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Sankin-kōtai (参勤交代 lit. "alternate attendance", a daimyo's alternate-year residence in Edo) was a policy of the shogunate during most of the Edo period of Japanese history. The purpose was to control the daimyo. In adopting the policy, the shogunate was continuing and refining similar policies of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1635, a law required sankin-kōtai, which was already an established custom. The law remained in force until 1862.
The details changed throughout the twenty-six decades of Tokugawa rule, but generally, the requirement was that the daimyo of every han move periodically between Edo and his han, typically spending alternate years in each place. His wife and heir were required to remain in Edo as hostages. The expenditures necessary to maintain lavish residences in both places, and for the procession to and from Edo, placed financial strains on the daimyo making them unable to wage war. The frequent travel of the daimyos encouraged road building and the construction of inns and facilities along the routes, generating economic activity.
In principle, the sankin kotai was a military service to the shogun. Each daimyo was required to furnish a number of soldiers (samurai) in accordance with the assessment of his han. These soldiers accompanied the daimyo on the processions to and from Edo.
With hundreds of daimyo entering or leaving Edo each year, processions (大名行列 daimyō-gyōretsu ) were almost daily occurrences in the shogunal capital. The main routes to the provinces were the kaidō. Special lodgings, the honjin (本陣), were available to daimyo during their travels.
King Louis XIV of France instituted a similar practice upon the completion of his Palace at Versailles, requiring the French nobility, particularly the ancient Noblesse d'épée (nobility of the sword) to spend six months of each year at the palace, for reasons similar to those of the Japanese shoguns. The nobles were expected to assist the King in his daily duties and state and personal functions, including meals, parties, and, for the privileged, rising from and getting into bed, bathing, and going to church.
- Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan, pp. 127–141.
- Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 10-ISBN 0674003349/13-ISBN 9780674003347; OCLC 44090600
- Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, Tokyo 1991, ISBN 4-7674-2015-6
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