Saturday, December 17, 2011

No. 2: Ieyasu Tokugawa: the end of the age of civil wars (December 18, 2011)

Ieyasu  Tokugawa 
Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616) established his government in 1603. Coincidentally, it is the same year that Queen Elizabeth the First passed away in Great Britain. As is often the case, one has gone, and one is born. His greatest achievement is that he brought an end to the age of civil wars. He is often said to have only completed the ideas created by Nobunaga Oda who is the most innovative and creative warlord in the Japanese history, but it is not too much to say that he successfully built the foundation for the unity of Japanese under the name of peace. 

The Tokugawa government is associated with the policy of national isolation, but we have to take note that it never used the phrase national isolation. What the Tokugawa government tried to do was to prevent Japanese from being affected by Christianity that was militant in those days. That is why the Netherlands, a country of Protestants, was allowed to do business with Japanese in Nagasaki Prefecture. Anyway, national isolation helped the government last for such a long period of 265 years. And the peace-loving mindset of Japanese can originate in the peaceful period under the Tokugawa regime.

The Tokugawa government did not need military force because of the lasting peace for the 265 years. This is because it was so stunned by the arrival of four steam ships led by Matthew Calbraith Perry of the United States in 1853. Reflecting the easy-going policy of being satisfied with peace, the Meiji government hastily built up military strength to catch up with Western countries. The radical reform changed the mindset of Japanese in some ways and resulted in the disaster in 1945, and now Japanese proclaim the importance of peace. History repeats itself. 

He is a great leader, but he failed to work out measures for samurai warriors. In a sense, Ieyasu Tokugawa established his government entirely thanks to the efforts of his samurai warriors. Nonetheless, he sacrificed them for the sake of peace. However, abandoning samurai warriors was the right policy to promote peace across the country, however ruthless and merciless it was. To make up for the sacrifice of samurai warriors, the Tokugawa government categorized Japanese people into four classes and gave the samurai warriors the highest class of the four. The profession of samurai was followed by agriculture, industry, and commerce in this order. 

In the age of civil wars, samurai warriors fought for a reward that was usually land. However, as population grew, land for allocation to samurai warriors for reward grew smaller and there were scarcely any more land for allocation around the time when Ieyasu Tokugawa opened his government. Actually, the Tokugawa government had no way but to sacrifice samurai warriors to promote peace throughout Japan. In any event, the determination to promote peace seems to have affected the mindset of Japanese seeking eagerly for peace, like it or not.   

Reproduced cityscape in the Edo period

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