Times & Places
Edo period (1603-1868)
The Edo period, which is dated from 1600, 1603, and at other times from 1615, lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. During this time, Japan was controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate, a military body which exercised power over the emperor and other Japanese noble families. The shogunate established its capital at Edo, and for over 200 years Japan had two capitals, one military (Edo) and one imperial (Kyoto).
In the first few decades of the shogunate, measures were taken to secure the power of the Tokugawa clan and ensure stability. A hierarchical feudal system based on Confucianism created a rigid class system in which the samurai were transformed from warriors to bureaucrats. They oversaw domains of the daimy__ō , or feudal lords, through whom the shogun ruled. In accordance with the Confucian model, peasants ranked below the samurai because they worked the land, followed by artisans, and finally merchants, who were ranked last because rather than produce goods, they sold what others made. Despite their low ranking, merchants held a great deal of wealth.
Among other measures taken to secure power was the eventual prohibition of the movement of foreigners in Japan. Though the period is generally characterized as one of international isolation and seclusion for Japan, limited contact was maintained with the Dutch and the Chinese through the port of Nagasaki. The Dutch were restricted to Dejima, a small artificial island in Nagasaki Harbor, and the Chinese to Nagasaki proper.
During the period, native Japanese art forms such as kabuki and haiku flourished, and there was a revival of Yamato-e, or Japanese style painting, which significantly influenced decorative arts such as lacquer. At the same time, interaction with the Dutch and Chinese encouraged experimentation with different artistic techniques. Interest in Western representational techniques resulted in Western style painting using linear perspective and shading, as well as naturalistic works executed in Japanese technique.
The influence of Chinese art and thought informed bunjinga, or literati painting. In bunjinga, the mastery of painting and calligraphy was seen as characteristic of a truly literate person, and the execution of such works was not only an expression of an individual's accomplishments but also of his character. Within the context of Buddhism, Chinese influence led to the emergence of zenga, or zen painting, ink paintings quickly executed by Zen priests.
The Japanese took over Chinese woodblock printing in the 17th century and turned this technique for reproducing multiple images into a unique art form called ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating world"). Unlike most earlier Japanese art, the prints were for a popular audience and illustrated everyday life. Ukiyo-e were one among many types of published ephemera in circulation in the Edo period -- from product catalogues, advertising flyers, and books.
In 1854, shogunate officials signed the Treaty of Kanagawa with Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States Navy, ending the circumscription of exchange with the Western world. Tokugawa rule came to an end in 1868 with the restoration of direct rule by the emperor, establishing the Meiji period (1868-1912), during which the Japanese government selectively adopted Western ideas, practices, and institutions to promote Japanese cultural, political, and economic influence in the international sphere.
DMA Connect, 2012.
B. Abiko, "Edo Period," Oxford Art Online, Accessed 12 January 2015, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T024954?q=edo+period&search;=quick&pos;=1&_start=1#firsthit.
Penelope Mason, History of Japanese Art (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), 243-322.
"East Meets West" Label text, 2005.
- World Digital Library
View an outline map of Japan from the 17th century.