How common were duels in Tokugawa Japan?

How common were duels in Tokugawa Japan?

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It is my understanding that during Tokugawa era Japan, Samurai could and would occasionally engage in duels to the death. But how often? Do we know from any record keeping how common deadly duels were? How does the number of duels fought relate to how many Samurai there were, how large or small was the risk that a given Samurai would have to fight a duel over his lifetime? Were there noticeable ebbs in the number of duels throughout the period?

Wikipedia is surprisingly sparse on the matter. I believe noble families in Japan used to keep records of family members; if these also mentioned cause of death, one could get a pretty good estimate of actual numbers. I'm more interested in "typical" Samurai, not in exceptional figures like Miyamoto Musashi.

ETA: This answer indicates that private duels where outlawed and punishable by death by many Daimyo even before the Edo period, though enforcement was not 100%.

The most famous samurai duel in the history of Japan, Miyamoto Musashi vs Sasaki Kojiro

The most famous samurai duel in the history of Japan took place 402 years ago, on a small island in the Kanmon Straits, close to Shimonoseki. At the time of the duel, the name of the island was Funa-jima, but afterwards it was renamed Ganryū, after the name of the swordsmanship style created by one of the protagonists, Sasaki Kojirō.

The other samurai was the famous Miyamoto Musashi, and their duel is now represented by this impressive sculpture. Sasaki Kojirō is with his famous long sword Monohoshi Zao ("Laundry-Drying Pole"), while Musashi is with his equally famous bokken (wooden sword), sculpted (according to the legend) from an oar.

How the fight unfolded is not clear, there are many contradicting accounts and the truth is impossible to determine. According to the most popular version, Sasaki tried his renowned “swallow cut", but Musashi managed to hit him in the head with his huge bokken. However, there are many other versions to the story, and all that can be said for sure is that Musashi won the duel. However, I find it very interesting that… the island was named after Sasaki.


The development of painting during the Edo period drew energy from innovations and changes precipitated during the Momoyama period. Thematic interests, including Confucian subjects and a continuing fascination with Japanese classical themes, were already apparent in the years preceding national consolidation. Genre themes celebrating urban life became more focused during the Edo period as depictions of the activities in the pleasure quarters. The Neo-Confucian culture of the Edo period and its related influence in visual arts harked back to Muromachi period fascination with things Chinese. Experiments in realism, significantly influenced by exposure to Western models, produced major new painting lineages. Particularly distinctive of the period was the increase in the number of important individualist artists and of artists whose eclectic training could meet the demands of varied patronage.

The Kanō school of painters expanded and functioned as a kind of “official” Japanese painting academy. Many painters who would later begin their own stylistic lineages or function as independent and eclectic artists received their initial training in some Kanō atelier. Kanō Sanraku, whose bold patterning came closest among the early Kanō painters to touching the tastes stimulated by Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu with their courtly revival style, provided a link to the generative energies that launched the school to its initial position of prominence. Kanō Tanyū solidified the dominant position of the Kanō school and significantly directed the thematic interests of the atelier. In a sense, the Kanō artists became the official visual propagandists of the Tokugawa government. Many of their works stressed Confucian themes of filial piety, justice, and correctly ordered society. Tanyū was not only the leading painter of the school but was also extremely influential as a connoisseur and theorist. Tanyū’s notebooks containing his comments and sketches of observed paintings are a major historical source. His graceful ink and light colour rendering of Jizō Bosatsu reveals brush mastery and a thoroughly familiar, playful consideration of a Buddhist image. The youthful features of the deity are conveyed as at once fleshy and ethereal. The image is decidedly different from the gentle but stately renditions of the Kamakura period.

Two painting lineages explored the revival of interest in courtly taste: one was a consolidation of a group descending from Sōtatsu, and the other, the Tosa school, claimed descent from the imperial painting studios of the Heian times. The interpretations offered by the collaboration of Kōetsu and Sōtatsu in the late Momoyama period developed into a distinctive style called rinpa, an acronym linking the second syllable of the name of Ōgata Kōrin, the leading proponent of the style in the Edo period, and ha (pa), meaning “school” or “group.” Sōtatsu himself was active into the 1640s, and his pupils carried on his distinctive rendering of patterned images of classical themes. Like Sōtatsu, Kōrin emerged from the Kyōto trades as the scion of a family of textile designers. His paintings are notable for an intensification of the flat design quality and abstract colour patterns explored by Sōtatsu and for a use of lavish materials. His homage to the Yatsu-hashi episode from the Tales of Ise is seen in a pair of screens featuring an iris marsh traversed by eight footbridges that is described in the story. Kōrin attempted this subject, with and without reference to the bridges, on several occasions and in other media, including lacquerwork. Classical literature had imbued popular culture to the extent that this single visual reference would be easily recognized by viewers of the period, permitting Kōrin to evoke a familiar mood or emotion without having to depict a specific plot incident. Other notable exponents of the rinpa style in the later years of the Edo period were Sakai Hōitsu and Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858).

The Tosa school, a hereditary school of court painters, experienced a period of revival thanks to the exceptional talents and political acuity of Tosa Mitsuoki. Mitsuoki’s patronage connections to the imperial household, still residing in Kyōto, provided him with an appreciative aristocratic audience for his refined narrative evocations of Heian themes and styles. A pair of screens depicting spring-flowering cherry and autumn maple strike a melancholy chord. Attached to branches of the trees are decorated slips of paper bearing classical poems inscribed by the unseen participants in traditional court outings to celebrate the seasons. The allusion to past literary glory and to a poetry party recently dispersed suggests the mood of the court now resigned to ceremonial roles under the Tokugawa dictatorship. The Tosa atelier was active throughout the Edo period. An offshoot of the school, the Sumiyoshi painters Jokei (1599–1670) and his son Gukei (1631–1705), produced distinctive and sprightly renderings of classical subjects. In the first half of the 19th century, a group of painters, including Reizei Tamechika, explored ancient painting sources and offered a revival of Yamato-e style. Some, but not all, of the painters in this circle were politically active supporters of the imperial or royalist cause.

In addition to the Kanō, rinpa, and Tosa styles of painting, which all originated in earlier periods, several new types of painting developed during the Edo period. These can be loosely classified into two categories: the individualist, or eccentric, style and the bunjin-ga, or literati painting. The individualist painters were influenced by nontraditional sources such as Western painting and scientific studies of nature, and they frequently employed unexpected themes or techniques to create unique works reflecting their often unconventional personalities.

A lineage that formed under the genius of Maruyama Ōkyo might be summarily described as lyrical realism. Yet his penchant for nature studies, whether of flora and fauna or human anatomy, and his subtle incorporation of perspective and shading techniques learned from Western examples perhaps better qualify him to be noted as the first of the great eclectic painters. In addition to nurturing a talented group of students who continued his identifiable style into several succeeding generations, Ōkyo’s studio also raised the incorrigible Nagasawa Rosetsu, an individualist noted for instilling a haunting preternatural quality to his works, whether landscape, human, or animal studies. Yet another of Ōkyo’s associates was Matsumura Goshun. Goshun’s career again suggests the increasingly fluid and creative disposition of Edo period ateliers. Originally a follower of the literati painter and poet Yosa Buson, Goshun, confounded by his master’s death and other personal setbacks, joined with Ōkyo. Goshun’s quick and witty brushwork adjusted to the softer, more polished Ōkyo style but retained an overall individuality. He and his students are known as the Shijō school, for the street on which Goshun’s studio was located, or, in recognition of Ōkyo’s influence, as the Maruyama-Shijō school. Other notable individualists of the 18th century included Soga Shōhaku, an essentially itinerant painter who was an eccentric interpreter of Chinese themes in figure and landscape conveyed in a frequently dark and foreboding mood. Itō Jakuchū, son of a prosperous Kyōto vegetable merchant, was an independent master of both ink and polychrome forms. His paintings in either mode often convey the rich, densely patterned texture of produce arrayed in a market.

The other new style of painting, bunjin-ga, is also called nan-ga (“southern painting”) because it developed from the so-called Chinese Southern school of painting. The Chinese connoisseur and painter Dong Qichang (1555–1636), in expounding his theory of the history of Chinese painting, posited a dichotomy between Northern conservative, professional painting and the Southern heterodox, expressive, and free styles. The argument, which was highly polemical and overgeneralized, nevertheless promoted the ideal of the learned scholar-gentleman who had no pecuniary or political interests and was unintimidated by the overly polished and spiritless examples of professional painting. The idiosyncratic Southern style of painting was proposed as one of the accomplishments of the literatus amateur. This notion of the true Confucian scholar ideal had exponents in 17th-century Japan who found the Neo-Confucianism promulgated by the shogunal authorities to be suspect and politically skewed. The Japanese understanding of the literati aesthetic was significantly influenced, however, by the final wave of Zen Buddhist monks who fled to Japan after the Manchu takeover of China in 1644. Monks of the Ōbaku Zen sect did not arrive on the scale of previous Zen immigrations to Japan, but they did bring a consistent point of contact and numerous examples of contemporary Chinese art (albeit of varying quality) for interested Japanese literati aspirants and artists to study.

While the amateur ideal was pursued by many Japanese bunjin, the most remarkable of the ink monochrome or ink and light colour works were created by artists who, although generally attempting to conform to a bunjin lifestyle, were actually professionals in that they supported themselves by producing and selling their painting, poetry, and calligraphy. Especially notable artists from this tradition include the 18th-century masters Ike Taiga and Buson. Some of Taiga’s most compelling works treat landscape themes and the melding of certain aspects of Western realism with the personal expressiveness characteristic of the Chinese bunjin ideal. Buson is remembered as both a distinguished poet and a painter. Frequently combining haiku and tersely brushed images, Buson offered the viewer jarring, highly allusive, and complementary readings of a complex emotional matrix. Uragami Gyokudō achieved movements of near abstraction with shimmering, kinetic, personalized readings of nature. Tani Bunchō produced paintings of great power in the Chinese mode but in a somewhat more polished and representational style. He was a marked individualist and served the shogun by applying his talents to topographical drawings used for national defense purposes. Bunchō’s student Watanabe Kazan was an official representing his daimyo in Edo. Through his interest in intellectual and artistic reform, he perhaps came the closest to exemplifying classic literati ideals. His accomplishments in portraiture are especially significant and reveal his keen study of Western techniques. In a conflict with the shogunate over issues ultimately relating to Japan’s posture toward the international community, Kazan was imprisoned and then took his own life.

How common were duels in Tokugawa Japan? - History

Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868) is one of the more remarkable periods in Japan&rsquos storied past. For more than two-and-a-half centuries, Japan enjoyed peace and a steady advance in economic and technological spheres. Its political system consisted of three branches. The emperor resided in Kyoto and provided legitimacy by granting titles to officials and aristocrats. The second, and most powerful of the three branches was the shogun. The shogun and his advisors made Edo (now known as Tokyo) the realm&rsquos military capital. Just as the emperor bestowed titles on the aristocracy, the shogun chose military personnel to act as governors of semi-independent domains. These military bureaucrats, also known as daimyo, ruled from castles within the boundaries of their allotted lands. Eventually there came to be over 250 daimyo and each oversaw the inhabitants within their territory. Of the three political branches in Tokugawa Japan, it was the daimyo that had the greatest contact with the rank-and-file samurai, merchants, artisans, and farmers.

The Tokugawa era is so rich in historical documentation that there are detailed studies of the myriad of activities between 1600 and 1868. For example, visual art during this period rose to unprecedented heights as it encompassed subject matter beyond the heretofore predominantly religious content. Woodblock printing began during the era as did the kabuki theater. Tokugawa Japan&rsquos society evolved to the point that it became one of the most literate and urbanized countries on the planet.

Religion also played a crucial role in shaping Tokugawa culture. This essay explores the role of religion during this important period. To present this subject, it is helpful to review the four main religions that were part of Tokugawa Japan: Confucianism, Buddhism, Shinto, and Christianity. Each of these belief systems played a role in shaping Tokugawa society. Before exploring each of these faiths, however, an examination of the historical context of religion just prior to the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate is in order.

Tokugawa Japan emerged from a period of extreme chaos. Known as the Sengoku period (1467-1603), the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Japan were filled with continual upheaval. Japanese termed the chaos as &ldquothe warring states age,&rdquo which echoed back to a similar period in China where civil war toppled state after state (475 B.C. &ndash 221 B.C.). What is of significance for this article is that the process of reunifying Japan (1560-1603), which was led by three successive military leaders, had a great deal to do with religion. In short, religion&rsquos influence was simultaneously feared, disregarded, and then finally embraced by Japan&rsquos putative leaders. Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), the first unifier, was hostile toward religion, particularly Confucianism and Buddhism. He ignored the Confucian precepts of deferring to authority, choosing rather to live by the philosophy that might makes right. He toppled the existing shogun authority, and followed the Machiavellian idea that it is better to be feared than loved. Nobunaga especially despised Buddhist institutions in Japan. Many Buddhist monasteries had grown into large semi-autonomous temple towns during the Sengoku era as thousands of people sought protection against marauding armies sweeping through the land. These temple towns enjoyed tax free status and were protected by armies of monks. Nobunaga feared the power of these religious institutions and set out to destroy them, even killing ten thousand monks in just one battle. For Nobunaga, religion was a major impediment to Japan&rsquos reunification.

Following Nobunaga&rsquos assassination (1582) Japan was subsequently unified by two of his generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and then Tokugawa Ieyasu. Like Nobunaga, each of them feared the nefarious power of religion, this time Christianity. Yet at the same time, both Hideyoshi and Ieyasu were attracted to aspects of all four religions noted above in fact, Ieyasu became deified following his death. Thus, from the very outset of Tokugawa Japan, religions were paradoxically distrusted and embraced by its leaders and their subjects.

Confucianism in Tokugawa Japan

Confucius (551 B.C. - 479), a scholar from northeast China, is given credit for establishing China&rsquos dominant worldview. But as he noted in his day, his teachings were not original in nature rather, he transmitted the works from China&rsquos ancient sages. These doctrines made their way over to Japan and became integrated into its social and political system, and were included in Japan&rsquos seventh century Seventeen Article Constitution.

While Confucianism was a major thread running through the fabric of Japan&rsquos pre-modern religious system, it truly came to prominence during the Tokugawa era. Its first shogun had a lot to do with this. Tokugawa Ieyasu fought in over a dozen major battles, and rose to establish the most impressive shogunate in Japan&rsquos history. As Tokugawa Japan&rsquos first shogun, Ieyasu was drawn to neo-Confucianism. It eventually became the established orthodox social/political doctrine of Tokugawa Japan.

The neo-Confucianism embraced by Ieyasu and subsequent Tokugawa shoguns was best articulated by the twelfth century Chinese scholar, Zhu Xi (1130-1200). In short, the teachings of Zhu Xi emphasized the rationality of the observable universe rather than the Buddhist notion of matter&rsquos impermanence and illusion. Neo-Confucianism asserts that everything we see in this world can be reduced to its simplest essence, which is called li. There is a purity in everything that we see. But that purity&mdashwhether it is the essence of a tree or the essence of an individual&mdashis oftentimes diluted by things in the world that we cannot see, an invisible energy which is called qi. Thus the goal of one&rsquos life is to get beyond the qi that might adulterate one&rsquos true essence and come to a true realization of the purity and simplicity of our nature, the li.

One very important aspect of neo-Confucianism was an emphasis on a heaven-mandated system of reciprocal relationships that must remain in place for the continuance of social harmony. The five prescribed relations were those between ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, older brother-younger brother, and friend-friend. In each of these relationships there is a dominant figure, and the inferior party must always live in deference to that superior individual. At the same time, the superior in the relationship must act with benevolence toward the lesser party, and serve as a guide toward virtue. The Tokugawa officials used this paradigm to divide Japan&rsquos society into four groups, from the superior to the inferior. They were identified as samurai, farmer, artisan, and merchant. The creation of a very schematized social system in Tokugawa Japan allowed the samurai, which represented about six percent of the population to rule over the rest of Japan. For two-and-a-half centuries, farmers labored to pay for the samurai to live in urban settings&mdashmany of whom had no real jobs and lived off of the farmers&rsquo taxes. Neo-Confucianism legitimized a state of martial law that lasted almost three hundred years, though there was no immediate military threat.

Shinto in Tokugawa Japan

Unlike the other three religions noted in this essay, Shinto was not a foreign faith imported to Japan and is not a world religion. As an indigenous religion, Shinto dates back to the very beginning of Japan&rsquos history. It is a belief system that evolved rather than having an identifiable individual founder. There are deep strains of animism in early Shinto, with an emphasis on fertility, physical cleanliness, mythical origins of Japan&rsquos imperial family, and innumerable deities inhabiting or representing nature&rsquos objects and phenomena, such as Mount Fuji and annual typhoons.

While the formation of State Shinto did not come into full expression until the Meiji era (1868-1912), during Tokugawa times Shinto evolved a bit due to three different developments. First, the noted rigidity placed on social class distinction also physically separated the farmers from the rest of Japan&rsquos social structure. For the most part, samurai were forbidden to live in rural areas among the peasants. Villages became a world unto themselves, often with a Shinto shrine dedicated to the village&rsquos mythic founder. The number of shrines in Edo Japan numbered almost 111,000, which meant that if they were equally divided among the rural areas, there would be two shrines per village. The neo-Confucian dictate that legitimized separation of social classes made it so that villagers identified with their local shrine and dealt with the need for spiritual purification at that shrine. These local shrines also served as entertainment centers where young virgin women performed ceremonial dances. Noh plays, sumo matches, and archery contests also occurred in areas adjacent to the local shrine.

