”An urban culture developed that stressed an appreciation of nature and artistic cultivation. The banks of the Sumida River, with its great bridges, provided places for outdoor activities: daily strolls, spring cherry-blossom viewing, relief from the summer heat, fireworks on summer nights, viewing the moon in autumn and snow in winter.” (Asian Art Museum)
The Edo Period, also known as the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868), in Japan is considered a time of solitude and stability throughout politics, the economy, and 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.
The social class ranking during the Edo Period in Japan was as follows:
The emperor ranked highest, but had little power. The rest of the upper class consists of the court nobles, the Shogun (the military leader with more power than the emperor), the Daimyo (wealthy landowners), and the Samurai (warriors). The lower class consisted of peasants, craftsmen, and merchants (lowest rank).
There were great advancements in agriculture, which allowed for greater production. Even though merchants were ranked lowest in terms of wealth, this did not mean there were no wealthy merchants. Merchants were able to produce and sell more with the increase in agriculture and advancements.
For the upper class, marriage was more of an arrangement as both families needed to agree that the couple were suitable for each other. However, arranged marriages were also a way to preserve wealth within these families. Ceremonies were often held at night, and during the day the families spent time together along with friends and neighbors. Typically, the women were much younger than the men and divorce was not only allowed, but a frequent occurrence. If no agreement could be made to divorce, the women had an option to stay in a temple and after three years, a man was required to grant her the divorce. Remarriage was permitted as well. In the upper class, married women were required to remain faithful to their husbands. However, the husband was allowed to have other relationships.
Lower class families were not as concerned with wealth and there tended to be more freedom in choice of partners.
It should be noted that the term “wealth” does not necessarily reflect the notion of money. In Edo, wealth was an idea of power in a society limited by government.
Children attended school and advanced based on their understanding of material. Most children were taught to read and write and others also learned of art, dance, music, etc. Children were also encouraged to respect their parents and elders. When Edo children were not practicing studied talents, they might be watching the live puppet performances.
Similar to many societies’ historic values, women were expected to take care of household tasks, children and were often seen as secondary to the husband in terms of family hierarchy. In the lower class, women often worked and were just as important of providers as men.
Overall, life thrived during the Edo Period in Japan. With advancements and reusable resources, Japan was able to create a self-sustaining economy. Though home life may not have been ideal, especially for women, a limited society still had many options. Many took to traveling across Japan, others were given the opportunity to learn new trades. It was a functional and peaceful time.
1.) Feudalism Chart By TheInfernoX (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
2.) House of a Merchant By DryPot (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons