The Shôguns Domestic and Foreign Visitors
The Edo period (1600–1868) was a time of unprecedented peace in Japanese history. It was also a period of great cultural and economic ferment, despite the fact that the countrys Tokugawa leaders strictly limited and oversaw contacts with the outside world. Two related practices helped preserve the vitality of Japans semifeudal society during more than two centuries of seclusionthe sankin kôtai system whereby all of Japans 300 feudal lords spent half their time in Edo, away from their domains, and the custom of periodically hosting foreign missions in Edo.
The system of sankin kôtai, under which the daimyô that ruled Japans feudal domains (han) were required to spend alternate years at the shôguns seat in Edo, is one of the best-known institutions of Edo-period Japan. Adopted in 1635, the system was devised as a way to keep the daimyô under the shogunates control. Sankin refers to the act of reporting to and serving ones lord—in this case the shôgun—while kôtai means alternation. While the system is recognized as one of the hallmarks of Tokugawa rule, its profound impact on Japans premodern cultural and economic development is often overlooked.
Within the feudal system, in which power is decentralized and a sovereign grants his vassals or retainers land in exchange for their military service, the relationship between lord and retainer is the glue that holds the social order together. Under such a system, it makes perfect sense for the lord of each domain to report periodically to his liege to pay homage and confirm his fealty. In the feudal society of medieval Germany, the practice was institutionalized and referred to as Hoffahrt, or “going to court.” What distinguishes the sankin kôtai system of Edo-period Japan is simply that it functioned almost perfectly on such a large scale, with every daimyô in the country transferring his household each spring like clockwork.
The move to Edo or back to the local domain was carried out in the fourth month of every year. A daimyôs entry into or departure from Edo was the occasion of a magnificent sankin kôtai procession—commonly known as a daimyô procession. This was a veritable pageant featuring a large retinue of warriors with spears, bows, and guns, servants carrying numerous lacquered chests on poles, retainers on horseback, and finally the daimyô himself riding in a palanquin. The parade was as much a display of wealth and power as it was a means of moving the lord and his entourage from here to there, and each daimyô vied with his peers to pull off a more splendid procession with a larger retinue.
Some of the largest processions were those of the Maeda clan that ruled Kaga, the wealthiest domain in the land. These processions boasted a cast of more than 2,000 in an average year and sometimes as many as 4,000. The daimyô of Satsuma, which was ruled by the Shimazu clan, traveled in processions of about 1,200 around the middle of the seventeenth century, and in one case the retinue of the daimyô from Higo, ruled by the Hosokawa clan, numbered 2,700. Around the middle of the Edo period, however, the daimyô processions of both the Shimazu and Hosokawa clans subsided to somewhere around 500 or 600. By that time, most of the processions that traversed the countrys major highways numbered between 150 and 300.*
A SYSTEM OF HIGHWAYS AND POST TOWNS
Like most systems that developed during the Edo period, Japans transportation system, centered on highways dotted with post towns (also known as “stations”), was designed not for private transportation but for military purposes. The five major highways, including the well-known Tôkaidô linking Edo with Kyoto, the imperial capital, were primarily a means for the shôgun to dispatch large-scale forces to any part of the country as quickly as possible to put down a rebellion if necessary. Secondarily, the highways were a means for the shôgun himself to travel to Kyoto for audiences with the emperor or make pilgrimages to Tôshôgû, the shrine of the Tokugawa clan in Nikkô, in the company of personal retainers or daimyô, and for the daimyô to make their obligatory trips to Edo and back.
The establishment of post towns at regular intervals along each road enabled the transport of supplies and people by relay. Instead of traveling the entire distance (that method, referred to as tôshi-jinba, was the exception), porters and horses merely conveyed their charges to the next post town, where they were relieved by others, a relay system called tsugitate. For this purpose, the transport managers offices kept on hand a set number of porters and horses—for example, 100 people and 100 horses at post towns along the Tôkaidô. Meanwhile, a variety of lodgings sprang up—from cheap hostels for the common people to the most luxurious inns, known as honjin, for the daimyô—to accommodate a large volume of travelers.
The Shimabara uprising of 1637–38 marked Japans last civil disturbance until the waning years of the Edo period two centuries later and heralded the beginning of the longest period of peace Japan has ever known. In the interim, the highway system stopped being used for the primary purpose for which it had been built. As visits by the shôgun to Kyoto and Nikkô tapered off, the sankin kôtai became the systems raison d^tre. Indeed, these annual journeys in many ways supported the transportation system of Edo-period Japan. They necessitated the creation of a system capable of transporting 500 to 1,000 people and all their belongings from post town to post town, and through the payments of huge sums for lodging and related services, they provided the means for keeping the system in good working order.
