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Japan - 03

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Japan - 03

The Edo period or Tokugawa period, is a division of Japanese history running from 1603 to 1868 and is the premodern era. The period marks the governance of the Edo or Tokugawa shogunate, which was officially established in 1603 by the first Edo shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. The period ended with the Meiji Restoration, the restoration of imperial rule by the 15th and last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The Edo period is also known as the beginning of the early modern period of Japan.

After a long period of inner conflict, the first goal of the newly established Tokugawa government was to pacify the country. It created a balance of power that remained (fairly) stable for the next 250 years, influenced by Confucian principles of social order. Most samurai lost their direct possession of the land: all land ownership was concentrated in the hands of the about 300 daimyo. The samurai had a choice: Give up their sword and become peasants, or move to the city of their feudal lord and become a paid retainer. Only a few land samurai remained in the border provinces of the north, or as direct vassals of the shogun, the 5,000 so-called hatamoto. The daimyo were put under tight control of the shogunate. Their families had to reside in Edo; the daimyo themselves had to reside in Edo for one year and in their province (han) for the next. This system was called sankin kotai.

During the Tokugawa period, the social order, based on inherited position rather than personal merits, was rigid and highly formalized. At the top were the Emperor and Court nobles (kuge), together with the Shogun and daimyo. Below them the population was divided into four classes in a system known as mibunsei: the samurai on top (about 5% of the population) and the peasants (more than 80% of the population) on the second level. Below the peasants were the craftsmen, and even below them, on the fourth level, were the merchants. Only the peasants lived in the rural areas. Samurai, craftsmen and merchants lived in the cities that were built around the daimyo's castles, each restricted to their own quarter.

Outside the four classes were the so-called eta and hinin, those whose professions broke the taboos of Buddhism. Eta were butchers, tanners and undertakers. Hinin served as town guards, street cleaners and executioners. Other outsiders included the beggars, entertainers, and prostitutes. The word eta literally translates to "filthy" and hinin to "non-humans", a thorough reflection of the attitude held by other classes that the eta and hinin were not even people. Hinin were only allowed inside a special quarter of the city. The actors usually travelled in groups from one village to another, performing in each city then moving to the next. It was completely lawful to kill a hinin for no reason. Sometimes eta villages weren't even printed on official maps.

The individual had no legal rights in Tokugawa Japan. The family was the smallest legal entity, and the maintenance of family status and privileges was of great importance at all levels of society. For example, the Edo period penal laws prescribed "non-free labor" or slavery for the immediate family of executed criminals in Article 17 of the Gotōke reijō (Tokugawa House Laws), but the practice never became common. The 1711 Gotōke reijō was compiled from over 600 statutes promulgated between 1597 and 1696.

Kyoto, view from Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kyoto, view from Kiyomizu-dera temple

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