Meanings and Functions of Rituals in the Politics of the Tokugawa Shogunate: a Study of the 1843 Shogunal Pilgrimage to Nikkō (Nikkō shasan)
This project explores the political use and significance of rituals performed by the Tokugawa shoguns, the military chieftains that ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867. I argue that, far from being empty performances detached from the real business of governing, rituals were potent political tools used by those in power to establish and maintain authority, as well as to preserve social harmony. Specifically, I consider the case of the shogun’s pilgrimage in 1843 to the tomb of the regime’s founder in Nikkō, a majestic event that mobilized military and financial resources nationwide and involved all strata of society. Drawing on a diverse array of sources including written documents, visual materials, and artifacts, this dissertation reconstructs the various stages of the shogun’s pilgrimage and examines the numerous ways in which this ritual allowed the Tokugawa regime to wield authority over its subjects. By showing that rituals were an essential component of Tokugawa politics, this study - the first of its kind outside of Japan - provides a fresh and more nuanced understanding of the early modern Japanese state, illuminating the mechanisms that regulated it and revealing the reasons for its resilience and longevity.
PhD defended at
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill