Edo period

The Edo period (江戸時代, Edo-jidai), also called the Tokugawa period, is a division of Japanese history running from 1603 to 1867. The period marks the governance of the Edo or Tokugawa shogunate, which was officially established in 1603 by the first Edo shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. The period ended with the Meiji Restoration, the restoration of imperial rule by the fifteenth and last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu.

The Edo period is known as the beginning of the early modern period of Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu, assisted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Oda Nobunaga, succeeded in unifying most of Japan under a single government, and set up a system of centralized feudalism which lasted for the next two hundred years. During this period, the emperors ruled in name only, while the real political power was in the hands of the shoguns. The shogunate maintained control by enforcing a strict social hierarchy and concentrating land ownership in the hands of about three hundred daimyo. The daimyo were prevented from accumulating too much wealth and power by the sankin kōtai system which required them to reside at court every other year, and by frequent levies and mandatory subscriptions to support construction projects and public works. Samurai became landless retainers of the daimyo.


Japan developed many of its modern social and economic structures during the Edo period. Castle towns became centers for commerce and manufacturing, and a prosperous middle class of merchants and artisans emerged. Although the Tokugawa shogunate attempted to enforce isolation from foreign influences, there was some foreign trade. In the late Edo period, a variety of factors weakened the shogunate, including a top-heavy bureaucracy, antiquated economic policies, and rising unrest among the lower classes. Industrialization in the West forced the shogunate to seek foreign knowledge and technology in order to maintain their military strength. A final crisis was provoked when the United States forced Japan to open its ports, and the daimyo became divided over how to deal with the threat of foreign colonization. The Edo period ended with the Meiji Restoration on January 3, 1868, when power was restored to the emperor and the last Tokugawa shogun was reduced to the ranks of the common daimyo.

Rule of Shogun and Daimyo

Tokugawa Ieyasu as shogun

In the centuries from the time of the Kamakura bakufu, which existed in equilibrium with the imperial court, to the Tokugawa shogunate, an evolution occurred in which the bushi (samurai class) became the unchallenged rulers in what historian Edwin O. Reischauer called a "centralized feudal" form of government. The founder of the new bakufu was Tokugawa Ieyasu, who benefited from the achievements of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in bringing most of the feudal domains of Japan under central control. Already powerful, Tokugawa Ieyasu transferred his headquarters to Edo (modern Tokyo), a strategically situated castle in the rich Kanto area. There he maintained 2.5 million koku of land, and had an additional two million koku of land and 38 vassals under his control.

After the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, Ieyasu moved quickly to seize control from the Toyotomi family. Ieyasu's victory over the western daimyo at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600) gave him virtual control of all Japan. He rapidly abolished numerous enemy daimyo houses, reduced others (such as that of the Toyotomi), and redistributed the spoils of war to his family and allies. Though he had failed to achieve complete control of the western daimyo, his assumption of the title of shogun helped consolidate the alliance system. After further strengthening his power base, Ieyasu installed his son Tokugawa Hidetada (1579-1632) as shogun and himself as retired shogun in 1605. The Toyotomi were still a significant threat, and Ieyasu devoted the next decade to their eradication. In 1615 the Toyotomi stronghold at Osaka was destroyed by the Tokugawa army.

The Tokugawa (or Edo) period brought two hundred years of stability to Japan. The political system evolved into what historians call bakuhan, a combination of the terms bakufu and han (domains) to describe the government and society of the period. In the bakuhan, the shogun had national authority and the daimyo had regional authority, a new unity in the feudal structure, which had an increasingly large bureaucracy to administer the mixture of centralized and decentralized authorities. The Tokugawa clan became more powerful during their first century of rule; land redistribution gave them nearly seven million koku, control of the most important cities, and a land assessment system which reaped great revenues.

The feudal hierarchy was completed by the various classes of daimyo. Closest to the Tokugawa house were the shinpan, or "related houses." They were 23 daimyo on the borders of Tokugawa lands, all directly related to Ieyasu. The shinpan held mostly honorary titles and advisory posts in the bakufu. The second class of the hierarchy was the fudai, or "house daimyo," rewarded with lands close to the Tokugawa holdings for their faithful service. By the eighteenth century, 145 fudai controlled such smaller han, the largest assessed at 250,000 koku. Members of the fudai class staffed most of the major bakufu offices. Ninety-seven han formed the third group, the tozama (outside vassals), former opponents or new allies. The tozama were located mostly on the peripheries of the archipelago and collectively controlled nearly ten million koku of productive land. Because the tozama were least trusted of the daimyo, they were the most cautiously managed and generously treated, although they were excluded from central government positions.

