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Japan Under the Shogun. Chapter 13.

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Japan under the shogun

Japan Under the Shogun

Chapter 13

Japan under the shogun

  • The shogun, or military ruler of Japan, sent for Lord Asano and other nobles to meet with a representative of the emporer. A court official, Lord Kira was assigned to teach Asano the correct way to behave. What Asino didn’t give Kira a large enough payment for his help, Kira insulted him in front of the other nobles. Asano became angry, pulled his sword and cut Kira’s arm.

Japan under the shogun

Asano knew he had committed a forbidden act- he had drawn his sword in the Edo castle and wounded an important official. As a result on order of the shogun Asano took his own life.

Now that Lord Asano was dead, his 47 samurai became ronin, that is warriors without a master. They had lost their honour and their position in society. Out of loyalty to their master, they swore to avenge his death.

Japan under the shogun

They launched a surprise attack and killed Lord Kira in his home. They had fulfilled their duty in avenging their master, but duty now demanded they kill themselves.

The 47 ronin are buried side by side in Sengakuji Temple in Tokyo. Today, they are remembered as great heroes in Japan.

Power and control

Power and Control

They say that “to understand the story of the 47 ronin is to understand Japan.”

What stories in Canadian history might help people in other countries understand Canada?

The story of ronin took place during the Edo or Tokugawa period of Japanese history, which lasted from 1600 to 1868. Edo the present day city of Tokyo was the capital and the Tokugawa shogun were the rulers.

Japan under the shogun

In the hundred years war before the Edo period, Japan was locked in constant warfare. Powerful landowners, nobles known as daimyo competed with one another for territory and power.

Unifying the land

Unifying the Land

Tokugawa Ieyasu became the most powerful man in Japan after he defeated a rival daimyo and generals in a great battle.

Three years later in 1603, the emporer made him the shogun. This means he technically ruled the land, the shogun really held all the power.

Control the daimyo

In order to hold onto power he needed to create a strong shogunate where no one would challenge him or his descendants.

He wanted to create a long lasting government

How? By controlling the daimyo.

Control the Daimyo

How to control the daimyo

How to control the Daimyo

  • Alternate attendance: Every second year the daimyo

    had to live in Edo. The cost was high to go back and forth. They were essentially hostages to the shogun. If there was any rumours of a plot of uprising family members would be killed.

Japan under the shogun

2. Sharing Power: The bakuhan of two levels of government was established. The shogunate was similar to our federal government that controlled foreign matters. The daimyo controlled local affairs.

Japan under the shogun

3. Strict Laws: Laws established by the shogunate controlled many aspects of the daimyo’s lives such as dress and marriage. The daimyo had to pay for projects in their territory such as roads and buildings.

Power struggle

Increasing Shogun P

Banned peasants from having weapons

Network of secret police to watch population

¼ of land owned by shogun

Decreasing Daimyo’s P

Without weapons peasants were useless to fight daimyo

Needing permission to marry or to change castles the daimyo couldn’t build up defences

Local daimyo were given villages to govern, collect taxes, keep order and build and protect from floods, natural disasters

Power Struggle

A feudal society

A Feudal Society

  • Hiearchy similar to Renaissance Europe


    The Nobility

    The Samurai


    Rigid social structure to help the shogun rule. Membership was hereditary (by birth). People couldn’t change situation but some did by hard work, talent or gaining wealth.

Roles in society

Roles in Society

  • 216 strict rules of regulating dress

    Example: Upper class women had to wear 12 silk kimono

    with all the right colors showing. Peasants were

    not allowed to wear silks.

The samurai

The Samurai

  • Like knights of the feudal system. Samurai were much respected warrior class.

  • During the Edo period they lived in castle towns controlled by the shogun or daimyo.

  • Only the Samurai owned swords.

  • Many subdivisions in the Samurai ranks.

  • The lowest were the ronin (samurai without masters)

  • Forbidden to be involved with trade or business

  • Policed towns, collected taxes, keeping order

  • Samurai code was to live simple and thrifty lives (they had little choice)



  • Farmers considered important in Edo Japan (FOOD)

  • Laws controlled every aspect of their lives

  • Forbidden to smoke tobacco or drink saki (rice wine)

  • Special permission to travel

  • Similar to rules imposed on Canada’s First Nations not allowed to leave reserves for work and required a signed permission by an Indian agent



  • Craftspeople or artisans

  • Lived in towns and cities

  • Had to take on parents artisan if born an artisan

  • Objects: paper, porcelains, containers, clocks and pans

  • Extremely skilled but lower than peasants. Since they weren’t primary producers (of food)



  • Bought items from artisans to trade and sell

  • Arranged for shipping/ distributions of food

  • Stored rice/ used as currency (money) so they were considered also bankers

  • At the bottom of the social order since they didn’t actually produce anything

  • Had to live cautiously and not show off wealth

  • Government could take over their business or punish them

Women in edo society

Women in Edo Society

  • Born into a class that determined responsibilities

  • Samurai women were expected to teach young samurai

  • Women in rural areas were more free than upper class women

  • Peasant women worked the fields, planted and harvested crops, gathered wood, raised silk worms.

