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LIVE READ: Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan
Topic Started: Mar 29 2015, 07:48 AM (7,076 Views)
kitsuno
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In a few days I'll be starting a "live read" with the next book I'm starting - Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan, by Stephen Vlastos. I'm not calling it a "reading group" because those are too hard to coordinate, people have to buy the book and the actual reading has to be scheduled. I'm not going to do that. IF you have the book or want to get it, feel free to read along and comment along with me, and if you don't have the book, feel free to comment or ask questions as I go along. And, if you are reading, or will be reading, any other Japanese history related books at any point, feel free to create your own "Live Read" thread (and I'll pin it for you).

The goal here is for me to read the book, and post interesting/important points, and if a conversation starts, great. So feel free to join in.

If you want to get the book, please go through this link at the Samurai Archives Bookstore, and you can get used copies quite cheaply:

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narukagami
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Wow, I was recently talking with someone about this topic and just came to the forum to ask "What's a good resource on peasant uprisings in the Edo period?"

Great timing, eh?
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kitsuno
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As I've started the book, the overall thesis seems to be that the various peasant uprisings during the Edo period were not meant for global sweeping change or social revolution - it was for the most part much more straightforward, small scale, and "local". Uprisings for the most part were small scale and in direct response to issues that effected the peasants directly, in other words issues that impacted their day to day lives. Vlastos doesn't necessarily see these conflicts as negative or a symptom of full on societal breakdown. The peasants would rise up when the warrior class impinged on their rights or daily life to an intolerable degree. So, examining these peasant uprisings gives insight directly into class relations in Tokugawa Japan.

It was either Luke Roberts or possibly David Eason (someone fill me in if you know) who said something along the lines that the local Daimyo were given full autonomy insofar as they could, or assuming they could, control their local populations. Peasant uprisings showed the Bakufu that the local Daimyo wasn't doing a good job of running their fiefdom, so it was in the best interest of the local Daimyo to (of course) put down the rebellion, but to also address the issues that caused it in the first place. So it was, in the feudal structure of the time, in a way an "acceptable" form of civil disobedience on the part of the peasants, because it was an effective strategy to force issues that the warrior class was failing to address. Or maybe it would be better termed a "power play" on the part of the peasants, by making the Daimyo look bad to the suits in Edo.

Vlastos also does mention that often there was not much violence or destruction of property involved as one might expect beyond executions of the lead rabblerousers, and I'm sure he'll get into details on that later in the book.
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Tatsunoshi
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Yeah, the stuff you see in jidaigeki and chanbara movies about the uber-harsh Hitleresque Tokugawa dictatorship (and/or the local daimyo that were actually in control of their own lands) crushing the poor peasants (along with the violent natures of peasant uprisings) is pretty much a myth. Even with something like Shimabara that did turn violent, the daimyo involved was harshly punished (executed) along with the peasants. One of the bigger online laughs I get is reading the political commentary dished out with clueless reviews written by a formerly popular chanbara review site that swears what you see on the screen is the way it all went down.
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Toranosuke
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Quote:
 
It was either Luke Roberts or possibly David Eason (someone fill me in if you know) who said something along the lines that the local Daimyo were given full autonomy insofar as they could, or assuming they could, control their local populations. Peasant uprisings showed the Bakufu that the local Daimyo wasn't doing a good job of running their fiefdom, so it was in the best interest of the local Daimyo to (of course) put down the rebellion, but to also address the issues that caused it in the first place.


I haven't read Eason, but this sounds very much consistent with Roberts' themes and arguments in "Performing the Great Peace."
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kitsuno
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In a way the Bakufu punishing a Daimyo for peasant uprisings is almost like a tacit or de facto support of peasants rights, which is an interesting concept.
Obviously the actual intent was more likely "Take care of yo shit", but the net result is that peasants can effect change through uprisings.
Edited by kitsuno, Mar 31 2015, 08:00 PM.
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Tatsunoshi
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It fits in with the Neo-Confucian underpinnings of Edo society, that those in charge are the 'parents' to the peasantry 'children' and have responsibility for their proper 'care'.
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HJT
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kitsuno
Mar 31 2015, 06:58 PM
As I've started the book, the overall thesis seems to be that the various peasant uprisings during the Edo period were not meant for global sweeping change or social revolution - it was for the most part much more straightforward, small scale, and "local". Uprisings for the most part were small scale and in direct response to issues that effected the peasants directly, in other words issues that impacted their day to day lives. Vlastos doesn't necessarily see these conflicts as negative or a symptom of full on societal breakdown. The peasants would rise up when the warrior class impinged on their rights or daily life to an intolerable degree. So, examining these peasant uprisings gives insight directly into class relations in Tokugawa Japan.

It's been a few years since I've read this book. I'll have to brush the dust off of it as I would be interested in giving it a re-read.

