Figure1Sangoku tsūran yochi rotei zenzu. Source

Sangoku tsūran yochi rotei zenzu, which is entitled Illustrated general route map of three countries in English. It is a manuscript map created by Hayashi Shihei in 1800. This map represents the area of Japan, as well as its three surrounding countries: Ezo (Hokkaido), Choson, and Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa). Additionally, it covers east coastal region of China and part of Russia. In early modern period of East Asia, tribute system served as the network that connected countries in this area together (Kang 592). Characterized by its hierarchic feature, China takes the hegemony in this system whereas other secondary states become tributaries of China. In early seventeenth century, when Ming collapsed and rising Qing power established regional hegemony, those neighboring countries, such as Choson, had to submit to Qing court in exchange of border security and domestic stability. However, Tokugawa Shogunate was an exceptional example. It did not show compliance toward Qing and refuse to establish official tribute relation with Qing. Therefore, I am going to talk about how Tokugawa Japan in early seventeenth century under the threat of Qing hegemony maintains domestic stability and promotes the economy of the state through manipulating diplomacy, foreign trade and religion.


According to Lee’s analysis, in order to reinforce its newly founded power and balance the relation with Qing empire, Japan in early Tokugawa regime established a self-proclaimed miniature tributary order (136). Lee points out that it can be viewed as a miniature tribute system in which Japan claims centrality and other neighboring states are considered to be inferior to Japan (136). In this Japan-centered system under threat of Qing, the governor of early Tokugawa bakufu requested Korea to remove any reference regarding China in Japan-Korean relation, due to Tokugawa government’s incentive to separate Korea from Qing-dominated regional order. When Korea and Ryukyu dispatched envoys to conduct diplomatic communication with Japan, the Tokugawa rulers would advertise to the local public as if they came to pay tributes to the central government. This method serves as a window to represent the power of early Tokugawa Shogunate. The local population therefore would show respect and pledge loyalty to the center. Since the rising Qing in early seventeenth century was too powerful to be challenged, in order to avoid military confrontation with Qing court, the early Tokugawa leader adopted pragmatic approach when dealing with relation with Qing. Taking Japan and Qing’s mutual handling of Ryukyu kingdom as an instance (Lee 145). Even though Ryukyu was part of Japan’s territory, Japan allowed Ryukyu to conduct tributary mission to Qing. The Qing government also agreed to let Ryukyu pay tributes to Japan as well. Although it seems to be a compromise for early Tokugawa government, it actually helps Tokugawa bakufu avoid becoming the tributary state of Qing court. This peaceful compromising measure helps Japan leave room for its future potential indirect ties with Qing. To conclude, through manipulating tribute practice, Tokugawa Shogunate in early seventeenth century establishes a miniature regional hierarchic order and utilizes it to legitimize the authority of central government and strengthen domestic political control (Toby 109).


Figure2: RyuKyu Kingdom sent envoys to Edo to conduct diplomatic mission. Source

Figure3: The zoom-in part of Ryukyu Kingdom.

Qing China and Tokugawa Japan’s mutual handling of Ryukyu.


Foreign trade

As is demonstrated by Yasunori, even though Tokugawa government in Edo period implements Sakoku policy which is known to us today as Close country policy, it does not mean Japan isolate itself from the outside world. Instead, in terms of foreign trade, Japan also establishes a hierarchical “Japanocentric order” with Japan at the summit (Yasunori 206). Based on Sakoku policy, the early Tokugawa government issued edicts that local merchants were prohibited from establishing official foreign trade relation with China and western nations. Therefore, how did Japan in early Tokugawa period achieve its economic prosperity through manipulating indirect foreign trade relation with its neighboring countries? Generally, the Tokugawa Shogunate utilizes the foreign relation with Satsuma, Tsushima and Matsumae as a springboard to continue indirect trading relation with Qing China and other surrounding nations (Toby 107). These three domains used to be autonomous foreign land under the protection of Tokugawa authority. Satsuma has connection with Ryukyu. Tsushima and Matsumae build relation with Korea and Ezo respectively. Hence, they will conduct foreign trade under the name of Shogun. In the meantime, China also relies heavily on imports of Japan’s silver and copper, which gives early Tokugawa bakufu possibility to maintain an indirect trade relation with Qing China. Furthermore, the early Tokugawa government builds a mutual beneficial alliance with Zheng family who develops a powerful maritime regime along China coast and a ship-link from Fujian to Nagasaki (Hang 136). For instance, Zheng Zhilong and his son Zheng Chenggong are viewed as dependable partners who can provide the Tokugawa government with Chinese goods, and early Tokugawa Shogunate will provide Zheng family with protection and support regarding to its against of Qing under bakufu’s law. Lee describes that Tokugawa Shogunate sets up a trade credential system to restrict the merchants and envoys from Korea and Ryukyu who tend to conduct tribute mission to Japan (146). They are required to bring the certified trade credential with Japan’s era name on it to Japan, in order to carry out their tribute mission and purchase Japanese goods. Overall, similar to the miniature tribute system regarding to diplomacy, Tokugawa Shogunate in early seventeenth century also establishes a Japanese version of Sino-centric trade system in which Japan takes the dominated role. Although there exists strict bans relating to foreign trade, it does not imply that Japan eliminates trading relation with Qing China and neighboring countries, it still leaves space for the promotion of foreign trade. Instead of participating directly into the Sino-centric trade system, early Tokugawa government chooses to manipulate surrounding foreign lands and official certificate as a medium to indirectly conduct trade with China and most importantly establishes a miniature trade system with Japan at the peak.

