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Osaka Nakanoshima Library


Below are terms and Japanese words that describe distinctive aspects of the Edo Period.

Alternate Attendance
By edict of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1635, the country's regional lords (daimyo) were required to reside in Edo during alternate years. This policy was known as "Sankin Kotai," and it helped the shoguns maintain control of the daimyo since adhering to the requirement was both time-consuming and costly, leaving the daimyo little money to raise armies or munitions.

Bakufu (or Shogunate)
The administrative authority which ruled Japan under the Tokugawa shoguns.

Bunraku
A professional puppet theater which developed in Japan during the Edo period. A versatile chanter provided voices for all the puppets, with musical accompaniment provided by a shamisen. The puppet—approximately half to two-thirds life-size—was operated by three puppeteers. The principal operator supported the puppet with his left arm and hand, and controlled movable eyelids, eyeballs and mouth with his right hand. The first assistant operated the puppet's left arm while the second assistant manipulated the puppet's legs.

Burakumin
A word coined in the 19th century to refer to the outcast classes known as "eta" and "hinin." During the Edo period, discrimination was based on the warrior-farmer-artisan-merchant-nonperson hierarchical caste system. Hinin (non-person) referred to someone who plotted against the emperor. In the Edo period, hinin generally made their living as entertainers, guards, or beggars. Eta were those who worked with animals and leather goods. In 1871, both eta and hinin classifications were legally abolished.

Bushi
Military gentry or warrior class.

Bushido
Way of the warrior.

Chomin
A term meaning townspeople, which encompassed artisans and merchants.

Daimyo
This is the title for the territorial warlords who had autonomous control of their domains. There were approximately 260 domains during the Tokugawa era, categorized according to their relationship to the shogun.

  • Shimpan: those directly related to the shogun.
  • Fudai: daimyo from other clans who had been loyal to Tokugawa Ieyasu before he became shogun.
  • Tozama: daimyo who swore loyalty to the Tokugawa clan after the Battle of Sekigahara when Tokugawa became shogun.

    Edo
    The former name for Tokyo, meaning "river gate." The name was in use from from 1180-1868.

    Geta
    This is the Japanese word for the outdoor footwear in use during the Edo Period, which consisted of a thong attached to a wooden platform with two crosswise supports. Geta were usually worn by the lower classes.

    Geisha
    A person of the arts. The first geisha were men, but later only women entered the occupation.

    Go
    A game for two players in which black and white stones are placed on the intersections of lines on a playing board. The object is to surround the opponent's stones and secure control of the open spaces on the board.

    Kabuki
    Kabuki is one of three major forms of classical theatrical entertainment in Japan (Bunraku and Noh are two others). Kabuki began in the 17th century as a variety show. Its origin is attributed to a woman who led a company of female performers in outdoor performances featuring dance and bawdy skits. At the time, Kabuki meant "shocking" or "out of the ordinary," and the success of these players stemmed from their eroticism. Audience reaction was so extreme to these initial Kabuki performances that female Kabuki players were soon banned, replaced by male performers. Kabuki became one of Edo's major forms of entertainment with performances starting early in the morning and lasting all day.

    Komin
    The third level in the Edo caste system, designated for artisans and craftsmen.

    Nomin
    The second level in the Edo system, designated for farmers and peasants.

    Ronin
    A masterless samurai.

    Samurai
    One who serves. Samurai warriors were the elite of pre-modern Japan and became the ruling class during the late 12th century. Their priviledged status was dissolved in the mid-1870s.

    Sankin Kotai
    The Japanese term for Alternate Attendance (see above). Sankin means "to report to one's lord" or "to render service." Kotai means "to go back and forth."

    Seppuku
    Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. The Chinese characters used to write this term are "cutting" and "abdomen," in that order. (The term harakiri is considered vulgar, consisting of the same Chinese characters written in the opposite order). In committing seppuku, Japanese cut their abdomens because they believed that was where the soul was contained. Seppuku was considered an honorable form of execution, allowing a samurai to choose the moment of death.

    Shimin
    The top level in the Edo system, designated for the samurai.

    Shogi
    Commonly referred to as Japanese chess, shogi is a board game for two players. Played with 40 pieces, the game's object is to checkmate the opponent's king. The game is similar to chess, although one difference is that a player can use his opponent's captured pieces. In 1607, the Tokugawa Shogunate established an office for shogi and go, which led to professional competitions for these games.

    Shogun
    Abbreviation of the Sei-i-tai-shogun, which means "Barbarian-subduing Generalissimo." The title was first used in the 8th century for Japan's supreme rulers.

    Shomin
    The fourth level of the Edo system, designated for merchants.

    Tokugawa Family
    The Tokugawa family was the major warrior lineage in Japanese history. The Tokugawa clan dominated Japanese politics from 1600-1868.

    Tokugawa Shogunate
    Established by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Tokugawa Shogunate consisted of 12 shoguns who ruled from 1603-1868.

    Tokugawa Period
    This period stretched from the late 16th century when Tokugawa Ieyasu cemented his rule over Japan until 1868 when the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, resigned.

    Ukiyo
    A term that means "floating world."

    Ukiyo-e
    A term that means "pictures of the floating world." Ukiyo-e emerged in the early part of the Edo period and flourished from 1680-1850. The genre is composed mostly of woodblock prints (though it does include some paintings) that became popular among the prosperous merchant classes. The subject matter usually focuses on life in the entertainment districts, the popular courtesans of the time, and famous Kabuki actors.

    Yoshiwara
    Founded in 1617, Yoshiwara was a pleasure district in Tokyo—gated, walled and surrounded by a moat. The district was maintained until 1957 when licensed prositution quarters were banned throughout Japan. Various fashions originated in Yoshiwara—clothing, manners, and style. Woodblock-print artists depicted Yoshiwara's beauties and kabuki actors, while popular novelists celebrated its escapades. Yoshiwara guidebooks best sellers, and fashionable Edo men were expected to know the district's etiquette. Here, they could escape from the rigid class distinctions of society.



    IMAGE CREDITS
    Top: Bato-machi Hiroshige Museum
    Left: Osaka Nakanoshima Library


  • Alternate Attendance
    Bakufu
    Bunraku
    Burakumin
    Bushi
    Bushido
    Chomin
    Daimyo
    Edo
    Geta
    Geisha
    Go
    Kabuki
    Komin
    Nomin
    Ronin
    Samurai
    Sankin Kotai
    Seppuku
    Shimin
    Shogi
    Shogun
    shomin
    Tokugawa Family
    Tokugawa Shogunate
    Tokugawa period
    Ukiyo
    Ukiyo-e
    Yoshiwara



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