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State-Building and Political Economy in Early-modern Japan

Mark Ravina
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 54, No. 4 (Nov., 1995), pp. 997-1022
DOI: 10.2307/2059957
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2059957
Page Count: 26
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State-Building and Political Economy in Early-modern Japan
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Abstract

MARK RAVINA offers a reconsideration of the nature of the state in Tokugawa Japan. He takes issue with studies of early modern Japanese politics that have focused on questions of state building because they invariably end up with the finding that centralization failed in the mid-seventeenth century. To see the Tokugawa system largely in terms of a failed effort to achieve a strong centralized, absolute system, he argues, is to view Tokugawa politics from the center rather than the periphery, and to draw an implicit comparison with state-building in Europe. He proposes an alternate approach, decentered in its focus, and based on Mizubayashi Takeshi's concept of a "compound state" characterized by the sustained autonomy of the large daimyo and considerable lack of clarity about political authority over many matters. "The task of writing Tokugawa political history," Ravina observes, "is thus to understand domain politics not only as a precursor to the Meiji state, but as part of a world which the new regime systematically destroyed."

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