The Edo period also known as the Tokugawa period is the period between 1603-1868 in the Japanese history when Japan was under the Tokugawa Shogunate rule who had divided the country into 300 regions known as Daimyos. Tokugawa leyasu officially opened the era on March, 24, 1603 while Tokugawa yoshinobu resigned on May, 3 1868 after the Meiji restoration. The Tokugawa family ruled Japan from their base in Edo (currently Tokyo). The post of Emperor was more ceremonial during the Edo era (Patricia 60).
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Tokugawa leyasu supported foreign trade but he was also suspicious of the influence of the outsiders during the pre-Edo period; Japan underwent the Nanban trade era during which the intense interaction with the European powers took place, namely, economic and religious. Trade restrictions, Christian missionary execution and Spanish expulsion were some of the restrictions that were enforced. The Closed Country Edict in 1635 was the climax of all the restrictions because of the following:
- Set highly strict regulations to minimize the movement of people into and out of the Japanese territory; death penalty was the consequence.
- Catholicism and all Christian practices were forbidden; Missionaries were also barred from entering Japan, and harsh sentences were drawn for those who entered.
- Trade restrictions were set; trade along ports was consequently limited. Portuguese relations with Japan were completely cut off (Alfred 138).
The Edo period was marked by the urban culture in Japan, for instance, Edo became the largest city on earth during those times with a population of 1.2 million residents as compared to the second largest place, London, with 800,000 residents. The period also experienced the rise of entertainment culture such as theaters or humorous novels.
Ordinary residents were also able to gain access to print media following the polychrome woodblocks development. People were also interested in learning more about Europe and all its sciences, commonly known as “Dutch learning” despite the minimal contact between Japan and the Western world (Alfred 100).
Arrival of Matthew Calbraith Perry and his four-ship fleet along the Edo Bay in July 1853 marked the end of the seclusion period in Japan. Japan finally accepted Perry’s demands to ending seclusion and opening up to foreign trade, consequently, the Treaty of Kanagawa that opened-up two ports (Hakodate and the port of Shimoda) to foreign American ships was signed (Administration, United States. National Archives and Records 1-4).
Five years after the Treaty of Kanagawa, the Harris treaty was signed between Japan and the US. The Kanagawa treaty became a catalyst factor of internal conflicts, which were only solved after the Tokugawa shogunate’s fall; similar agreements were negotiated by European powers such as Russia, the United Kingdom and France. (William 4)
After 250 years rule over Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate turned the Japanese nation into a united cohesive nation with the mushrooming of many urban centers across Japan, for example, Edo became the largest and most populated city on earth with 1.2 million residents; Japan also experienced some artistic as well as intellectual development during this period.
On the other hand, the seclusion policy undermined all the good things that are associated with the rule; it is a policy that consistently haunted the Tokugawa rule, and finally led to its fall as the Japanese opted for a more open Meiji restoration that allowed all forms of Western culture to freely penetrate into Japan without necessarily having to restrict them.
Administration, United States. National Archives and Records. The Treaty of Kanagawa: Setting the Stage for Japanese-American Relations. New York City: National Archives and Records Administration, 2003. Print.
Alfred J. Andrea, and James H. Overfield. The Human Record, Volume II: Sources of Global History: Since 1500. London: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Anne Walthall, and James Palais. East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Tokyo: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.
William C. Middlebrooks. Beyond Pacifism: Why Japan Must Become a Normal Nation: Why Japan Must Become a Normal Nation. New York City: ABC-CLIO, 2008. Print.