Monday, January 17, 2011

Japanese Expansion Under Bakufu

Did shogunate expand the borders of Japan? How? How did the Shogunate deal with outlying provinces?

Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun (1192–1199) of the Kamakura shogunate

The first question to be asked is what exactly is the shogunate?  The shogunate or bakufu as known in Japan where military rulers in Japan; as time went on their rule on the military life spread into other aspects of society giving them even more power.  By the time of their fall in the year 1867 C.E. they controlled most of Japanese society under nominal leadership from the emperor.

The title of bakufu was first used during the Heian period; the title was occasionally bestowed to a general after a successful campaign.  In the year 1185 C.E. Minamoto Yoritomo gained military control of Japan and seven years later he assumed the title of shogun and formed the first bakufu.  Over the next 680 years in Japan the power of the Bakufu would rise and fall many times; revolution constantly kept the power at a pendulum swing and the Japanese society seemed to gravitate towards the type of society in which the bakufu held power.  The bakufu came to its official end on November 9th, 1867 when Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the 15th shogun “put his prerogatives at the emperors disposal” and then resigned.  This officially swung power from the bakufu back to the emperor for the final time.

With the history of the bakufu being laid out now the question at hand may be answered.  The first part of the question I will try to answer is that of “did the bakufu expand the borders of Japan?”  The answer to that question in my mind is no.  During this time feudal Japan was in an almost constant state of civil war.  There would be eras of peace but eventually someone in power would die, and a power vacuum would be created causing the bakufu to fight for power, not toward outward expansion.  The borders did change from time to time, when Japan was at internal peace the goal always seemed to be that of expansion.  Time and time again, the Japanese would try to expand into the Korean Peninsula and time and time again they were driven back.  The Korean Peninsula has always been a source of tension because it has always been the buffer between Japan and China.  This constant ebb and flow has also caused Korea to have puppet governments in place from time to time that operate in part under Japanese or Chinese control.  With all that being said the reason I say no to the question of did Japan expand its borders under the bakufu is because any gains made were quickly lost; significant territory was not added to Japan for any extended amount of time during this period.

The second question is” how did the bakufu deal with the outlying proveniences?”  The bakufu dealt with their subjects in an interesting manor.  The shogunate had the power to discard, annex and transform domains.  The sankin-kotai system of alternative residence required each daimyo would reside in alternate years between the han and attendance in Edo.  In their absence from Edo it was also required that they leave family as hostage until their return.  the huge expenditure sankin-kotai imposed on each han helped centralize aristocratic alliances and ensured loyalty to the Shogun as each representative doubled as a potential hostage.  These actions took by the bakufu may seem harsh, but helped keep society in check.     


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