More than any other policy or strategy of the
Tokugawa era the practice of alternate attendance cemented the status of the
regime and ensured stability for the duration of the period. The system of
attendance worked on a number of societal levels to undermine resistance and
strengthen the Tokugawa clan, with the daimy? forced to surrender their
families to glorified hostage positions in Edo, distance themselves from their
domains, and shoulder a massive financial burden, while the resulting
significant travel simultaneously expanded the national economy. While a combination
of factors influenced the relative peace during the Edo period such as regional
foreign policy and other domestic policies, Alternate Attendance managed to
weaken the forces most dangerous to domestic peace and strengthened
interregional trade, and thus national unity at the same time, separating it
from other factors as the most effective long-term stability policy of a period
that was defined by unprecedented peace.1
While alternate attendance was in effect the daimy?
shifted between Edo and their home domain, but were forced to leave their wives
and children between the years they were required in the capital for
massively compromised the physical threats posed by the daimy? by allowing the
Tokugawa clan to hold entire families hostage at all times. Anyone attempting
to foment rebellion would need to carefully weigh the risk posed to their
family, and most importantly their heirs.
Subsequently the Tokugawa carefully monitored the
daimy? neighborhoods, with trends of women leaving and weapons entering a sure
sign of early steps for a revolt.3
Though the conditions that faced the “hostages” were comfortable, there was a
clear understanding that that would change if they were to leave Edo without
Such a personal policy of political control over the daimy? proved an effective
insurance and served as a powerful deterrent against attempts to unseat the
Loss of Identification
The impact of attendance also had a
cascading effect on the daimy? and the relationship with their respective
domains. As the children and wives of the daimy? were required to stay in Edo
even while the lords traveled back to their domains, each generation of new
daimy? came into power with a weaker sense of identification with their home
This sense of alienation was hard to avoid as often the new daimy? would have
never set foot in their respective home domains until they assumed their
leadership role as adults, having been largely raised by their mothers and
staff in Edo.6 This
only served to further prevent organized movements against the regime by the
Additionally, greater time and resources were
required to rule their home domains simply because they were ruling in person
no more than half the time as every other year was spent in Edo by order of the
Tokugawa regime. Without the base of support to consolidate power and the
connection to the people, stability was the status quo and revolts were never
given the necessary spark to begin.
One of the most significant impacts
of alternate attendance upon the daimy? was not the threat of hostages, or the
alienation of home domains, but was instead the financial implications of the
policy. The funds required of the daimy? to maintain numerous estates both in
their home domain and often multiple within Edo was staggering.7
They were put under further financial strain by the extravagant processions
that were used to travel between Edo and home castles as was required by
alternate attendance. It is estimated that roughly two thirds of the tax revenue
that daimy? received went towards staff hiring and maintaining their Edo
The result of such a financially demanding policy
is that the daimy? found it harder to form strong armed forces and stockpile
for violent revolts. Military forces are expensive to outfit and train and with
revenue going toward various aspects of the alternate attendance policy it was
functionally harder to organize forces to move against the regime.
At the same time, the country as a whole benefited
economically from the daimy? processions that trekked to Edo every other year
with their host of retainers and soldiers. The strenuous requirements of the
alternate attendance policy drove huge amounts of traffic through domains that
otherwise would not have seen many outsiders, providing an influx of funds,
goods, and a variety of services.9
As a result, specialized local production was spurred and interregional trade
The financial benefits that resulted from the attendance policy strengthened
the state and helped benefit the overall economy, and in the process lowered
the likelihood of rebellion and dissent.
The strength of the alternate
attendance policy implemented by the Tokugawa regime was that it acted on so
many facets of society. From the micro impact of creating a distance between an
individual daimy? and his home domain, to the macro impact of the national economy,
attendance had a far-reaching impact. Depriving those within Japan of the
opportunity to act against the regime before they ever had a chance to implement
any plans while at the same time promoting interregional exchanges and trade made
for a previously unthinkable period of stability that allowed the nation to
1 Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, 3rd Edition (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2014), pg. 21.
2 Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, pg. 15.
3 Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, pg. 15.
4 Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, pg. 15.
5 Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, pg. 16.
6 Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, pg. 16.
7 Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, pg. 16.
8 Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, pg. 16.
9 Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, pg. 23.
10 Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, pg. 23.