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Tokugawa Shogunate: History, Economy, Facts & Timeline

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  • 0:05 The Tokugawa Shogunate
  • 1:05 Rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate
  • 2:36 The Tokugawa Shogunate Economy
  • 3:01 Tokugawa Shogunate Society
  • 3:37 End of the Tokugawa Shogunate
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Teater

Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.

Explore the history, politics, and economics of the last medieval government in Japan: the Tokugawa Shogunate. Get a small glimpse of Japanese history just before the Meiji Restoration in this lesson.

The Tokugawa Shogunate

Can you imagine if your country shut out all influence and trade from the outside world, except maybe a couple nearby countries? Two hundred years later, what would it be like? Japan went through just this during the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Tokugawa Shogunate, which is sometimes also known as the Edo Period, was the last medieval government in Japan, just before the modernization of the Meiji Restoration. The Tokugawa Shogunate lasted from 1603 to 1867.

That being said, just because the Meiji Restoration was an era of modernization did not mean that Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate was primitive. During this close to 250 year period, the rulers, called shoguns, helped keep Japan in a long period of peace, influenced the wealth and power of the emerging merchant class, and helped to increase the number of people living in urban cities. The shoguns also worked to try and protect Japan from western influences, especially Christianity.

Rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate

By the 1500s much of the power in Japan was heavily divided, and feudal lords fought among themselves. One lord, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), was able to put an end to all the fighting when he won the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu used his victory to consolidate the power of the lords under himself. He was able to rule in this new system from his seat of power in Edo, or modern-day Tokyo.

He was named the first official shogun in 1603, thus beginning the Tokugawa Shogunate. During his reign (1603-1616), that of his son, Hidetada, and that of his grandson, Iemitsu, the shoguns were able to unify almost all political power in Japan under them, and prevented any of the local lords from amassing too much power.

Distrusting of Western Europe and its influence, the shoguns worked tirelessly to prevent too much western influence in Japan. This also meant a strong avoidance of anything to do with Christianity, and eventually led to a complete ban on all Christian missionaries entering the country.

Instead, the dominant religion in Japan was Confucianism. This suspicion of the western world also affected Japanese trade. After the Act of Seclusion in 1636, Japan did not trade at all with western countries for the next 200 years, with only a few small exceptions. They preferred to trade with other East Asian countries, especially China and Korea.

The Tokugawa Shogunate Economy

Japan at this time relied on its agricultural produce. Their primary crop was rice, but Japan also had a stronghold in crops such as sesame seed oil, indigo, sugar cane, mulberry, tobacco, and cotton. As a result, Japan's commerce and manufacturing economies were growing, leading to a rise in urban culture. Cities like Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo grew quickly under the Shogunate.

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