Society Under the Tokugawa Shogunate

Essay by xyzzzzzzHigh School, 10th gradeA+, February 2005

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Life in Tokugawa Japan was strictly hierarchical with the population divided among four distinct classes: samurai, farmers, craftspeople, and traders. Prior to the Tokugawa period there was some movement among these classes, but the Tokugawa shoguns, intent upon maintaining their power and privilege, restricted this movement. As economic conditions changed, the shoguns were less successful, however, in maintaining the rigid boundaries separating the other classes.

The Tokugawa shoguns did not promote change like many of the emperors of China did. The idea of stability was a much more important concept to them. The Confucian ideas and institutions were borrowed from China and supported this ideal. In particular, they tried to protect the samurai, making upward mobility from the farming class to the samurai impossible.

The Tokugawa shoguns adopted the Confucian ideal of social classes but now without many modifications. First, they ranked warriors who fulfilled almost the same role as scholar-gentry in China.

Then came the peasants, artisans, and merchants, which ensued in descending order of importance. In Japan, the Japanese people were born in to their respective classes. The sons took up the jobs of their fathers, following their occupations. A person born in to the artisan family in Osaka would remain in that artisan class for life. This may have had been effective but it limited the amount of people eligible.

Tokugawa shoguns encouraged education in the Confucian classics for members within the warrior class. The shoguns established various schools in the many domains to prepare young warriors for their new peacetime role as government officials. However, the shoguns did not adopt the Chinese civil service examination system. In Japan, heredity alone decided which warriors became officials. Males born in to low-ranking warrior families worked as low-ranking officials in their domain. Likewise, the ones born in to...