[Above] A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints is the first exhibition in North America devoted to the portrayal of wakashu, or beautiful youths—a “third gender” occupying a distinct position in the social and sexual hierarchy of Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868).

Featuring over 65 woodblock prints, as well as paintings, luxury objects and personal ornaments, A Third Gender illuminates the richness of lived experience in Edo society, where complex rules governed gender constructs.

This groundbreaking exhibition offers a critical artistic and historical context for gender performance and sexual expression, topics that are particularly resonant within society today. Additional exhibition-related programming and events is forthcoming.

This exhibition is organized by the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Tickets can be purchased in-person at the Welcome Desk or online in advance.

The Edo period (江戸時代 Edo jidai?) or Tokugawa period (徳川時代Tokugawa jidai?) is the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan, when Japanese society was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country’s 300 regional daimyō.

The period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population, “no more wars”, the rise of bushido as an important part of samurai identity and popular enjoyment of arts and culture.

The shogunate was officially established in Edo on March 24, 1603, by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The period came to an end with the Meiji Restoration on May 3, 1868, after the fall of Edo.

Working Title/Artist: The Battles of Hogen and HeijiDepartment: Asian ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 09Working Date: 17th century
photography by mma, Digital File DT227.tif
retouched by film and media (jnc) 2_4_11

Working Title/Artist: The Battles of Hogen and HeijiDepartment: Asian ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 09Working Date: 17th century
photography by mma, Digital File DT228.tif
retouched by film and media (jnc) 2_4_11

Working Title/Artist: The Battles of Hogen and HeijiDepartment: Asian ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 09Working Date: 17th century
photography by mma, Digital File DT238254.tif
retouched by film and media (jnc) 2_4_11

A revolution took place from the time of the Kamakura shogunate, which existed with the Tenno’s court, to the Tokugawa, when the samurai became the unchallenged rulers in what historian Edwin O. Reischauer called a “centralized feudal” form of government. Instrumental in the rise of the new bakufu was Tokugawa Ieyasu, the main beneficiary of the achievements of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Already powerful, Ieyasu profited by his transfer to the rich Kantō area.

He maintained two million koku of land, a new headquarters at Edo, a strategically situated castle town (the future Tokyo), and also had an additional two million koku of land and thirty-eight vassals under his control. After Hideyoshi’s death, Ieyasu moved quickly to seize control from the Toyotomi family.

Ieyasu’s victory over the western daimyōs at the Battle of Sekigahara (October 21, 1600, or in the Japanese calendar on the 15th day of the ninth month of the fifth year of the Keichō era) gave him virtual control of all Japan. He rapidly abolished numerous enemy daimyō houses, reduced others, such as that of the Toyotomi, and redistributed the spoils of war to his family and allies.

Ieyasu still failed to achieve complete control of the western daimyōs, but his assumption of the title of shogun helped consolidate the alliance system. After further strengthening his power base, Ieyasu installed his son Hidetada (1579–1632) as shogun and himself as retired shogun in 1605. The Toyotomi were still a significant threat, and Ieyasu devoted the next decade to their eradication. In 1615, the Tokugawa army destroyed the Toyotomi stronghold at Osaka.

The Tokugawa (or Edo) period brought 250 years of stability to Japan. The political system evolved into what historians call bakuhan, a combination of the terms bakufu and han (domains) to describe the government and society of the period.[1] In the bakuhan, the shogun had national authority and the daimyōs had regional authority.

This represented a new unity in the feudal structure, which featured an increasingly large bureaucracy to administer the mixture of centralized and decentralized authorities. The Tokugawa became more powerful during their first century of rule: land redistribution gave them nearly seven million koku, control of the most important cities, and a land assessment system reaping great revenues.

The feudal hierarchy was completed by the various classes of daimyō. Closest to the Tokugawa house were the shinpan, or “related houses”. They were twenty-three daimyōs on the borders of Tokugawa lands, all directly related to Ieyasu. The shinpan held mostly honorary titles and advisory posts in the bakufu. The second class of the hierarchy were the fudai, or “house daimyōs“, rewarded with lands close to the Tokugawa holdings for their faithful service.

By the 18th century, 145 fudai controlled such smaller han, the greatest assessed at 250,000 koku. Members of the fudai class staffed most of the major bakufu offices. Ninety-seven han formed the third group, the tozama (outside vassals), former opponents or new allies. The tozama were located mostly on the peripheries of the archipelago and collectively controlled nearly ten million koku of productive land. Because the tozama were least trusted of the daimyō, they were the most cautiously managed and generously treated, although they were excluded from central government positions.

The Tokugawa not only consolidated their control over a reunified Japan, they also had unprecedented power over the emperor, the court, all daimyōs and the religious orders. The emperor was held up as the ultimate source of political sanction for the shogun, who ostensibly was the vassal of the imperial family. The Tokugawa helped the imperial family recapture its old glory by rebuilding its palaces and granting it new lands. To ensure a close tie between the imperial clan and the Tokugawa family, Ieyasu’s granddaughter was made an imperial consort in 1619.

A code of laws was established to regulate the daimyō houses. The code encompassed private conduct, marriage, dress, types of weapons and numbers of troops allowed; required feudal lords to reside in Edo every other year (the sankin kōtai system); prohibited the construction of ocean-going ships; proscribed Christianity; restricted castles to one per domain (han) and stipulated that bakufu regulations were the national law. Although the daimyō were not taxed per se, they were regularly levied for contributions for military and logistical support and for such public works projects as castles, roads, bridges and palaces.

The various regulations and levies not only strengthened the Tokugawa but also depleted the wealth of the daimyōs, thus weakening their threat to the central administration. The han, once military-centered domains, became mere local administrative units. The daimyōs did have full administrative control over their territory and their complex systems of retainers, bureaucrats and commoners. Loyalty was exacted from religious foundations, already greatly weakened by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, through a variety of control mechanisms.




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