Japan Between 1603 and 1868 (The Tokugawa)
In 1616, Ieyasu died leaving his son Hidetada heir to the office of shōgun and the country framed in the most rigid administrative and feudal system. According to this system, the shōgun was the head of all the daimyō or feudal lords and, nominally, mandatary of the emperor, but, practically, absolute lord. His fiefdoms constituted approximately one third of the Empire’s territory, the rest being divided between 260 daimyō, whose influence varied in relation to the extension of the fiefdom, in which, however, each enjoyed wide legislative and executive freedom, only subject to some restrictions. All maintained hereditary militias (samurai; v.), Very devoted, and owed obedience to the shōgun, from whom they received the investiture, in case of succession, and approval, in case of marriage or adoption, but to whom they had to offer their militias and their work, should they be required in case of need. Apart from the nobility, formed not only by the military one (daimyō) but also by that of the court (kuge), the duties of both being rigidly fixed by distinct codes, the rest of the population was divided into four classes: samurai, peasants, artisans and traders, as well as out-of-auction or age, the pariahs of ancient Japanese society. The samurai were the elected part of the people and their education was treated in detail. Raised in a mental atmosphere imbued with the principles of a code of honor made up entirely of blind devotion to one’s lord and the exaltation of the virtues of war, courage, justice, the duty of revenge, they considered their word sacred and had as a very dear symbol of the two sabers, characteristic of their clothing, which they wore on their hips. The other classes practically lived in slavery, although this did not exist as a recognized institution. They were excluded from any participation in public affairs and the liberty, the possessions, the very life of those who belonged to them were at the mercy of the lord. Their occupations, clothing,
According to Thedresswizard, this, to a large extent, the social structure of the country during the Tokugawa, and Ieyasu ensured its stability with a skilful arrangement of things, capable of eliminating any hegemonic ambition of the warlike daimyō. In fact, he dismembered their fiefdoms, dividing them from each other with vast expanses of territory belonging to the shōgun or to its close relatives. Later (1634), moreover, to have more control over them, the Sankin system was introduced – k ō tai, according to which each daimyō was obliged to stay for a period of time (six months or a year) in Yedo, the shōgun’s residence, and for an equal period, alternatively, in his own fiefdom, leaving Yedo hostage, his wife and little children. With this the effect was also obtained of burdening their budgets with the expenses of travel and maintenance of the following and thus of depriving them of the means for any hostile initiative. Under Hidetada (1624), to prevent any foreign attack on the political and territorial integrity of the Empire, an attack that was suspected in the imprudent conduct of some Christian missionaries, whose reckless zeal had created unrest, Japan was closed to all foreign relations, the only means of contacts with the world remaining the Dutch concession of Deshima, an islet in the port of Nagasaki. Thus, closed in on itself and protected from internal and external dangers by rigorous measures, Japan begins a period of two and a half centuries of profound and undisturbed peace, during which 15 emperors and as many shōguns succeed each other to the throne and to the office, and their government is practically void of notable events.
In the general prosperity, the studies, the letters and the arts flourish and it is mainly in the activity of thought that it is necessary to trace the germs of the evil that was to undermine the foundations and bring down the building so solidly erected by Ieyasu; and, ironically, it was from his family that the unwitting architects came out and prepared the final disaster. Heir to his passion for studies was his nephew, Tokugawa Mitsukuni (1628-1700), lord of Mito, who, surrounded by scholars, in 1675 passed on the government of the fief to his nephew Tsunaeda, to give himself entirely to scientific and literary works.. Under his auspices, a school of scholars was soon formed who began researching national history. This must necessarily lead to the opposition of indigenous literature to Chinese, the indigenous religion, Shinto, Buddhism, and, by an inevitable extension, the emperor to the shōgun, usurper of his divine power. Supported by the authority and work of skilled writers, such as Hirata, Motoori, Mabuchi and others, the movement had gradually gained wide, although rarely manifest, consensus, and already prepared souls for profound upheavals, when, almost unexpectedly the thrust that was to lead to the collapse of the shōgunate and the restoration of imperial authority came from outside.