Edo bakufu (江戸幕府)

Edo bakufu was a samurai government established by Ieyasu TOKUGAWA. It is so named because its headquarters were located in Edo (present-day Tokyo).


The Edo bakufu was founded on March 24, 1603 when Ieyasu TOKUGAWA was appointed as Seii Taishogun (hereinafter shogun). On November 9, 1867, the 15th shogun Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA transferred power back to the Emperor). The Decree for the Restoration of Imperial Rule on December 9, 1867 finalised the resignation of Yoshinobu as shogun and the abolishment of the bakufu, thus the Edo bakufu came to an end (although some say the end of the Edo bakufu was the time of the surrender of Edo Castle in 1868).

Since the Tokugawa family monopolised the position of shogun for generations, it is also called as the Tokugawa bakufu. The 264 years of the Edo bakufu are referred to as the 'Edo period' or 'Tokugawa period,' and the Tokugawa family took a significant amount of control over Japan. The Edo bakufu was the last samurai government in Japanese history.

The shogunate system

The system of rule of the Edo bakufu was called the shogunate system, in which both bakufu (the central government) and domain (the local government) controlled the people. Shogun gave shuinjo (licenses for foreign trade) to daimyo (feudal lords) and guaranteed their status as feifs, while the daimyo formed a domain within their given feifdom and controlled it. In 1664, the Kanbuninchi was conducted, whereby shuinjo were issued to daimyo across the country at the same time. In lands directly controlled by the shogun (tenryo), local governors were appointed instead of daimyo. However, the terms 'tenryo' and 'domain' were not used in official documents of the Edo period. These were determined as official terms after the Meiji Restoration.
Also, bakufu was called as 'goki' or 'gokogi.'
The shogunate system in a broad sense ended at the time of Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) in 1871.

Under the control of the Edo bakufu, all daimyo were obliged to participate in Sankinkotai (a system under which feudal lords in the Edo period were required to spend every other year in residence in Edo) and to engage in castle construction and flood prevention works.
However, this did not include daimyo of Edo Jofu - a feudal lord's retainer who remained permanently in Edo with the lord and their own family - such as the Mido domain
The Edo bakufu aimed to weaken the domains by placing them under large financial burdens and not letting them revolt against the bakufu.

Under the political structure of the Edo bakufu, it is considered that the country was ruled by the shogun himself during the rules of the first shogun, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the second shogun, Hidetada TOKUGAWA, the third shogun, Iemitsu TOKUGAWA, the fifth shogun, Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, the eighth shogun, Yoshimune TOKUGAWA, and the eleventh shogun, Ienari TOKUGAWA,
The other shogun are often considered to have left political matters to Bakufu cabinet officials, or to have merely followed the orders made by the former shogun (or his father). However, for the Tokugawa, Meiji and Taisho periods, this is a critical misunderstanding. Although some were more competent than others, every shogun was to at least some extent involved in politics, and it is also true that none of them acted as a complete dictator. Even under the rule of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, whose governance had the strongest aspects of dictatorship of all the shoguns, there were cabinet officials in the Shogunate who remonstrated against the shogun and were engaged in formulation of policies. Rather than being angry, Ieyasu actually liked the vassals who remonstrated against him, and when there was a difference of opinion he would sometimes have physical fights with them. On the other hand, the third shogun Iemitsu TOKUGAWA was completely different, and during the early stage of his reign, he simply followed Ogosho Hidetada TOKUGAWA. After the death of Hidetada, Iemitsu let the Bakufu cabinet officials conduct most of the political works and people's perception that Iemitsu personally engaged in politics is said to be the result of propaganda by cabinet officials. Basically, no shogun was a complete dictator nor a complete puppet of the cabinet officials (other than when the shogun was very young), and there was a system in place whereby the shogun had the final say on issues discussed by cabinet officials (mainly senior councilors, "roju").

The eighth shogun Yoshimune TOKUGAWA conducted the largest-scale reformation of the shogunate government since its foundation, thus earning the title 'Restorer of the Edo bakufu.'


Daimyo were classified as follows.

Shinpan, from Tokugawa clan families.

Fudai daimyo, who had been serving the Tokugawa clan before the Battle of Sekigahara.

Tozama daimyo, who began to serve the Tokugawa clan after the Battle of Sekigahara (including the Toyotomi-related daimyo who fought as the East squad in the Battle of Sekigahara).

According to this classification, there were significant differences in the daimyo's political authority. The fact that all the important roles were taken by Fudai daimyo was a particularly major shift from the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. In the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, major senior vassals and shugo daimyo (provincial military governors, who became feudal lords) took important roles and were sometimes even stronger than the shogunal family or regent. The Gotairo (Council of Five Elders) system at the end of the Toyotomi government was a collective leadership system by powerful daimyo, however they were unable to prevent Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, a tozama daimyo, from usurping power. In contrast, in the Edo bakufu, it was the fudai daimyo who dominated important roles in the bakufu. The fudai daimyo, merely vassals to Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, who himself had been a simple daimyo under the Toyotomi government, were mainly uninfluential, small daimyo. Major daimyo became tozama daimyo in the Edo bakufu and thus did not have a chance to take on important roles in the administration. In other words, the Edo bakufu was not a dictatorship of the Tokugawa shogun himself, but a dictatorship in the framework of the Tokugawa family. Due to this fact, even if the shogun was not involved in politics, he would not become a complete puppet of the cabinet officials, and equally usurping of power could be prevented.

[Original Japanese]