Tokugawa Shogunate


The Tokugawa's strong centralized government once allowed the Feudal society to overcome environmental adversity. However, the Tokugawa bureaucratic government's reaction to the introduction of Christianity is ultimately what brought the once great civilization to rubble.
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Background Information

The Tokugawa Shogunate was a period of time between 1600-1868 in Japan. The Tokugawa government was centralized, and consequently very strong. It created a universal system of measures and weights, as well as currency. The Tokugawa Shogunate's government was part of the reason it lasted so long. When faced with adversity, it would come up with a legitimate answer that would work. The best example is when faced with the problem of deforestation. Being an island nation, the Shogunate needed many ships to trade successfully. This used up a lot of timber. So, the Shogunate used a method, known by Jared Diamond as the 'top-down' method, to solve this problem. The top down method is when a king gives all of his subjects orders to benefit the entire nation. So The people of the shogunate did as they were told, using less wood for ships, burning coal instead of wood, creating more efficient ovens, and scientifically reforesting areas in Japan until it became widely known as 'the green archipelago'. They were bureaucrats. And good ones, too. It was really 'my way or the highway' with them. However, Bureaucracy is a double edged sword. And the bureaucracy is also the reason they fell.

Class System

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The emperor was big man on campus, however, he actually had very little power to wield. He is analogous to the King and Queen of the UK. The Shogun were the real leaders. They had massive amounts of power. Not only did they control the government, they also were generals in the military. Beneath them were the Daimyo. They were the feudal lords of the Shogunate. Next are the famous Samurai, which was the name for the military of the period. The rest of the classes are for the most part self explanatory.

Introduction of Christianity and subsequent Consequences

The beginning of the end for the Tokugawa shogunate began with the introduction of Christianity by Portuguese traders. In an attempt to keep the nation unified, and to avoid change, the Shoguns started to cut off trade. This was okay, for a period, because the nation was self-sufficient. This was the correct move that they SHOULD have made. In Fact, they avoided a war between the Portuguese and Christians against the Samurai and the Neo-Confucians. However, they inadvertently kickstarted the downfall of their beloved nation that they were trying to save. When the shoguns cut off trade, imports weren't the only thing they were cutting off. Foreign inventions and ideas weren't flowing into Edo, either. And, at this time, as you may know, one invention that was being invented around this time was handheld guns. So, when the Portuguese decided to invade later in time, Samurai's Katana's were no match for musketballs.

...five groups of interacting factors have been especially important: the damage that people have inflicted on their environment; climate change; enemies; changes in friendly trading partners; and the society's political, economic and social responses to these shifts...

Jared Diamond's Thesis

Jared Diamond beliefs that there are five reasons for any civilization to collapse, as seen above. However, not all of them affect the Tokugawa's collapse. Damage to environment: the only instance of this was deforestation, which was handled very nicely using the top-down approach. There was no climate changed mentioned in any of the articles that I could find on the Tokugawa Shogunate. However, changes in trade occurred when they cut off all trade near the end. Theses changes in trade made it very very easy for the Shogunates enemies, the Portuguese Christians, to severely weaken the Shogunate. After this, things went rather downhill, until they eventually faded away.


In short, the bureaucracy of the SHogunates rule was what facilitated its rule, and is what brought Japan out of the dark ages, and into the highly advance nation that it is today. However, it's strong government made a tough decision: cutting itself off from the rest of the world. Because of this mega-strong bureaucracy, it was possible, and it was done. However, keeping the traders out, kept foreign ideas out, including the invention of the gun, the tool that eventually shot the Shogunate out of the sky.


Bornmann, Gregory, and Carl M. Bornmann. "Tokugawa Law: How It Contributed to the Economic Success of Japan." Journal of Kibi International University, School of International and Industrial Studies, 2014. Web. 02 Mar. 2014. Regarding currency, the Tokugawa Shogunate collapsed in the middle 1800's, and this article was published in 2002, and updated in 2014. It deals directly with the success of the Tokugawa Shogunate from an economical standpoint, something that could very well help me in my project. The writers were hired by their publisher, the International University at Kibi, which gives them authority to write an article like this. THis article is very well writed, without any determinable bias. There are no spelling errors in it, and it does ring true when cross referenced with other sources. The authors' point of view is clearly impartial, and the article was written to inform.

Diamond, Jared M. "Chapter 9: Opposite Paths to Success." Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005. 277-308. Print.

Gluck, Carol, Donald Keene, Robert B. Oxnam, Henry D. Smith, II, and H. P. Varley. "Asian Topics on Asia for Educators || Tokugawa Japan." Asian Topics on Asia for Educators || Tokugawa Japan. Columbia University, 2002. Web. 06 Mar. 2014. This information is as current as it gets for 200 year old information, electronically published in 2002, and last edited in 2014. This information is indeed relevant to the Tokugawa Shogunate and possible reasons for its collapse. These authors speak with firm yet oddly comforting authority. They all work at a Range of Universities as professors. When crossed-checked with other documents, the information appears to be spot on, without fault. And, finally, it's purpose is clearly to educate, and is presented without bias.

"Japan." The Ancient World: Civilizations of Asia and the Pacific. Ed. Eric H. Cline, Ph. D and Sarolta A. Takács, Ph. D. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2007. 59. Print. This book was found in the NCHS Library,and was selected to be useful for this specific project.