A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present

By Andrew Gordon | Go to book overview
Save to active project

3
The Intellectual World of Late Tokugawa

Faced with widespread symptoms of distress and decline, from chronic daimyō and samurai debt to devastating famine and increased instances of violent protests, both rulers and ruled produced vigorous critiques of their changing world. The gist of such statements often looked backward as well as forward: Reform was needed to return the world of the present to the better times of the past. Ironically, as is often the case, conservative reforms actually set in motion a chain of events that made a return to that past impossible. To understand the cultural and intellectual ferment of late Tokugawa times, one must begin by examining the ideal world that reformers wished to restore.


IDEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE TOKUGAWA REGIME

For any political order to endure as long as the Tokugawa system did, it cannot rely solely on the coercive power of hegemon and henchmen. Authority has to be grounded in an accepted concept of legitimate rule. Like all aspiring rulers, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi faced this ideological dilemma. They faced it, however, with a particular intensity. Because they had used coercion so nakedly, they had greater than usual need to convince people of the legitimacy of their rule. Both of these men, as well as Tokugawa Ieyasu, sought to ground their authority upon religious as well as secular symbols and ideals.

Nobunaga promoted himself as a divine ruler even as he went to war against popular religious sects and killed tens of thousands. He demanded that samurai “venerate” him. In exchange he offered not only military but also divine protection. He asserted that the service rendered in this life would benefit a loyal vassal in the next life. He issued proclamations demanding worship of him for those wishing to gain wealth and happiness. He also came to present himself as the embodiment of “the realm” (tenka in Japanese, literally “under heaven”). Unlike earlier military hegemons, he rejected a shogunal position because this would have placed him symbolically subordinate to the emperor as recipient of imperial confirmation. He had vassals use the phrase “for the tenka, for Nobunaga” in their pledges of loyalty. He thus identified himself with the realm, which was itself defined in terms of being all under heaven. He claimed sovereignty in a way that was similar to, but pre

-34-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 384

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?