Free «Reading Response: Japan Before Perry» UK Essay Paper
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In Japan Before Perry, Totman defines Japan’s classical period as an age of aristocratic bureaucracy. The primary cause of the development of this political order is the extension of institutional Buddhism. The author argues that the most distinctive feature of the Classical Japan is the strong distinction between elite and lower class.
During the classical period, Buddhism developed into an influential institution. Due to new land regulations, it acquired vast estate and wealth and gained great power (p.27). Aristocratic families used the same technique called shōen to get or increase the properties. Moreover, they adjusted regulations according to their interests, received total tax immunity, and gained administrative authority. Aristocratic families along with Buddhist monasteries and shrines eventually became “de facto governmental bodies” (p.29). Totman claims that this land-holding system forced shōen holders to preserve imperial authority that guaranteed their holdings and required minimal efforts. Overall, the period from 700 to 1100 showed how the distribution of power among elite gradually changed.
Buddhism also significantly influenced the culture and art in Classical Japan. In general, this religion was available only to elite due to its requirements of time, money, and attention to the ceremonies. Thus, Buddhism widened the gap between elegant few and less fortunate people (p. 37). According to the author, the primary reason for this distinction was “a monopoly on literacy” that aristocracy kept over many years (p.62). Classical Buddhism helped to sustain the established aristocratic bureaucracy order. Similarly to the religion, aristocrats used culture to increase the distance that separated them from the lower class (p.48). During the Japanese classical period, works of art, ranging from literature to music, mainly reflected the world of the elite and drew attention to their life. It developed a huge gulf between “good and cultured people” and untutored, “unworthy” ones (p.52). Overall, religion as well as culture helped the elite to keep the established order.
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The author noted that development of culture was impossible without a special place. A city center was an area where “creative energies” from aristocracy around the country gathered (p.54). The existence of a metropolis also contributed to the increased distinction between the classes. According to Totman, the most distinctive feature of the society during Japanese classical period was “the magnitude of the cultural gap that separated few thousands of aristocrats from millions of blebs” (p.59). Elite tried hard to preserve this distinction with the help of land regulations, religion, culture, and political order.
Despite aristocracy’s efforts, the aristocratic bureaucracy was destined to fall. As time went by, the political order of Classical Japan was destroyed due to a rise of new social groups which eventually overcame the ruling elite in Japan (p.63). The first impulse was a failure to create a militia system, which led to the appearance of a new institution called bushi (p.64). Another force that ruined the established political order was the imperial family which “eventually became the largest private landholder” (p.65). Overall, new social order replaced the aristocratic bureaucracy due to the new societal needs.
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Key Word Analysis:
The term shōen refers to the private estates in Classical Japan. The holders of shōen were not rural people, but Buddhist monks and aristocrats, who managed the estates through family offices. However, the term differs from meaning of the word “estate.” Shōen were pieces of land with some areas that belonged to other holders.
Early-Modern Japan as an Age of Integral Bureaucracy
In this chapter of the book Japan Before Perry, Conrad Totman describes the polity of the early-modern period in Japan. The primary features of this age are medieval economics and considerable achievements in the military, political, and cultural fields. Although the scientists have rarely, if ever, applied the term “integral bureaucracy” to this period, the author argues that it perfectly describes early-modern Japan (p.133). The second word, “bureaucracy,” without doubts, refers to the period which is known for the dominance of procedures and fixed structures rather than personal relationships. Totman explains that the first word, “integral,” denotes the composed structure of society which forms a whole unit combining several elements (p.134).
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Despite a certain number of constituent parts, the polity of the early-modern period was integral. There were two principal parts of the composite polity. The first element was samurai group, and the second one was the mercantile (p.134). The early-modern samurai or bushi differed from Kamakura samurai. Unlike their predecessors who related to aristocrats, the samurai of early-modern Japan were associated with merchants (p.134). Bushi had a close link with the masses. Thus, they had to develop into the ruling elite. As for the second element, the mercantile, it included merchants and artisans. Their crucial mission was to supply people with necessary goods and services. Moreover, merchants served as a connection between samurai and the general populace. Overall, these two elements composed the entire society.
The author noted that such polity arose out of disorder and the necessity to end the chaos. The early-modern samurai managed to clearly define social groups, their functions, status, and those who belonged to them. However, in due course, that political order lost its effectiveness (p. 136). All in all, bushi made considerable contributions to the development of Japan.
Another important event, Ōnim war, had a destructive influence on the medieval polity. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the lord Tokugawa Ieyasu seized the power with the help of the army. He managed his family domain and property of daimyo through the system called sankin kōtai (p.137). Japanese leaders created most devices during the sixteenth century when there was external and internal danger. The first one might come from neighbors called outside lords. As for the second one, the leaders had to maintain the control over their “own followers” including relatives and hereditary retainers (p.138). Leaders developed various methods to avoid the mentioned danger. For instance, they used military intelligence and diplomacy to deal with neighbors. They designed more advanced system of records to control their internal resources (p.139). Overall, the chaotic situation forced leaders to elaborate their means of gaining and maintaining control.
Moreover, leaders standardized weight, measure, and monetary system; promoted mining and production of useful goods; and created clear classification of the social structure. They made great contributions to the administration of villages, towns, and districts (p.140). Summing up, the leaders of early-modern integral bureaucracy managed to impose their political order on Japan with the help of effective governing techniques.
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Key Word Analysis:
The term bushi denotes the samurai group which was one of the most crucial elements of the Japanese early-modern society. Bushi of early-modern period differed from their predecessors in many aspects ranging from their number to methods of ruling.
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