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Vina Hing

Year 11

To what extent did the Tokugawa Shogunate impact life


in Japan?
From the early 17th to the mid-18th century, the Tokugawa Shogunate impacted
life in Japan in a variety of ways. During the two centuries the Shogunate
managed to politically, economically and most importantly, socially impact
Japans society. The main reason behind these impacts is the fact that in the
early Tokugawa period, Japan saw a rapid and sustained economic and
population growth. However growth of the economy affected different classes
differently, in this case, the merchants saw the most benefits and the samurais
suffered the most. Politically the Shogun was very demanding of the daimyo, this
was to ensure absolute loyalty and to make sure that daimyos dont collate with
each other. However the Tokugawa shoguns managed to develop a form of
political rule that was authoritarian but not dictatorial.
The Tokugawa government balanced authority and autonomy. Of all the available
land, they only kept about for themselves, the rest were distributed to the
daimyos. However they never directly taxed the daimyos, instead the daimyo
were required to provide resources such as supplying raw materials for
construction. Daimyos had to spend every second year in Yedo, under the
Shoguns watchful eyes, and had to leave their family behind as hostages to
ensure loyalty when they returned back to their land. They were also forbidden
from building fortified castles or to accumulate wealth, any excess wealth would
go to public works. They were also required to ask the Shogun for his approval
before marrying. However, despite all this, daimyos had a lot of freedom when it
came to governing their own domain. They had their own codes and laws; some
even had their own currency.
The early Tokugawa period saw rapid and sustain economic growth. Increase in
agriculture productions and population growth lead to an increase in trade
(where the merchants most benefitted from). The creation of reliable and
effective transportation networks, under the Tokugawa rule also contributed to
this. Additionally a standardize currency system and the use of coins was
introduced by Tokugawa leyasu. Even though economic growth was good for the
economy, Samurais had benefitted the least from this since they were forbidden
from engaging in commerce or farming. Samurais were paid in fixed stipends of
rice which did not increase as prices rose. As a result, as samurais became
increasingly poor, they began to borrow money from merchants and lenders,
which to the merchants delight, put them at their mercy. The Bushido required
them to dress properly and engage in social activities which made matters only
worst. The authorities knew what was happening and tried to introduce a number
or reforms but due to their opinion of proper political order they couldnt offer
much help to ensure financial stability for samurais.
Where samurais suffered, merchants prospered. Increased economic stability, led
to the creation of a wealthy, educated and powerful commoner population. They
used their wealth to create a new modern culture of its own and werent afraid to
flaunt their wealth in the case of building enormous houses and wearing clothes

Vina Hing
Year 11
that was more fine than the samurais. The Shogunate was not happy about the
merchants extravagant lifestyle and tried to issue laws such as forbidding them
from wearing silk. Merchants also created entertainment areas for themselves
that more often than not samurais visited them. These areas included theatres,
tea houses and street entertainers which included fortune tellers and story
tellers. This all led to the emergence of first great popular writers and dramatists.
Honour and sacrifice was a common theme used among writers and dramatists
as it made commoners feel like they had something in common with that of the
elites.
In Tokugawa Japan, by the end of the seventeenth century, literacy and learning
were beginning to spread widely. Learning became more accessible to
commoners when its primary location no longer remained in religious
establishments and private academies. Most importantly, commoner children
were now able to gain a basic literacy education.
The Tokugawa Shogunate impacted Japan in a number of ways, politically,
economically and where it probably impacted the most, socially. This period lead
to a transformation in the classes of society, with the rise of merchants who with
their wealth created a culture and lifestyle of extravagance for themselves.
However Samurais (especially those in low rank) who borrowed from the
merchants became at the mercy of them; a factor, which later contributes to the
overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate.