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HarryJJ
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2012 11:05 am    Post subject: The significance of recorded event's of violence? Reply with quote
When viewing the official records of violent episodes within Japan during this period should we view them as a appropriate representation of what is considered on the whole a peaceful regime?

Reading Luke S. Roberts Performing the Great Peace: Political Space and Open Secrets in Tokugawa Japan has me questioning this.

I'm starting to wonder if the sparsely recorded event's of violence in official Tokugawa documents attain to political reasons for there warrant to be recognised and written down.

So a few things I want to create discussion about is this, is it realistically possible that violence between the bushi class was far more common place than we are lead to believe and in turn could this mean that samurai were far more familiar with the weapons at their side than is commonly perceived during the Edo period.

Secondly the Shogunate strictly prohibited the use of physical force between daimyo but could skirmishes have broken out between hans and what of resistance when a clan was abolished.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2012 4:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I've just finished reading Performing the Great Peace, today.

I think you ask good questions - one of Roberts' key points throughout the book is that we have to appreciate the political purposes (agendas) and political contexts within with a particular set of documents were produced, in order to better appreciate what those documents are revealing or hiding, and from what perspective they are speaking.

You may be right that incidents of violence were more numerous than we are sometimes led to believe. The Edo period was certainly not 100% peaceful - there were surely gangs and homicides, muggings, attacks, double love suicides, and all kinds of other small-scale incidents, as well as skirmishes and attacks related to daimyo succession disputes and the like. Many kabuki plays are based on real-life incidents such as these; in addition to love suicide plays, one example of such a play is Ise Ondo Koi no Netaba, based on a real-life incident in which a jealous doctor went on a murderous rampage inside a teahouse, killing three and injuring six.

But, the idea that violence was so widespread that [most] "samurai were far more familiar with the weapons at their side than is commonly perceived" seems a bit too far to me, especially if we're talking about major skirmishes between domains, or between a domain and the shogunate. Even if such major skirmishes occurred on occasion, I have never heard of any sort of evidence indicating that they were particularly common...

I think that most samurai were indeed raised with fencing lessons and the like, and thus would have had a degree of familiarity with the weapons & their use. But the idea that outbreaks of violence were constant seems, if you'll pardon me, simply the fantasy of those who want to believe in a more violent, chaotic, exciting version of the Edo period, as inspired by jidaigeki films, manga, and the like.

Roberts argues that, to a large extent, the shogunate paid little attention to events within domains, and left these "private" matters to the daimyô & his administrators to handle. Thus, it is quite reasonable that internal/domestic rebellions and uprisings might not appear in Tokugawa records, or in domain documents meant to be read by shogunate officials. A domain would have been expected to handle these matters on its own, and to hide disharmonies or difficulties in the management of the domain from the shogunate. However, such an event would still appear in internal domain documents; there is not the same political incentive to hide such events when it comes to internal documents.

As for violence between domains, or violence by a domain against the shogunate, I don't really know why such events would (or could) be kept hidden. In the former case, the case of two domains fighting one another, there may have been an incentive to try to keep this hidden from the shogunate, but it still would have appeared in internal domain records. When Uwajima and Tosa domains were arguing over control of the Sasayama Temple (or was it a shrine?), an incident which Roberts discusses at length in his chapter on Territorial Disputes, small-scale looting and the like which occurred across the domainal border appeared in internal domain documents.

In the case of a domain rising up against the shogunate, how could that be kept hidden from the shogunate? And if the shogunate were to keep it out of the official records, why would that be?

I can't say that I really *know* the truth to any of this, but I'm skeptical that the omote/uchi phenomena Roberts describes would really account for any widespread secrecy about violent incidents, in both shogunate and domain documents (not to mention unofficial and personal documents, such as diaries and commoner publications).
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2012 12:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
lordameth wrote:
But, the idea that violence was so widespread that [most] "samurai were far more familiar with the weapons at their side than is commonly perceived" seems a bit too far to me, especially if we're talking about major skirmishes between domains, or between a domain and the shogunate. Even if such major skirmishes occurred on occasion, I have never heard of any sort of evidence indicating that they were particularly common...
Maybe not common but simply on the rare occasion that they DID happen as to never occurring.

lordameth wrote:
I think that most samurai were indeed raised with fencing lessons and the like, and thus would have had a degree of familiarity with the weapons & their use. But the idea that outbreaks of violence were constant seems, if you'll pardon me, simply the fantasy of those who want to believe in a more violent, chaotic, exciting version of the Edo period, as inspired by jidaigeki films, manga, and the like.
Yes I'm under no elusion that the last two and a half centuries of samurai rule were somehow similar to the chaotic and turbulent period of the warring states just with culture differences. I was just musing as to whether Kataki-Uchi and possibly adauchi killings of one's lord may have actually taken place. Even though such practices were regulated due to state laws based on Confucianist values and philosophy and looked favourably upon by the bushi caste , I still think the Tokugawa government and most han administrations would limit the amount of 'recorded incidents' of such event's to prevent it becoming popular and in turn creating more disturbance and bloodshed.

lordameth wrote:
Roberts argues that, to a large extent, the shogunate paid little attention to events within domains, and left these "private" matters to the daimyô & his administrators to handle. Thus, it is quite reasonable that internal/domestic rebellions and uprisings might not appear in Tokugawa records, or in domain documents meant to be read by shogunate officials. A domain would have been expected to handle these matters on its own, and to hide disharmonies or difficulties in the management of the domain from the shogunate. However, such an event would still appear in internal domain documents; there is not the same political incentive to hide such events when it comes to internal documents.
Do we have knowledge of any internal documents that speak of such matters that we are discussing?

lordameth wrote:
As for violence between domains, or violence by a domain against the shogunate, I don't really know why such events would (or could) be kept hidden. In the former case, the case of two domains fighting one another, there may have been an incentive to try to keep this hidden from the shogunate, but it still would have appeared in internal domain records. When Uwajima and Tosa domains were arguing over control of the Sasayama Temple (or was it a shrine?), an incident which Roberts discusses at length in his chapter on Territorial Disputes, small-scale looting and the like which occurred across the domainal border appeared in internal domain documents.

In the case of a domain rising up against the shogunate, how could that be kept hidden from the shogunate? And if the shogunate were to keep it out of the official records, why would that be?
Not so much active rebellion against Tokugawa rule but when push came to shove and one's clan is about to be abolished there was resistance rather than just accepting it and moving aside. Could it be that the Tokugawa government had difficulties abolishing clans and made a conscious effort to make sure that if such resistance did happen they made dam sure that word about it didn't become widespread? Or though this is probably far fetched in my mind due to what I have read in Constantine's book about Alternate Attendance. That samurai retinue would have picked up cultural differences when travelling through different domains and I would harbour that they might get wind of event's happening in said domain as well.....


lordameth wrote:
I can't say that I really *know* the truth to any of this, but I'm skeptical that the omote/uchi phenomena Roberts describes would really account for any widespread secrecy about violent incidents, in both shogunate and domain documents (not to mention unofficial and personal documents, such as diaries and commoner publications).
Rational thought's, yes maybe one needs to factor in the mindset of the period as well? I'm guessing most if not all had no stomach for war, bloodshed, conflict etc.

Thank you for contribution on the subject Lordameth.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 20, 2012 5:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
I would imagine that on the local level, there were all sorts of minor things that were whitewashed. However, the bigger something gets, the harder it is to keep someone from spilling the beans-even in the 'best case' scenarios there's always someone who gets screwed later and wants a bit of revenge. It's also a given that for the most part these aren't the 'history altering' documents many scholars seek out, not to mention that they can be hard to find, scattered around in private collections and temples. It's not that certain events weren't documented, just that no one's gotten around to studying them yet. There were obviously some well known violent conflicts in the Edo period-the Winter and Summer battles of Osaka, the Shimabara Rebellion, the Bakumatsu/Boshin War, the 47 Ronin's raid, and lesser known stuff (some involving foreigners) like the Phaeton incident in 1808 and a Russian pirate raid on Ezo (don't remember the details-it was on one of the SA podcasts).

Most conflicts between han would be pretty small scale and largely involve the use of local instigators and troublemakers. A good example of this is shown in the late Sengoku when the Date were moved out of their old fief to Iwate-they sponsored several phony 'rebellions' in their old lands to cause trouble for its new Daimyo Goto. Both daimyo involved knew very well that escalating things would likely cause them far more trouble than any potential gain was worth (which, as you point out, could be a reason to falsify documents-but would probably just serve as a bigger deterrent).

As far as internal power struggles, there are some examples documented of this as well. There was a famous power struggle in the Date family that came close to getting the clan abolished in the mid 17th century and became the subject of a famous kabuki play, Meiboku Sendai Hagi. The problem with keeping this sort of thing quiet is that unless every member of the losing faction was killed, they were likely to go to the Shogunate and rat out the victor.

I've never heard of any sort of formal resistance when a clan was abolished and replaced with another. Even the Asano cadet branch gave up their castle in Ako with no resistance, although a handful of members were in favor of doing so.

Also remember that while there may look like there were all sorts of accounts of violence, these were spread out over hundreds of years all over the country. In examining some stats quoted in "Peasant Uprisings in Japan", I found the author quite vague in what she considered to be a 'peasant uprising'. Shimabara? The rice riots? Sure. But what about 'Touched-By-The-Gods Shinbei' urinating on the magistrates office and shouting incoherent abuse? Was stuff like that counted? The author didn't say. I agree with Meth that the impression we have of violence in the Edo period is likely greater than it actually was. It was also more of the 'police action' variety of violence than outright warfare, and Edo period police were normally quite keen on simply incapacitating criminals rather than killing them. If you've ever seen Edo police equipment, virtually all of it was made to capture rather than kill.

While Roberts's point makes a certain kind of sense (things that make a daimyo look bad are glossed, changed or simply not discussed), it'd be very tough to prove how prevalent it was. This is a common argument proponents of many theories use when they have no real proof-for example, you'll hear it often from people who are trying to make the case for there being copious amounts of women warriors-the evil male historians just wouldn't write about them (ignoring the fact that they did, and in a matter-of-fact manner-just not very often)-and of course you'll never find a document that states "There were no women on the battlefield", since there would be no need to write something like that (and if there was, it could just be argued that if they felt the need to state it, they must be covering something up). The real value of Roberts's argument is that it does point out the need to consider all sorts of things when looking at a primary source-who wrote it, for whom, why, what they were trying to prove or accomplish, who it was meant to be read by, etc. My favorite book of this type is Elizabeth Olyer's "Swords, Oaths, and Prophetic Visions"...Vaporis's new book "Voices of Early Modern Japan" is excellent for this purpose as it examines nothing but dozens of contemporary documents and suggests all sorts of angles to interpret them from.
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lordameth
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 20, 2012 7:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
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things that make a daimyo look bad are glossed, changed or simply not discussed ... This is a common argument proponents of many theories use when they have no real proof


You're correct, of course, and I think we have all seen this kind of argument made on a myriad of topics, by countless scholars. Sometimes (often), it's an unfortunate necessity, in order to help gloss over something and get back to the main point of whatever you're arguing.

But, I don't think that's quite what Roberts is doing here. He's devoted pretty much an entire book to examining the ways in which the structure of Tokugawa politics influenced the transmission of information, and the generation/keeping of "open secrets."

It is easy to imagine that in any time and place, in any culture, there is incentive to gloss over certain things, to keep secrets, to lie, in order to avoid making oneself look bad. And I am sure that plenty of this went on in Tokugawa Japan as well. But the point that Roberts tries to make in this book is that lies and secrets and such in, for example, a domain's reporting of information to the shogunate, or a retainer's reporting of information to the domain, was an integral part of the system, and not a cheating or deception against the system. Roberts argues that the shogunate expected of the domains (and the domains expected of their retainers, and so on down the hierarchy) that "internal" or "private" affairs would be handled internally/privately, and a great importance was placed on the performance of the act that everything was according to policy. And so, we have a dual-layered system of handling (and especially, reporting or recording) matters - the internal/private account, and the official formal report. Roberts doesn't merely assume, but actually cites explicit examples of shogunate officials suggesting to a domain, directly or indirectly, that they handle something privately and not report it officially to the shogunate. Emphasizing the fact that the character 「私」, as in "private", was often used to refer to a daimyô's management of his house and his domain, and that the concepts of "house" and "domain" were perhaps more strongly intertwined than we generally think, the logic behind such a system becomes perhaps a bit clearer. We have to not think of the domains as "public" political entities, states governed over by a samurai house, but rather, perhaps, a bit more like the management of the domain as an extension of the daimyo's "private" "personal" management of his own house.

Admittedly, I, too, find it a little bit hard to grasp all the ins and outs of precisely how this system of secrets and lies worked, and why. Why should the shogunate make so many rules and regulations and then not really enforce them, but only take the word of each domain that things were being done properly? This begins to go into another topic, the question of the extent to which we need to think of the domains as semi-independent states, into which the Tokugawa authority doesn't really extend in certain respects.

But, in any case, it would seem that so long as a domain was able to successfully handle its own internal matters, the shogunate did not care too much what was actually going on behind the scenes. And so, it's not a matter of gaming the system, or acting against the system, when daimyo kept secrets or spun deceptions, but, rather, it was very much part of the system, that certain types of things were to be handled privately, secretly, or internally, and that official reports to the shogunate were to reflect loyalty and obedience to Tokugawa authority, proper propriety, and proper performance of the rituals of government procedure.

Roberts' book is valuable, as you say, for reminding us that we need to be careful in examining documents, and looking for political incentives and motivations. But, it goes beyond that, I think, suggesting a structure, and a logic, to those motivations that can help us understand better the system within which these documents were produced.
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