Chapter 14 Empires and Cultures of Asia thinking about history and geography

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1. What is a generalization?

2. How can generalizations help us to better understand history?

3. Consider whether or not generalizations are always true. Suppose you made the following statement: "Strong government results only when leaders address the greatest needs of their citizens." Do you think this generalization is always true? Explain.

4. What generalization can you make about leaders today? What facts did you use to make your generalization?



Feudal Japan

Focus Activity


What changes did the shoguns make in feudal Japan?


• Shinto

• shogun



• Yoritomo

•ÊTokugawa Ieyasu

• Lady Murasaki Shikibu


• Edo

• Tokyo

• Kyoto

Read Aloud

"Nothing is more important than duty. Second in importance comes life, and then money." To writer Muro Kyuso, who lived almost 300 years ago, these words described life for a certain group of people in Japan. They were Japan's soldiers.


As you read in Lesson 1, Japan is located in the Pacific Ocean east of mainland Asia. Its four main islands form a 2,000-mile-long archipelago. This arc stretches from Russia in the north toward the Korean Peninsula in the south. From ancient times Chinese and Korean people moved to the islands of Japan. They brought Confucian teachings with them. Immigrants from Korea also introduced Buddhism to Japan around A.D. 550, along with China's writing system and new forms of art.

These immigrants arrived in a region that already had ancient traditions of its own. Most important was the Japanese religion called Shinto (SHIN toh), or "the way of the gods." According to Shinto belief, everything on Earth has a spirit of its own, including the land and such crops as rice. As in ancient Greece, Japan's farmers tried to ensure good harvests by offering prayers before planting or harvesting. The most important prayers, though, were offered by Japan's emperor. The emperor's family was believed to be descended from the Shinto sun goddess.

In time Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism blended together in Japan to form a unique way of life. All Japanese were believed to be part of one big family, whose head was the emperor. As in all families, each member had duties to fulfill. Not all duties were the same, and not everyone had equal rank, as you will see.



The ruler of Japan was the emperor. However, powerful families fought for control over Japan's mountains and plains. One family won the long, fierce struggle for power in 1192. The emperor made the leader of this struggle, Yoritomo (yawr ee TOH moh), Japan's first shogun, or military commander. Yoritomo changed the way Japan was governed. While the emperor headed Japan in name, the shogun ruled the country as military dictator.

Samurai Warriors

Life in Japan, like life in Europe at this time, was shaped by a type of feudalism. Lords controlled large pieces of land, which were worked by farmers. Protecting the lords and their lands were soldiers called samurai. They believed their main duty was to remain loyal to their lord. "Nothing is so important in a warrior as loyalty," wrote one samurai in the 1400s.

Although lords held great power in their regions, they were considered vassals of the shogun. Lords had to serve the shogun. This service could mean providing rice or samurai for war. In return the shogun granted new lands or privileges to lords.

The shogun, his lords, and their samurai formed the upper part of Japan's social pyramid. Below them were farmers, craftworkers, and merchants. These commoners—non-nobles had to show utmost respect to those above them in society. Whenever a lord and his samurai passed through a village, servants shouted "Down! Down!" This signal prompted commoners to fall face-down on the ground in respect. Those who did not do so risked death.


After 1200 both an emperor and a shogun held positions of power in Japan.

1. Which city was the center of power for the emperor?

2. Which sea bounds Japan on the west?

3. What would a nearby nation need in order to conquer Japan? Why?



Shoguns like Yoritomo were very powerful. However, they were not always strong enough to keep lords from rebelling and seizing more land for themselves. Remember, Japan is a very long archipelago. For this reason, keeping control over Japan's dozens of powerful lords proved almost impossible. By the early 1500s the shoguns had lost much of their power.

In 1603, though, the emperor made Tokugawa Ieyasu (toh koo GAH wah ee yeh YAH soo) Japan's ruler. Under the Tokugawa, Japan became not only unified but remained at peace for over 200 years. How did the Tokugawa leaders achieve what no one else had been able to do?

A samurai wore the decorated headdress and cloak shown. Samurai also carried two swords.