Secondly and more importantly, the tenets of Shinto continued to develop during Tokugawa Japan. This is most clearly seen in the Warango (also known as the Japanese Analects) which was the leading Shinto text during the Tokugawa era. The emphasis in the Warongo is on a single almighty deity and an internal spiritual purity, rather than the traditional prominence devoted to physical cleanliness. In short, what became important in Shinto was one&rsquos motive rather than one&rsquos action. To be sure, one needed to avoid those things that polluted a person such as blood, feces, and a corpse. But according to the Warongo one could be physically pure but remain spiritually polluted due to selfishness, bitterness, hatred and greed. A section from the Warongo demonstrates this doctrinal emphasis on inner purity: &ldquoThat the God dislikes what is unclean, is equivalent to saying that a person who is impure in heart, displeases God. He that is honest and upright in heart is not unclean, even though he be not ceremoniously so in body. To God, inward purity is all important mere external cleanliness avails not. This is because God is the Essential Uprightness and Honesty, and therefore, it is His Heavenly Ordinance that we should lead an honest and happy life in harmony with the Divine Will. If a man is pure in heart, rest assured that he will ever feel the Divine Presence with him, and possess the immediate sense of the Divine within him.&rdquo[1]

The final development of Shinto during Tokugawa Japan was an increase in visitations to prominent shrines, that might even be labeled &ldquonational shrines.&rdquo While Tokugawa Japan was certainly not a unified country, the increased visitations to notable shrines such as the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie prefecture and Izumo Taisha in Shimane prefecture kept the notion of a national history alive throughout the realm. The more numerous visits to these shrines developed because of increased availability of literature and literacy throughout Japan&rsquos social classes. Combined with a rising economy in many rural areas, a pilgrimage became more than a daydream for many Japanese farmers as greater information and resources facilitated journeys to Japan&rsquos most famous shrines. Increased visits to prominent shrines also occurred toward the end of Tokugawa times when increasing economic hardship combined with external threats created anxiety for many Japanese. In 1830, for example there were five million visitors to the Ise shrine&mdashan astounding number given that the population of Japan at the time was around 35 million. The Tempo era (1830-1844) was one of Japan&rsquos worst periods for unprecedented internal and external crises, and so we see that at the very outset of that dark period, millions gathered at Japan&rsquos most famous Shinto shrine looking for guidance.

Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan

The dominant religion in Tokugawa Japan was Buddhism. This faith originated in northern India around 500 BCE. It reportedly came to Japan through Korea around 540 CE and was eventually adopted by members of Japan&rsquos imperial family. As noted earlier, Buddhism became such a powerful religious institution that wholesale slaughter of its priests became part of Oda Nobunaga&rsquos strategy in reunifying Japan. But Tokugawa Ieyasu restored the fortunes of the Buddhist clerics with his devotion to the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Ieyasu was posthumously deified as an avatar of the Buddha of Healing and given the name Tosho Daigongen.

In 1614, Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered every Japanese family to register at a Buddhist temple, in essence becoming part of the Buddhist sangha (church). As noted further below, this was to help eliminate Christianity from Japan. In essence, every Japanese during Tokugawa Japan was a Buddhist and every funeral was a Buddhist ceremony. There were three main Buddhist sects practiced during Tokugawa Japan: Zen, Nichirin, and Jodo.

Zen, also known as Chan Buddhism was a branch of Buddhism developed in China around the sixth century CE and eventually came to Japan via Korea. A key doctrine in Zen is discovering one&rsquos Buddha nature through intense, disciplined meditation. There is not a great emphasis placed on outward worship or memorizing sacred texts among Zen practitioners rather, the focus is on the inner life and self-discipline. Followers of Zen often have a mentor to help them along the path to self-realization. During Tokugawa times, Zen Buddhism was most popular among the samurai. The emphasis on discipline and a contemplative life played well with a military class known for its dedication to physical and mental toughness. This branch of Buddhism also set the samurai apart from the rank-and-file Japanese. The peasants did not have the luxury of time for meditation theirs was not a life of contemplation but of back-breaking work in the rice fields.

A second important branch of Buddhism in Tokugawa times was Nichirin. The doctrines emphasized in this sect centered on a particular sacred text in Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra, which included numerous sermons by the Buddha. Nichirin was more exclusive in nature than Zen or Jodo. In fact, proponents of Nichirin believed that any other sect of Buddhism was spiritually harmful and led people astray. The Lotus Sutra emphasized reverence for the Buddha along with commands to defer to the sovereign, government, teachers, and parents. This code of behavior also fit with the neo-Confucian ideal of a relationship-based political and social system.

Tokugawa Japan&rsquos most popular branch of Buddhism was Jodo Shinsu. Founded by Shinran (1173-1263) this faith provided the greatest opportunity for salvation to the poor and disenfranchised. Labeled &ldquothe devil&rsquos Christianity&rdquo by the European priests who arrived in Japan during the sixteenth century, there are elements of Jodo that sound a lot like Christianity. A quick overview of Jodo teachings include the story of the Buddha Amida, who in ancient history lived a perfect life on this earth. His accumulated righteousness was so great that he vowed that anyone who would call on his name and trust in the goodness provided through Amida&rsquos righteous life would go to &ldquoheaven&rdquo or the pure land immediately following death. Accompanying this belief was the notion that humanity had fallen into such a state of wickedness that enlightenment from one&rsquos own goodness was impossible. This creed was attractive to farmers who did not have the opportunity to develop their minds and could not economically contribute to Buddhist institutions and yet could still have eternal bliss based on faith and calling upon the Buddha Amida.

While the Japanese followed various forms of Buddhism during Tokugawa Japan, the Buddhist temple served as the center of culture in urban and rural settings. Education was largely promulgated at temple schools with priests serving as instructors. Prior to Tokugawa times almost all art was religious-based. Hence the temple stored the art collection as well as local reports and registers. The temple also served as a place of refuge where abused wives could receive a valid divorce from a rogue husband.

There was also an aspect of entertainment to Buddhism and art during Edo Japan. Religious scrolls depicting pictures from various sacred texts including scenes of heaven and hell were part of temple art collections. It was not uncommon for Buddhist nuns to travel with these scrolls. For a fee, they would unroll the scrolls as villagers, mostly children and women, would listen as the nuns told stories using the art as illustrations. In 1691 Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716) one of the few Westerners that traveled in Tokugawa Japan observed the nuns telling their stories and he noted that the crowd grew most excited when the nuns showed pictures of a burning hell and described the tortures awaiting some in the next life.

The most important aspect of Buddhism during Tokugawa Japan was the role of the funeral. Ceremonies for the dead were almost exclusively Buddhist in nature. These Buddhist rituals included bathing the corpse, shaving the deceased&rsquos head, dressing the body in a white cotton kimono and then cremating the dead. A posthumous name was given to the dead along with the creation of two tablets. One of these was placed where the ashes were buried and the second was placed in the deceased&rsquos home. Other rituals included particular prayers and commemorations on certain days and years that marked the anniversary of one&rsquos death.

Christianity and Tokugawa Japan

One of the more intriguing, and lesser known aspect of religion in Tokugawa Japan is the Hidden Christian movement. Adherence to Christianity was punishable by death for almost the entire Edo era, yet there remained a remnant of Christianity, albeit a very syncretized form of Catholicism. The reasons for the ban of Christianity and the Hidden Christians round out this essay on religion in Tokugawa Japan.

The arrival and influence of Christianity in sixteenth century Japan is a fascinating tale. Part of the West&rsquos Age of Discovery included the desire to spread Christianity throughout the globe. An added motive for the spread of the Catholic faith was that the Age of Discovery coincided with the Protestant Reformation. Christopher Columbus&rsquo first trek across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492 came just 25 years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, which helped launch the Reformation.

The Catholic Counter Reformation was led by a new religious order known as the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Founded in 1540, this order was characterized by an emphasis on academic prowess, physical discipline and world evangelism. One of the Jesuit founders, Francis Xavier (1506-1552) was the first Western missionary to arrive in Japan. Landing in Kagoshima in 1549, the Basque Jesuit began the task of spreading Christianity throughout Japan. Xavier was soon joined by more Jesuit brothers from Europe. Their strategy was to focus their efforts on conversion of Japan&rsquos leaders, believing that there would be a trickle-down effect if military governors (daimyo) embraced this foreign religion.

