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Tokugawa & sakoku - essay


FredParisFrance 61 / 7  
Oct 4, 2007   #1
Hello,

Could you please read my essay and give me some feedback?

The prompt is:

At the beginning of the Tokugawa period, the shogun encouraged trade with westerners. However, over time subsequent shoguns terminated almost all trade with foreigners (trade with westerners was limited to two Japanese ports and with only the Portuguese and the Dutch) and prohibited Japanese people to travel outside of Japan under penalty of death.

Why do you believe the shogun established such extreme measures to end contact between the Japanese people and foreigners?

Thank you in advance.
Frederic

The Tokugawa shogun and the Japanese people enjoyed commercial relations with the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch since the landing of the first European ship on the Japanese coast in 1543. However, the shogun rapidly turned Japan into a political, commercial and cultural hermetic cocoon thanks to a strict limitation of trade with foreigners and the absolute interdiction for the Japanese nationals to travel outside of Japan under penalty of death. So sudden a reversal seems quite surprising and entails one to search for the underlying reasons that entailed the shogun's establishment of extreme measures to end contact between the Japanese people and foreigners. The raison d'ętre of the Tokugawa shogun's decision to implement a seclusion policy (sakoku) may be rooted into the Japanese ruling classes' fear to be unable to escape foreign threat and domestic unrest. The Europeans' growing influence throughout Japan might have undermined the Japanese political and social fabric.

On the one hand, the shogunate deemed that European voyagers have initiated commercial relations with the Japanese in order to progressively extend the European political influence throughout Japan to overcome the local and centralized political organization. Since the arrival of Francis Xavier in Japan in 1549, European traders commenced commercial activities with the Japanese and rapidly established flourishing harbours in Japan. The Japanese craze for European manufactured goods, for instance firearms, or arts, such as architecture or painting, permitted the Europeans to expand trade and instil more or less insidious religious proselytism. Those relations appeared beneficial for the Japanese authorities who gave the harbour of Nagasaki to the Society of Jesus for both missionary and trading purposes. However, some European missionaries damaged indigenous shrines or obliterated representations of local idols. Furthermore, some religious sanctuaries have even been transformed into Christian churches or schools. Those activities in the European territorial holdings throughout the Japanese archipelago alarmed the shogunate. Indeed, the Tokugawa ruler estimated that the growing Christian influence within his country was the warning signs of European monarchs' ambitions to overthrow the shogunate. Subsequently, the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, decided to bar Christian missionaries from establishing supplementary religious delegations and, finally, expelled them from the Japanese territory. Furthermore, the shogunate also made the decision to eradicate all forms of the Christian faith, including the Japanese converts to that foreign religion. Nevertheless, the more secular Dutch were allowed to trade with Japan under stringent limitations. Finally, the Tokugawa shogunate had been successful in eliminating the foreign threat that could have prevailed over the recent and still fragile Japanese political unification.

On the other hand, the shogunate considered that the European missionaries had disseminated the seeds of social unrest on the form of the Christian faith to challenge the Japanese unity. From the mid-sixteenth century, the European missionaries proselytized and succeeded in converting some Japanese. It was not so much the quantity of Japanese apostates as their position in the social ladder that was significant. Indeed, by the end of the sixteenth century, some daimyo in the southernmost islands of Kyushu and Shikoku had endorsed Christianity to augment their commercial profit for boosting their personal enrichment and for supporting their political ascension. Moreover, those local rulers employed peasants and samurai. Therefore, those daimyo could have amalgamated the samurai's martial ability with the power of peasants armed with firearms to depose the Tokugawa shogunate. The latter perceived that option as a serious menace because the shogunate's authority on the Japanese population depended on the obedience to the Confucian principles and on the strict compliance to hierarchy. However, the inability of the European missionaries to provide the potential faithful with properly translated religious texts hampered the rapid and widespread development of the Christian faith in the Japanese archipelago. The European missionaries' precipitation for preaching, added to their concomitant lack of knowledge as regards the Japanese language, resulted in a too slow expansion of the European political influence through the Christianity. Furthermore, the daimyo in the southern islands turned out to be unable to seize the power and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who ruled the Shogunate government in Edo. Consequently, The Shogun benefited from that foreign and domestic Christians' disadvantage and ordered the expulsion of all missionaries in early seventeenth century. Finally, the Tokugawa shogunate had succeeded in eliminating the jeopardy that could have breach the shogun authority and thus obliterate the Japanese social unity.

The ephemeral experience of massive commercial and cultural relations between Europe and Japan on the Japanese archipelago aroused strong xenophobic feelings in the Japanese government and might have caused the complete failure of the Tokugawa shogunate in its attempt to reunify Japan. One could argue that the European ambitions in Japan, reflecting the European colonialist expansion that began in the fifteenth century, were excessively fought due to an overestimate of the potential political and social menaces for the Japanese. Nonetheless, from the shogun point of view, the European commercial, religious, and political expansionism in Japan threatened the Japanese political and social institutions and, therefore, their own personal office. Actually, the questioning of the political system and social stratification could have jeopardized the Japanese's obedience to the hierarchy and thus to the supreme ruler. The shogun's personal traits in relation with their knowledge of the political history in the area, their personal experiences, their ambition, and their emotional response were some factors that could explain the implementation of the seclusion policy (sakoku). The investigation of the shogun's role and the decision-making process within the Tokugawa political organization, epitomized by the bakufu, could unveil hidden reasons at the individual as well as the organizational-level of analysis.

EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Oct 5, 2007   #2
Greetings!

A well-written and interesting essay! I have just a few editing tips:

The raison d'ętre of the Tokugawa shogun's decision to implement a seclusion policy (sakoku) may be rooted in the Japanese ruling classes' fear of being unable to escape foreign threats and domestic unrest.

On the one hand, the shogunate deemed that European voyagers had initiated commercial relations with the Japanese in order to progressively extend the European political influence throughout Japan to overcome the local and centralized political organization.

instil = instill

Furthermore, some religious sanctuaries were even transformed into Christian churches or schools.

the growing Christian influence within his country was the warning sign of European monarchs' ambitions

On the other hand, the shogunate considered that the European missionaries had disseminated the seeds of social unrest in the form of the Christian faith to challenge the Japanese unity.

The European missionaries' precipitation for preaching - I don't think "precipitation" is the word you want here; perhaps "propensity"?

Finally, the Tokugawa shogunate had succeeded in eliminating the jeopardy that could have breached the shogun authority and thus obliterate the Japanese social unity.

Great job!

Thanks,

Sarah, EssayForum.com


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