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Early History of Japan: The Battle for the Surrendered Realm Essay

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Updated: Dec 28th, 2019


The battle of Sekigahara, also called “The Battle for the Surrendered Realm” took place in the early 17th century. Sekigahara was the gate or passage between The East and West of Japan. It was believed that whoever had jurisdiction over this portion ran the whole of Japan.

The battle of Sekigahara is generally referred to as the last of the major conflicts of the Azuchi–Momoyama period. On 21st October 1600, it was decisive in clearing the path to the shogunate for Tokaguwa. It is after this battle that the Japanese people enjoyed a two hundred and fifty year period of peace (Bohner 283).

The warring states period, also referred to as the Sengoku period in the history of Japan was a period of political intrigue, social upheaval and an almost constant military conflict which roughly lasted from the mid 15th century to the early 17th century.

At the beginning of the 5th century, misery and suffering that had been caused by natural disasters, such as famines and earthquakes triggered armed rebellion by farmers who were weary of taxes and debts. This led to the Onin war that was rooted in the economic distress brought about by shogunal succession disputes. This is how the warring states period began.

The eastern and western armies and their allies fought around Kyoto for 11 years then it later spread to the outlying provinces. This period eventually led to political power unification under the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The floating world, also referred to as Ukiyo is a term that was used to describe the aspect of seeking for pleasure in the urban lifestyle in the Tokugawa or Edo-period Japan. This was between 1600 and 1867, the 250 years that Japan enjoyed relative peace.

The culture of the floating world developed in the red light district of Edo called Yoshiwara. In this location were many brothels, kabuki theaters and chashitsu tea houses, which were visited frequently by the growing middleclass population of Japan. This culture spread to other cities including Kyoto and Osaka (Lockard 543).

Kabuki is a Japanese classical dance drama performed in Kabuki theatres. It is defined as the art of dancing and singing. It is characterized by a unique elaborate make up put on by its performers and drama stylization. It was created around 1600 by a shrine maiden called Okuni, from Izumo shrine.

In the early days, it was comprised of dances performed by women, most of who were prostitutes off stage. This is the reason that women were banned by the government, as an effort to protect public morals.

The Treaty of Kanagawa is the agreement that was signed on March 31st 1854 by Commodore Perry in Tokyo after a period of discussions between the United States’ president Millard Fillmore and Japanese officials. The terms of the treaty involved the protection the protection of American seamen by Japan. It also involved the opening of two ports, Shimoda and Hokodate for provisioning and fuelling of American ships.

Japan also granted the United States permission to appoint its consuls, who could live in the port cities. The treaty of Kanagawa consequently led to Japan opening up to carry out trades with the United States of America and the West, after over two hundred years of closure.

Tokugawa Japan

The Tokugawa shoguns dominated the Edo period, which saw Japan enjoy two hundred and fifty years of peace. This was after the warring states period and Tokugawa Ieyasu was in power and had been granted the Shogun status. Ieyasu and his descendants adapted policies which ensured political and social order, as well as order in international relations.

Most of the local territorial lords (daimyos) were politically united during the Tokugawa period. This prompted the application of the peace and unification policy. In order to weaken the daimyos’ political force, they were forced to spend half of their duty time in Edo. This enabled the Tokugawa to keep a close watch over them, to understand both their plans and activities.

The frequent up and down movement between Edo and the daimyo’s home territories was a Tokugawa strategy. It put an enormous financial strain on the daimyo, making them no match to the Tokugawa allies. It also distorted their focus on building a large military. To weaken them further, the daimyos were prohibited from building ships and castles. These reasons were instrumental for bringing and maintaining peace in Japan.

A strict seclusion policy in Tokugawa was enforced. This targeted the Christian missionaries, whom the Shogunate was against because he considered Christianity to be destabilizing and it made the new central leaders of Japan uneasy.

