Japanese citizens already overseas were prevented from returning, in case they brought back subversive Christian doctrines. Western books were banned, as were Chinese books that mentioned Christianity. After the purge of foreigners, only a few stayed on, strictly confined to Dejima Island in Nagasaki Bay.
The isolation slowed Japan’s technological and institutional progress almost to a half. But it also had the effect of permitting a great, distinctive cultural growth with a strong national identity. The Tokugawa thus celebrated the ancestral religion of Shinto- glorified by the monumentally opulent shrines they built at Nikko. Combining Shinto ritual with official Buddhist conformity, they revved the Confucian ideals of filial piety and obedience to authority to bolster their government.
Commerce thrived, partly in response to the large cities that were up around the castles at Edo (population already 1 million in the 18th century ), Osaka (400,00) and Nagoya and Kanazawa ( each 100,000) – all huge in comparison with European cities of the time. Japan’s overall population in the 18th century was already about 30 million.
Merchants played an active role in creating the urban culture that burgeoned at the end of the 17th century, the so called Genroku era. Before these hard-working family men went home from work, they liked to drink strong alcohol in the company of actresses and prostitute. These were the forerunners of the geisha- literally “accomplished person” – with a beauty and refinement that the merchants did not seek in their wives, whom they valued for their childbearing and good housekeeping. These were also halcyon days for the classic noh theater, the more popular kabuki, and the puppet theater (today’s bunraku) at Osaka, which was a Japan’s cultural capital at a time when Edo had more politicians and soldiers that artists.
In the end it was the very rigidity of their unshared control of the country that brought about the downfall of the Tokugawa. Without access to foreign markets, there was no way to counter the rash of catastrophes- Plague, drought, floods, and famine at the end of the 18th century. Uprisings in the towns and countryside began to pose serious threats to the shogun’s authority. The Tokugawa reaction was characteristic: a reinforcement of the austere values of the samurai and rigorous clamp-down on the merchants’ high life. There was no more gambling, prostitutes were arrested, and men and women were segregated in the public bathhouse, with naked government spies to enforce the (short lived) new rules.
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Graphic showing average weather in Sekigahara in Celcius and Centimeters (Change to Farenheit and Inches)
|Month||Temp °C||Rainfall Cm||Temp °F||Rainfall Inches|
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