Thursday, December 22, 2011

Edo Period 1603 - 1868 Part I Japan is Locked Down

The Edo (or Tokugawa) period was very important for the forming of modern Japan that we all know. In the decades leading up to the Edo period the territories were in disarray and separated by various small warring regions. 
The ever handsome Ieyasu Tokugawa

The three leaders whom united the country, Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and and Ieyasu Tokugawa led in the beginning by Oda, fought hard to conquer and unite the regions in the latter half of the 1600s century. Highlighted by a strong orthodox approach to daily life and commitment to family, community and most importantly the Shogun, these three strong characters, native to the Nagoya, Aichi region of Japan, rallied to create three power structures. These three main power centers were eventually consolidated  by Ieyasu Tokugawa at the final battle at Sekigahara in the year 1600. With Oda dying by ritual suicide in 1582 and his successor Toyotomi dying from illness in September 1598. The Sekigahara battle was crucial, and managed to consolidate power and for Tokugawa he was able to win over his rivals to formally establish a new capital city at Edo (aka Tokyo), Japan. Soon after establishing the new rule as Shogun of Japan the fate of the country was sealed and for the next 250 + years the country was absolutely locked down and was sealed off  from the outside world. There was virtually no contact with the outside world beyond the small island in which a small community of Dutch could reside. We will take a brief look at these ages and the resulting art and entertainment that reflected the people and their times. The period can be best broken down into the three centuries that spanned the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s all obviously with their own characteristics:

  •  the shogun established himself as the unchallenged leader
  •  the family was the smallest unit of power (individual had no rights)
  • the state/provincial leaders called ‘daimyo’ were strictly controlled
  • it was mandatory that the leaders families live in Edo and leaders must live there every other year
  • these leaders kept control over there regions but the real power lied with the local village councils
  •  Samurai became bureaucrats
  •  bourgeois culture develops yet is limited due to heavy restrictions on class mobility and more importantly geographic mobility
  • Severe punishment (often sudden execution/suicide) for going against the wishes of the Shogun or disturbing the societal ‘norm’ although the ‘norm’ has no set of policies and was more or less under the watch of the local village and the samurai

Arts/Entertainment: For painting and calligraphy the three main artists that we will mention created the Rinpa school which is often regarded as the most popular painted art form of this century.  These three were Koetsu (1558-1637) Sotatsu (d. c.1643), and Ogata Kourin (1658-1716) the latter with who proved to create a new unique style of painting on screen depicting timeless stories from the Heian period. 
Ogata Korin - Fujin
Two of the most popular themes used by these artists came from the Tales of Genji and the Tales of Ise. Both of these were typically hosted on gold leaved folding screens and were accomplished with a strong sense of detail. The distinct style is either of items of nature such as flowers, trees, and birds or mammals or as mentioned themes from traditional stories from earlier periods. 

The objects surroundings were typically inlaid with gold leaf. The school developed more design and refined techniques as time passed on with Sakai Hoitsu rediscovering the form in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Other forms, which became popular in this period and the next century were the famous ‘ukiyo-e’ or floating world art styles which started as a Shinto ideal of transition but as we find in the 1700s became famous for something other than divine spiritual passage (wink and nudge ;).

Our next look (Part II) we will be at the 1700s and the Rise of the Merchant Class.

Sources: Discovering the Arts of Japan by Tsuneko S. Sadao, Stephanie Wada
A History of Japan by Kenneth Henshall
Wikipedia; Rimpa School, Ogata Korin, Edo Period, Nobunaga Oda

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