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History of Japan Essay

1. What are the key features of the Tokugawa settlements that were worked out under Ieyasu and Iemitsu? What is the rationale behind this system? In what ways might it be considered `centralized feudalism`?

The Tokugawa settlements that were worked out under the rule of Ieyasu and Iemitsu were mainly forms of centralized feudalism.  The Tokugawa period, particularly the Ieyasu Shogunate, was based on a strict class hierarchy.  This was based on the old structure created by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Bryant 2005).  It was comprised of the warrior-caste of samurai who were at the top of the hierarchy and they were followed by the farmers, the artisans, and the traders.

The key feature of the Ieyasu Shogunate was the implementation of the feudal military dictatorship by Tokugawa Ieyasu.  This system of “centralized feudalism” was the key tool which helped the ruling body in restoring political and social order after a long period of warfare and chaos.  The system was such that there were feudal lords who controlled their own domains but they subject however to the whims of the Shogun who was characterized as the defacto ruler for Japan.  The ascension to Shogun was hereditary and thus led to the control by the Tokugawa Shoguns from the 1600s to 1868 (Sadler 1937).

Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to gain control of the entire country through this method.  Though once a Daimyo himself, he soon became a Shogun and began exercising power over the 250 other daimyos all over Japan.  This was the centralized system that the Tokugawas were able to establish and relevant to this system was the “Alternate Attendance System” or the sankin kôtai (Sadler 1937).

This system simply meant that every daimyo had to live every alternate year in the capital city of Edo under the penalty of permanently living in the city and leaving his life and heir behind in case such a task was not fulfilled.  Needless to say, this had immense implications for the history of Japan.  It meant that there were huge transfers of wealth since the daimyos had to finance their trips.  It also led to the fostering of a sense of loyalty to Edo as every daimyo after 1700 felt drawn to Edo as a native of the city (Sansom 1961).

The situation was not so different during the time of Tokugawa Iemitsu who was the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu (Bryant 2005).  Iemitsu’s rise to power was predicated by the abdication of Hidetade in his favaor.  Hidetada installed all of his advisors and veteran daimyo in the service of Iemitsu but soon after, Iemitsu appointed most of his childhood friends and was soon able to carry on the installation of a strong and centralized form of administration similar to that by his grandfather Tokugawa Ieyasu.  While there were those who opposed such an act, Tokugawa Iemitsu simply removed all opposition and remained in power (Sansom 1961).

The reason that these periods were considered as “centralized feudalism” was the fact that though there were different domains that were ruled by the daimyos, all power still emanated from the Shogun (Bryant 2005).  The Shogun ruled under the authority of the emperor and in fact ruled over most, if not all, of the activities of the realm.  This was eventually overthrown and replaced during the Meiji Renewal.

2. How would you characterize Meiji Japan`s economic development? In what ways was it distinctive? What role did the state play?

Meiji Japan’s economic development was characterized by the Meiji Renewal which was a series of events that led up to major changes in Japan’s political and social structure (Beasley 1995).  The arrival of the Black Ships of Commodore Matthew Perry ushered in a direct response from the Shogunate and thus the Meiji restoration began.  It was during this same period that Japan established itself as an Imperial Power.

The foundation of the Meiji Renewal was the formation of the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance between Saigō Takamori, who was the leader of the Satsuma domain and Kido Takayoshi, who was the leader of the Chōshū domain (Jansen 2000).  Initially brought together to challenge the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate and installing the emperor into power, the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance succeeded in altering the political structure of Japan.  The two leaders, Saigō Takamori and Kido Takayoshi, were supported by Emperor Kōmei (Beasley 1995).

The distinct characteristic of this period was the fact that it ushered in the industrialization of Japan (Jansen 2000).  It also led to the emergence of Japan as an island nation that possessed military power by the year 1905.  The slogan for Japan during this time was fukoku kyohei, which translates into “Enrich the country, strengthen the military.”

The manner in which this Renewal was accomplished was by creating a group in which all the power was consolidated against the remnants of the Edo period government, the shogunate, daimyo, and the samurai class.  Thus the Meiji Oligarchy was formed.  During this period, the Tokugawa lands were seized and placed under the direct control of the government.  Some of the Daimyos who protested such an act eventually relented and returned their domains to the Emperor which lead to the creation of a central government in Japan for the first time in its history and also allowed the new centralized government to exercise direct power throughout the entire realm (Beasley 1995). The pivotal point came in 1871 when all the Daimyos were brought before the emperor and it was decreed that all domains were now to be returned to the Emperor (Jansen 2002).  These “returned” domains were converted into prefectures that were under the control of a government appointed governor.

The next step came in the abolition of the four divisions in Japanese society that had previously existed.  This led to the abolition of the Samurai class, which at that time numbered nearly 1.9 million, and led to the development of the Japanese military which was now open to peasants (Beasley 1995).  Nationwide conscription was now established in order to fill in the ranks left by the former Samurais and every male was mandated to serve in the new armed forces of Japan for four (4) years upon turning 21.

The state therefore played a very critical role in all of this as it was under the state that the abolition of traditional political structures was engineered and the abolition of the social classes was commenced.  The establishment of a strong Japanese Imperial Army also played a great role as it provided the state with the power that it needed in order to institute the reforms that is sought to implement (Jansen 2000).


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