If I recall correctly(which is a stretch) Vlastos' tone throughout the book is quite the opposite of being negative. He sees the 'uprisings" as a healthy and important part of Tokugawa society.

Edited by HJT, Apr 1 2015, 01:37 AM.
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ltdomer98
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Toranosuke
Mar 31 2015, 07:41 PM
Quote:
 
It was either Luke Roberts or possibly David Eason (someone fill me in if you know) who said something along the lines that the local Daimyo were given full autonomy insofar as they could, or assuming they could, control their local populations. Peasant uprisings showed the Bakufu that the local Daimyo wasn't doing a good job of running their fiefdom, so it was in the best interest of the local Daimyo to (of course) put down the rebellion, but to also address the issues that caused it in the first place.


I haven't read Eason, but this sounds very much consistent with Roberts' themes and arguments in "Performing the Great Peace."
They both have similar viewpoints on the issue, if I remember from their AAS presentations a few years ago.
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kitsuno
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HJT
Apr 1 2015, 01:36 AM


If I recall correctly(which is a stretch) Vlastos' tone throughout the book is quite the opposite of being negative. He sees the 'uprisings" as a healthy and important part of Tokugawa society.



That is definitely the impression i'm getting.
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chingwa
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"The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto" by Mary Elizabeth Berry also touches quite a bit on commoner/peasant uprisings and demonstrations, at least in the Muromachi period.

...though I admit I've never been able to finish this book, despite multiple attempts (yawn).
Edited by chingwa, Apr 1 2015, 12:47 PM.
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ltdomer98
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I don't understand why anyone has a problem with that book. It's a real page turner, along with everything by Berry.

***the author of this post may or may not be putting in an application to Berkeley next year...
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HJT
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Apr 1 2015, 01:04 PM
I don't understand why anyone has a problem with that book. It's a real page turner, along with everything by Berry.

***the author of this post may or may not be putting in an application to Berkeley next year...
I have no pending application and I agree with this statement. Berry is one of my favorites.
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kitsuno
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Vlastos implies in the introductory chapter that the Shimabara rebellion was the event that really pushed the Bakufu to establish the maritime restrictions and sakoku, and I've seen this elsewhere as well. Is that really the case? That seems like one of those semi-myths that persists - Some basic google research shows the sakoku edicts being in place before 1637, so why is the Shimabara rebellion always cited as the "inciting event"?

Vlastos also uses the good old "and with that, Japan's isolation was complete" line, but as we know that's not really the case in practice. But one thing that he supplements this with is that the population was "spared" the disruptive impact of world markets on the domestic economy. My understanding of Edo period Japan was that rice was the main commodity, and I don't think international trade would have impacted that - what are some examples of a possible negative impact on Edo Japan? Rice importation? Seems to me that in general international trade would have been a stimulus to the economy, but I'm not an Edo guy, so was there something about the Edo period economy that would have been thrown out of whack by international commerce? Barring "unequal treaties" and unfair trade practices, what issues could come up? Were there other Asian countries at this time that act as an example?
Edited by kitsuno, Apr 1 2015, 03:44 PM.
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Bethetsu
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kitsuno
Apr 1 2015, 03:37 PM
But one thing that he supplements this with is that the population was "spared" the disruptive impact of world markets on the domestic economy. My understanding of Edo period Japan was that rice was the main commodity, and I don't think international trade would have impacted that - what are some examples of a possible negative impact on Edo Japan? Rice importation?
But apparently world markets did have somewhat of a disruptive impact. The Shimane silver mines were a major source of world silver, but they were getting used up by the Genroku period and virtually gone by end of the Edo Period. "The trade grew so lanrge and so seriously drained Japan of metals that limitations had to be placed on it in the later seventeenth century. Even then, the annal export qauota allowed the Chinese as late as 1715 was about 25,000 pounds of silver and 4,000,000 pounds of copper, and the Dutch were allowed half as much." (Reishauer East Asia: The Great Tradition/ 1958). I remember reading somewhere that the difference in the Japanese silver/gold value ratio was significantly different from that elsewhere, and that was one reason why Japanese silver was in demand.
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Vlastos implies in the introductory chapter that the Shimabara rebellion was the event that really pushed the Bakufu to establish the maritime restrictions and sakoku, and I've seen this elsewhere as well. Is that really the case? That seems like one of those semi-myths that persists - Some basic google research shows the sakoku edicts being in place before 1637, so why is the Shimabara rebellion always cited as the "inciting event"?
About steps to "Sakoku" Reischauer says in 1616 European ships were limited to Nagasaki and Hirado, in 1623 the English abandoned Hirado, in 1624 Hidetada severed relations with Spain, and the most important limitations were imposed from 1633 to 1839.
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ltdomer98
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Some historians treat Shimabara as the "final proof" that "see, these Christians can't be trusted!" but you're right, many/most of the important events rolled in "Sakoku" started well before. Also as part of Shimabara, IIRC, the Tokugawa bakufu asked for cannon support from European ships to bombard rebel positions. The Portuguese refused--no idea if the reason given was not bombarding other "Catholics", which would play into the anti-Christian reasoning for kaikin, or if they simply didn't want to get involved in a "domestic" action. The Dutch, IIRC, had no qualms about lobbing a few cannonballs in exchange for compensation. I read this so long ago I couldn't tell you where or whom, but I remember it being used as an explanation of why the Portuguese were kicked out and the Dutch allowed to stay, as in "The Portuguese cared about their religious compatriots, the Dutch unscrupulously just cared about money, and so the Dutch were a controllable threat."
Edited by ltdomer98, Apr 2 2015, 02:19 AM.
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kitsuno
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It seems in my mind that it's often cited as the event that directly caused it, rather than what I agree is more like retroactive confirmation.

