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Painting by Ando Hiroshige


1701—Incident of the 47 Ronin
Sparking an affair that captures the imagination of Japanese to this day, Lord Asano, a young daimyo from a small rural domain was insulted by a court official during a visit to Edo Castle. Furious, the daimyo, drew his sword against the official, Kira Yoshinaka, wounding him. Shogun Tsunayoshi declared Asano's behavior was unacceptable within the castle grounds and ordered him to commit suicide. The shogun then transferred Asano's domain to another family clan. Asano's samurai retainers were now ronin and vowed revenge. To fool the authorities, they pretended to abandon their samurai honor and began living degenerately. Then, one snowy night, they broke into Kira's mansion, decapitated him, and paraded his head through the streets of Edo. Arriving at the burial spot of their beloved Asano, the ronin washed Kira's head, placed it before their fallen leader's tomb, and then turned themselves over to the authorities. Confucian scholars and government officials debated the dilemma for over a year: the 47 ronin had obeyed their samurai code of honor, yet they had challenged the shogun's authority. The public, meanwhile, embraced the ronin as heroes for embodying the traditional warrior codes. But Tsunayoshi, issuing the final ruling, ordered the 47 ronin to commit suicide. Depicting the incident of the 47 ronin, Chushingura ("The Treasury of the Loyal Retainers"), continues to be the most popular dramatization in Japanese theater.

1709—Tokugawa Ienobu Becomes 6th Shogun
Ienobu succeeded his brother, Tsunayoshi, after being formally adopted. Ienobu was also the brother of Ietsuna, the fourth shogun.

1713—Tokugawa Ietsugu Becomes 7th Shogun
Ietsugu became shogun at the age of 4, succeeding his father, Ienobu, whose political advisors remained active. He died at the age of seven

1716—Tokugawa Yoshimune Becomes 8th Shogun
A member of the Kii branch of the Tokugawa family, Yoshimune was the great grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. His mother was of such low rank she was forbidden to rear her son. One of the most forceful and capable of the 15 shoguns, Yoshimune rejected the luxurious lifestyles of his predecessors. He ate only brown rice and vegetables and wore plain clothes. He often went hunting dressed in cotton and straw sandals. Known for mixing with commoners, Yoshimune tried to free himself from the conventions that kept the shogun confined to the castle. The 8th shogun also had an academic bent: His compilation of legal precedents and support for scientific experimentation helped lead to the relaxation of the ban on Western books.

1716—Ban Lifted on Imported Books
To counter an economic depression, Shogun Yoshimune instituted the Kyoho Reforms that lifted the import ban on western books. The measures were enacted, in part, to mollify the Dutch on Dejima Island, who were increasingly frustrated by the limitations placed upon commerce.

1745—Tokugawa Ieshige Becomes 9th Shogun
The eldest son of Tokugawa Yoshimune, Ieshige was chronically ill and suffered from a speech defect. Skilled at chess (about which he wrote a book), Ieshige had little interest in governing, and the aging Yoshimune continued to rule during his son's first two years in office. Ieshige's reign lasted from 1745 1760.

1753—Ukiyoe Artist Kitagawa Utamaro is Born
Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 1808) is regarded as one of the foremost painters of the bijinga genre, prints that depict beautiful women. Beginning his career as an illustrator for a major publisher, Utamaro gained popularity in 1791 for his close ups of women. As publishers clamored to sell his prints, Utamaro became the leading ukiyo-e artist of his day. But in 1804, the government ruled that one of Utamaro's prints was offensive. Jailed and forbidden to paint, he died two years later.

1760—Tokugawa Ieharu Becomes 10th Shogun
Ieharu, the eldest son of Tokugawa Ieshige, ruled Japan from 1760-1786. Widely ridiculed, he was unable to assert authority and many believed he was leading the country to ruin.

1774—First Japanese Book on Western Anatomy Published
Granted permission to observe the dissection of an executed woman, a small group of Edo scholars realized their understanding of human anatomy (based on Chinese theory) was wrong. What they witnessed corresponded closely to a Dutch book on anatomy owned by one of the scholars, Dr. Sugita Genpaku. Although the ban on Western books had been lifted years earlier, very few books on Western medicine were available. Genpaku was so impressed by the book he immediately committed himself to learn Dutch so that he could translate it into Japanese for further study. Published in 1774, the book helped usher in a period known as Dutch Learning.

1782—Famine Devastates Japan.
One of the worst famines of the Edo period, the Temme Famine lasted from 1782 to 1787. Mortality estimates range widely—from 200,000 to 900,000. The famine started after unseasonable weather damaged crops; flooding, cold winds and the eruption of Mt. Asamayama (whose ash buried 25 villages) prolonged it. In many areas, high taxes had left farmers without reserves of rice. The Shogunate's efforts at relief were largely ineffectual and the destitute resorted to foraging for roots, eating cats and dogs, and even cannibalism.

1787—Tokugawa Ienari Becomes 11th Shogun
Tokugawa Ienari was the adopted son of the childless Tokugawa Ieharu, and became Shogun at age 13. He ruled for 50 years, longer than any other shogun, during a period of political stability and abundant harvests. He fathered 55 children by 40 consorts, and forged a nationwide network of kinship links through marriage, adoptions, gifts and favors.

1791—First American Ship Reaches Japan
The first American to reach Japan was John Kendrick of Boston, aboard the brigantine Lady Washington. Several American ships followed, all hired by the Dutch East India Company, from 1797-1809 during the Napolionic wars. Fearing British attacks, the Dutch often used American ships to disguise themselves and avoid hostilities.

1792—Russian Ship Lands in Japan
A Russian expedition sent by Catherine the Great, and led by Professor Adam Laxman, landed in Ezo (now Hokkaido) in 1792. The Japanese allowed the Russians to spend the winter, but not to establish trade. In 1804, an expedition led by Nicolai Petrovich Rezanov arrived in Japan to set up trade relations, but was again rebuffed. In response, the Russians raided Japanese communities in the Kurile islands. Russian traders, during the reign of Peter the Great, from 1682 1725, made numerous unsuccessful attempts to establish trade relations.

1797—Ando Hiroshige, Famous Ukiyoe Landscape Artist, Is Born.
The son of an Edo Fire Brigade member, Ando Hiroshige worked as a fireman while he studied painting under Toyohiro, a famous ukiyoe artist. Though they had little commercial value, landscapes sparked Hiroshige's interest. In 1831, he produced a series that became popular entitled "Famous Places In Edo." Two years later, he accompanied the Shogun's retinue as they traveled the Tokaido Road from Edo to Kyoto. Along the way, Hiroshige sketched "Fifty Three Stages on the Tokaido," depicting each of the 53 inspection stations. The work was quite successful, and he went on to create 30 additional series on the Tokaido theme.

1500s | 1600s | 1700s | 1800s


Top: Print by Ando Hiroghige/Tokaido Hiroshige Museum


J.S. Bach composes first cantata
First newspaper in America published

The Great Awakening begins in Massachusetts

Mozart is born in Austria

British colonize India

American colonies declare independence from England

French Revolution begins

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