Ruling Japan

The Tokugawas became the unchallenged masters of Japan by ordering massive changes in society. To prevent rebellion, only samurai could own weapons. Lords who opposed the Tokugawa leaders were stripped of their lands. Those lands amounted to half the farmable land in Japan. These lands were given to loyal vassals.

Most importantly, all lords had to live in the Tokugawa capital city of Edo (ED oh), or what is today Tokyo. There the shogun's assistants could keep a close watch on the lords, making sure no rebellions were planned. Every two years the lords could return to their towns. Their wives and children, however, had to stay in Edo to insure that the lords would return.

Lords oversaw most everyday affairs in Japan, including collecting taxes from commoners. The lords were not taxed, but were expected to contribute whenever a new national road or castle was built. Lords had to prove their loyalty to the shoguns by giving them many gifts. Lords who did not risked the chance of losing land or privileges. The lords also had to obey strict rules about everything, from what kind of silk they wore to how many servants they had. These rules forced the lords to spend lots of money. Without plenty of money, no lord would have the resources to wage a war against the shoguns.


Life in cities like Tokyo (left) has changed since feudal times, here painted by Hokusai (below).

Life in Villages and Cities

One road that Japan's lords helped pay for connected Edo with the emperor's capital city of Kyoto (KYOH toh). In time its 300-mile length became crowded with the shogun's servants carrying messages from the shogun to the emperor. Merchants also used the road on their way to market, as did lords traveling to and from Edo.

As the lords traveled with their servants and samurai, they passed through a Japan that was steadily changing. Peace had brought boom times. In farming villages, people leveled forests to clear new farmland. With improved irrigation more rice, cotton, and other crops could be grown. Village shrines and temples were also being expanded. Many of them started schools where children could study reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion.

More and more, older children of farmers were leaving their villages. They left to live in Japan's growing towns and cities. Some found work as servants or laborers on building projects. Others became maids in the homes of samurai families.

Development of Edo

No other city grew as big or as fast as Edo. After 1603 more than 200 lords and their families moved into stately city homes. These households required the services of thousands of maids, cooks, and other servants. Etsu Sugimoto described the maids who worked in her family's kitchen:

Here the air was filled with the buzz of work mingled with chatter and laughter. In one corner, a maid was grinding rice for tomorrow's dumplings; another was making padded scrub-cloths out of an old kimono; . . . and a little apart from the others sat another whirling her spinning wheel.

Servants searched the city's markets each day for fresh goods. While the lords and samurai spent money to satisfy the shogun, merchants became rich. Some became far richer than many lords.



New traditions were being born in the heart of Edo. Actors playing in a new form of drama called Kabuki packed Edo's theaters each night. Their plays dealt with samurai heroes and ordinary people, often torn by love or by struggles between duty and freedom.

New technology also made book printing easier than ever before. Merchants carried huge stacks of books on their backs. Books were rented for next to nothing. Some people read adventure stories about the golden age of the samurai. Others read love stories or classics like Lady Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji (GEN JEE), from around the year 1000. It is thought to be the world's first novel. In this excerpt, the main character decides on a way to solve his problems.

For Genji life had become an unbroken string of problems. He must consider what to do next. If he went on pretending that all was well, then even worse things might lie ahead.

Genii thought of the Suma coast [near present-day Kobe]. People of great value had once lived there, he was told, but now it was deserted, save for the huts of fishermen. According to his attendants, however, Suma was known to be the home of one mysterious resident: a puppet. And the puppet had powers to make human beings a joyful lot.

Genji thought to himself, "Soon, I shall make the journey to Suma. Soon, a wonderful puppet shall rest on my arm. Soon, I shall turn to a puppet and gain the gifts of friendship and joyfulness."

This painting (right) shows a scene from The Tale of Genji. Today actors continue to perform Kabuki drama.


The Closing of Japan

The Tokugawa shoguns kept an iron-handed grip over life in Japan for over 200 years, between 1603 and 1867. During this time Japan had almost no contact with other countries. Like the emperors of Ming China, the shoguns of Tokugawa Japan saw outside influences as threats to their rule. Their response was to seal off their borders. Lords were forbidden to have any foreign contact or to build ships. Throughout most of its history, Japan had grown from contacts with the outside world; now it remained isolated.


Japan was one of the few countries in Asia to remain largely untouched by outside forces in the 1600s and 1700s. Even without the benefits of international trade and movement, though, life in Japan continued to grow and change. Most importantly, feudal society changed as lords moved to Edo.

Samurai no longer fought wars but instead often held desk jobs. Drawn to new economic and cultural opportunities, farmers set off for growing towns and cities. A new age had begun in Japan. That age, however, would be jolted in the 1800s, as foreign ships came to challenge Japan's closed borders. You will read about where the ships came from and why in Chapter 17

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• The Japanese religion of Shinto was changed by the arrival of Buddhism and Confucianism. Together they formed the belief that Japan was like a family, with the emperor as head.

• Feudal society in Japan was run by a military leader called a shogun.

• The Tokugawa shoguns held power for over 200 years. They forced lords to live in Edo and also shut off Japan to outside influence.


1. Describe Japan's social pyramid during feudal times.

2. Why was the order for lords to move their families to Edo so important to Tokugawa rule?

3. FOCUS How did life change for people in Japan under shogun rule?

4. THINKING SKILL How might Tokugawa history support this generalization: "Strict rule can bring positive results."

5. GEOGRAPHY How did Japan's sheer length affect the early shoguns' ability to keep order in the country?






Do you remember how difficult writing seemed when you first learned to do it? You probably practiced drawing letters over and over. Then you began to learn to write words and sentences.

Japanese of feudal times also worked hard at their writing. They used brush strokes similar to painting. They developed their written language, which they borrowed from the Chinese, into an art form called calligraphy (kuh LIHG ruh fee).

Advances in Printing technology brought this art to many people. Printing made it possible for many people to own beautifully written works of art.

Calligraphy is still an important part of education for many Asian students. This Chinese girl practices her writing at school.


The woman in this Japanese print (above) is writing a letter using a calligraphy brush. The scroll (left) shows the following Japanese poem, titled "Waiting for the Cuckoo:' The calligraphy, handwritten by the poet Yoshimasa, is still admired for its beauty.

Oh, cuckoo, crying for thy mate

Up in the sky, on mine own part,

I wait for thee tonight

With my whole heart.




Number a sheet of paper from 1 to 5. Beside each number write the word or term from the list below that best completes each sentence.


Grand Canal




1. ____ were soldiers used by Japanese lords.

2. A ____ is a supreme ruler of a Muslim state.

3. ____ is a word meaning "a chain of islands."

4. The name of the human-made waterway in China that connects the Huang and Chang rivers is the ____.

5. A ____ was a military commander who governed Japan.


1. What Asian rivers begin on the Tibetan Plateau?

2. Who was Sinan and what were his accomplishments?

3. What did Akbar do to strengthen the Mogul empire in India?

4. Why was the Taj Mahal built?

5. What is Angkor Wat?

6. Why did the Mongols invade China?

7. Who was Kublai Khan? How did he govern China?

8. What was the effect of the Tokugawa dynasty on Japanese history?

9. What was the most significant achievement of Lady Murasaki Shikibu?

10. According to the time line above, how long after Ghengis Khan invaded China were the Mongols driven out?




Suppose you are a newspaper reporter sent back in time to cover the fall of Constantinople. Reread page 389. Then use the information to write an on-the-scene report about what happened.


Write a comparison of the Mogul empire in India and the Mongol empire in China. How were they similar? How were they different? Include the contributions made by Akbar and Kublai Khan.


Write one paragraph each about two of the following places: (1) Taj Mahal, (2) Angkor Wat, and (3) the Forbidden City.



1. What is a generalization?

2. Review Lesson 2. Explain how using the example of the Mogul emperor Akbar helps to support this generalization: "Effective rulers make the people they govern feel they are being treated fairly."

3. Make a generalization about what is required to become ruler of a large area. Use information from this and other chapters you have read.

4. What generalization can you make about the ways rulers of the past governed? Use as examples the rulers you chose for number 3.

5. Why are generalizations useful?

Summing Up the Chapter

Copy the main-idea chart below on a separate sheet of paper. Then fill in each column with information from the chapter. When you have completed the chart, use the information to write a paragraph that answers the question "What contributions did peoples of Asia make to civilization?"


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