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How useful is the idea of a 'compound state' for understanding the nature of the Tokugawa regime?

Introduction

The Tokugawa regime has been called by different names by historians. Some have called it a feudal regime, while others have called it an absolutist regime. Still others have disagreed with these Western influenced definitions of the nature of the regime. While the nature of the regime itself may fall in one or the either category, the regime did display certain characteristics of a dyarchy or a “compound state”, where the powers are decentralised to some extent, with some of the powers being exercised by local governments. In the Tokugawa regime this is seen in the establishment of the national shogunate and the provincial Daimyo, as a part of the bokufu.

This essay examines the nature of the Tokugawa regime as a compound state and finds that there were a number of features of the Tokugawa regime that are in nature federalist or involving elements of dyarchy.

Tokugawa regime as a compound state

The Tokugawa house established a political culture, which is now known as the bakuhan taisei (the kakuhan system), which is a term used to signify dyarchy in the government system. Some scholars have used the European derived terms of feudalism or absolutism to define the Tokugawa regime, while some Japanese scholars contend that neither of these terms is appropriate.

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The bakuhan is seen in the Tokugawa regime because of the establishment of the shogun system at the national level and the Daimyo at the local level. The Tokugawa house took decades to fully convert into a stable bakuhan, and the most important period in this respect is the period between 1603, when Tokugawa Ieyasu, became the shogun, to the 1640s, when Iemitsu became the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty.

The Tokugawa house was able to achieve national unification, acquire legitimacy and create and sustain institutions of social control that had national significance. The compound state

  • Mark Ravina, “State-Building and Political Economy in Early-modern Japan”, The Journal of Asian Studies 54 (1995): 997-1022.
  • John Whitney Hall, The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 128.
  • Mary Elizabeth Berry, Hideyoshi (Harvard University Asia Center, 1989), 148.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • John Whitney Hall, Government and Local Power in Japan: 500 to 1700 (NJ, 1966), 345.

or dyarchy like state that was maintained by the Tokugawa house was enabled by the broad unifying characteristic of the Shogun on one hand, and the decentralization of actual administration through the Daimyo on the other hand.

Shogun and Daimyo : Balance of power

The interactions between the shogun government at the centre and the Daimyo governments at the local level are an interesting aspect of the bakuhan. The Daimyo came under the control of the shogun and even derived powers from this central authority, however, at the same time, the Daimyo valued its power within the local sphere and had to learn to compromise its autonomy with survival as part of the bakuhan. It is important to remember that the Tokugawa line had ascended to shogun status in the 16th century, before which it was also a Daimyo. Here, the role of Ieyasu is particularly important, as he took a number of steps, both military (the conquest of the Osaka castle), as well as civilian measures, such as formulation of regulations, restricting Emperor and the nobility to ceremonial functions, limiting Daimyos to single castles and prohibiting warfare among the Daimyo. However, Ieyasu died soon after taking these measures and the task of consolidating the power of the Tokugawa house and managing the relations between the shogun, emperor and the Daimyo, fell on the two succeeding shoguns. However, Ieyasu managed to create a shogunate that was able to claim a national status, although in doing this he carried on the work that Hideyoshi had done earlier.

The shogunate thus established showed a capacity and ability to govern the Daimyo and this is the basis of the bakuhan system or the dyarchy that was seen during the Tokugawa regime in Japan.

The structure of the government under the bakuhan shows that there was a hierarchy within which the system was organised. This hierarchy saw the shimpan (collateral houses) at the top, followed by the fudai or the hereditary Daimyo, and the tozama or the outside lords at the very end of the hierarchy. Throughout the hierarchy table, the landholdings were taxable.

There are some interesting features of the regime that also reflect elements that are seen in the compound state.

  • Ibid.
  • John Whitney Hall, The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 129.
  • Ibid 130.
  • Ibid 147-48.
  • Mary Elizabeth Berry, Hideyoshi (Harvard University Asia Center, 1989).
  • John Whitney Hall, The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 152.

First, there was a balance of power as between the shogunate and the Daimyo. The Daimyo was accountable for the bakufu regulations and code of conduct laid down by the shogun. The shogun on the other hand, could take disciplinary action against the Daimyo for the violation of the code. One of the principle disciplinary measure was the divestment of the Daimyo lands. Indeed, it is said that “in the fifty years from 1601 to 1650 the aggregate revenue from confiscated fiefs amounted to over 12 million koku, which gives an idea of how many daimyos were moved.”

Second, the shogun claimed for himself certain of the powers in the name of the Japanese people that are usually seen as being exercised by the Union or Centre in the modern dyarchy. Thus, he was the guardian of the state (the tenka) and the protector of the Japanese people. Foreign relations or foreign matters and foreign trade were under the domain of the shogun, who regulated these areas. In fact, Ieyasu was himself very interested in foreign trade and the fact that “the Bakufu issued licenses for the voyages of Japanese merchant vessels under the Shogun's vermilion seal” itself is indicative of the role of the shogun in foreign relations at the time.