The Tokugawa not only consolidated their control over a reunified Japan, they also had unprecedented power over the emperor, the court, all daimyo, and the religious orders. The emperor was held up as the ultimate source of political sanction for the shogun, who ostensibly was the vassal of the imperial family. The Tokugawa helped the imperial family recapture its old glory by rebuilding its palaces and granting it new lands. To ensure a close tie between the imperial clan and the Tokugawa family, Ieyasu's granddaughter was made an imperial consort in 1619.

A code of laws was established to regulate the daimyo houses. The code encompassed private conduct, marriage, dress, and types of weapons and numbers of troops allowed; required residence at Edo every other year (the sankin kōtai system); prohibited the construction of ocean-going ships; proscribed Christianity; and stipulated that bakufu regulations were the national law. Although the daimyo were not taxed directly, they were regularly levied for contributions for military and logistical support and for such public works projects as castles, roads, bridges, and palaces. The various regulations and levies not only strengthened the Tokugawa but also depleted the wealth of the daimyo, thus weakening their threat to the central administration. The sankin kōtai system forced the daimyo to spend their wealth traveling with large entourages to and from the court at Edo for the stipulated periods of residence there, while the inns and towns along their routes of travel prospered. The han, once military-centered domains, became mere local administrative units. The daimyo had full administrative control over their territory and their complex systems of retainers, bureaucrats, and commoners. Loyalty was exacted from religious foundations, already greatly weakened by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, through a variety of controls.

From Openness to Seclusion

The samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga, Japan's first official ambassador to the Americas and Europe, in 1615

Like Hideyoshi, Ieyasu encouraged foreign trade but was also suspicious of outsiders. He wanted to make Edo a major port, but once he learned that the Europeans favored ports in Kyūshū and that China had rejected his plans for official trade, he moved to control existing trade and allowed only certain ports to handle specific kinds of commodities.

A 1634 Japanese red seal ship

The beginning of the Edo period coincides with the last decades of the Nanban trade period, during which interaction with European powers took place and Christian missionaries were welcomed to Japan. At the beginning of the Edo period, Japan built her first ocean-going Western-style warships, such as the Japanese warship San Juan Bautista, a 500-ton galleon that transported a Japanese embassy headed by Hasekura Tsunenaga to the Americas then to Europe. Also during that period, the bakufu commissioned around 350 red seal ships, three-masted, armed trade ships for intra-Asian commerce. Japanese adventurers, such as Yamada Nagamasa, used those ships to travel throughout Asia.

The difficulty of controlling both the Christian daimyo in Kyūshū and their trade with the Europeans was known as the "Christian problem." By 1612, the shogun's retainers and residents of Tokugawa lands had been ordered to forswear Christianity. More restrictions came in 1616 (the restriction of foreign trade to Nagasaki and Hirado, an island northwest of Kyūshū), 1622 (the execution of 120 missionaries and converts), 1624 (the expulsion of the Spanish), and 1629 (the execution of thousands of Christians). Finally, in 1635 an edict prohibited any Japanese from traveling outside Japan or, if someone left, from ever returning. In 1636 the Dutch were restricted to Dejima, a small artificial island, and thus, not true Japanese soil, in the harbor at Nagasaki.

The shogunate perceived Christianity as a political threat, and began persecution of Catholicism. The Shimabara Rebellion of 1637-1638, in which discontented Catholic samurai and peasants rebelled against the bakufu and Edo called in Dutch ships to bombard the rebel stronghold, marked the end of the Christian movement, although some Christians survived by going underground, the so-called Kakure Kirishitan. Soon afterward, the Portuguese were permanently expelled, members of the Portuguese diplomatic mission were executed, all subjects were ordered to register at a Buddhist or Shinto temple, and the Dutch and Chinese were restricted, respectively, to Dejima and to a special quarter in Nagasaki. Besides small trade between some outer daimyo and Korea and the Ryukyu Islands, to the southwest of Japan's main islands, by 1641 the policy of sakoku limited foreign contacts to Nagasaki.

By 1650, Christianity had been almost completely eradicated and external political, economic and religious influence on Japan became quite limited. Only China and the Dutch East India Company enjoyed the right to visit Japan during this period. Other Europeans who landed on Japanese shores were put to death without trial.


The first goal of the newly established Tokugawa government was to pacify the country after a long period of inner conflict. Influenced by Confucian principles of social order, the shogunate created a balance of power that remained relatively stable for the next 250 years. Most samurai lost direct possession of the land; all land ownership was concentrated in the hand of the about three hundred daimyo. The samurai had to choose between giving up their swords and becoming peasants, or moving to the cities of their feudal lord and become paid retainers. Only a few landed samurai remained in the border provinces of the north, or as direct vassals of the shogun, the five thousand hatamoto. The daimyo were placed under the tight control of the shogunate. Their families had to reside in Edo, and the daimyo themselves had to reside alternately in Edo for one year, and in their province (han) for the next. This system was called sankin kotai.

The population was divided into four classes: the samurai (about five percent of the population) were the governing elite, and the peasants (more than 80 percent of the population) were on the second level. Below the peasants were the craftsmen, and even below them, on a fourth level, were the merchants. Only the peasants lived in the rural areas. Samurai, craftsmen and merchants, each restricted to their own quarter, lived in the cities that were built around the daimyo's castles. A few descendants of the Imperial Court in Kyoto, the kuge, were above the system. Although the kuge regained their splendor after the poverty of the war years, their political influence was minimal.

Below the merchant class were the so-called eta and hinin, those whose professions broke the taboos of Buddhism. Eta were butchers, tanners and undertakers. Hinin served as town guards, street cleaners and executioners. Another group of outsiders was made up of entertainers and prostitutes. The word eta literally means "filthy" and hinin, "non-humans," a reflection of the attitude held by other classes that the eta and hinin were not even people. Sometimes eta villages were not even included on official maps.

The individual had no legal rights in Tokugawa Japan. The family was the smallest legal entity, and the maintenance of family status and privileges was of great importance at all levels of society.

Economic Development

Economic development during the Tokugawa period included urbanization, increased shipping of commodities, a significant expansion of domestic and, initially, foreign commerce, and a diffusion of trade and handicraft industries. The construction trades flourished, along with banking facilities and merchant associations. Increasingly, han authorities oversaw the rising agricultural production and the spread of rural handicrafts.

By the mid-eighteenth century, Edo had a population of more than one million; Osaka and Kyoto each had more than 400,000 inhabitants; and many other castle towns were flourishing. Osaka and Kyoto became busy trading and handicraft production centers, while Edo was a center for the supply of food and essential urban consumer goods.

Rice was the base of the economy, as the daimyo collected the taxes from the peasants in the form of rice. Taxes were high, about 40 percent of the harvest. The rice was sold at the fudasashi market in Edo. To raise money, the daimyo used forward contracts to sell rice that was not yet harvested, similar to modern futures trading.

Artistic and Intellectual Development

A Japanese-made clock of the eighteenth century, or Wadokei

During the Edo period, Japan progressively studied Western sciences and technology (called rangaku, "Dutch studies") through the information and books received through the Dutch traders in Dejima. The main areas of study included geography, medicine, natural sciences, astronomy, art, languages, physical sciences such as the study of electrical phenomena, and mechanical sciences as exemplified by the development of Japanese clockwatches, or wadokei, inspired by Western techniques.

The flourishing of Neo-Confucianism was the major intellectual development of the Tokugawa period. Confucian studies had long been kept active in Japan by Buddhist clerics, but during the Tokugawa period, Confucianism emerged from Buddhist religious control. This system of thought promoted a secular view of man and society. The ethical humanism, rationalism, and historical perspective of neo-Confucian doctrine appealed to the official class. By the mid-seventeenth century, neo-Confucianism was Japan's dominant legal philosophy and contributed directly to the development of the kokugaku (national learning) school of thought.

Japan's first treatise on Western anatomy, published in 1774

Advanced studies and growing applications of neo-Confucianism contributed to the transition of the social and political order from feudal norms to class- and large-group-oriented practices. The rule of the people, or Confucian man, was gradually replaced by the rule of law. New laws were developed, and new administrative methods were instituted. A new theory of government and a new vision of society emerged as a means of justifying more comprehensive governance by the bakufu. Each person had a distinct place in society and was expected to work to fulfill his or her mission in life. The people were to be ruled with benevolence by those whose assigned duty it was to rule. Government was all-powerful but responsible and humane. Although the class system was influenced by neo-Confucianism, it was not identical to it. Whereas soldiers and clergy were at the bottom of the hierarchy in the Chinese model, in Japan some members of these classes constituted the ruling elite.