  • Women were always considered lower than men.

  • Women had no legal existance in the Edo period.

  • They could not own property.

A women s duties

A Women’s Duties

A samurai textbook from the Tokugawa period had this to say about the wife’s duty to her husband

A woman must think of her husband as her lord, and she must serve him reverently….In her dealings with her husband, her facial expressions and her language should be courteous, humble, and yielding. She should never be peevish or obstinate, never rude or arrogant. When her husband issues instructions, she must never disobey them….A woman should look on her husband as if he were heaven itself.

Fast forward two modern princesses

Princess Sayako is the daughter of Japan’s emporer. Upon her marriage she was forced to give up her imperial title and become a commoner. In Japan she is not allowed to be emporer. At the time many people thought Japan’s imperial system was unfair to women. Princess Masako is married to Princess Sayako’s older brother. For years she was pressured to have a male son. She stepped down from her duties caused by stress.

Fast Forward Two Modern Princesses

Outside edo society

Outside Edo Society

  • Outcasts were people who were shunned by other classes.

  • They usually had dangerous jobs that involved death

    Example leather tanners, butchers, animal disposers

  • Under Tokugawa system they lived apart and not allowed to change jobs.

  • The Ainu were separate from the feudal system

  • They have always been excluded from Japanese society

  • In 1997 they were officially recognized and some of their culture was protected and supported

Ainu rights

The definition of Ainu is too narrow as language, music, dance, crafts

Does nothing to reverse years of discrimination

Ainu Rights

Honour and duty

Extremely important in Japanese society. Example the story of the ronin. Obedience to authority was important, but avenging their masters death was more important than the law.

Honour and Duty

Toward a harmonious society

Toward a Harmonious Society

The Tokugawa shogun did not create the Japanese social structure. However they used its values and social controls to support their rule. Social controls are the rules and customs in a society that regulate people’s behaviour. The purpose of social controls is to maintain order in a society.

Teachings of confucianism

Teachings of Confucianism

  • Important role in Japanese society (class distinctions)

  • Confucius was a chinese scholar brought over by Buddhist monks

  • Taught everyone that they had a place in society

  • If everyone took that place there would be peace and order

  • Famous saying “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”

Duties of confucianism

Duties of Confucianism




Older BrotherYounger Brother



To be wise, leader to obey

To support and provide to respect

To protectto honour



  • In Edo Japan, samurai schools and commoners stressed Confucian ideals of duty, especially what is called filial piety, or faithfulness and devotion to parents.

Group responsibility and shame

Group Responsibility and Shame

As masters of the farmers, artisans, merchants…the samurai used their power to keep order.

They organized lower classes into groups of five families called goningumi. Members of these groups were supposed to help each other. Each person was considered responsible for the behavior in their group. Everyone in the group could be punished if one was disobediant, did not show respect or work hard enough.

First contact with west

First Contact with West

  • Known as Southern Barbarians. Portugese explorers who set up trading posts.

  • 1543 a shipwrecked ship off the shore of Japan.

  • Known as the Southern Barbarians because they came from the south.

  • Followed by Spanish and Dutch, then Christian Missionaries.

  • At first favourable impressions but many differences (cultural and religious)

  • Portugese society (Renaissance) had humanist values and ideals, favoured competition, the individual and a more flexible social structure

New kind of belief

New Kind of Belief

  • 1549 Missions were sent to convert Samurai, upper classes and the daimyo

  • Franciscan priests worked with the poor and lower classes

  • Japanese believed in Shinto and Kami and Confucianism

  • Some basic similarities to Christianity

  • Both had ethical codes rules about right and wrong

    Example both believed murder and stealing were wrong

  • Idea of one god was new to the Japanese

  • Christians taught loyalty should be to God not a hiearchy

  • The Shogunate knew right away that Christianity stood for very different beliefs to the ones that were considered essential for Japanese identity.



  • Why is it hard for a ruler to hold onto power through military strength alone?

  • Think of rulers you have previously studies and modern political leaders. How do they hold onto power?

  • How were the lives of farmers in Edo Japan similar to the peasants of medieval Europe?

  • Swordsmiths were the most honoured of all artisans. What does this suggest about the Japanese worldview?

  • How do the instructions of women in Edo Japan compare with your ideas about the relationship between a husband and wife in Canada today?

  • Today in many modern societies, women and men are equal. Why do you think royal institutions are slow to catch up to modern attitudes?

  • Brainstorm your responsibilities in Canadian society. How are they enforced?

  • Why is it important for a government to maintain order?

  • Confucius said “I am not the one who was born in possession of knowledge, I am the one who is fond of antiquity and seeking it there?” What aspect of Renaissance humanism does this saying reflect?



10. How might being a member of a small group benefit people in society? How might it affect people’s behaviour if they knew that everyone in their group would be punished for their wrong behaviour?

11. What rules exist in your school and in your classroom to ensure harmony? Which rules would you change and why?

12. Based on what you know of Japanese society why might the Portugese be considered barbarians?

13. How do you think the daimyo would feel about Christian beliefs? How might it be different from the way a Japanese commoner would respond to ideas?

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