For example, according to research by Chûda Toshio, the entourage of the Maeda-clan daimyô of Kaga during its sankin kôtai numbered around 2,000 even in the late-middle Edo period. The charges it would have incurred at each post town would have included not only the fees for horses and porters and food and lodging for the daimyô and his entourage but also separate charges for lamps, bath pails, candles, charcoal braziers, charcoal, bedding, tea, and horse feed, not to mention money to replace the walkers straw sandals once every three days.
Thus equipped, moreover, the highway-and-post-town system of the Edo period also provided the common people with an efficient and safe way to travel or transport goods in volume. And this in turn paved the way for an unprecedented boom in recreational travel. Probably the most popular destination for recreational travelers was Ise Shrine. According to statistics from the Kyohô era (1716–36), the number of pilgrims visiting Ise during the first four months of each year (the farmers off season) reached a mind-boggling 420,000 or more. Annually, between 500,000 and 600,000 people made the pilgrimage.
The popularity and regularity of travel by merchants, tradespeople, and farmers as well as members of the samurai class accelerated the development of a national culture by fostering cultural interchange between Edo and the provinces, the city and the country, and East (Kantô) and West (Kansai), thus breaking down the cultural insularity of Japans diverse regions. More than any direct influence it may have had, the sankin kôtai system contributed to Japanese culture indirectly by enabling this movement.
DEVELOPMENT OF A UNIFIED MARKET ECONOMY
Needless to say, the development of a nationwide transportation network and a system for getting around safely and reliably—a byproduct of the sankin kôtai system—also aided Japans economic development by facilitating commerce through the free movement of and trade in materials and finished goods. But this was not the sankin kôtai systems only economic contribution to premodern Japan. The cost of maintaining a household in Edo often amounted to well over half of the daimyôs annual expenses, a huge sum of money.
According to Maruyama Yasunari, the expenses of the Tokugawa daimyô of Kii while in Edo in the year 1831 were 21,000 ryô in gold (a ryô being approximately 18 grams), while the cost of the journey there was 13,000 ryô, for a total of 34,000 ryô. The rulers expenses while within his own domain, by contrast, were only 11,000 ryô. If we examine the budget of the Maeda clan of Kaga in 1747, we see total annual expenses amounting to 10,300 kan of silver (equivalent to a little more than 170,000 ryô of gold), of which 6,000 kan, or 58.2%, was allotted to Edo expenses, while expenses within the domain amounted to only 3,260 kan, or 31.8%. Annual expenditures of the Yamanouchi clan of Tosa during the Kansei era (1789–1801) averaged 2,633 kan of silver (or about 4,380 ryô of gold), of which 1,455 kan, or 55.2%, went toward Edo expenses. In 1768, the Matsudaira of Matsue spent 34,953 ryô of gold on Edo expenses and 5,470 ryô on travel to and from Edo, 48.5% and 7.5% of their total annual expenses, respectively. It is estimated that for leading daimyô, annual travel costs incurred by sankin kôtai ranged between 3,000 and 5,000 ryô, while lesser daimyô probably spent about 1,000 ryô on the trip.
Date Kenji has suggested that the Edo-based ordinary expenses for all 300 daimyô totaled some 45 million ryô. This sum may be slightly overstated, but if even a fraction of what Date estimates was spent annually in Edo, it would have had a major impact on the urban economy.
In short, the sankin kôtai system pumped into Edo money that the daimyô would otherwise have hoarded at home, and by so doing boosted effective demand by a huge factor, stimulating economic activity in all sectors and contributing immeasurably to the economic development of premodern Japan.
The bulk of daimyô spending in Edo went for such items as silk goods, sake, handicrafts (ceramics, lacquerware, and so forth), food, lamp oil, paper, tatami mats, and construction of residences, and it was naturally these industries that benefited most. The high demand for construction attracted numerous carpenters, artisans, and laborers and accelerated the transformation of Edo into a major metropolis, which led in turn to a more pronounced division of labor in Japanese society.
Since Edo was unable to produce fine sake, silk goods, and elaborate handicrafts, it was necessary to procure such items from the Kyoto-Osaka region, which had a longer history of economic development, and trade linking the two areas became a vital engine of the premodern economy.
In order to pay for the expense of the sankin kôtai journey and various expenses incurred while living in Edo, the daimyô needed a supply of the common currency accepted throughout Japan, namely, gold and silver coins, and for this purpose, they needed to sell locally produced goods—especially rice—on the Kyoto-Osaka-area markets. In practice, they received loans for their Edo expenses from moneylenders in the Kyoto-Osaka area, whom they repaid with shipments of local goods. In the early years of the Edo period, this activity took place in central Kyoto, but as transport shifted to newly developed coastal shipping routes, the port city of Osaka replaced Kyoto as the hub of economic activity.
