Changes and Continuities in Japan (1450-1750)
Tokuga was hogunateIn the period between 1450 and 1750, Japan underwent many changes in its political and social structure. After a period of chaos, a powerful family rose up and took control of the nation, establishing a new Shogunate and bringing a period of peace and stability to Japan. In the 1450s, Japan was a place of turmoil and unrest. Angered by the high rents they had to pay, peasants began revolting against their lords. To quell this chaos, the lords began hiring samurai to put down the rebellions.
Taking advantage of the situation, the samurai began making demands of these lords so that by the end of these revolts, most of the new daimyo were former samurai. With these new daimyo in power, they began to clash with one another. This infighting erupted into a civil war that eventually ended with no apparent victor. This became known as the “Era of Independent Lords”.
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Then, in the 1500s, a new kind of warfare was introduced to Japan. Europeans began arriving in Japan, bringing with them gunpowder weapons. With that kind of power in their hands, more conflicts flared up between daimyo.
By the end of the sixteenth century, though, a lord named Hideyoshi had control over most of Japan. But with his sudden death, the other feudal lords began struggling for power. Finally, a man named Ieyasu Tokugawa came out the victor, making himself the shogun and establishing the Tokugawa Shogunate. With the arrival of the Tokugawa shoguns, came a more centralized government. While the shoguns allowed the daimyo to rule their local areas, the shoguns still had complete control over the daimyo. This meant that the authority of the shogun extended from lord to peasant.
Thanks to the policies and structural stability of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan experienced a time of peace and prosperity. With increased trade and economic activity, the usage of paper money increased. To keep track of the flow of money, banks were created. As a result, merchants—once considered an inferior class—began amassing wealth to rival that of the daimyo. The rise of the merchant class caused towns and villages to evolve into bustling urban centers. Despite all these changes, a few things did remain constant throughout this period.
Even with various lords vying for power and with the creation of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the emperor still remained at the top of the social pyramid. However, like always, he was nothing more than a figurehead with no real governing authority. The Tokugawa held all the power. Also, throughout this period, Neo-Confucianism remained deeply seated in Japanese culture. The Tokugawa were able to use this to keep their subjects in line. Stressing duty and acceptance of fate, Neo-Confucianism became a handy tool for the shoguns.
Another consistency was Japan’s attitude toward the outside world. While the Japanese were interested in European science, they still view themselves as superior. Eventually, this would turn into isolationism that would prove hazardous for Japan. In the years between 1450 and 1750, Japan went from chaos and disorder to a prosperous nation. With the emergence of the Tokugawa Shogunate and their new policies, came a thriving merchant class and a period of peace. But, aspects such as Neo-Confucianism and isolationism remained part of culture and society.