Members of the samurai class adhered to bushi traditions, with a renewed interest in Japanese history and in cultivation of the ways of Confucian scholar-administrators, resulting in the development of the concept of bushido (the way of the warrior). Another special way of life, chōnindō, also emerged. Chōnindō (the way of the townspeople) was a distinct culture that arose in cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Edo. It encouraged aspiration to bushido qualities of diligence, honesty, honor, loyalty, and frugality, while blending Shinto, neo-Confucian, and Buddhist beliefs. Study of mathematics, astronomy, cartography, engineering, and medicine were also encouraged. Emphasis was placed on quality of workmanship, especially in the arts. For the first time, urban populations had the means and leisure time to support a new mass culture. Their search for enjoyment became known as ukiyo (“the floating world”), an ideal world of fashion and popular entertainment. Professional female entertainers (geisha), music, popular stories, kabuki and bunraku (puppet theater), poetry, literature and art, exemplified by beautiful woodblock prints (known as ukiyo-e), were all part of this flowering of culture. Literature also flourished with the talented examples of the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724) and the poet, essayist, and travel writer Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694).

The Great Wave at Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)

Ukiyo-e prints began to be produced in the late seventeenth century, but in 1764 Harunobu produced the first polychrome print. Print designers of the next generation, including Torii Kiyonaga and Utamaro, created elegant and sometimes insightful depictions of courtesans. In the nineteenth century, the dominant figure was Hiroshige, a creator of romantic and somewhat sentimental landscape prints. The odd angles and shapes through which Hiroshige often viewed landscape, and the work of Kiyonaga and Utamaro, with its emphasis on flat planes and strong linear outlines, later had a profound impact on such Western artists as Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh.

Buddhism and Shinto were both still important in Tokugawa Japan. Buddhism, combined with neo-Confucianism, provided standards of social behavior. Although not as powerful politically as it had been in the past, Buddhism was espoused by the upper classes. Proscriptions against Christianity benefited Buddhism in 1640 when the bakufu ordered everyone to register at a temple. The rigid separation of Tokugawa society into han, villages, wards, and households helped reaffirm local Shinto attachments. Shinto provided spiritual support to the political order and was an important tie between the individual and the community. Shinto also helped preserve a sense of national identity.

Shinto eventually assumed an intellectual form shaped by neo-Confucian rationalism and materialism. The kokugaku movement emerged from the interactions of these two belief systems. Kokugaku contributed to the emperor-centered nationalism of modern Japan and the revival of Shinto as a national creed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Kojiki, Nihongi, and Man'yōshū were all studied anew in the search for the Japanese spirit. Some purists in the kokugaku movement, such as Motoori Norinaga, even criticized the Confucian and Buddhist influences—in effect, foreign influences—for contaminating Japan's ancient ways. Japan was the land of the kami and therefore had a special destiny.

End of the Shogunate

Decline of the Tokugawa

The end of the Edo period is referred to as the late Tokugawa shogunate. There is considerable debate over the cause for the end of the Edo period. A major factor is thought to be the forced opening of Japan to the world by the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy, with an armada (known by Japanese as "Black Ships") in Edo Bay. Several artificial land masses were created to block the range of the armada’s weapons, and this land remains in what is presently called the Odaiba district.

The Tokugawa shogunate did not collapse simply because of intrinsic failures. Foreign intrusions helped to precipitate a complex political struggle between the bakufu and a coalition of its critics. The continuity of the anti-bakufu movement in the mid-nineteenth century finally brought down the Tokugawa. From the beginning, the Tokugawa shogunate had attempted to restrict the accumulation of wealth by individual families, and had fostered a "back to the soil" policy, in which the farmer, the ultimate producer, was the ideal person in society.

