Tokugawa shogunate

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The Tokugawa shogunate governed Japan from 1603 until 1867. It was founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and came to an end when the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, stepped down on Keiô 3/12/9 (Jan 3 1868). Tokugawa control extended over more of the archipelago, and was stronger and firmer in its control, than previous shogunates.

Insofar as the shogunate was built upon a feudal structure, and ruled by a class of warrior elites, the shogunate could be described as a "military government," or even "military dictatorship." However, it is important to remember that pre-modern or early modern societies were of a very different character from modern ones, and in that respect, terms such as "military" and "military dictatorship," with their rather modern connotations and associations, are not particularly useful phrases to use for understanding the shogunate. Further, as historian William Wray points out, Tokugawa Japan was perhaps one of the least militarized societies in the world at the time.[1] Members of the warrior class did claim and maintain an elite status, practice martial arts & perform a "warrior" identity, and retain power largely through a monopoly on violence. But, Tokugawa Japan also enjoyed near-complete peace for over two hundred years, from the 1630s to the 1850s, both domestically and in terms of its interactions with other polities.

Administrative Organization

  • Within the shogunate, as well as in extending control over other lands
  • what lands did the Shogunate control directly?
  • Talk about Kyoto shoshidai, Edo bugyo, Nagasaki bugyo, Osaka
  • Relationship with the han

While the shogun was the head of the entire government, a council of mid-ranking but highly trusted fudai daimyô known as the rôjû ("Elders") made a great many administrative decisions, and oversaw most bureaucratic matters, often merely asking the shogun for approval. In fact, the majority of orders and other documents issued by the shogunate were sealed with the hôsho seal of the rôjû, and not the personal seal of the shogun.[2] The lead rôjû was known at times as the rôjû shuza (老中首座, "head seat of the Elders"), and at times as the Tairô. Lesser in status but serving a similar function were the wakadoshiyori ("Junior Elders" or "Junior Councillors").

Both rôjû and wakadoshiyori oversaw the operations of the shogunate as a whole, which was divided into a number of offices or departments, many of which were headed by bugyô ("Magistrates"). The jisha bugyô (Magistrates of Temples and Shrines), kanjô bugyô (Finance Magistrates), and Edo machi bugyô (Edo City Magistrates), collectively known as the "sanbugyô" ("Three Magistrates") were the most powerful or important of these officials. Each of these positions was concurrently held by several individuals, however. In some cases, they truly worked together, being "on duty," so to speak, at the same time; however, in other cases, these Magistrates alternated, with each working only certain days of the week, or certain weeks of the month. It was quite common for officials at all levels within early modern samurai government to operate in the latter fashion.

Further, though there were a number of positions, such as those held by the bugyô, which were dedicated to particular jurisdictions or categories of concerns, the majority of shogunate officials did not belong to any one department. Rather, metsuke (often translated as "inspectors") and other officials commonly moved from task to task, and from one supervisor to another, as needed.[3] This meant that officials were required to be competent in a wide range of administrative and bureaucratic matters, whether pertaining to finance, justice, religious matters, public works, or commercial/economic concerns, among other fields. Rôjû, wakadoshiyori, and metsuke, as well as various other ranks of shogunate officials, were also very frequently obligated to perform ceremonial functions, including guiding visitors into, within, and out of Edo castle; acting as intermediaries for the shogun in formal meetings; leading processions; and so forth. Metsuke and others were also frequently dispatched to the provinces to investigate or address political or administrative matters there.

List of Shoguns

Preceded by:
Muromachi shogunate
Tokugawa Shogunate
Succeeded by:
Meiji government


  1. William Wray, “The Seventeenth-century Japanese Diaspora: Questions of Boundary and Policy,” in Ina Baghdiantz McCabe et al (eds.), Diaspora Entrepreneurial Networks, Oxford: Berg (2005), 89.
  2. A notable exception was on letters addressed to the King of Korea, who was considered far above the rôjû in status, and roughly equal with the shogun as "King of Japan"; thus, the shogun's personal seal, and not that of the rôjû, was employed.
  3. L.M. Cullen, "Sakoku, Tokugawa Policy, and the Interpretation of Japanese History," Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, fourth series, vol. 18 (2004), 18.