The shogun was the ultimate proprietor of all taxable land as per the shoen law. Interestingly, this included the land owned by the court nobility or the religious orders. The Daimyo were considered to be the sworn vassals of the shogun, who derived their dominions due to the personal grant of the shogun. The shogun held an oath of fealty by the Daimyo, and in reciprocation, he conferred investitures of land their governance upon the Daimyo.

The currency was made and controlled by the shogunate as was the standardization of weights and measures. Principal laws and regulations fell within the domain of the shogun. The han also accepted and applied bakufu regulations, and in many cases “they issued han decrees embodying or even strengthening the bakufu regulations”, thus eliminating the role of the Daimyo in the making of law at all.

Apart from making regulations for the bakufu, the shogun also interested itself in making laws for agricultural population. The shogun was also the supreme arbiter of justice and could

  • Sir George Bailey Sansom, A History of Japan, 1615-1867 (Stanford University Press 1963), 32.
  • Sir George Bailey Sansom, A History of Japan, 1615-1867 (Stanford University Press 1963), 35.
  • John Whitney Hall, Government and Local Power in Japan: 500 to 1700 (NJ, 1966), 349.
  • John Whitney Hall, The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 157.
  • John Whitney Hall, Government and Local Power in Japan: 500 to 1700 (NJ, 1966), 349.
  • Conrad Totman, Politics in the Tokugawa Bakufu: 1600-1843 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967) 157.

hear and settle disputes between the Daimyos or between the Daimyo and other elements of the Tokugawa.

Third, governance, apart from the areas mentioned above, which were exclusively under shogun’s control, was shared as between the shogun and the Daimyo. It is important to remember the nature of the control exercised by the shogun over the Daimyo in some areas and the freedom exercised by the Daimyo in the other areas. The shogun had to maintain a society at peace and that too in a country and society that had been dominated by the warrior class. At the same time, the feudal character of the society had to be preserved. For all of this, the Shogun had to ensure the loyalty of his vassals and also by granting the vassals a large measure of autonomy that would make them satisfied and control rebellion among the vassals against the shogun. All of this required the precarious apparent balance of power to be maintained within the relations between the shogun and the Daimyo.

The shogun ensured the Daimyo’s allegiance by keeping the household of the Daimyo as hostages of the Edo castle and Daimyo’s were allowed to visit their families in alternate years (alternate attendance). In fact, this method of alternate attendance became a bone of contention in the 1860s between the shogunate and the Daimyo. Another method exercised by the shogun was the use of the junkeshi or itinerant inspectors, who conducted periodic enquiries into the Daimyo domain. During critical periods, such as when the succession was passing on from one Daimyo to the other, kuki metsuke or provincial inspectors of the shogun maintained vigil. Another method used by the shogun in restraining the powers of the Daimyo was to transfer lands and holdings and it is said that “One other factor discouraging the development of integral domains was the frequent and haphazard way in which lands and castles were transferred from official to official, preventing an office-holding daimyo from establishing strong roots in his castle region.

The vassal Daimyo were therefore, important in two separate but related political units. The Daimyo was also the holder of “well-organized and extensive domains of land who commanded loyalty of han vassals as well as commoners.

  • Sir George Bailey Sansom, A History of Japan, 1615-1867 (Stanford University Press 1963).
  • John Whitney Hall, The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 158.
  • Conrad Totman, “Fudai Daimyo and the Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu”, The Journal of Asian Studies 34 (1975): 581-591, 583.
  • Conrad Totman, Politics in the Tokugawa Bakufu: 1600-1843 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967) 156.
  • Conrad Totman, Politics in the Tokugawa Bakufu: 1600-1843 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967) 154.
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The construction of palaces for the court and nobility and public works projects was a responsibility that was shared by both the Daimyo as well as the shogun.

It is also noteworthy that despite all the measures taken by the shogun to maintain the balance of power in the bakufu, the fudai Daimyo was always involved in a conflict like situation with the shogunate, which culminated in events that led to the ultimate demise of the bakufu in the 1860s, when the Daimyo refused to assist the shogunate. The process if conflict between the shogunate and the Daimyo was “structural” and consistent throughout the period of the Tokugawa regime.

Conclusion

It would seem that the Daimyo were completely under the control of the shogun, but that is far from the truth. The bakufu required certain kinds of autonomies of the Daimyo to be ceded to the shogun, such as those that are discussed here above. Regardless, the Daimyo were free to administer their domains in the manner they felt fit, provided that they acted under the bakufu regulations.

Bibliography

  • Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Harvard University Asia Center, 1989.
  • Hall, John Whitney. The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  • Hall, John Whitney. Government and Local Power in Japan: 500 to 1700. NJ, 1966.
  • Ravina, Mark. “State-Building and Political Economy in Early-modern Japan.” The Journal of Asian Studies 54 (1995): 997-1022.
  • Sansom, George Bailey. A History of Japan, 1615-1867. Stanford University Press, 1963.
  • Mark Ravina, “State-Building and Political Economy in Early-modern Japan”, The Journal of Asian Studies 54 (1995): 997-1022.
  • Ibid, 581.
  • Totman, Conrad. Politics in the Tokugawa Bakufu: 1600-1843. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967.
  • Totman, Conrad. “Fudai Daimyo and the Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu.” The Journal of Asian Studies 34 (1975): 581-591.

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