They feared that increased loyalty to a foreign based church and religion could pose a threat to their leadership (Deal 13). Strict social reforms were also enforced by Tokugawa. This was done by the creating of a rigid caste system of peasants, samurais and merchants. Among these groups, the samurais were the only ones that were allowed to carry weapons. This was a caste that no one else would change.

The Tokugawa Shogunate enforced a policy by the name Kaikin, which prohibited Japan’s contact with most of the other outside countries. His limited the influence and interference of the outside world to the Japanese culture and cultural beliefs (Laver 1).

During Tokugawa, there was a significant development in Japan. There was the development of castle towns, thriving cities and an increase in commoditization in agriculture. Groundwork for modernization was laid through an increase in concomitant print culture and increase in literacy.

Japan In Turmoil

American Commodore Matthew Perry sailed his four ships up to the Tokyo bay harbor with the aim of seeking a re-establishment of regular trade with America. This was the fist time after more than two hundred years that Japan had prohibited trade between itself and the western world.

Initially, Perry sailed to the Bonin and Ryukyus islands located southeast and southwest of the main islands of Japan. This step enabled him gain territory for the United States of America and seek help from the natives of these two islands. After the Ryukyus and Bonin islands, he sailed northwards to Edo bay. With him was a letter from the president of the United States addressed to the Japanese emperor.

Addressing the letter to the emperor demonstrated the United States’ lack of knowledge on the government and society of Japan. During that time, the leadership of Japan was under the Tokugawa Shogunate, ad the emperor’s power was insignificant.

According to the US Department of State article titled The United States and the Opening to Japan, 1853, Perry’s arrival in the Japanese waters with a squadron of U.S navy ships was aimed at displaying America’s willingness to use its advanced firepower. This, they believed, was the only way they could convince the Japanese authorities to accept trade with the western nations.

Perry also carried along wit him various gifts for the Emperor in Japan. The gifts included a telescope, a telegraph a working steam locomotive model and a variety of liquors from the west. These gifts were intended to show Japan the superiority of the western culture.

Perry’s mission was to complete the agreement of the United States with the Government of Japan for the protection of stranded or shipwrecked Americans. In addition to this, one or more ports for supplies and refueling were to be opened. Perry’s display of audacity and the readiness of using force in the approach into Tokyo’s forbidden waters prompted the Japanese authorities to accept President Fillmore’s letter.

Perry retuned the following spring to receive Japan’s answer, with an even bigger squadron. The Japanese grudgingly accepted his demands and it is then that the Kanagwa treaty was signed. This treaty prompted the opening up of Japan to trade with the other western countries.

Despite the reluctance displayed by Japan in opening its ports to the modern trade, the trade gave Japan an access to modern technological development. When it opened up to the world, Japan was able to modernize its military by obtaining more advanced equipment. This enabled it to rise into the strongest Asian power in the pacific.

The forcing of Japan by America ad other western powers to indulge into modern commercial interactions worked alongside other internal factors to weaken Tokugawa Shogunate’s position to a point that led to the shogun falling out of power. Thus, the emperor gained control of the country in the 1868 Meiji restoration. This was followed by long term effects in the modernization and rule in Japan.

Works Cited

Bohner, Hermann. “The Battle of Sekigahara.” libweb. Libweb. Web.

Deal, William. Handbook to life in medieval and early modern Japan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

Laver, Michael. The Sakoku Edicts and the Politics of Tokugawa Hegemony. New York: Cambria Press, 2011. Print.

Lockard, Craig. Lockard’s Societies, Networks, and Transitions since 1450: A Global History. Massachusetts: Cengage Learning, 2007. Print.

U.S. Department of State. “The United States and the Opening to Japan, 1853.” U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State. Web.

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IvyPanda. "Early History of Japan: The Battle for the Surrendered Realm." December 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/early-japan/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Early History of Japan: The Battle for the Surrendered Realm." December 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/early-japan/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Early History of Japan: The Battle for the Surrendered Realm'. 28 December.

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