Following the Sengoku Period of "warring states", central government had been largely re-established by Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi during the Azuchi-Momoyama period. After the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, central authority fell to Tokugawa Ieyasu who completed this process and received the title of shogun in 1603. In order to become shogun, one traditionally was a descendant of the ancient Minamoto clan.
The Tokugawa period, unlike the shogunates before it, was supposedly based on the strict class hierarchy originally established by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The warrior-caste of samurai were at the top, followed by farmers, artisans, and traders. The inflexible nature of the Social stratification system unleashed disruptive forces over time. Taxes on the peasantry were set at fixed amounts which did not account for inflation or other changes in monetary value. As a result, the tax revenues collected by the samurai landowners were worth less and less over time. This often led to numerous confrontations between noble but impoverished samurai and well-to-do peasants, ranging from simple local disturbances to much bigger rebellions. None, however, proved compelling enough to seriously challenge the established order until the arrival of foreign powers.
Toward the end of the 19th century, an alliance of several of the more powerful daimyo with the titular Emperor finally succeeded in the overthrow of the shogunate after the Boshin War, culminating in the Meiji Restoration. The Tokugawa Shogunate came to an official end in 1868, with the resignation of the 15th Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu and the "restoration" (Ōsei fukko) of imperial rule.
See Late Tokugawa shogunate for details.
The bakuhan taisei (幕藩体制) was the feudal political system in the Edo period of Japan. Baku, or "tent," is an abbreviation of bakufu, meaning "military government" — that is, the shogunate. The han were the domains headed by daimyo.
Vassals held inherited lands and provided military service and homage to their lords. The Bakuhan Taisei split feudal power between the shogunate in Edo and provincial domains throughout Japan. Provinces had a degree of sovereignty and were allowed an independent administration of the Han in exchange for loyalty to the Shogun, who was responsible for foreign relations and national security. The shogun and lords were both daimyo: feudal lords with their own bureaucracies, policies, and territories. The Shogun also administered the most powerful daimyo, the hereditary fief of the House of Tokugawa. Each level of government administered its own system of taxation.
The Shogun had the military power of Japan and was more powerful than the emperor. The emperor was a religious leader and a political leader.
The shogunate had the power to discard, annex and transform domains. The sankin-kotai system of alternative residence required each daimyo would reside in alternate years between the han and attendance in Edo. In their absence from Edo it was also required that they leave family as hostages until their return. The huge expenditure sankin-kotai imposed on each han helped centralize aristocratic alliances and ensured loyalty to the Shogun as each representative doubled as a potential hostage.
Tokugawa's descendants further ensured loyalty by maintaining a dogmatic insistence on loyalty to the Shogun. Fudai daimyo were hereditary vassals of Ieyasu, as well as of his descendants. Tozama, or "outsiders", became vassals of Ieyasu after the battle of Sekigahara. Shimpan, or "relatives", were collaterals of Tokugawa Hidetada. Early in the Edo period, the shogunate viewed the tozama as the least likely to be loyal; over time, strategic marriages and the entrenchment of the system made the tozama less likely to rebel. In the end, it was the great tozama of Satsuma, Chōshū and Tosa and to a lesser extent Hizen that brought down the shogunate. These four states are called the Four Western Clans or Satchotohi for short.
The number of han (roughly 250) fluctuated throughout the Edo period. They were ranked by size, which was measured as the number of koku that the domain produced each year. One koku was the amount of rice necessary to feed one adult male for one year. The minimum number for a daimyo was ten thousand koku; the largest, apart from the shogun, was a million.
The shogunate appointed a liaison, the Kyoto Shoshidai (Shogun's Representative in Kyoto), to deal with the emperor, court and nobility.
From 1600 onward, Japan started to participate actively in foreign trade. In 1615, an embassy and trade mission under Hasekura Tsunenaga was sent across the Pacific to Nueva Espana (New Spain) on the Japanese-built galleon San Juan Bautista. Until 1635, the Shogun issued numerous permits for the so-called "red seal ships" destined for the Asian trade.
