May 22, 2022

The Tokugawa shōgunate or Edo shōgunate (Japanese: 徳 川 / 江 戸 幕府; Tokugawa / Edo Bakufu, or Edo period) was the feudal regime that ruled Japan during the Edo period, when the Tokugawa clan ruled as shoguns. Edo here denotes the shōgunath capital of the country, today known as Tōkyō, while the emperor lived in Kyōto. The Tokugawa shōgunat was Japan's third shōgunat, where the shōgun was the real ruler of the country and the emperor had only symbolic power. The Edo period covers Japanese history from 1603 to 1867. The period is named after the capital, Edo, today Tokyo, from which the Tokugawa shogunate ruled. The period covers an almost completely closed Japan without much contact with the outside world. Only Chinese and Dutch could call at Japan and only for strictly commercial purposes. Other Europeans who reached the shores of Japan were executed. The reason for the Japanese isolation was especially that the ruling shoguns considered Christian missionaries a destabilizing factor. The first Europeans arrived in Japan in 1543, and the Catholic missionaries had some support. From the newly established Tokugawa shogunate in 1603, however, the Christians were persecuted, and around 1650, Christianity was almost extinct, and the country had cut itself off from the outside world. The isolation was to last 200 years. Only when the US Navy Captain Matthew C. Perry in July 1853 appeared with four ships in the port of Edo and demanded that Japan be opened for trade, did it stop. In the 200 years since the isolation, the Western world had, among other things, set in motion an industrialization, and the Japanese could not stand much against modern weapons. Japan was therefore opened without a fight. The opening was a blow to the Tokugawa regime, which was facing its downfall. In 1866, the revolution known as the Meiji Restoration began, which brought down the shogunate and (formally) made the emperor in power.


After the civil wars of the Sengoku period, Oda Nobunaga and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi had largely gained control of Japan during the Azuchi-Momoyama period. After the Battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu took control, and in 1603 he was given the title of shogun. Traditionally, one had to descend from the Minamoto clan to become a shogun. In the ladder under the shogun came the daimyōs, the princes. The principalities were in practice virtually independent and order was maintained by the warrior class, the samurai. Under the Tokugawa shōgunate, the samurai lost their right to own land, which intensified their dependence and loyalty to the princes. Unlike the previous shōgunates, the Tokugawa Empire was based on a strict class hierarchy, first created by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The four classes were the samurai, followed by the peasants, artisans and traders as the lowest group. This system led to several uprisings, but none of them were a serious threat to the shogunate before the middle of the 19th century.


Alongside traders from China and other Asian areas, Europeans discovered Japan in the 16th century, first the Portuguese and later the Spaniards. With these came missionaries, who gave Christianity a foothold, especially among the peasants. Eventually the daimyō perceived this as a threat to the peasants' devotion to them, and from about 1612 the former openness turned into a growing oppression. After the Shimabara uprising of Christian samurai against the shogunate in 1637-38, Christianity was banned and all foreigners were expelled with the exception of some Dutch and Chinese traders, who had to stick to the artificial (and thus not real Japanese) island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay. For the next 200 years, the country was almost completely isolated from the rest of the world.


The isolation excluded Japan from developments in the rest of the world, especially in Europe. This became clear in 1853 when four American warships steamed into the port of Edo in a typical example of gunboat diplomacy. These four advanced ships, as the Japanese came to call