Christianity arrived in Japan during the islands&rsquo warring states period, which actually facilitated the conversion of hundreds of thousands of Japanese. The Jesuits were mostly Portuguese and they brought along with them Western goods for trade. These included guns and cannon, which many of the daimyo coveted to assist in their military campaigns. In 1563 a leading daimyo on Kyushu, Omura Sumitada, was baptized into the Catholic faith this practice was passed down to his samurai and the farmers under his protection. The faith became known as Kirishitan. Between 1563 and 1620, 82 daimyo were baptized along with 300,000 Japanese. This was somewhat surprising in that the three great sins that the foreign priests railed against were idolatry, homosexuality, and infanticide. The idolatry was directed toward those that had any type of Buddhist or Shinto art in their homes. Homosexuality was practiced by samurai and Buddhist monks. Finally, infanticide was the method by which the poor farmers controlled the population so as to have enough food for subsistence.

In 1580 the town of Nagasaki was actually given to the Jesuits and this became the center of Jesuit activity on Kyushu. In fact, it was this southern island that was most influenced by Catholicism due to its distance from Edo and Kyoto. It was also the location most frequented by Western traders, allowing for a greater Western interaction on Kyushu compared with the rest of Japan.

The first overt turn against Christianity in Japan came in 1587 when Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second of Japan&rsquos three great unifiers ordered the expulsion of all foreign missionaries. He gave them just twenty days to leave his islands. It is probable that this proclamation was based on the Buddhist monks&rsquo growing disdain for this foreign faith which challenged the prevailing religious pluralism enjoyed by most Japanese. This faith&rsquos message included an exclusive claim of truth demanding that baptized Japanese denounce all other religions. But this 1587 law was largely ignored. Just two years later the Catholic priests baptized 10,000 new Japanese converts.

The much more serious move against Christianity in Japan occurred in 1596 due in part to the San Felipe incident. In 1593 Spanish Franciscan priests entered Japan to spread the Christian faith. Unfortunately, bitter rivalries between the Jesuits and Franciscans that had its roots in European politics and ethnic enmity spilled over into Japan. Furthermore, the Franciscans&rsquo method of evangelizing was identifying with the poor and disenfranchised while the Jesuits worked with the elite and were more accommodating in allowing Japanese to practice traditional ceremonies that the Franciscans deemed as antithetical to the Catholic faith. The Spanish had already established much of Central and South America along with the Philippines as part of their empire. Japanese officials were aware of these rivalries and of Spain&rsquos expanding empire. Thus in 1596 when the San Felipe, a Spanish galleon full of Asian goods was on its way to the Americas, it crashed on to Japan&rsquos shores during a typhoon. Its captain protested the way he and his crew were treated and suggested that Spain would colonize Japan just as it had Central America and the Philippines. Hideyoshi responded by confiscating all of San Felipe&rsquos cargo and ordering the execution of Spanish priests. In 1597, 26 Christians, including six Franciscan priests and three Jesuits were marched to Nagasaki where they were crucified.

The following year Hideyoshi died and in 1603 Tokugawa Ieyasu was made shogun. He continued the policy of suppressing Christianity: in 1614 he ordered the expulsion of all missionaries and declared the practice of Christianity illegal in Japan. In 1619, 52 Christians in Kyoto were burned at the stake four years later 50 more were killed in Edo. In 1628 suspected Christians were ordered to visit their local Buddhist temple and publicly step on an image of the Virgin Mary and/or an image of Jesus. This practice, termed fumi-e greatly reduced the number of practicing Christians in Japan. Then in 1637 a rebellion broke out in Shimabara, just northeast of Nagasaki, against the unjust treatment of a cruel daimyo. Though not a religious rebellion, because it was a stronghold of Christianity the shogun equated this rebellion with the Christian religion. When the rebels&rsquo castle fell in 1638 an estimated 37,000 were massacred by the shogun&rsquos forces. The following year an order from Edo expelled all foreigners save for the Dutch who were allowed to live (with many restrictions) on the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay. The Protestant Dutch promised not to possess any religious literature or spread their faith in Japan.

Japan closed its doors to the world from 1640 until the middle of the nineteenth century. Yet even for those two hundred years there remained a small underground Christian movement, known as Hidden Christians. Three features characterized this movement. First, it was dominated by poor farmers, as no samurai or official dared to openly or secretly adhere to the faith that would cost them and their families their lives. Second, the Hidden Christians were centered in the extreme western portion of Japan in places like the Urakami Valley (close to Nagasaki) and the Goto and Amakusa islands. The Hidden Christians&rsquo third feature was that their faith was highly Japanized. Some of the main emphases in their practice included disguised dolls that represented the Virgin Mary, an emphasis on prayers of contrition following their denial of their faith due to the practice of fumi-e, and the practice of baptism. The syncretism of their faith is seen in the only Hidden Christian book of instruction that survived the Tokugawa persecution. It is titled Tenchi Hajime no Koto (The Beginnings of Heaven and Earth). In the document the Virgin Mary is actually identified as a twelve-year-old Filipina and the three kings who visit Jesus at his birth are from America, Asia and Europe.

In 1859 a French Catholic priest, Bernard Thadee Petijean from the Paris Foreign Mission Society was allowed to establish a church for the increasing number of Westerners living in Japan. A Catholic Church was built in Nagasaki. Then in 1865 Father Petijean was approached by a woman from Urakami who let him know that there were a good number of Hidden Christians in her village. The foreign priest was stunned by this news, and upon investigation he found that there were a good number of Christians in Urakami, meaning that the Hidden Christians had kept the faith alive for several centuries though they had to do this in secret. When Pope Pius IX heard of this, he called it a miracle.

There was great diversity of religion during Tokugawa Japan. Yet there were common elements in the four major faiths noted above. First, all four had the doctrine that there was a supreme being who gives humans help and care based on the deity&rsquos benevolent nature. For the Confucian follower that being echoed back to Shangdi or the Lord on High for the Shinto there was Amaterasu the sun goddess from which sprung Japan&rsquos imperial line for the Buddhists it was Amida and for the Christians it was deus or God the Father. Also, the four faiths all pointed back to a golden past. For the Christians this was the Garden of Eden for Buddhists it was the days of Amida for the Confucian adherents it was the era of the sage kings and for the Shinto it was the time when Amaterasu sent her grandson to govern Japan&rsquos inhabitants, and subsequently led to Japan&rsquos first reported reigning emperor, Jimmu (660 B.C. &ndash 585 B.C.).

Despite these similarities there was not enough room in Tokugawa Japan for all four religions to co-exist. Christianity was outlawed, not because it was a foreign religion&mdashConfucianism and Buddhism were also foreign in origin&mdashbut because of the exclusive nature of the Christian message and the fear that the West would incorporate Japan into their nascent Western empires.

[1] Robert N. Bellah, Tokugawa Religion: the values of pre-industrial Japan (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), p. 66


The term "Saigō-no-Tsubone", used in most historical texts, is an official title rather than a name. As an adult she was adopted into the Saigō clan, so she was permitted to use the surname. Later, when she was named first consort of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the title "tsubone" (pronounced [tsɯbone] ) was appended to the surname. The title was one of several titular suffixes conferred on high-ranking women (others include -kata and -dono). The bestowal of a title depended on social class and the relationship with her samurai lord, such as whether she was a legitimate wife or a concubine, and whether or not she had had children by him. [2] [3] The word tsubone indicates the living quarters reserved for ladies of a court, [4] and it became the title for those who had been granted private quarters, such as high-ranking concubines with children. [2] This title, tsubone, was in use for concubines from the Heian period until the Meiji period (from the eighth century to the early twentieth century), [4] [5] and is commonly translated to the English title "Lady". [5] [6]

Though Lady Saigō's given name does not appear in surviving documents from the time, there is good evidence it was Masako ( 昌子 ), but this name is very rarely used. Her most commonly used name was Oai ( お愛 or 於愛 , meaning "love") and most sources agree this was a nickname she gained as a child. [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] Intimate friends and family would call her Oai throughout her life, and it is the name most often used in modern popular cultural references. Following death, she was bestowed with a Buddhist posthumous name, and an abbreviation of that name, Hōdai-in ( 宝台院 ), is sometimes used out of pious respect. [7] [8]

The Saigō family was one branch of the distinguished Kikuchi clan of Kyushu that had migrated northward to Mikawa Province in the fifteenth century. In 1524, the forces of Matsudaira Kiyoyasu (1511–1536), the grandfather of Tokugawa Ieyasu, stormed and took the Saigō clan's headquarters at Yamanaka Castle during his conquest of the Mikawa region. Shortly after the battle, Saigō Nobusada, the third head of the Saigō, submitted to the Matsudaira clan. [12] Following the untimely death of Kiyoyasu in 1536, and the ineffectual leadership and early death of Matsudaira Hirotada (1526–1549), the leaderless Matsudaira clan finally submitted to Imagawa Yoshimoto (1519–1560) of Suruga Province, east of Mikawa. When the Matsudaira fell to the Imagawa, the clans of their retainers, which included the Saigō, likewise submitted to the Imagawa. [12] Following the Battle of Okehazama (1560), Saigō Masakatsu attempted to re-assert the independence of the clan while yielding some land concessions to the Imagawa. In response, Imagawa Ujizane arrested thirteen Saigō men, and had them vertically impaled near Yoshida Castle. [13] The executions did not deter the Saigō, and in 1562 the Imagawa launched punitive invasions of east Mikawa and attacked the two main Saigō castles. Masakatsu was killed in the battle of Gohonmatsu Castle his eldest son Motomasa was killed during the battle for Wachigaya Castle. [13] Clan leadership passed to Masakatsu's son, Saigō Kiyokazu (1533–1594), who pledged his loyalty to the Matsudaira clan, under the leadership of Tokugawa Ieyasu, in their mutual struggle against the Imagawa. In 1569, the power of the Imagawa ended with the siege of Kakegawa Castle. [14] [15]

Neither the name of Lady Saigō's mother nor her dates of birth or death are recorded in any existing documents, although it is known that she was the elder sister of Saigō Kiyokazu. [16] Lady Saigō's father was Tozuka Tadaharu of Tōtōmi Province, under direct control of the Imagawa clan. The marriage between Tadaharu and his wife was very likely arranged by the Imagawa clan. [8]

Early life Edit

Lady Saigō was born in 1552 at Nishikawa Castle, a branch castle of the Saigō clan, [17] and very likely given the name of Masako soon after birth. [9] [13] Japanese marriages are not usually matrilocal, [18] but Tadaharu may have been assigned to Nishikawa Castle as an agent of the Imagawa. Masako spent her childhood with her two siblings in bucolic eastern Mikawa Province, and at some point gained the nickname Oai. In 1554, her father Tadaharu died in the Battle of Enshu-Omori, between the Imagawa and the Hōjō clan. [19] Two years later her mother married Hattori Masanao the union resulted in four children, though only two survived to adulthood. [20] [21]

Some sources state that upon reaching "adulthood" Oai married, Note a but was widowed soon afterward. [9] [10] The husband's name is not mentioned and there were apparently no children. Other sources do not mention the marriage, or suggest that there never was an earlier "first" marriage. [7] [20] It is known with certainty that in 1567, Oai married Saigō Yoshikatsu, her cousin and the son of Motomasa, who had already had two children by his late wife. [20] [21] [22] Oai bore two children by Yoshikatsu: their son, Saigō Katsutada, was born about 1570 they also had a daughter, possibly named Tokuhime. Note b [22] [23] [24]

In 1571, Saigō Yoshikatsu was killed at the Battle of Takehiro, fighting the invading forces of the Takeda clan led by Akiyama Nobutomo. [25] Soon after Yoshikatsu's death, Oai was formally adopted by her uncle, Saigō Kiyokazu, then the head of the Saigō clan, though she chose to live with her mother in the house of her stepfather. [10] [20]

Tokugawa Ieyasu Edit

Oai first met Tokugawa Ieyasu at about the age of 17 or 18, when he visited the Saigō family and Oai served him tea. [26] It is believed she caught his eye on that occasion, but as she was still married, nothing came of it at the time. Later, during the 1570s, it is believed that friendship and genuine affection developed between the two. [10] This view contradicts a common impression which maintains that Ieyasu was a ruthless leader who treated all the women in his life, and all of his offspring, as commodities to be used as needed to serve the clan or his own ambitions. [27] However, it is also known that he valued personal merit over bloodlines. During this time, Ieyasu had a house built in eastern Mikawa, far from the residence of his wife, the Lady Tsukiyama, in Okazaki. [28] [29] The marriage between Ieyasu and Lady Tsukiyama had been arranged by her uncle, Imagawa Yoshimoto, ostensibly to help cement ties between the two clans, though Ieyasu found it difficult to live with his wife's jealousy, tempestuous moods, and eccentric habits. [30] [31]

Starting around the time of the Battle of Mikatagahara (1573), perhaps in its aftermath, Ieyasu began to confide in Oai and sought her counsel on various matters. It may have been during this period that the two commenced an amorous relationship. Oai is credited with advising Ieyasu as the Battle of Nagashino (1575) approached, a major turning point in both Ieyasu's career and the history of Japan. [32] It is also thought that Ieyasu continued to seek her advice concerning other battles and alliances, even as late as the Komaki-Nagakute Campaign (1584). [7]

In the spring of 1578, Oai moved to Hamamatsu Castle, where she took over management of the kitchen. She became very popular with the unit of warriors from her native province, who not only admired her beauty, but regarded her as a gentle and virtuous example of the women of Mikawa. [7] While her manners and gentility were exemplary, she could, when the occasion warranted, be outspoken or sarcastic in speech, the probable result of growing up around rustic warriors in a remote castle outpost. [8] With her move to the court of Ieyasu, Oai entered a bitter arena where prospective concubines schemed and competed with each other for a chance to bear Ieyasu's child. [11] [26] Bearing the child of a powerful samurai, especially a son, was one way an ambitious young woman of the period could elevate her status, ensure a comfortable life, and guarantee the prosperity of her family. [2] [33] These women usually relied on their physical attributes and sexual prowess to keep their lord's attention, and some resorted to the use of aphrodisiacs. [10] Unlike these courtesans, Oai already had the attention of Ieyasu, which would have undermined the ambitions of some and very likely made her a target of resentment, hostility, and the intrigues that were common in Japanese harems. [10] [33] [34]

While Ieyasu's marriage was arranged for political reasons, and many of his later concubines were chosen in the same spirit, it is thought that he chose his relationship with Lady Saigō. [10] Despite the image of Ieyasu as a calculating and stoic warlord, [27] there was no new political advantage to the match, as the Saigō were already loyal vassals, [12] and thus texts about Lady Saigō refer to her as the "most beloved" of Ieyasu's women. [7] [8] [10] Moreover, Ieyasu valued her for her intelligence and sound advice and it is believed that he enjoyed her company and calm demeanor as well as their common background in Mikawa province. [10] On May 2, 1579, Oai gave birth to Ieyasu's third son, who would become known as Tokugawa Hidetada. The news was probably a shock to all who had an interest in Ieyasu, but with the event, Oai's position became more secure and she was accepted as the first consort of Ieyasu. [8] [26] Based on this relationship, and out of respect for her gentle manner and devotion to Ieyasu, she became known by the respectful title of Saigō-no-Tsubone, or Lady Saigō. [8] [35]

In the same year, Oda Nobunaga was informed that Lady Tsukiyama had conspired against him with the Takeda clan. Although evidence was weak, Ieyasu re-assured his ally by having his wife executed by the shore of Lake Sanaru in Hamamatsu. [26] [36] Tokugawa Nobuyasu, Ieyasu's first son by Lady Tsukiyama, was held in confinement until Ieyasu ordered him to commit seppuku. With their deaths, Lady Saigō's position at court was unassailable. With the death of Nobuyasu, Hidetada became Ieyasu's heir apparent. Note c [37] [38]

Ieyasu's fourth son, the second by Lady Saigō, was born on October 18, 1580. He would become known as Matsudaira Tadayoshi, after he was adopted by Matsudaira Ietada, the head of the Fukōzu branch of the Matsudaira clan. [39] In the same year, Lady Saigō had a temple founded in her mother's memory, indicating she had died by that point. [28] In 1586, Lady Saigō was at the side of Ieyasu when he entered the newly reconstructed Sunpu Castle in triumph. This was a highly symbolic celebration of his victories over his enemies and the subjugation of the region, but it was also a visible and symbolic gesture to Lady Saigō, a way that Ieyasu could credit her for her assistance, and publicly demonstrate the esteem in which he regarded her. [28]

Charity Edit

While at Sunpu Castle, Lady Saigō worshipped at a Buddhist temple called Ryūsen-ji ( 龍泉寺 ). She became devoted to the teachings of the Pure Land sect and was known for her piety and charity. [28] Because she suffered a high degree of myopia, she often donated money, clothing, food, and other necessities to blind women and organizations that assisted them. [40] She eventually founded a co-operative school with living quarters near Ryūsen-ji that assisted indigent blind women by teaching them how to play the shamisen (traditional stringed instrument) as a vocation, and helped them to find employment. These women were known as goze, and were akin to traveling minstrels in Edo period Japan. [41] [42] The women were granted membership to the guild-like organization, and musicians with apprentices were dispatched to various destinations. They played pieces from a sanctioned repertoire, and operated under a strict code of rules on behavior and permissible business transactions intended to maintain an upstanding reputation. [41] [42] On her deathbed, Lady Saigō wrote a letter pleading for the continued maintenance of the organization. [43]

Death Edit

Within a short time after taking up residence in Sunpu Castle, Lady Saigō's health began to deteriorate. It was said that "physical and emotional hardships" were taking their toll on her health, but nothing could be done to help her. [7] Lady Saigō died on July 1, 1589, at the age of 37. [28] The cause of her early death was never determined, and while murder was suspected at the time, no culprit was identified. There were later rumors that she was poisoned by a maidservant devoted to Ieyasu's late wife, the Lady Tsukiyama. [44]