I just did a wikipedia check, and sure enough "The direct trigger which is said to have spurred the imposition of sakoku was the Shimabara Rebellion of 1637–38 ... In the aftermath, the shogunate accused missionaries of instigating the rebellion, expelled them from the country, and strictly banned the religion on penalty of death." If we get around to the "myths" podcast episode, this should probably go in there.
Edited by kitsuno, Apr 2 2015, 07:31 AM.
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kitsuno
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Bethetsu
Apr 1 2015, 06:24 PM
But apparently world markets did have somewhat of a disruptive impact. The Shimane silver mines were a major source of world silver, but they were getting used up by the Genroku period and virtually gone by end of the Edo Period. "The trade grew so lanrge and so seriously drained Japan of metals that limitations had to be placed on it in the later seventeenth century. Even then, the annal export qauota allowed the Chinese as late as 1715 was about 25,000 pounds of silver and 4,000,000 pounds of copper, and the Dutch were allowed half as much." (Reishauer East Asia: The Great Tradition/ 1958). I remember reading somewhere that the difference in the Japanese silver/gold value ratio was significantly different from that elsewhere, and that was one reason why Japanese silver was in demand.
Great example, forgot about that. And there you go, Japan wasn't as economically isolated as Vlastos would lead one to believe in his book.
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kitsuno
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Tatsunoshi
Mar 31 2015, 08:02 PM
It fits in with the Neo-Confucian underpinnings of Edo society, that those in charge are the 'parents' to the peasantry 'children' and have responsibility for their proper 'care'.
Coming back to this, the peasants seemed to feel that it was their right as tax payers to request benevolence from the daimyo when a bad growing season caused reduced crops. Vlastos contends that rather than a result of "neo-Confucian underpinnings", it was more practical. Successful administration and management of the landed economy required practical adjustments, otherwise the very people making up the tax base would be driven away or starved to death.

Also, as an aside, the absolute lack of supervision, management or even policing of villages by members of the warrior class/bakufu is pretty amazing. Villages were for the most part completely autonomous, and were really only responsible for paying rice tax. Otherwise there was almost no meddling by the warrior class at the local level. Where did this come from? Is this a function of the strict class system, or is there something else to this?
Edited by kitsuno, Apr 3 2015, 08:53 PM.
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HJT
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Do you think the absences of the daimyo and his administration during sankin kotai could have been a cause?

I looked through Vaporis' Tour of Duty, but he even admits he doesn't focus extensively on the effect that sankin kotai had on the local domains.
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kitsuno
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HJT
Apr 4 2015, 02:34 AM
Do you think the absences of the daimyo and his administration during sankin kotai could have been a cause?

I looked through Vaporis' Tour of Duty, but he even admits he doesn't focus extensively on the effect that sankin kotai had on the local domains.
I don't think the Daimyo or any direct reports had any direct contact with peasants at the village level at all, regardless of Sankin Kotai. Vlastos touches on it up to where I've read so far, that the class divisions were complete, and the Warrior class was confined to the cities, and had no direct interaction with outlying villages. It seems the village heads either brought rice directly to brokers in the city, or had it transported. But the villages were responsible for their own local laws, policing, tax collecting, etc. but could always be conscripted by the Daimyo for construction/works projects. I assume that it was like this during the Sengoku period as well, but with the Edo period being so structured and full of red tape, I'm surprised that the villages weren't administered or policed by an "upper class" or reps of the bakufu, considering that they (the villages) were the source of all their wealth in the Edo period Economy. Anyone have any insight into why? It might be so obvious I'm just missing it.
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Toranosuke
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I don't have any in-depth answer, but I suspect that:
(a) it's all just an extension of the broader political philosophy, also followed for daimyo domains under the shogunate, and retainer households under the daimyo, of nested "compartments" of authority, compartments of uchi/omote. What you manage is your own private affairs, and it's private, so we won't interfere, so long as you fulfill your duties, pay your taxes, keep your things under control.

(b) Having samurai administrators out in the countryside would defeat the purpose of having the samurai restricted to the cities - namely, chiefly, the purpose of keeping the retainers under a close watch, to prevent rebellion or disloyalty. But, the village headmen serve this purpose anyway - they /are/ essentially, the upper class you're looking for, perhaps, arguably.

Anyway, I admit that this explanation has some pretty big holes in it - it doesn't really explain it all satisfactorily, but it's just a few thoughts...
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kitsuno
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Apr 4 2015, 08:24 PM
I don't have any in-depth answer, but I suspect that:
(a) it's all just an extension of the broader political philosophy, also followed for daimyo domains under the shogunate, and retainer households under the daimyo, of nested "compartments" of authority, compartments of uchi/omote. What you manage is your own private affairs, and it's private, so we won't interfere, so long as you fulfill your duties, pay your taxes, keep your things under control.

(b) Having samurai administrators out in the countryside would defeat the purpose of having the samurai restricted to the cities - namely, chiefly, the purpose of keeping the retainers under a close watch, to prevent rebellion or disloyalty. But, the village headmen serve this purpose anyway - they /are/ essentially, the upper class you're looking for, perhaps, arguably.

Anyway, I admit that this explanation has some pretty big holes in it - it doesn't really explain it all satisfactorily, but it's just a few thoughts...
(a) - That makes sense - which is ironically why it doesn't make sense. Governments/overlords have traditionally eschewed efficiency or even logic in favor of tight control and administration. But it does fit with the Tokugawa philosophy, and even the Confucian idea of the benevolent "father" and obedient children. It's very interesting. Vlastos states he gets into it a lot more in a later chapter, so I'll update you on his info when I get to it.

(b) - as I've gotten a bit further into the book, it looks like this is exactly it, a slow movement of control and power to the warrior class that started with Hideyoshi, which moved the Samurai to the cities, and moved all weapons out of the villages. This ties into (a), and I can't remember the actual political science term, but it's something along the lines of unbalanced power of force, the Samurai have all the power of force and the force of law behind it, and in the Confucian/Tokugawa philosophy, the warrior class treats the peasants more or less fairly (don't harass them in their daily lives), and the peasants pay their taxes with that expectation - that they will be otherwise left alone, but also those above them will take it easy on them when there is a bad harvest.

Keeping the Samurai in the cities also prevented them from building strong roots at the local level and creating an independent power base.
Oh, and I'm a 100% Edo period peasant No0b, if it wasn't clear enough.
Edited by kitsuno, Apr 6 2015, 08:46 AM.
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kitsuno
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Ok, I believe I now have the answer, or at least part of it. During the Sengoku period, only high status peasants, known as Myoshu, held land, but didn't farm all of it on their own. They granted farming rights to families who became sharecroppers, who were under their authority. The advantage to the 16th century Daimyo under this systems was that the Myoshu handled the collection of taxes (rice) of the peasants below them, and they handed it off to the Daimyo. Also, if the Daimyo needed to mobilize peasants for construction projects or military purposes, they could call on the Myoshu directly, rather than have to literally mobilize thousands of peasants on their own. So the Myoshu were basically authorities of the daimyo, although essentially still peasants. The disadvantage of this system was that the Myoshu could siphon off as much rice as they want before it gets to the Daimyo. But it appears that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages for the Sengoku Daimyo, or at least it wasn’t worth it for the Daimyo to get more involved, as they were usually at war and needed the rice and labor that the Myoshu could provide.

What we see in the Edo period was started by Hideyoshi with his cadastral surveys, as well as his strict class divisions. Hideyoshi gave land title to the peasants who worked the land under the Myoshu, so they became legal landholders. This broke the power of the myoshu (compounding with the removal of the warrior class from local areas into the castle towns), and gave the Daimyo (and by extension the bakufu during the Edo period) direct taxation access to the peasants, cutting out the middle man. And now that the wars were over, immediate mobilization of peasantry wasn't a necessity, so the removal of the Myoshu was overall advantageous. So the net result was an independent peasant class with no direct overlords, who were each individually (at least at the village level) responsible for paying the required taxes to the Daimyo directly (in amounts stipulated by Hideyoshi's cadastral surveys), with no middle man to take a cut.
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Bethetsu
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I would think that one of the reasons for the practical separation of the warrior class and the villages was kuni-kae domain-change. A war lord, together with his whole retainer band, was moved to another domain, whose warrior band had similarly just been moved. This happened in a lot of places under Hideyoshi and the early Tokugawa. This would have made a vy clear distinction between the two groups--those who came and those who had stayed. Also, the new top administration would have had to use the existent local power structure, though apparently they did change it some.
But how complete was the disconnect? Apparently there were a lot of lawsuits. What level were the courts at?
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