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Bibliographic Data: Vaporis, Constantin Nomikos. Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo, and the Culture of Early Modern Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008.

Main Argument: Arguing hyperbolically that the alternate attendance (sankin kôtai) system was not only "the single greatest accomplishment of Japanese leaders, both of the Tokugawa period and of subsequent times" (4) (!) but that it "was without question the single most important institution affecting economic life in Tokugawa Japan" (2), Vaporis contends that besides all this alternate attendance was also instrumental in both the meteoric rise of Edo and in "the shaping of a national culture" (5) in early modern Japan.

Historiographical Engagement: Like many of these scholars, Vaporis writes a lot about the domain of Tosa, because Tosa's records are extraordinarily well-preserved. He's also explicitly departing where George Tsukahira left off by considering alternate attendance's cultural face; finally, the intervening years since Breaking Barriers have lead Vaporis to consider Tokugawa Japan a "nation," though without explicitly defending that claim.

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples The introduction argues that the institution of alternate attendance, which Vaporis claims "was without question the most important institution affecting economic life in Tokugawa Japan" (2), had an enormous "trickle-down effect" on Edo society as a whole, "probably without parallel in world history" (3), and that alternate attendance, as well as an engine of economic growth, in effect operated as a tax (whether on daimyo income or daimyo consumption is difficult to say) redistributing income to various levels of Edo society.

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples In this chapter Vaporis locates the origins of both aspects of the sankin kôtai system in the Momoyama period, particularly under Hideyoshi, who both required his vassals to attend him in Fushimi and accepted hostages as guarantees of alliances. Vaporis then goes on to describe the typical preparations for sankin kôtai on the part of daimyo (many of whose family members never left Edo). Vaporis goes out of his way to insist that sankin kôtai was understood as a military exercise, conveniently forgetting that it was the only war most of the men who participated in it ever knew.

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter argues that, like most Tokugawa institutions, the long life of sankin kôtai belies significant change in practice over time, as well as synchronically: no two journeys to Edo (and back), according to Vaporis, were ever precisely alike.

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter argues that after the mid-17thC, daimyo processions assumed a more parade than military character, in which "they assumed notable theatrical elements and became a type of cultural performance" (62). Despite his arguing that the Tokugawa state was compound earlier, Vaporis notes that the daimyo processions were clear indicators that Edo was the political center and clear reminders of the shogun's august authority.

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks into the lives of retainers who were assigned to accompany their lords to Edo, arguing that the compulsory nature of service in Edo reflected the military origins of alternate attendance. The nature and length of retainers' attendance on their lords varied, with at least four major categories of types of attendance; retainers were also rotated through these assignments, unless they were dispatched to Edo for the long term, in which case they could bring their families. Attitudes towards service in Edo varied among retainers from approval to avoidance, but financial incentives (various allowances provided by the domain) may have made it more attractive as time wore on and elites increasingly relied on debt financing.

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter, which is actually quite interesting, examines the built landscape of Edo, which Vaporis argues "under the Tokugawa, became the supreme metaphor and mechanism of shogunal authority" (129). Much attention has been paid to the shitamachi (downtown/commoner areas) at the expense of the Yamanote, the upper city which was occupied largely by nearly one thousand daimyo compounds, each domain having a network of compounds including massive gardens for various aspects of domainal business and familial obligations. Crucially, Vaporis notes that domains "bought and sold property according to economic need and also for status considerations … and also ameliorated conditions at the densely populated main and secondary compounds" (143). Commoners lived in areas with population densities approximately four times that of samurai, but even samurai were forced by population density to utilize underground rooms in their compounds, particularly in light of the fact that lordly spaces within compounds forced retainers to live in relatively cramped quarters. Excavations in Tokyo have offered conclusive proof "for the circulation of commodity goods including food across Japan and the economic links between the local economies of the domains and their Edo compounds" (168), as well as for the importance of ceramics in Tokugawa economic life.

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples "Alternate attendance played a key role in generating population growth at the center, as is evident from the fact that after the system was suspended in 1862, Edo lost half of its population of more than a million in less than seven years" (173). This chapter explores life in the capital, also arguing that samurai ate meat, including dog, based on archaeological evidence. For retainers, moreover, the Edo experience "was what the individual made of it" (197), but it consisted of both hardships and pleasures.

Chapter 7: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter argues that "in contrast with this Edo-centric model [of cultural diffusion], the social processes involved in the production and integration of culture in the Edo period were much more complex. … Culture was, in other words, produced and transmitted all along the metaphorical road of alternate attendance … Edo became a cultural nexus" (205). "…the requirements of participation in the system--not to mention the incidental travel between domains and Edo made possible by the system--enriched the cultural life of the country as a whole and led to national integration and a population with a high level of shared culture and experience" (206). Eventually the chapter disintegrates into a sort of Real Retainers of Edo-style recounting of what retainers shopped for, which is certainly interesting, before arguing that retainers' experiences in Edo were transformative (citing Saigô Takamori and Sakamoto Ryôma among others). It's hard to square Vaporis' contentions that daimyo were a civilizing cultural elite with their total uninvolvement in popular life, other than as icons (cf. Beth Berry), and their mounting debt as the period wore on, but there it is.

Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples "…within the country's borders the regular flow of human traffic across political boundaries created by alternate attendance was instrumental in helping counteract local tendencies toward isolationism and cultural fragmentation. This political institution, which perhaps more than any other defined the modern era, was instrumental in producing a population with a high level of shared culture and experience" (239).

Critical assessment: This is an interesting book with a wealth of fascinating details that certainly repays reading, even though I definitely don't buy Vaporis' arguments that alternate attendance was the pivotal sociocultural/economic institution of the Tokugawa period. It's certainly worthwhile to consider, in an age in which travel was, if widespread, illicit, one of the few forms of mass travel that was licit, but I'm not sure what the payoff is, if we don't accept Vaporis' arguments, or we don't see why the purported shared culture alternate attendance purportedly enabled is important. Given that Vaporis himself admits that it's difficult to find evidence for circulation of periphery-center cultural diffusion, I'm not sure the study even succeeds in proving its main point--and Vaporis, frustratingly, leaves evidence on the table. The Tokugawa state had three major centers (Kyoto, Osaka, Edo), each specializing in different aspects of life, and there's plenty of evidence for, say, Kyoto==>Edo influence, but none of this is discussed (and indeed, the question of cultural diffusion is left until the final chapter).

The real problem is that, as in Breaking Barriers, Vaporis is far too fond of the "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" fallacy, resorting to it whenever he sees examples of co-incidence without ever actually trying to prove causal linkages. Moreover, I'm so over pussy-footing around calling the Tokugawa regime a federal state. It was! It just was. It was a federal state in which a central authority retained some powers for itself and authorized decentralized authorities to hold certain powers within limited areas, and calling it a "compound" or a "hybrid" state or whatever else needlessly obfuscates and I daresay orientalizes the issue. Given, however, that Vaporis denied any possibility of "nation" in the Tokugawa period in Breaking Barriers, perhaps we ought, historiographically speaking, to be glad to take what we can get from him in this regard. Finally, I wish Vaporis had included more comparisons dealing with power and pageantry in Japan to other early modern polities; that would have been incomparably more interesting, and useful, than an argument that he can't and doesn't try to prove. (NB: this is probably impossible because Vaporis can't see the daimyo for what they really were.)

Further reading: Peter Konicki, The Book in Japan; T. George Tsukahira, The Sankin Kotai System of Tokugawa Japan

Meta notes: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is not acceptable as a form of academic reasoning.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-12-05 21:15 (UTC)
lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)
From: [personal profile] lnhammer
Is chapter 3 substantially new arguments or a summary of past evidence? That potted summary sounds a lot like what I remember from my modern Japanese history class lo those couple decades ago.


(no subject)

Date: 2011-12-05 23:56 (UTC)
lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)
From: [personal profile] lnhammer
Yes, in general terms. IIRC, the context was ways in which the shogunate brought the daimyo to heel, by requiring the expense of traveling in style, the upkeep of two residences, and so on. I believe the phrase "conspicuous consumption" was used, but that could have been my own interpretation, either at the time or later.

We spent a couple weeks reviewing the state of the Tokugawa state to provide context for the Restoration.



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Andrea J. Horbinski

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