By the time of her death, Lady Saigō was treated as Ieyasu's wife in deed if not in word. [45] The remains of Lady Saigō were interred at Ryūsen-ji. [7] At her death, a number of blind women reportedly gathered in front of the temple and prayed. [46]

Tokugawa Ieyasu continued his campaigns allied with Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After their victory at the siege of Odawara Castle in 1590, Ieyasu agreed to relinquish all of his domains to Hideyoshi in exchange for the Kantō region to the east. [47] Hideyoshi died in 1598. By 1603, Ieyasu had recovered Sunpu Castle and completed his unification of Japan, and had been named shōgun by the Emperor. [48] [49] The following year, he had Ryūsen-ji moved from Yunoki to Kōyamachi Note d near Sunpu Castle and attended Buddhist funeral rites conducted in honor of the late Lady Saigō on the anniversary of her death. To mark the occasion, Ieyasu presented the temple priests with the katana he inherited from his father, and a portrait of himself as he looked at the time. These items can still be viewed at the temple in Shizuoka city. [7]

In 1628, Tokugawa Hidetada, by then the retired second shōgun, attended ceremonies conducted in honor of his late mother on the anniversary of her death. [40] These ceremonies were meant to help her spirit achieve buddha status. He also saw to it that she was made the honored tutelary patron of the temple by having her posthumous name changed and the first three characters appended to the name of the temple. Today, the temple Ryūsen-ji is known mainly by that appellation, Hōdai-in ( 宝台院 ). [7] At the same time, the Emperor Go-Mizunoo conferred the name Minamoto Masako ( 源 晶子 ) upon Lady Saigō, in effect posthumously adopting her into the Minamoto clan, the extended family of the Imperial line. [50] The new name was then inducted into the Lower First Rank of the Imperial Court. [7] [40] Her status was later upgraded to Senior First Rank, the highest and most prominent award, then or now, bestowed by the Emperor to a few subjects outside the Imperial family who had significantly and positively affected the history of Japan. [51]

In 1938, the mausoleum of Lady Saigō at Hōdai-in, which consisted of a five-tiered stupa over her grave and a sanctuary for the veneration of her spirit, was designated an Important Cultural Property. The designation was rescinded after the entire temple complex was destroyed in the Great Shizuoka Fire on January 15, 1940. [50] The stupa remains, though evidence of the damage suffered when it toppled over is plainly visible. Many of the treasures of the temple, including a portrait of Lady Saigō and the sword and portrait bequeathed by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1604, were saved by the priests who flung the objects out of windows and doorways before fleeing the burning temple. The temple was rebuilt using steel-reinforced concrete in 1970. Historical artifacts saved from the fire of 1940 are on display at the new Hōdai-in temple in Shizuoka city. [7]

Lady Saigō was the ancestral mother to the line of shōguns that began with the second Edo-period shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada, and ended with the seventh, Tokugawa Ietsugu (1709–1716). [52] Aside from this, Lady Saigō also became connected to the Imperial line. In 1620, Hidetada's daughter, Tokugawa Masako (1607–1678), married Emperor Go-Mizunoo and entered the Imperial palace. [53] [54] As empress consort, Masako helped maintain the Imperial Court, supported the arts, and significantly influenced the next three monarchs: the first was her daughter, and the two that followed, Emperors Go-Kōmyō and Go-Sai, were sons of Emperor Go-Mizunoo by different concubines. [55] [56] The daughter of Masako, and thus great-granddaughter of Lady Saigō, was Princess Okiko (1624–1696), [57] who acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1629 as Empress Meishō. [58] [59] She reigned for fifteen years as the 109th monarch of Japan, the seventh of only eight empresses regnant in the history of Japan, until she abdicated in 1643. [60] [61]

Bakufu Origins: Crisis and Control

The very first military government was founded on the basis of rebellion, not on loyalty. The eastern rebel kingdom was called Tōgoku, centred at Kamakura. Tōgoku was established in 1180, and was led by the exiled Genji leader, Minamoto Yoritomo (1147- 1199). 64 At the time, the imperial court had been dominated by Taira Kiyomori (1118 – 1181), who by using his position within the court as a ‘personal dictatorship,’ succeeded in upsetting the imperial prince, Mochihito. Prince Mochihito issued a ‘call to arms’ against the Taira, yet Kiyomori quickly defeated him. 65 Nevertheless, his call ‘offered Yoritomo a cause in which to cloak his personal ambitions – an excuse for reasserting what he believed to be his patrimony.’ 66 Thus Friday argues,

Yoritomo exploited his outlaw status, declaring a martial law under himself across the eastern provinces, and promising any and all who pledged to his service confirmation (under his personal guarantee) of lands and offices. At the same time, he took pains to style himself as a righteous outlaw, a champion of true justice breaking the law in order to rescue the institutions it was meant to serve. 67

Yoritomo was not fighting for ‘king and country.’ He was fighting for himself. He brooked no resistance, and even ‘recalcitrant’ family members were not free from Yoritomo’s grasp. 68 When the Genpei War (1180-1185) ended, Yoritomo was the undisputed champion. Those samurai who signed up under Yoritomo’s banner of alliance reaped the rewards of his success. Those who became direct vassals (gokenin) to Yoritomo ‘gained a critical advantage within their local communities,’ and with considerable territory conquered, enemy lands were awarded to Yoritomo’s allies as he saw fit. 69 The imperial government gave Yoritomo the right to appoint shugo (constables), and jitō (land stewards). Yoritomo took the title shogun (sei-i taishōgun, meaning ‘barbarian- suppressing general’) in 1192, adding legitimacy to his military regime. Though Mochihito’s call had been of imperial origin, Yoritomo originally showed little interest in affiliating with the court once the Taira were defeated, preferring instead to maintain his base at Kamakura. 70

After Yoritomo’s death in 1199, the Hōjō family gradually took control of the Kamakura bakufu. Yoritomo’s widow Masako, known as the nun-shogun (ama shōgun), decided that the second Kamakura shogun, her own son Yoriie, was unfit to rule. Yoriie was estranged from the Hōjō. At Yoritomo’s insistence he had been raised by the Hiki family, and Yoriie eventually married a Hiki woman. Masako and her father, Hōjō Tokimasa, manoeuvred to have Yoriie ousted, and his allies among the Hiki family massacred. 71 Yoriie was later ‘brutally murdered by Tokimasa’s agents.’ 72 In 1203, Masako’s second son, eleven-year-old Sanetomo, was then made shogun, however Tokimasa pulled the strings as a regent (shikken) to the shogun. Masako and Tokimasa’s son Yoshitoki, turned on Tokimasa, and in 1205 conspired to remove Tokimasa from power in favour of Yoshitoki. Sanetomo proved to be ineffectual, and was assassinated in 1219 by his ‘deranged’ nephew Kugyō (son of Yoshiie), who in turn, was executed for this crime. Souyri notes that evidence concerning this topic is vague, and aptly poses the question, ‘who manipulated Kugyō?’. 73 The question stands, as Varley states that while many historians believe Yoshitoki to be the mastermind, there is as yet, no conclusive evidence either way. 74

Ultimately in the years that followed, the Hōjō family continued their rise to prominence, establishing themselves as permanent regents to the shogunate. Duus explains that ‘the obligation to serve the “lord of Kamakura” passed from the head of the gokenin family to his successor, and it was through this hereditary transmission of loyalty that the bakufu maintained the support of its vassals.’ 75 However, the Hōjō proceeded to ‘pick one gokenin family after another that appeared to be a serious competitor or threat, and destroy it.’ 76 If the gokenin were truly loyal, one should think that the bakufu would trust them. However, the impression we are left with is one of power and manipulation. In this brief outline of the early Hōjō years, the Kamakura bakufu does not stand out as an organisation ruled with an ideology based on ‘loyalty,’ either from within the Hōjō family or without.

In 1331, Emperor Go-Daigo (r. 1318-31, 1333-36) launched a rebellion against the Kamakura bakufu. He failed. Kamakura mobilised a massive number of troops to quell the uprising, and Go-Daigo was exiled. Efforts by Kusunoki Masashige and Prince Moriyoshi, loyalists to Go-Daigo’s cause, continued to agitate on his behalf in Kyoto. Kamakura failed to properly mobilise against the threat, and in 1332 the Rokuhara tandai (an arm of the Kamakura bakufu responsible for guarding the capital) was utterly crushed. 77 Ashikaga Takauji, sent by Kamakura with an army to aid the Rokuhara, betrayed the bakufu by siding with Go-Daigo. Like Yoritomo, Takauji sent out messages to other warriors ‘[enticing them] to fight with promises of compensation.’ 78 By 1333, the Kamakura bakufu was no more, and Go-Daigo took charge. Three years later, a dissatisfied Ashikaga Takauji turned on Go-Daigo, forcing him to abdicate. Takauji was then appointed the shogun by Kōmyō, the new emperor.

The early fourteenth century was a particularly violent period in Japan. The main reason for this was ‘the intense land hunger of the local warriors, who were under many pressures to increase their holdings.’ 79 Warriors who had a number of sons were obliged to bequeath to their sons a reasonable, and equal, proportion of land. Duus explains:

When a warrior died, his property was shared by all his sons… as a result, landholdings were broken into smaller and smaller portions with each generation, and often these parcels were too small to maintain their holders in warrior status. Primogeniture or indivisible inheritance was slow in developing, and local warriors looked for other means to aggrandise their landholdings. The easiest method was to expropriate land from the estate proprietors at Kyoto… the lands of the warrior’s neighbours, or even those of his personal lord. 80

Warfare was a strategy of survival. Warriors needed something tangible for their efforts. Thus Conlan notes, ‘Promises of reward underpinned fourteenth-century military power.’ 81 The extent of ‘loyalty,’ became subject to the extent of reward. It is for this reason that Varley states:

In historical reality, pure kenshin loyalty [Watsuji Tetsurō’s idea of ‘absolute self-sacrifice’] was impossible – except perhaps in isolated cases – because the lord/vassal relationship in warrior society was not unilateral but bilateral: A vassal served his lord as a fighting man in return for various rewards, including benefices (usually land). Warrior society would not have held together very long if warriors had simply given their existences for their lords without thought of reciprocity for themselves or their families… We can surmise from the non exclusiveness of the relationship and the frequency of disloyalty and betrayal among warriors over the centuries… that self-sacrificing loyalty was at the very least an oft-violated ethic. 82

Ashikaga Takauji was not able to dominate the network of warrior families in the same way Yoritomo had. Instead, his power was derived from ‘the network of family and feudal relationships which Takauji and his successors managed to put together.’ 83 Takauji established a ‘coalition’ with members of the shugo governors who became his ‘chief vassals.’ 84 Shugo then attempted to recruit as many kokujin families (local samurai) to be their own private vassals as possible. 85 Many shugo were Ashikaga family members, who also held the rank of military commander, taishō, allowing them sufficient status in order to command tozama (autonomous warlords). 86 Tozama who were not appointed as shugo, operated as freelance warlords who refused to fight under the direction of any commander that did not have higher status than themselves. 87 Tozama that were too powerful for Takauji to dominate were recognised, however Takauji made efforts to place either a ‘clansmen or close ally’ next to them, and awarded both with ‘joint powers of military command.’ 88 Similarly, the powers of shugo may be split between different commanders, in order to weaken their overall authority. 89 Conlan identifies two types of lordship that developed during the fourteenth century. There were those who ‘aspired to regional lordship…[by] attempt[ing] to amass lands and increase their bands of hereditary followers.’ 90 Alternatively, there were those who styled themselves as national ‘hegemonic’ lords, by enticing autonomous warriors to serve them in return for ‘confirmations, grants of lands [sic] rights, and other gifts.’ 91 The support of autonomous warriors was ‘conditional,’ and depended on the proper rendering of rewards such as land grants, in return for service (chūsetsu). 92 However, this system could not be maintained. Hall notes that it was the ‘independent shugo ambitions that destroyed the Muromachi political system.’ 93 The shugo proved more loyal to their own interests, than to the Ashikaga shogunate. The Ōnin War of 1467-1477, virtually destroyed the shugo class, and it was the regional kokujin samurai who were able to replace ‘their former shugo masters,’ becoming the daimyō that dominated the sengoku era. 94 Thus began the age of gekokujō jidai, mastery of the high by the low.

Daimyō were still required to provide their retainers with rewards, primarily still in the form of land grants. Yet Duus states, ‘treachery was common and often profitable to vassals [who were] promised larger fiefs or stipends by the rival leaders of their lord. Despite the constant protestation that loyalty was the highest virtue, the vassalage tie was tinged with suspicion and uneasiness.’ 95 Of the three great ‘unifiers,’ Oda Nobunaga was no exception. Nobunaga used his relationship with the Ashikaga shogun Yoshiaki to his advantage, yet when the affiliation was no longer useful, he did away with him. 96 The mighty Oda Nobunaga himself was felled in 1582 by one of his closest vassals, the famous traitor Akechi Mitsuhide. Berry notes that Nobunaga died ‘unlamented,’ as a kind of poetic justice. 97 In general, there has been a common tendency among scholars, and in popular culture, to deride Nobunaga as a tyrant. This is a gross misunderstanding, not only of Nobunaga, but also of the word ‘tyrant.’ 98 Elison’s suggestion that Nobunaga resembles Machiavelli’s ideal prince has since inspired further academic work. 99 Lamers article ‘Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582): A Japanese Tyrant,’ builds on Elison’s suggestion yet seems to remain critical of Nobunaga’s ‘cruel’ policies. 100 Yet since then, Lamers has conducted further research. 101 Lamers states, quite rightly, that Nobunaga is more accurately described as a pragmatist rather than a tyrant. 102 In many ways, Nobunaga epitomised the perfect sengoku samurai. He was as efficient as he was powerful. He was a ruthless winner. Nobunaga’s ruthlessness drew attention to the fact that ‘only one survivor would emerge’ from the number of daimyō who vied for ‘national conquest.’ 103

While Nobunaga’s death offered the competing daimyō a reprieve, it was not a long one. His close vassal Hideyoshi Toyotomi soon capitalised on Mitsuhide’s betrayal. Hideyoshi vanquished the traitor, presenting ‘Mitsuhide’s head before Nobunaga’s dead body.’ 104 Hideyoshi’s behaviour indicates that he may have truly held a ‘loyal’ attitude towards Nobunaga, and his actions to this regard, gave him grounds to ‘chastise’ Oda rivals. 105 However, we must remember that Nobunaga was now dead. Whether Hideyoshi was truly acting out of ‘loyalty’ to Nobunaga or not is uncertain. Hideyoshi may have determined that by taking such a stance, his own political prospects may increase. Moreover, we cannot be sure that Hideyoshi would not have harboured disloyalty towards Nobunaga had the ruler yet lived. In any case, Hideyoshi was certainly not loyal to Nobunaga’s memory for long. He emphatically blocked Nobunaga’s sons from assuming control. Hideyoshi became the guardian of Sambōshi (Oda Hidenobu), Nobunaga’s three-year-old grandson. He convinced the Oda vassals to ‘take an oath of loyalty to Sambōshi,’ which alleviated concerns among them that the balance of power may rapidly start to shift. 106 Ultimately however, it was an oath favourable to Hideyoshi, who was able to maintain control despite pressure from rival warlords Shibata Katsuie and Tokugawa Ieyasu. The cadastral land surveys (kenchi), and Hideyoshi’s policies such as freezing of the social classes, the ‘sword-hunt,’ prohibiting movement, and removing soldiers from their regional fiefs exemplified Hideyoshi’s intentions to limit opposition to his power. 107 These policies made the now landless samurai more dependent upon their daimyō, and thus easier to manipulate. Berry also notes, ‘to secure the obedience of his daimyo in times of crisis, Hideyoshi did not simply rely upon the general threat of military reprisal or attainder… He took bodies as sureties of the peace.’ 108 Taking hostages was not a new practice, yet it shows that Hideyoshi still viewed many daimyō with mistrust.

After Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, the council of regents he had set up to protect his six-year-old son Hideyori collapsed. In this, the regents betrayed Hideyoshi’s trust, and oaths they had taken to protect Hideyori. One of the regents, Tokugawa Ieyasu, victor of the Battle of Sekigahara, soon defeated his rivals and established his own government in Edo. As mentioned above, the Tokugawa bakufu did not trust rival daimyō, be they fudai or tozama. One prominent Tokugawa policy used to maintain the loyalty of the daimyō was the sankin kōtai system. The system included a crucial hostage component, and bore a great financial cost to the subservient daimyō. Bolitho records that ‘after vassal stipends, expenses related to sankin kōtai obligation accounted for the greatest part of the expenditure of every domain.’ 109 In many ways, it ensured that rival daimyō would never be sufficiently willing, or practically able, to challenge Tokugawa rule. The bakufu ‘had no wish to allow its permanent hostages – the wives and children of the daimyō – to leave Edo,’ and inspection barriers were set up in order to police this rule. 110 Jennifer Amyx has argued that the sankin kōtai system was one of ‘interest convergence’ based on the subsequent economic development, and ‘institutionalised trust.’ 111 However, Amyx has neglected to note that the bakufu was a military institution, attempting to enforce military directives in order to maintain it’s own hegemony. The ‘unilateral coercive power’ theory that Amyx argues against is popular because it acknowledges this point appropriately. Amyx’s argument that sankin kōtai ‘spurred a metamorphosis from a feudal economic structure… into a capitalistic economic structure within a feudal system,’ 112 goes unexplained, and in any case cannot negate the aforementioned point that the bakufu is, by definition, a military government. 113 Sankin kōtai was first and foremost a military directive, any economic developments were of secondary importance to the bakufu, which as explained above, maintained a high level of mistrust for its rivals. The sankin kōtai system was a logical step in asserting Tokugawa control, ensuring the nominal ‘loyalty’ of the daimyō.

