Tokugawa Shogunate Collapse

Andrew Gibbens


Despite overcoming multiple obstacles throughout their reign of power, the Tokugawa Shogunate ultimately collapsed due to the demolition of their own environment, the extreme overpopulation that followed, meanwhile having socio-economic issues which eventually let the government become corrupt, requiring them to rely far too much on their neighboring civilizations for resources to help sustain their already doomed collapse.

Overpopulation Issues

The people in Tokugawa shogunate's Japan often had to deal with problems that came with the high population that they tried to maintain. This growth in population was due to several key factors, examples included: peaceful conditions (in other words safe from other societies or no real threat), relative freedom from disease epidemics that were happening in Europe and other major continents during the time (due to Japan's isolation from other societies), and increased agricultural production of irrigated rice and other crops. As the population grew, the cities grew faster, and eventually by 1720, Edo, the capital of Tokugawa Japan had become the world's most populated city. This however, was not necessarily a good thing, with having more people, it meant that there were more mouthes needing to be fed, and so a shortage of food for the people came as no surprise. The shortages of space to grow food due to problems like soil erosion, led to a decrease in numbers of crops being produced at a time of an increasing population. This then led to a major famine that was spread across Japan, and given their isolation their weren't any societies that would help them. The Tokugawa shogunate were fortunately able to bring their population to a stable number that they could handle over the course of the next two hundred years, but they were no where near to solving all of the problems that currently were existing.

Deforestation Issues

Deforestation had a huge impact on the Japanese and was surely one of the main reasons Tokugawa Shogunate declined. During their reign, which was known as the edo period, the people of the Tokugawa Shogunate civilization built their houses out of somewhat unorthodox materials at the time. Although common today, before the Tokugawa Shogunate, wood was less commonly used compared to brick, cement, and stone. However the Japanese decided that these materials were usually difficult to make, and there was a large amount of wood, wood became the most logically choice at the time. After using wood for a generation, people noticed that not only was it easy to get, it was also much more aesthetically pleasing. This increased the use of wood even more leaving the soil of the deforested areas unsuitable for growth of new trees. Overtime, wood became scarce due to all the construction with it. This became a large environmental problem as wood was needed for shelter, warmth, and for heating raw food during the winter months. Due to the lack of wood quarrels began to break out causing chaos and commotion between the government and its people. Resulting in the Tokugawa forests becoming barren.

Over Reliance Towards Others

The Tokugawa Shogunate isolated themselves when they prohibited foreign travel and most trade between other societies. While the Tokugawa Shogunate were isolated, Japan at first was able to meet most domestic needs and were self-sufficient in food, timber (wood), and most metals. Unfortunately because of their need for resources, they had a scarce amount of food and timber left after a short period of time, this was due to the population boom within the country. Japan began to rely on their island neighbors to give them certain supplies, such as sugar and spices, medicines, 160 tons per year of luxury woods, Chinese silk, deerskin, lead, and materials used for creating gunpowder. During the isolation Japan also almost destroyed all of its relations to other nations, because they did not maintain international diplomatic relations and they did not attempt invasions or military contact of any kind after two unsuccessful raid attempts on Korea. The Tokugawa Shogunate, later were required to depend on other nation's supplies when they ran out of their own. They got to the point where they were both not solving their problems, and digging themselves into a deeper hole each time they ignored or unsuccessfully attempted to solve them.

Religious Factors

After the many years it took to build a stable society, the rulers of Japan made it a goal to prevent any potential rebellion. Leader Hideyoshi, a ruler from the Tokugawa Shogunate and influential character from the Edo period, planned to ban all Spanish and Portuguese Catholic missionaries after their attempt to convert Japanese people to Christianity. Another ruler, Ieyasu, saw the Christians as a threat to his power. This prompted him to end all Christianity. To start this process he tried to send his message by executing a few Japanese converters, this worsened the issue and it prevented any trade with Europe. These lynchings also resulted in the Shimabara Rebellion, going on from 1637 to 1683 but was soon crushed by the Tokugawa forces. In 1614, Ieyasu created the Christian Expulsion Act which ended all Christianity activity throughout the empire. To secure themselves, the shogun also limited trade to strictly the Dutch. This added to the collapse of the Empire because Japan can not trade with many countries to create revenue after the disappearance of Christianity. Additionally, the spread of Christianity took away even more Japanese traditions that kept the country stable and at peace with their culture.


Although, the bureaucracy of the Tokugawa Shogunate's reign of power was what facilitated its rule, and turned it into the highly advance civilization that it is currently. Huge issues occurred along the way but were later deemed useful for Japan as it used it's previous mistakes and eventually rose and became the nation that everyone knows today.