Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

As I am planning a trip to Japan later this year, I am diving into its history, language, and culture to prepare myself for the culture shock I will inevitably receive. As part of my historical bumblings, I came across some fascinating and ominous parallels. Namely, the rule of Tokugawa Iemitsu from 1632-1651. It’s such fascinating stuff that I am still picking through it and writing until 3:30am…

Iemitu

Iemitsu was the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and the third shogun of the dynasty, the one that finally ran its feudal system into the ground. Ieyasu (grandpa) was famous for bringing peace to the warring fiefdoms of the Japanese empire and expanding trade with Europe. Unfortunately, as all sons of empire who inherit peace, Iemitsu could not appreciate that which he never had to fight for, and quickly began to destroy any and all things good. In 1620 he apparently had an argument with his lover at the time, and murdered him in a bathtub which they were sharing. Charming guy, for sure.

Once Iemitsu got into power, he began his reign by ordering his younger brother, Tadanaga, to commit suicide (for the “dishonorable misconduct” of being favored by his mother for the position of Shogun). Then he installed his friends to important posts, followed by all manner of onerous regulations which all citizens had to obey: from laws about fashion to laws about how farmer women had to wash their men’s feet at the end of the day (not just the act, but exactly how, and who and what must be involved in the process, and mandatory attendance of sisters/in-laws and other weirdness). There were taxes on windows and shelves, head taxes on newborn babies, and hole taxes for burying the dead. Rice, one of the currencies of the time, was also taxed.

Perhaps most disturbing about Iemitsu’s daily regulatory decrees is that he quickly learned how people would go to enormous effort to try and curry favor for special treatment under said regulations, in order to regain simple freedoms which they had previously taken for granted. A fact which he openly exploited as a tool to tamper with alliances among the rich and powerful as well as cement loyalties which kept or expanded his power.

Iemitsu established the sankin kōtai, which forced the Daimyo (regional overlords) to spend part of the year in the capital city of Edo and much of the remainder of their time wandering between Edo (now Tokyo) and their home turf, with all of their samurai and functionaries in tow, which effectively neutered them financially and politically, and often bankrupted them. In addition, the wives and children of the Daimyo were forced to live in Edo and could not leave. Overburden the regional leaders with too much regulation and hold their families hostage…

Iemitsu restricted travel. People needed passports just to go from region to region. Their belongings, clothing, and hair were inspected at various checkpoints. These checkpoints demanded that the female travelers be inspected by female agents, which unfortunately were uncommon. No inspection, no passage. Tough for you. Historical accounts from one such female traveler, Inoue Tsujo, who was a famous writer, recall tales of rough and uncomfortable screenings by haggard female inspectors with strange accents. Is all of this stuff starting to sound familiar yet?

How far we have come in 400 years!!!

Getting_Gate_Raped_By_The_TSA

Iemitsu enacted decrees which kept farmers from being able to consume their own produce– it all had to be cleared by a central authority and “properly redistributed.” Sound familiar? It should be no surprise that this sort of behavior brought about famine.

But it doesn’t end there. Farmers feeling the squeeze of too many taxes, too little food, and too much regulation eventually revolted and joined forces with persecuted Christians to form the Shimabara rebellion which burned brightly for a brief period but was then put down with deadly force in the last great battle within Japan. The rebels holed up in a castle and successfully held off the Shogun’s army, but in the end were starved out and then slaughtered.

After that, Iemitsu felt that the only way to keep things “going well” was to shut off all access to outside influences. Clearly it was outside influence that was causing rebellion, and had nothing to do with his asinine policies. He kicked out and/or slaughtered all the Christians, missionaries, and other foreigners, forbade Japanese from leaving the island, forbade any Japanese on foreign soil from returning to Japan, destroyed any seagoing ships that could be used to defect or travel outside of Japan, and closed the island to trade except for extremely regulated contact with the Dutch East India company. Japan’s doors would be slammed shut to the rest of the world for another 200 years.

It might sound like an awful lot to go through to get to this point but keep in mind that Iemitsu managed to do all of this– turning a prospering empire into a stagnant backwater– in just 3 years! After the quelling of the rebellion and the foreign purge he kept his way for another 16 years by ruling with an iron fist.

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