It was the mistrust held by Hideyoshi, and later the Tokugawa, that also led to the ‘reduction of the castles of the daimyo, [and] the surveillance of their domains by spies and inspectors.’ 114 In 1615, ‘the “one castle per province” order was announced, calling upon the daimyo to destroy all fortresses in their domains, with the exception of that in which they resided.’ 115 Inspectors in the Tokugawa era, such as metsuke, were an obvious reminder of the shogunate’s authority. 116 We also know that the bakufu used samurai as shinobi (secret investigators) based on family occupation records. 117 The need for both ‘visible,’ and ‘invisible’ inspectors (albeit the latter were likely fewer in number), serves to highlight the effort required to maintain order post-sengoku. Regardless of how effective inspectors may have been at their job, the possibility of inspection provided a potential deterrent to any daimyō that may have considered trying to violate shogunate law.

How Common Were Ronin?

It seems like a substantial amount of the samurai portrayed in popular media are ronin, but how common were they in reality? Like, about what percentage of samurai were ronin? I know this is a broad question because samurai existed for centuries, but does anyone know?

Most ronin seen in Japanese cinema usually take place film-wise post-1600 but before the 1850s. Which is to say during the roughly 200 years stability of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Probably the biggest reason for this is the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate. Several notable clans had just been destroyed in roughly four decades of warfare and much of the country was demilitarizing in anticipation of Tokugawa supremacy. Tokugawa, by this time, had achieved a domain of between 2.5 million to 4 million koku and controlled the vital regions of Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto along with prosperous Kii Province, Owari (Oda Nobunaga's home province), Mikawa (Tokugawa's ancestral province) and the former lands of the Hojo, Takeda and many others.

Japanese don't determine lands by area, like the feudal Western systems did by acre. They instead gave land based on koku production or the amount of rice needed to feed a solider for a year. 10 koku = 1 soldier so theoretically the Tokugawa can muster an army of 250k to 400k.

In essence, there were no real warlords with enough allies to come close to matching the Tokugawa and its allies or were willing to fight. So most the regional warlords just came to accept the Tokugawa shogunate (with some notable exceptions like the Mori, who were banished from their ancestral Aki province to the less fertile Choshu domain. Every new years the retainers would ask the Mori head "Is it time to rebel?" and the Mori head would traditionally reply "No, the Tokugawa is still too strong.")

Now the Tokugawa ascended to supremacy after the battle of Sekigahara which affirmed the Tokugawa armies control over the Toyotomi. The Toyotomi clan, lead by the teenage Toyotomi Hideyori, were given the 600,000 koku domain of Osaka which was a rather generous placement to be given after its defeat. With many lords executed, banished or demoted after Sekigahara, many samurai found themselves out of work. And most flocked to Osaka, hoping to find favor with the Toyotomi who many in Japan believed were plotting a rebellion alongside the Mori, Shimazu and the Date.

Now to actually answer your question. Approximately 100,000 to upwards of 300,000 ronin were at Osaka at its peak. However, the bulk of them vanished prior to Tokugawa beginning to set the siege lines at Osaka to far less than that so its unknown how many were actually ronin or imposters hoping to find employment. Or how many fled out of the very real terror of Tokugawa utterly crushing them.

Afterwards, most ronin began to duel each to prove worthiness and gain fame so a lord could hire them as sword instructors or body guards. This is the era where Miyamoto Musashi rose to prominence as. I would guess that given all the fatal dueling and reduction in patronage for samurai schools due to demilitarizing that the number dramatically falls off over time from the initial peak.

TL:DR, probably 100,000 initially though it probably decreased dramatically as time went on.

Edo culture

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Edo culture, Cultural period of Japanese history corresponding to the Tokugawa period of governance (1603–1867). Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, chose Edo (present-day Tokyo) as Japan’s new capital, and it became one of the largest cities of its time and was the site of a thriving urban culture. In literature, Basho developed poetic forms later called haiku, and Ihara Saikaku composed virtuoso comic linked-verse and humorous novels in theatre, both kabuki (with live actors) and bunraku (with puppets) entertained townspeople (samurai, for whom theatregoing was forbidden, often attended in disguise). The development of polychrome woodblock printing techniques made it possible for ordinary people to obtain prints of popular kabuki actors or trendsetting courtesans (see ukiyo-e). Travelogues extolled the scenic beauty or historic interest of spots in distant provinces, and temple or shrine pilgrimages to distant places were popular. In scholarship, Kokugaku (“National Learning”) called attention to Japan’s most ancient poetry and oldest written histories. The study of Europe and its sciences, called rangaku, or “Dutch learning,” became popular despite extremely limited contact with Europe. Neo-Confucianism was also popular. See also Genroku period.

What's the Connection to Kabuki?

In the beginning, kabuki plays would also see the presence of women on stage. Actually, the creator of kabuki was a woman, Izumo no Okuni, who started performing in a unique style that mixed dance, drama and intriguing stories. However, female kabuki was banned in 1629 on the grounds of being “too erotic” from then on, all parts were covered by men. Wakashu (young boy) actors took the place of women, drawing themes from wakashudo stories. But, due to the increasing problem of these young performers also practising prostitution on the side, a partial ban was also issued on wakashu-kabuki—with a caveat that female and male roles would need to be clearly separated, and actors could only perform as one of the two sexes in one season. Naturally, female roles were taken over by young males because of their less masculine appearance and higher-pitched voice.

So kabuki theater became the perfect place to look for young, beautiful men, who soon became the object of desire of men and women alike. From there on, the government tried several times to make kabuki more “manly” and less lascivious by imposing various rules on appearances and roles, with meager results. Thus, it was common for famous kabuki actors in this period to have patrons and lovers of both sexes, with the stage being the perfect place to show off their talents, beauty and the irresistible mix of androgynous looks and manly character.

Less talented kabuki actors could still resort to prostitution to make ends meet, as they would be in high demand among both men and women alike. Kagema (陰間) became a common term to indicate male prostitutes who were passed off as kabuki apprentices. Often they were sold as indentured servants at a young age to brothels or theaters. They became extremely popular among the merchant class in the Edo Period, and the popularity of prostitution was one of the reasons why the “golden age of homosexuality" in Japan eventually came to an end.

With the start of the Meiji Era, the government began cracking down on prostitution. In addition, Western morals and ways of life were imported to Japan, and the Western definition of homosexuality was not welcome in this new cultural environment. Homosexuality was once again relegated to the shadows of sins, leaving behind a plethora of artwork in literary and visual form.

If you want to know more about this topic, the following titles might be of interest. Don’t forget to let us know your personal recommendations below.

1 The Legal System Was Ruthless

While cutting off a thief&rsquos hands or beheading murderers may have seemed customary by the standards of their contemporaries, the Edo Japanese arguably went a bit overboard when administering justice and punishing criminals.

For example, not reporting theft was as illegal as actually stealing something. Thieves could be punished by banishment or mutilation. In later times, an offender could also be tattooed on his forehead.

Other criminals were sometimes stripped naked and forced to sit in public for as long as three days. Although execution was reserved only for the most serious of crimes, somebody sentenced to death could be crucified or gibbeted. Samurai could be ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment).

To keep the era&rsquos social hierarchy tight and orderly, peasants were subjected to a number of harsh measures to prevent social mobility. A peasant could only legally move to a new village if he obtained a certificate of leave known as an okurijo.

The law dictated how peasants could dress and prohibited them from writing their last names on official documents. They were also expected to show the utmost respect to samurai. Any commoner who didn&rsquot could be killed on the spot under the samurai&rsquos right of kirisute-gomen.

Another unique procedure that was practiced in rural areas was irefuda. During times of unsolved serial arson and theft, villagers could vote for who they thought the offender was.

According to irefuda, whoever received the most votes was considered the criminal and thrown in jail. Anybody who defended the &ldquowinner&rdquo or failed to participate in the election could also be arrested.

A more anonymous form of justice could be done with a rakushogisho, a written accusation that was dropped before shrines. Ordinary peasants hated irefuda, but rakushogisho and other anonymous accusations were sometimes used to expose corruption among public officials.

Tristan Shaw runs a blog called Bizarre and Grotesque, where he writes about unsolved mysteries, paranormal phenomena, and other creepy and weird things.

Watch the video: Battle of Sekigahara 1600 - Sengoku Jidai DOCUMENTARY (May 2022).