Tokugawa and Edo Period (Poster presentation notes)

A few notes from a poster presentation I did about the Tokugawa family and the Edo Period.

History of the Tokugawa Family

Matsudaira Motoyasu (later Tokugawa Ieyasu) was born into a powerful clan which traces its history back to the Minamoto clan during the Heian period (794-1185) and the Ashikaga Shogunate in the 1330s. During the Sengoku period Motoyasu changed his name to Tokugawa Ieyasu who became the most famous person of the Matsudaira clans. The Tokugawa crest originates from the Matsudaira clan and was modified to its current shape by Ieyasu’s father Hirotada. It consists of three hollyhock leaves which said to bow to the sun and regarded as a symbol of the loyal retainer who dutifully obeys his lord. The crest is only used by direct descendants of Ieyasu. Ieyasu used the truth of his family genealogy and history to justify that he was the only true leader of Japan after the Sengoku wars.

Tokugawa crest

Sakoku, Edicts and Trade

The Closed Country Edict of 1635 was finalised Ieyasu’s grandson, Iemitsu Tokugawa. The central government’s strict legislation was forced upon the Japanese people and those wanting to trade and enter Japan. The initial draft of the edict was initiated by Ieyasu in 1603. Despite common misconceptions about the so called isolation period by Western historians who have traditionally emphasized the negative aspects of the Sakoku period, this was not entirely true. The Sakoku period was not designed to isolate Japan but to keep the Tokugawa bakufu firmly in a position of unassailable domination over trade profits, religion and the consumer markets that were rapidly growing. Although trade with Europe was halted, trade with The Dutch, China and Korea flourished.


Soon after the 1603 victory at Sekigahara Tokugawa Ieyasu politically eliminated all potential opposition and moved regional daimyo (feudal lords) and their families to Edo. All regional daimyo swore an oath of allegiance to him to ensure total loyalty. Daimyo owned and controlled lands became a part of the new Japanese Empire which was then re-distributed among faithful Tokugawa daimyo. The Tokugawa bakufu then drew its wealth through a tax for rice cultivated in their individual domains. This had never happened before in Japanese history.


Art and Sumo

After years of war the Tokugawa period brought a time of stability. Art, religion and culture all flourished. Ukiyo-E (woodblock) prints as seen here on this poster was probably the most famous of Japanese art of the Tokugawa. Artists such as Ando Hiroshige produced a series of prints called “The Fifty Three Stations of the Tokaido “and “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” were immensely popular. Sumo wrestling became a popular sport again after the warring period and although it had been around since the Nara period (646-1185) the wrestling had been mainly a spiritual event closely tied with the rice harvest. With the growth of the merchant class in the Tokugawa, people suddenly had money to burn. Illegal sumo tournaments were being held all over Japan and in 1684 the Shogunate gave permission for an official, well structured and peaceful day of fighting. This was the beginning of modern Sumo wrestling.

Revolts and Uprisings

Despite the success of the merchant class and their rise up the social class to become a wealthy and integral part of society the peasants and farmers still had a hard time on the land. High taxes, famine and the migration of workers and samurai to the cities were all heartaches for peasants. From the Tempo era in 1830 famines, revolts and uprisings start to increase. The Tokugawa bakufu was finding it hard to deal with the rise of civil disorders. Some historians such as Harold Bolitho believe that the years of famine, high taxes and the lack of positive land reforms lead to these uprisings culminating in the Meiji Restoration. However Marius Jansen believes that it was the weak standing of the Tokugawa bakufu against foreigners and the signing of unequal treaties such as the Harris treaty of 1858 with the U.S that had the samurai and elite class worried of too much foreign influence in Japan. The Tokugawa and elite class knew of the British and French in China and SE Asia and many of the anti Tokugawa groups thought that the bakufu was not strong enough to deal with this threat which leads to rebellion and eventual overthrow of the Tokugawa in 1868.

The finished poster, I hope you like it.