In this way there emerged a unified market system centered on Osaka. Rice and other goods from all over the country were brought to Osaka, where they were bought and sold and, thanks to the regions superior artisanship and technology, processed into such high-value-added finished products as silken and cotton textiles, refined sake, lamp oil, and the whole spectrum of handicrafts. From there they were shipped to all parts of the country, but above all to Edo.
The development of a market economy encompassing manufacturing, commerce, and finance, a system centered on Osaka and the Osaka-Edo corridor but connected to all parts of the country by an intricate network, was the bedrock supporting the maturation of Japanese culture during the Edo period. And the chain of developments that allowed this to happen was a product of the sankin kôtai system and the resulting concentration of daimyô residences in Edo.
FOREIGN MISSIONS IN EDO
If the relationship between the daimyô and the shôgun was symbolized by sankin kôtai, then the relationship between Japan and other countries during the same period was represented by the custom of bringing foreign missions to Edo for audiences with the shôgun.
It is widely known that for most of the Edo period the Tokugawa shôguns followed a policy of sakoku, national isolation. However, this should not be construed to mean that Japan was completely closed to the outside world. While it is true that the Japanese were prohibited from traveling overseas, it is also indisputable that Edo-period Japan maintained ties in one form or another with a number of foreign countries via the countrys four kuchi, or “openings”: Nagasaki, Tsushima, Satsuma, and Matsumae. More specifically, commerce with the Dutch and the Chinese was conducted through the port of Nagasaki; ties with Korea were maintained through Tsushima, the domain of the Sô clan; Satsuma, the domain of the Shimazu clan, kept up relations with Ryûkyû (then an independent kingdom) to the south; and the northern Matsumae domain of the Matsumae clan was the conduit for exchange with points to the north.
The Tokugawa shogunate actually maintained formal diplomatic relations with Korea and Ryûkyû and exchanged official missives with their monarchs. Relations with Holland and China, however, were generally confined to commercial activities conducted exclusively in Nagasaki. Even so, the foreigners who showed up most frequently in Edo were the Dutch. Even though the Netherlands did not have formal diplomatic relations with Japan, each year beginning in 1633, the director, or opperhoofd, of the Dutch factory on Dejima—the island off Nagasaki to which the Dutch were generally confined—journeyed to Edo for an audience with the shôgun. This expedition was in the nature of a tribute mission in which the Dutch offered numerous gifts to the shôgun and expressed their gratitude for the privilege of conducting trade with Japan.
The opperhoofd would travel in the company of several other Hollanders, such as the clerk and the physician of the Dutch factory, as well as an interpreter and some officials from the Nagasaki magistrates office. They would depart from Nagasaki during the first month (by the lunar Oriental calendar) and arrive for their audience with the shôgun around the first day of the third month. The 90-odd days that these Europeans spent traversing the Japanese archipelago from Nagasaki to Edo and back were not without significance for the development of Edo-period culture. (The expedition was carried out annually until 1790, when the interval was changed to once every five years.)
The Dutch emissaries would stay in Edo for two or three weeks, lodging at an inn called the Nagasakiya. In the early days, ordinary Japanese were barred from any association with the foreigners, but later in the Edo period, Japanese interested in Western scholarship, or rangaku (literally, Dutch scholarship), would call on the Dutch at the Nagasakiya and ask them every manner of question in an effort to obtain the latest knowledge and information. The same phenomenon was seen at the Ebiya inn in Kyoto, where the Dutch mission lodged on the way to Edo and back. In this way the long round-trip journey helped fuel the rise of Western studies in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which in turn laid the foundation for the spread of modern science and civilization.
The periodic journey to Edo also had a significant impact on Dutch culture and society and on that of Europe as a whole. The clearest example of this is the published account of the German traveler and scholar Englebert Kaempfer, who served as physician on Dejima from 1690–92 and participated in the mission in both 1691 and 1692. Kaempfers History of Japan, published in Europe early in the eighteenth century, was the first book to introduce Europeans to Japan and the characteristics of Japanese culture in some detail, and it was to have considerable influence on political and legal thinking in the West.
In the eighteenth century, a Swedish botanist named Carl Thunberg, serving as physician of the Dutch factory in 1775–76, accompanied the opperhoofd on the annual mission. Thunberg collected botanical specimens from every area through which the mission passed and subsequently introduced Europeans to the flora of Japan, which was far more diverse than that found in Europe. Later in the same century, Izaak Titsingh, who served as factory director twice between 1779 and 1783, compiled extensive illustrations and notes on the basis of his travels, which were later published as Illustrations of Japan. In the mid–nineteenth century the German physician Philipp Franz von Siebold recorded his experiences and observations on the road to Edo in his voluminous Nippon and went on to describe Japanese flora and fauna in two volumes, covering in the process everything from natural history to secret government information. Through such writings the Europeans of the time came to learn a good deal about Edo-period Japan.
