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Part I

Study and Discussion Questions

  1. By what measures did Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu manage to unify the realm, and what were the limits to their achievement of unification?

  2. What roles were assigned to the various status groups at the beginning of the Tokugawa period?  How significant were divisions of power and wealth with status groups?  How did the relative standing of these groups change over time?

  3. What was the rationale for dividing daimyo into categories—shinpan, fudai, tozama? In general, what kinds of powers and responsibilities were granted to the daimyo? How did the early bakufu exercise authority over the daimyo, and how (if at all) did the nature of this authority change?

  4. In what ways, and to what extent (if at all) did the role and the ambitions of the samurai change from the time just prior to the establishment of Tokugawa rule, through the early decades of the Tokugawa era in the 17th century.  How, if at all, did the samurai role and ambitions or self-understanding then change through 18th and 19th centuries?

  5. What does it mean to say that daimyo authority did not extend into the village?

  6. How did the Tokugawa authorities, or domain rulers, justify and legitimize their rule?  Does it make sense to talk of a "religious" grounding for political authority in the Tokugawa era?

  7. To what extent was Tokugawa Japan a "closed country"? With what foreign countries did Japan maintain ties, and what was the nature and purpose of these from the bakufu's perspective? What kinds of foreigners were prohibited from visiting Japan, and why?

  8. How did Japan's external economic relations (their presence and/or absence) influence the development of its urban centers from the 17th through the 19th centuries?  How does this pattern of development compare with European cities of this era?

  9. What consequences did the system of alternate attendance have for the development of the Tokugawa economy in general and for the status of merchants in particular?

  10. What were the consequences through the Tokugawa era of continuing to collect taxes for the most part in kind (in rice) in an increasingly-monetized economy?  Consider in relation to various status groups: daimyo, samurai of various ranks, merchants, and peasants or farmers.

  11. What were the principal lines of social tension or political contention cutting through rural society in the first half of the Tokugawa era, and how did these change, if at all, in the second half of the era?  Consider in terms of the methods, foci, and intensity of protests.

  12. What factors account for the stagnation in overall population growth during the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries? How can one reconcile evidence of a stagnant population and shrinking cities with evidence of increased production? What did this mean for people's quality of life?

  13. Did women's roles differ by social status during the Tokugawa era, and if so, how?

  14. How would you characterize the function of the emperor during the Tokugawa period?  Was it constant over the entire era?

  15. What was the connection between the natural world and human society according to the neo-Confucian philosophy of the Tokugawa period? How did such a philosophy serve to support the state? Did it allow room for the government to reform itself?

  16. What does the popularity of Tokugawa theatre, along with the bakufu's attempts to contain it, tell us about Tokugawa society?

  17. What forces sought to use the emperor in the events leading up to the overthrow of the Tokugawa, and for what purposes?  Was the emperor actually "revered" in these years?

  18. What were some of the late-Tokugawa responses—in policies and in ideas—to economic, social, or political challenges? In what ways did proposals for reform embrace change and in what ways did they attempt to reassert past hierarchies?

  19. Put yourself in the position of a daimyo asked by Abe Masahiro for an opinion on responding to Commodore Perry's insistence that Japan agree to open its ports to trade.  What would you recommend, and why?   Was Abe wise to ask for opinions, and could he have handled the situation in which he found himself in a way that would have strengthened the bakufu for the long run?

  20. Were the anti-bakufu samurai dubbed "loyalists" or "men of high purpose" anything more than intensely xenophobic men opposed to change, and convinced Japan had nothing to learn from the rest of the world?

  21. How, if at all, can we judge whether commoners supported the anti-bakufu insurgents? Is there anything in their reactions that suggests a nationalistic outlook (define "nationalistic") or concern for the future of a "Japanese" nation?

  22. Is it fair to say that the same features of the political system which had worked so well for the Tokugawa in ruling Japan for 250 years were those which proved fatal liabilities in dealing new pressure of the Western powers?

These study and discussions questions were adapted by Craig Colbeck from the questions prepared for the website for the first edition (with some newly added).  The original questions for Parts I and II were prepared by Jeffrey Bayliss, now assistant professor at Trinity College, and those for Parts III and IV were prepared by Emer O'Dwyers, now assistant professor at Oberlin College.

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