A Japanese-made perpetual clockwatch, 1851

Despite these efforts to restrict wealth, and partly because of the extraordinary period of peace, the standard of living for urban and rural dwellers alike grew significantly during the Tokugawa period. Better means of crop production, transportation, improved housing, food, and entertainment were all available, as was more leisure time, at least for urban dwellers. The literacy rate was high for a pre-industrial society, and cultural values were redefined and widely imparted throughout the samurai and chōnin (merchant, townspeople) classes. Despite the reappearance of guilds, productive economic activities were relatively unrestricted, and the spread of commerce gave rise to a money economy. Although government imposed heavy restrictions on the merchants and viewed them as unproductive and usurious members of society, the samurai, who gradually became separated from their rural ties, depended greatly on the merchants and artisans for consumer goods, services, and loans. In this way, a subtle subversion of the warrior class by the chōnin took place.

The entrepreneurial class began to rebel against the political limitations imposed on them by the shogun. The government ideal of an agrarian society no longer reflected the reality of commercial distribution. A top-heavy government bureaucracy had evolved, which now stagnated because of its discrepancy with a new and evolving social order. Compounding the situation, the population increased significantly during the first half of the Tokugawa period. Although the magnitude and growth rates are not known with certainty, there were at least 26 million commoners and about four million members of samurai families and their attendants when the first nationwide census was taken in 1721.

Drought, followed by crop shortages and starvation, resulted in 20 great famines between 1675 and 1837. Peasant unrest grew, and by the late eighteenth century, mass protests over taxes and food shortages had become commonplace. Newly landless families became tenant farmers, while the displaced rural poor moved into the cities. As the fortunes of previously well-to-do families declined, others moved in to accumulate land, and a new, wealthy farming class emerged. Those who benefited were able to diversify production and to hire laborers, while others were left discontented. Many samurai fell on hard times and were forced into handicraft production or working at salaried jobs for merchants.

Although Japan was able to acquire and refine a wide variety of scientific knowledge, the rapid industrialization of the West during the eighteenth century created, for the first time, a material gap in terms of technologies and armament between Japan and the West which had not existed at the beginning of the Edo period, forcing Japan to abandon its policy of seclusion and contributing to the end of the Tokugawa regime.

Western intrusions increased during the early nineteenth century. Russian warships and traders encroached on Karafuto (called Sakhalin under Russian and Soviet control) and on the Kuril Islands, the southernmost of which are considered by the Japanese as the northern islands of Hokkaidō. A British warship entered Nagasaki harbor searching for enemy Dutch ships in 1808, and other warships and whalers were seen in Japanese waters with increasing frequency in the 1810s and 1820s. Whalers and trading ships from the United States also arrived on Japan's shores. Although the Japanese made some minor concessions and allowed some landings, they generally attempted to keep all foreigners out, sometimes using force. Rangaku (Western studies) became crucial not only for understanding the foreign "barbarians" but also gaining the knowledge necessary to fend them off.

By the 1830s, there was a general sense of crisis. Famines and natural disasters led to unrest and a peasant uprising against officials and merchants in Osaka in 1837. Although it lasted only a day, the uprising made a dramatic impression. The government sought to remedy the situation through moral reform, rather than by addressing the institutional problems. The shogun's advisers pushed for a return to the martial spirit, more restrictions on foreign trade and contacts, suppression of rangaku, censorship of literature, and elimination of "luxury" in the government and samurai class. Others sought the overthrow of the Tokugawa and promulgated the political doctrine of sonnō jōi (“revere the emperor, expel the barbarians”), which called for unity under imperial rule and opposed foreign intrusions. The bakufu persevered amidst growing concerns over Western successes in establishing colonial enclaves in China following the First Opium War of 1839–1842. More reforms were ordered, especially in the economic sector, to strengthen Japan against the Western threat.

In July of 1846, when Commodore James Biddle appeared in Edo Bay with two warships, Japan rejected a demand from the United States, which was expanding its own presence in the Asia-Pacific region, to establish diplomatic relations.

End of seclusion

Commodore Matthew C. Perry

When Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry's squadron of four ships appeared in Edo Bay in July 1853, the bakufu was thrown into turmoil. The chairman of the senior councilors, Abe Masahiro (1819–1857), was responsible for dealing with the Americans. Having no precedent to follow in managing this threat to national security, Abe tried to balance the desires of the senior councilors to compromise with the foreigners, of the emperor—who wanted to keep the foreigners out—and of the daimyo who wanted to go to war. Lacking consensus, Abe decided to compromise by accepting Perry's demands for opening Japan to foreign trade while also making military preparations. In March 1854, the Treaty of Peace and Amity (or Treaty of Kanagawa) opened two ports to American ships seeking provisions, guaranteed good treatment to shipwrecked American sailors, and allowed a United States consul to take up residence in Shimoda, a seaport on the Izu Peninsula, southwest of Edo. A commercial treaty, opening still more areas to American trade, was forced on the bakufu five years later.

