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The urban legacy of the Tokugawa period

Although the legacy of the Tokugawa era is diverse, it is possible to divide the main influences of urbanism in the period into two aspects. The first relates to urban tradi- tions. Broadly speaking this includes the idea of the city and the understanding of urbanisation and traditions of urban administration, urban life and urban society. Here we are concerned primarily with traditions of neighbourhood self-government,

The fragmented spatial, social and administrative structure of cities in the Tokugawa period has had deep ramifications. It was first and foremost an extremely effective means of social control, as it divided the commoner population into manageable blocks, each of which was run in the image of a family unit, as were the rural villages on which the system was based. The landlords (jinushi ) and their agents (ôya) took on some of the functions of the rural landlord class towards their tenants (tanako) in the back-alley tenements (Kato 1994: 49; Smith 1978: 51-2). This structure was effective in preserving order, and it also contributed to the weak development of any civic consciousness of the city as a political entity, such as developed in Europe and North America. There was little political space between the Bakufu or domain governments as represented by the magistrates, and the local self-managed neighbourhoods in which the concept of the whole city as a political realm could develop. Although to a very great extent each individual neighbourhood was responsible for most urban functions in their area, Smith (1978: 50) emphasises that the autonomy of the chô units was granted on sufferance, and considered a delegated duty rather than a right. He notes that the commoner city was therefore merely an assemblage of independent neighbourhoods with no corporate identity of its own, and its governance closely resembled that of rural villages. One significant result is that the Japanese city was never considered an independent entity, and never developed a distinct civic consciousness as Eisenstadt (1996: 181) has persuasively argued. Whereas in Europe from the end of the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, independent, self-governing cities were able to develop their own traditions of bourgeois government and culture before the advent of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century industrialisation, in Japan that intervening stage was skipped and cities were plunged directly from feudalism into the transition to modernity and industrialisation. This is closely related to a point first raised by Max Weber (1958: 81-3), that although China and Japan each had long urban traditions, neither saw the emergence of a bourgeoisie or landowning urban class which identified its economic interest with the commercial success of its city. Although some degree of self-organisation existed, there was no concept of an urban “citizenry’ or larger urban community to which individuals could belong, and the idea of the city as a corporate body did not exist.