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Tenpō(天保) was a Japanese era name (年号,nengō, "year name") after Bunsei and before Kōka. The period spanned from December 1830 through December 1844. [1] The reigning emperor was Ninko -tennō(仁孝天皇).

The Japanese era name, also known as gengō (元号), is the first of the two elements that identify years in the Japanese era calendar scheme. The second element, a number, counts the years since the era began; as in many other systems, there is no year zero. For example, the first year of the Heisei period was 1989 CE, or "Heisei 1", so the year 2019 CE in this scheme is "Heisei 31".

Bunsei Japanese era

Bunsei (文政) was a Japanese era name after Bunka and before Tenpō. This period spanned the years from April 1818 through December 1830. The reigning emperor was Ninkō-tennō (仁孝天皇).

Kōka Japanese era name

Kōka (弘化) was a Japanese era name after Tenpō and before Kaei. This period spanned the years from December 1844 through February 1848. The reigning emperors were Ninkō-tennō (仁孝天皇) and Kōmei-tennō (孝明天皇).



Change of era

Edo Former city in Musashi, Japan

Edo, also romanized as Jedo, Yedo or Yeddo, is the former name of Tokyo. It was the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868. During this period, it grew to become one of the largest cities in the world and home to an urban culture centered on the notion of a "floating world".

Kyoto Designated city in Kansai, Japan

Kyoto, officially Kyoto City, is the capital city of Kyoto Prefecture, located in the Kansai region of Japan. It is best known in Japanese history for being the former Imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years, as well as a major part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area.

Mandate of Heaven political and religious doctrine of the Emperor of China

The Mandate of Heaven or Tian Ming is a Chinese political and religious doctrine used since ancient times to justify the rule of the King or Emperor of China. According to this belief, heaven —which embodies the natural order and will of the universe—bestows the mandate on a just ruler of China, the "Son of Heaven" of the "Celestial Empire". If a ruler was overthrown, this was interpreted as an indication that the ruler was unworthy, and had lost the mandate. It was also a common belief among citizens that natural disasters such as famine and flood were signs of heaven's displeasure with the ruler, so there would often be revolts following major disasters as citizens saw these as signs that the Mandate of Heaven had been withdrawn.

The Tenpō era is often described as the beginning of the end of bakufu government. Though the era accomplished much through its reforms, and also culturally speaking, the injury inflicted on the Tokugawa system of government during the Tenpō period was unparalleled. Public order and dissatisfaction with government was a main issue, but the bakufu was not entirely at fault for the stir amongst the people. For example, the failure of crops in 1833, which soon became a lengthy disaster endured for over four years called the Great Tenpō famine, was caused mainly due to poor weather conditions. Because crops could not grow under these circumstances, prices began to skyrocket. These dire circumstances sparked many rebellions and riots across Japan over the course of the Tenpō years. [2] Weary and desperate for someone to blame, the people rose up against the government, and Ōshio Heihachirō, known for leading one of the largest rebellions, made a statement to implicate "the natural disasters as sure signs of Heavens's discontent with the government". [3] Mizuno Tadakuni's reforms were meant to remedy these economic issues, but the reforms could not rescue the bakufu from its ultimate collapse.

Ōshio Heihachirō Japanese samurai, Neo-Confucianism scholar and rebel leader in the late-Edo period

Ōshio Heihachirō was a former yoriki and a Neo-Confucianist scholar of the Wang Yangming school in Osaka. Despite working for the government, he was openly against the Tokugawa regime. He is known for his role as leader in the rebellion against the Tokugawa shogunate.

Mizuno Tadakuni daimyo

Mizuno Tadakuni was a daimyō during late-Edo period Japan, who later served as chief senior councilor (Rōjū) in service to the Tokugawa shogunate. He is remembered for having instituted the Tenpō Reforms.

The shogunate rule during the Tenpō era was that of Tokugawa Ieyoshi, the 12th shōgun' of the bakufu government. His reign lasted from 1837 to 1853. During this time, many factors appeared to have seen to the decline of his health: namely, the great and devastating famine, the many rebellions rising up against the bakufu, and the swift advance of foreign influence. [4]

Tokugawa shogunate last feudal Japanese military government which existed between 1600 and 1868

The Tokugawa Shogunate, also known as the Tokugawa Bakufu (徳川幕府) and the Edo Bakufu (江戸幕府), was the last feudal Japanese military government, which existed between 1603 and 1867. The head of government was the shōgun, and each was a member of the Tokugawa clan. The Tokugawa shogunate ruled from Edo Castle and the years of the shogunate became known as the Edo period. This time is also called the Tokugawa period or pre-modern.

Tokugawa Ieyoshi Japanese shogun

Tokugawa Ieyoshi was the 12th shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan.