The resulting damage to the bakufu was significant. Debate over government policy was unusual and had engendered public criticism of the bakufu. In the hope of enlisting the support of new allies, Abe, to the consternation of the fudai, had consulted with the shinpan and tozama daimyo, further undermining the already weakened bakufu. In the Ansei Reform (1854–1856), Abe tried to strengthen the regime by ordering Dutch warships and armaments from the Netherlands and building new port defenses. In 1855, a naval training school with Dutch instructors was set up at Nagasaki, and a Western-style military school was established at Edo; by the next year, the government was translating Western books. Opposition to Abe increased within fudai circles, which opposed opening bakufu councils to tozama daimyo, and he was replaced in 1855 as chairman of the senior councilors by Hotta Masayoshi (1810–1864).

At the head of the dissident faction was Tokugawa Nariaki, who had long embraced a militant loyalty to the emperor along with anti-foreign sentiments, and who had been put in charge of national defense in 1854. The Mito school, based on neo-Confucian and Shinto principles, had as its goal the restoration of the imperial institution, the turning back of the West, and the founding of a world empire under the divine Yamato Dynasty.

In the final years of the Tokugawa, foreign contacts increased as more concessions were granted. The new treaty with the United States in 1859 allowed more ports to be opened to diplomatic representatives, unsupervised trade at four additional ports, and foreign residences in Osaka and Edo. It also embodied the concept of extraterritoriality (foreigners were subject to the laws of their own countries but not to Japanese law). Hotta lost the support of key daimyo, and when Tokugawa Nariaki opposed the new treaty, Hotta sought imperial sanction. The court officials, perceiving the weakness of the bakufu, rejected Hotta's request and suddenly embroiled Kyoto and the emperor in Japan's internal politics for the first time in many centuries. When the shogun died without an heir, Nariaki appealed to the court for support of his own son, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (or Keiki), a candidate favored by the shinpan and tozama daimyo as shogun. The fudai won the power struggle, however, installing Tokugawa Yoshitomi, arresting Nariaki and Keiki, executing Yoshida Shoin (1830–1859, a leading sonnō-jōi intellectual who had opposed the American treaty and plotted a revolution against the bakufu), and signing treaties with the United States and five other nations, thus ending more than two hundred years of exclusion.

Bakumatsu Modernization and Conflicts

Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun, in French military uniform, c. 1867

During the last years, the bakufu took strong measures to try to reassert its dominance, although its involvement with modernization and foreign powers made it a target of anti-Western sentiment throughout the country.

The army and the navy were modernized by the Ansei Reform. After the naval training school was established in Nagasaki in 1855, naval students were sent to study in Western naval schools for several years, starting a tradition of foreign-educated future leaders, such as Admiral Enomoto Takeaki. French naval engineers were hired to build naval arsenals, such as Yokosuka and Nagasaki. By the end of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867, the Japanese navy of the shogun already possessed eight Western-style steam warships around the flagship Kaiyō Maru, which were used against pro-imperial forces during the Boshin war, under the command of Admiral Enomoto. A French military mission was established to help modernize the armies of the bakufu.

Japanese warship Kanrin Maru, Japan's first screw-driven steam warship, 1855

Revering the emperor as a symbol of unity, extremists wrought violence and death against the Bakufu and han authorities and foreigners. Foreign naval retaliation in the Anglo-Satsuma War led to still another concessionary commercial treaty in 1865, but Yoshitomi was unable to enforce the Western treaties. A bakufu army was defeated when it was sent to crush dissent in the han of Satsuma and Chōshū provinces in 1866. In 1867, Emperor Kōmei died and was succeeded by his minor son Emperor Meiji.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Keiki) reluctantly became shogun and head of the Tokugawa clan. He tried to reorganize the government under the emperor while preserving the shogun's leadership role. Fearing the growing power of the Satsuma and Chōshū daimyo, other daimyo called for a return of the shogun's political power to the emperor and a council of daimyo, chaired by the former Tokugawa shogun. Keiki accepted the plan in late 1867 and resigned, announcing an "imperial restoration." The Satsuma, Chōshū, and other han leaders and radical courtiers, however, rebelled, seized the imperial palace, and announced their own restoration on January 3, 1868.