THE KOREAN MISSION
The other important group of foreigners to appear in Edo was the Korean mission. Korea had occasionally sent envoys to Japan for purposes of negotiation since the medieval period, but the relationship seen during the Edo period was one that had its origins in the invasion of Korea by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi near the end of the sixteenth century. Hideyoshi died in the midst of this ill-advised venture, and it was left to his successor Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, to extricate Japan from a costly quagmire. In 1607, Ieyasu concluded a peace agreement with the Korean envoy and returned some of the Koreans being held captive in Japan. Pleased with this settlement, the Korean side established diplomatic relations with Japan and instituted the custom of sending emissaries to Japan on the occasion of the accession of each new shôgun to congratulate the new leader. During the course of the Edo period there were 12 such missions altogether.
Unlike the Dutch mission, the Korean delegation was a huge group consisting of not only diplomatic officials and interpreters but also physicians, painters, flag bearers, numerous soldiers, and others, bringing the total to around 500 members. They would leave Seoul and approach Japan at Tsushima, proceeding from Shimonoseki to the Seto Inland Sea and then to Osaka, calling at various ports along the way. From Osaka they would transfer to river vessels and work their way up the Yodogawa to Fushimi, where they would disembark and finish the journey to Edo on foot. The mission would enter Edo in a long and magnificent procession led by musicians. The Koreans would go first to Higashi Honganji temple in Tsukiji, where they were to lodge, and from there proceed to Edo Castle for an audience with the shôgun and a series of ceremonies.
During the course of the journey, wherever the mission rested or stopped for the night, it would be greeted by high-level government officials or the nearest daimyô, who spared no expense to welcome and entertain the emissaries. While the company was boating up the Yodogawa or marching toward Edo, the daimyô of the neighboring domains would provide huge numbers of porters and horses to assist and would station warriors all along the way to ensure the missions safety. After all, receiving this foreign delegation, which had traveled from afar to congratulate the new shôgun on his accession, was the most important diplomatic event that took place in Edo-period Japan.
Wherever the Korean mission stayed during its visit, Japanese of all classes with an interest in Chinese poetry and philosophy would gather for frequent question-and-answer sessions, exchanges of written documents, and “discussions” using the common language of written Chinese. The officials of the shogunate did surprisingly little to restrict these, leaving the participants to communicate with a considerable degree of freedom. Indeed, within the records the Koreans have left, one frequently encounters complaints that everyone from the chief delegate on down was exhausted from dealing with all the Japanese visitors. Thus, while, the Korean mission to Edo was technically a political event, the peripheral activity it occasioned was clearly a kind of grass-roots cultural exchange.
The king of Ryûkyû also sent emissaries to Edo in missions similar to those from Korea. In the case of Ryûkyû, however, this took place both upon the accession of a new shôgun and upon that of a new king of Ryûkyû. Each of these consisted of about 100 emissaries, including a prince, who headed the delegation, and a band of musicians, but they would be joined by the daimyô of Satsuma and his retinue to form a procession more than 1,000 strong.
The Ryûkyû mission to Edo took place 18 times during the Edo period, beginning in 1634 and ending in 1850. The round trip between Ryûkyû and Edo would have taken about a year to complete. The emissaries would set sail in the late spring to take advantage of favorable winds and call at Satsuma, where they made preparations before continuing by ship to Fushimi in the autumn. At Fushimi, they disembarked and made the rest of their journey to Edo on foot along the Tôkaidô. Dressed in Chinese fashion, they would proceed through Edo to the accompaniment of musical instruments, bearing all manner of gifts from the king. They would stay in Edo over the winter and finally return home to Ryûkyû the following spring.
The missions from Korea and Ryûkyû were only occasional events, and the Dutch expeditions from Nagasaki, though annual, were obviously also much smaller in their overall economic impact than the sankin kôtai of the daimyô. But even as the regular trips to and from Edo by the feudal lords contributed greatly to breaking down the insularity among Japans regions, the visits of these foreigners to the shôguns seat surely helped the Japanese appreciate the wider world beyond their shores, alleviating Japans isolation during the centuries of national seclusion.
Translated from an original article in Japanese written for Japan Echo.
*Maruyama Yasunari, Nihon kinsei kôtsû shi no kenkyû (Studies in Edo-Period Transportation) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kôbunkan, 1989)
© 2003 Japan Echo Inc.