Tokugawa Japan Through Chushingura & Musui's Story

1196 words - 5 pages

The Tokugawa (or Edo) period (1603 - 1868) of Japan history saw the cultural stagnation of the nation that was frozen in self-isolation a time when most of the rest of the world was beginning to bristle with invention, trade, and discovery (Foster, "Early").Within this 265 year period, the once respected samurai began to struggle not only on a financial level but also on a pride and respect level, with more and more of its status being trampled underfoot as the Tokugawa period went on. This isolation policy did foster a stronger self-reliance among the Japanese early on, but as the isolation and freeze policies were dragged out over two and a half centuries, the culture began to suffer: daimyo were beginning to be strapped for cash by the 1800s, the samurai's status was in a downward spiral since 1730, and the symbols of samurai status were able to me bought by non samurai, merchants and farmers in particular (Foster, "Late," "Culture").This downward spiral in the Tokugawa period can be seen in many different sources from the period, but two of the most prominent for this time are the texts of Chushingura and Musui's Story. Chushingura was a puppet play written about the actions of Forty-Seven Ronin (master less samurai) who avenged their daimyo's forced seppuku (suicide) by breaking into the mansion of the rival daimyo who had forced the act and killed him (Izumo, Shoraku and Senryu 1). The puppet play was written in 1748, and showcased an early Tokugawa period with loyal, respected samurai, a stable economy and law system, and the value of honor. Almost 100 years later, Katsu Kokichi will write his autobiography, Musui's Story. Unlike Chushingura, Musui's Story presented a Tokugawa a century later: a culture that had transformed from an honorable, stable society to an unstable, dishonorable land of corruption, financial difficulties, where samurai status was meaning less and less by the year. It is through these two texts one can trace the evolution of the Tokugawa period from a place of honor and status to an unstable land of crime and lies. This particularly can be seen in the transformation from loyal samurai to unloyal, samurai who were in high regard to samurai of disregard, and from a land of a stable economy and law to a place of pseudo-law and financial instability.The subtitle of Chushingura can be considered one-line summary of the entire play: "The Treasury of Loyal Retainers." The play itself focus on the coming together of the samurai of Enya Hangan, a daimyo, to extract vengence and retribution for his forced seppuku by Ko no Moronao, "the governor of Musashi" (173). The samurai, after disbanding following the death of Enya, reunited a year later to carry out the plan of retribution for their former lord. The overall picture of this can be considered as loyalty, but there are specific points in the text that shows the full scope of loyality. Kampei, a former retainer who has fallen on hard times, has his wife, almost unknown to...

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