Following the Boshin war (1868–1869), the bakufu was abolished, and Keiki was reduced to the ranks of the common daimyo. Resistance continued in the North throughout 1868, and the bakufu naval forces under Admiral Enomoto continued to hold out for another six months in Hokkaidō, where they founded the short-lived Republic of Ezo.


  • 1600: Battle of Sekigahara. Tokugawa Ieyasu defeats a coalition of daimyo and establishes hegemony over most of Japan
  • 1603: the emperor appoints Tokugawa Ieyasu as shogun, who moves his government to Edo (Tokyo) and founds the Tokugawa dynasty of shoguns
  • 1605: Tokugawa Ieyasu resigns as shogun, and is succeeded by his son Tokugawa Hidetada
  • 1607: Korean Yi Dynasty sends an embassy to Tokugawa shogunate
  • 1611: Ryūkyū Islands become a vassal state of Satsuma domain
  • 1614: Tokugawa Ieyasu bans Christianity from Japan
  • 1615: Battle of Osaka. Tokugawa Ieyasu sieges Osaka Castle, all opposition from forces loyal to the Toyotomi family. Tokugawa authority becomes paramount throughout Japan
  • 1616: Tokugawa Ieyasu dies
  • 1623: Tokugawa Iemitsu becomes the third shogun
  • 1633: Tokugawa Iemitsu forbids traveling abroad and reading foreign books
  • 1635: Tokugawa Iemitsu formalizes the system of mandatory alternate residence (sankin kotai) in Edo
  • 1637: Shimabara Rebellion (1637-38) mounted by overtaxed peasants
  • 1638: Tokugawa Iemitsu forbids shipbuilding
  • 1639: Edicts establishing national seclusion (sakoku rei) are completed. All Westerners except the Dutch are prohibited from entering Japan
  • 1641: Tokugawa Iemitsu bans all foreigners, except Chinese and Dutch, from Japan
  • 1650: with peace, there evolved a new kind of noble, literate warrior according to bushido ("way of the warrior")
  • 1700: Kabuki and ukiyo-e become popular
  • 1707: Mount Fuji erupts
  • 1774: The anatomical text Kaitai shinsho, the first complete Japanese translation of a Western medical work, is published by Sugita Gempaku and Maeno Ryotaku
  • 1787: Matsudaira Sadanobu becomes senior shogunal councilor and institutes the Kansei Reforms
  • 1792: Russian envoy Adam Laxman arrives at Nemuro in eastern Ezo (now Hokkaidō)
  • 1804: Russian envoy Nikolai Rezanov reaches Nagasaki, and unsuccessfully seeks the establishment of trade relations with Japan
  • 1837: Rebellion of Oshio Heihachiro
  • 1841: Tempo Reforms
  • 1854: the United States forces Japan to sign a trade agreement (Treaty of Kanagawa) which reopens Japan to foreigners after two centuries
  • 1855: Russia and Japan establish diplomatic relations
  • 1864: British, French, Dutch and American warships bombard Shimonoseki and open more Japanese ports for foreigners
  • 1868: Tokugawa Yoshinobu resigns, the Tokugawa dynasty ends, and the emperor (or "mikado") Meiji is restored, but with capital in Edo/Tokyo and divine attributes


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  • Ōkawa, Naomi. Edo Architecture, Katsura, and Nikko. The Heibonsha Survey of Japanese Art, vol. 20. New York: Weatherhill, 1975. ISBN 0834810271
  • Plutschow, Herbert E. A Reader in Edo Period Travel. Folkestone, Kent, UK: Global oriental, 2006. ISBN 1901903230
  • Reeve, John. Floating World: Japan in the Edo Period. London: British Museum Press, 2006. ISBN 0714124346
  • Shimizu, Yoshiaki. Japan: The Shaping of Daimyo Culture, 1185-1868. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1988. ISBN 0894681222
  • Turnbull, Stephen R. The Book of the Samurai, the Warrior Class of Japan. New York: Arco, 1982. ISBN 0668054158
  • Watson, William. The Great Japan Exhibition: Art of the Edo Period, 1600-1868. New York: Alpine Fine Arts Collection, 1981. ISBN 0933516487

External links

All links retrieved September 12, 2013.


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