Figure4: This is the certified trade credential with Japan’s era name on it. Source


How did early Tokugawa leaders utilize religion to maintain social order and enhance the political authority of Tokugawa government? Kim illustrates that Neo-Confucianism is adopted Tokugawa Japan as normative justification to maintain hierarchical order in the government and society (248). In early seventeenth century, Neo-Confucianism was embraced by Tokugawa shoguns as the doctrine of the central government. One of the most important point it emphasizes is the prescribed relation between ruler-official, father-son, husband-wife, older brother-younger brother and friend-friend, characterized by loyalty and filial piety, which are the two essential fundamental virtues of Neo-Confucianism (Kim 249). The fealty to the lord is placed in superior place in Tokugawa Japan. The subject is requested to pledge loyalty to the ruler and ruler is expected to show its benevolence in return. Hence, the early Tokugawa governors localize this political ideology to establish class-based social structure, with samurai at the top and following goes to peasants, craftsmen and merchants, which is significant for Tokugawa government’s entire control of the society. In addition, the reverence to Buddha is regarded as the premises of lord-vassal relationship. The early Tokugawa leader points out that people’s loyalty toward Buddha is crucial for consolidating the relation between lord and vassals. Therefore, the Tokugawa governors use people’s reverence and allegiance toward Buddha to establish Japan as an unified nation. The early Tokugawa leaders establish a registration system which requires every Japanese people to register in a Buddhist temple, with the incentive to transform people into part of Sangha (Buddhist community) and then achieve government’s control over population. Shintoism, as an indigenous religion, which advocates both mental and physical purity based on the guidance of Kami, also functions like a medium that can be utilized by Tokugawa leader to strengthen central authority since Kami is viewed as divine and inviolable. Christianity is regarded as a mysterious and disturbing foreign religion presented as national enemy since it will destroy political stability and social harmony (Hur 38). Yasunori emphasizes that in order to wipe out the foreign threat toward Tokugawa bakufu, the eradication of Christianity is unavoidable (212). To summarize, Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism and Shintoism harmoniously coexist in early Tokugawa period. When dealing with the potential threat that Christianity brings to the sovereignty of Tokugawa Shogunate, the early Tokugawa rulers utilize the ideology in these religions which asserts the loyalty to the lord, and transform it into political ideology to enhance the authority of Tokugawa government and maintain social stability. Moreover, the early Tokugawa leaders also manipulate people’s allegiance toward deity in each religion to strengthen their control over people and establish hierarchical social order


In summary, through doing research about how Tokugawa Shogunate in early seventeenth century under the threat of Qing hegemony establishes its regional authority and maintains domestic social order in terms of utilizing diplomacy, foreign trade and religion, one of the most important purpose of making this map is to represent the success of Japan-centered regional order established by early Tokugawa leaders. Even though the China-centered tribute system is no doubt to be the dominated regional order in East Asia during this period, according to the central placing of Japan on the map, we can draw the conclusion that the creator of the map intends to show the success of this Japanocentric order in terms of diplomacy, foreign trade and religion during early Edo period. Although it is viewed as a miniature hierarchic structure of Sino-centered tribute system, it indeed helps the Tokugawa government in early Edo era shape its regional authority and maintain domestic social order.


Hang, Xing. “The Shogun’s Chinese Partners: The Alliance between Tokugawa Japan and the Zheng Family in Seventeenth-Century Maritime East Asia.” The Journal of Asian Studies 75, no. 1 (2016): 111-136.

Hur, Nam-lin. “Trade, Anti-Christianity, and Buddhism.” In Death and social order in Tokugawa Japan: Buddhism, anti-Christianity, and the Danka system. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007.

Kang, David C. “Hierarchy and legitimacy in international systems: The tribute system in early modern East Asia.” Security Studies 19, no. 4 (2010): 591-622.

Kim, Tae Young. “Social Structures and Neo-Confucianism of Choson Dynasty and Tokugawa Japan.” 일본문화학보 67 (2015): 239-266.

Lee, Ji-Young. “The Making of Qing hegemony.” In China’s Hegemony: Four Hundred Years of East Asian Domination. Columbia University Press, 2016.

Toby, Ronald P. “The Lens of Recognition: Diplomacy in the Legitimation of Bakufu.” In State and diplomacy in early modern Japan: Asia in the development of the Tokugawa Bakufu. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Woods, Shelton. “Religion in Tokugawa Japan.” About Japan: A Teacher’s resource. Accessed April 6, 2018.

Yasunori, Arano. “The formation of a Japanocentric world order.” International Journal of Asian Studies 2, no. 2 (2005): 185-216.

Yasunori, Arano. “Foreign Relations in Early Modern Japan: Exploding the Myth of National Seclusion.” Last modified January 18, 2013. Accessed April 6, 2018.

Contributor: Tianyu Chen
April 15, 2018