In principle, the requirements for appointment to the office of rōjū were to be a fudai (hereditary) daimyo and to have a fief assessed at 50 000 koku or more. However, there were exceptions to both criteria. Many appointees came from the offices close to the shogun, such as soba yōnin, Kyoto shoshidai, and Osaka jōdai.
Irregularly, the shoguns appointed a rōjū to the position of tairō (great elder). The office was limited to members of the Ii, Sakai, Doi, and Hotta clans, but Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu was given the status of tairō as well. Among the most famous was Ii Naosuke, who was assassinated in 1860 outside the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle.
The wakadoshiyori were next in status below the rōjū. An outgrowth of the early six-man rokuninshū (1633–1649), the office took its name and final form in 1662, but with four members. Their primary responsibility was management of the affairs of the hatamoto and gokenin, the direct vassals of the shogun.
Some shoguns appointed a soba yōnin. This person acted as a liaison between the shogun and the rōjū. The soba yōnin increased in importance during the time of the fifth shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, when a wakadoshiyori, Inaba Masayasu, assassinated Hotta Masatoshi, the tairō. Fearing for his personal safety, Tsunayoshi moved the rōjū to a more distant part of the castle. Some of the most famous soba yōnin were Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu and Tanuma Okitsugu.
Early in the Edo period, daimyo such as Yagyū Munefuyu held the office. Soon, however, it fell to hatamoto with rankings of 5000 koku or more. To give them authority in their dealings with daimyo, they were often ranked at 10 000 koku and given the title of kami (an ancient title, typically signifying the governor of a province) such as Bizen-no-kami.
As time progressed, the function of the ōmetsuke evolved into one of passing orders from the shogunate to the daimyo, and of administering to ceremonies within Edo Castle. They also took on additional responsibilities such as supervising religious affairs and controlling firearms.
The metsuke, reporting to the wakadoshiyori, oversaw the affairs of the vassals of the shogun. They were the police force for the thousands of hatamoto and gokenin who were concentrated in Edo. Individual han had their own metsuke who similarly policed their samurai.
The kanjō bugyō were next in status. The four holders of this office reported to the rōjū. They were responsible for the finances of the shogunate.
The machi bugyō were the chief city administrators of Edo and other cities. Their roles included mayor, chief of the police (and, later, also of the fire department), and judge in criminal and civil matters not involving samurai. Two (briefly, three) men, normally hatamoto, held the office, and alternated by month.
The san-bugyō together sat on a council called the hyōjōsho. In this capacity, they were responsible for administering the tenryō, supervising the gundai, the daikan and the kura bugyō, as well as hearing cases involving samurai.
Rather than appointing a daimyo to head the holdings, the shogunate placed administrators in charge. The titles of these administrators included gundai, daikan, and ongoku bugyō. This last category included the Osaka, Kyoto and Sumpu machibugyō, and the Nagasaki bugyō. The appointees were hatamoto.
The gaikoku bugyō were administrators appointed between 1858 and 1868. They were charged with overseeing trade and diplomatic relations with foreign countries, and were based in the treaty ports of Nagasaki and Kanagawa (Yokohama).
The Late Tokugawa Shogunate (幕末 Bakumatsu) is the period between 1853 and 1867 during which Japan ended its isolationist foreign policy called sakoku and modernized from a feudal shogunate to the Meiji government. It is at the end of the Edo period and preceded the Meiji era. The major ideological/political factions during this period were divided into the pro-imperialist Ishin Shishi (nationalist patriots) and the shogunate forces, including the elite shinsengumi (newly selected corps) swordsmen. Although these two groups were the most visible powers, many other factions attempted to use the chaos of Bakumatsu to seize personal power. Furthermore there were two other main driving forces for dissent; first, growing resentment of tozama daimyo (or outside lords), and second, growing anti-western sentiment following the arrival of Perry. The first related to those lords who had fought against Tokugawa forces at Sekigahara (in 1600 AD) and had from that point on been exiled permanently from all powerful positions within the shogunate. The second was to be expressed in the phrase sonnō jōi, or "revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians". The turning point of the Bakumatsu was during the Boshin War and the Battle of Toba-Fushimi when pro-shogunate forces were defeated.
Over the course of the Edo period, influential relatives of the shogun included: