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  • Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo, and the Culture of Early Modern Japan
  • Anna Beerens
Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo, and the Culture of Early Modern Japan. By Constantine Nomikos Vaporis. University of Hawai'i Press, 2008. 336 pages. Hardcover $50.00; softcover $23.00.

Tour of Duty brings the daimyo processions back to life. It enables us to do as special envoy Lord Algernon Mitford did a hundred years ago: close our eyes "and see picturesque visions of warriors in armour . . . processions of powerful nobles with their retinues . . ." (p. 1). In his introduction, Constantine Vaporis says that it was his purpose "to render alternate attendance as a lived experience" (p. 5), and he has eminently succeeded in doing so. Moreover, he not only presents the stories of the people who were involved in alternate attendance (sankin kōtai), but also deals with the effects the system had on political, economic, and cultural developments during the whole of the Tokugawa era, introducing new points of view that should be of interest to all who study the history of early modern Japan.

According to Vaporis, there were two sides to alternate attendance: the notion of homage (offering one's service at the castle of the overlord) and the notion of hostages (leaving one's family in the hands of the overlord as a guarantee of one's loyalty). This dual system, which became compulsory for the outside lords in 1635 and for the hereditary lords in 1642, was originally based partly on voluntary gestures of loyalty and demonstrations of military readiness by the daimyo. This may be a reason why, as Tokugawa power weakened, the system of alternate attendance remained "one of the most durable of the shogun's political controls over the daimyo" (p. 2). It is remarkable that "until the 1860s no daimyo ever remonstrated against this requirement that so taxed the resources of the domains and consumed so much of the energy of the samurai-based government" (p. 7). [End Page 397]

Vaporis argues that the system of alternate attendance could be seen as a form of taxation—"and a heavy tax at that" (p. 27). The periodic expenses for the journeys to and from Edo and the permanent costs for keeping up several presentable residences there "typically consumed roughly half to three-quarters of a domain's total disposable income" (p. 27). Apart from the ever-pressing question where the money was going to come from was the fact that such funds could not be used for the domain's internal needs. By restricting the daimyo's financial scope, the bakufu was able to indirectly influence individual domains' policies.

Vaporis's book is not, however, primarily a discussion of sankin kōtai as a control measure; the author wishes to draw our attention to other matters. One of the great merits of the book is the tremendous amount of practical information that cannot easily be found elsewhere, at least not in English. Who was part of a daimyo's retinue, and why? What was the preparation procedure like? Where did all these people spend the night during the journey, and how were they fed? Who came first in the procession, and who came last? Who carried what? How did people dress? What would be the procedure when two daimyo processions met on the road? What was the usual routine when the procession arrived in Edo? What did daimyo compounds look like, and how did people spend their time there? What was the procedure for the return journey? For what reasons could a daimyo be exempted from making the journey? What was the impact of the system on retainers' finances? How about the womenfolk? Vaporis deals with all these questions. Throughout the book the domain of Tosa functions as a representative case study, but Vaporis provides supplementary materials from other localities wherever possible. Apart from documentary sources such as retainers' diaries, maps, and prints, Vaporis makes excellent use of archaeological material, objects that "offer evidence about daily life not available from other sources" (p. 168).

Vaporis makes it clear that the daimyo processions in essence always remained military operations, but that...


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