Isolationism in the Edo Period

日本に歓迎 (nihon e youkoso) or Welcome to Japan!


Tokugawa Ieyasu, Shogun


The Edo Period, also known as the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868), in Japan is considered time of solitude and stability throughout politics, the economy, as well as society as a whole. Tokugawa leyasu became shogun in 1603 and named Edo (present-day Tokyo) the capital city. During this time, Japan maintained a strong foreign policy of isolationism until 1853 when U.S. warships established their presence and demanded that Japan open trade routes again.

Impact of Isolationism

“Nihonbashi Bridge in Edo” by Katsushika Hokusai from a series named Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji


As mentioned before, Japan isolated themselves from other nations and became self-reliant in all areas, especially economically. With a self-sustaining economy and a lack of trade with other countries, Japan relied heavily on recycling their limited resources. It should also be noted that the people of Edo typically used rice as a form of payment and taxes were high. Prior to isolation, much of Japan’s culture was influenced by China, but this period of seclusion inspired originality and an identity for the people of Edo.


Chikamatsu Monzaemon

Chikamatsu Monzaemon, known for his works in dramas and puppet theater

 Chikamatsu Monzaemon was a Japanese dramatist known for his written works in jōruri (puppet theater) and kabuki (live drama, dance and music). He began by writing books, haiku poetry and later became known for his kabuki plays. Later, Monzaemon abandoned writing kabuki plays and found success in puppet theater where his themes typically depicted tragic lovers and suicide. It is estimated that Monzaemon wrote over 130 plays in his lifetime.

Grave of Chikamatsu Monzaemon in Osaka, Japan

Matsuo Bashō

Matsuo Basho, famous Haiku poet

Matsuo Bashō is considered the master of Haiku poetry. A Haiku is a 17-syllable verse poem that has three lines of text with the first and last line containing 5 syllables each and the middle verse has 7 syllables. Themes tend to include elements of nature and two comparable subjects. Bashō was a teacher, but typically found inspiration for his writings in nature, away from the urban settings of society. The following is a translated example of one of his poems called “Old Pond”:

The old pond —
A frog leaps in,
And a splash.

                                                                                               – Translated by Makoto Ueda


Statue of Basho in Ishiyama, Japan – Notice his attire for travel. There are statues of Basho all around Japan.



Other literature from the Edo Period included ideas about recreational life and leisure, nature, travel, and romance.

Mount Fuji

While there are many great writers to be admired from this age, these two men are the most noteworthy. It is evident that this period of isolation inspired the creation of other great cultural advances (such as art, food, commerce, etc.) in Edo, Japan. There’s more to be explored here! So check back for more and until then, I leave you all with a Japanese proverb:


translated to

Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet

Picture Attributions:

1.) Suguri F [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Proverb Translation from:




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s