Great Tenpō Famine

The Great Tenpō famine of the 1830s was a devastating term in which the whole of Japan suffered rapidly decreasing temperatures and loss of crops, and in turn, merchant prices began to spike. Many starved to death during this grim time: "The death rate for a village in the northeast rose to thirty-seven per thousand and that for the city of Takayama was nearly forty-five". [5] As crops continued to decline in the countryside, prices increased, and a shortage of supplies left people competing to survive on meager funds. [6] The rising expense of rice in particular, a staple food of the Japanese, was a firm blow to both the economy and the people, who starved because of it. Some even resorted to "eating leaves and weeds, or even straw raincoats". [7]

The samurai also suffered the effects of the famine, dealing with lower wages from the Japanese domain governments in anticipation for challenging fiscal issues to come. To further the already dire conditions of the famine, illness eventually began to spread, and many who were starving could not resist forms of sickness such as pestilence, smallpox, measles and influenza. [6] Thousands died from hunger alone at the pinnacle of the crisis in 1836 to 1837. [7]


One of the rebellions sparked by the Great Tenpō famine was the Ōshio Heihachirō Rebellion. The man for whom it was named led an attempted revolt in the 1830s, and was granted the label of yonaoshi daimyojin, or "world saviour", for his attempts at moral restoration. [8] Formally a police officer and scholar, Ōshio Heihachirō (1792-1837) had requested help from Osaka city commissioners and otherwise wealthy merchants in 1837, only to be met with indifference. Shocked by his lack of success in the endeavour, Ōshio instigated an uprising to oppose those who had refused their aid. With approximately 300 followers, including poor townsfolk and peasants from various villages, Ōshio set fire to one-fifth of Osaka city. But the rebellion was suppressed in short order, forcing Ōshio to a quick end in which he committed suicide. [9]

The scholar Ikuta Yorozo (1801–1837) also instigated a rebellion from similar roots as that of Ōshio Heihachirō. Ikuta had opened a school for the education of adolescents, consisting mostly of peasants. Having also suffered from the Great Tenpō Famine, Ikuta despaired the lack of aid local bureaucrats were willing to provide, and in 1837, he assembled a band of peasants in retaliation. Together they launched an attack on the bureaucrats, which met with devastating results and ended with Ikuta taking his own life. [10]

Ogata Kōan and Tekijuku

In 1838, a year following Ōshio Heihachirō's rebellion, and after the fire that had scorched nearly a quarter of Osaka city, the physician Ogata Kōan founded an academy to teach medicine, healing and Rangaku, or Dutch Studies. The school was called Tekijuku, where distinction of status was unknown and competition abounded. Ogata encouraged this competitive learning, especially of the Dutch language to which he had dedicated much of his own study. However, the competition escalated and eventually students bent to the rigorous pressure of the academy, acting recklessly to vent frustrations. For example: "slashing their swords against the central pillar of the main boarding hall, leaving gashes and nicks". [11] Ogata did not deem it necessary to take disciplinary measures, thinking it harmless and recreational. [12]

Much of Ogata's life was devoted to Rangaku, which was clearly displayed in the vision he had for Tekijuku. Ogata is known in history for his attentions to the medical, or internal therapeutic aspects of Rangaku, including emphasis on diseases and his aid in translation of foreign medicinal terms. [13]

Restriction of Foreign Influence

Morrison Incident

In 1837, upon rescuing several stranded Japanese sailors, an American merchant ship called the Morrison endeavoured to return them to their homeland, hoping this venture would earn them the right to trade with Japan. However, the merchant ship was fired upon as it entered Japanese seas due to the Edict to Repel Foreign Vessels passed by Japan in 1825. This was later referred to as the Morrison incident. [14]

However, there were some in Japan who criticized the government's actions, namely the Bangaku Shachu a band of rangaku scholars who advocated a more open approach to the outside, perhaps to the extent of ending Japan's long-standing sakoku policy. This stance against the shogunate riled the government into the Bansha no goku , arresting twenty-six members of the Bangaku Shachu, and reinforcing the policies on foreign education by limiting the publication of books, in addition to making access to materials for Dutch Studies increasingly difficult. [11]

Tenpō Reforms

As the Tokugawa era drew to a close, a major reform was exerted called the Tenpō Reforms (1841–1843), primarily instituted by Mizuno Tadakuni, a dominant leader in the shogunate. The reforms were economic policies introduced prominently to resolve fiscal issues mainly caused by the Great Tenpō famine, and to revisit more traditional aspects of the Japanese economy. For the samurai, these reforms were meant to spur them to return to their roots of education and military arts. The samurai aimed for change within the status quo itself. There was a stringency amongst all classes of people, and at this time, travel was regulated (especially for farmers, who were meant to remain at home and work their fields) and trade relations crumbled. This, in turn, caused various goods to lower in price. [15] Under Mizuno's leadership, the reforms brought about the following: "Moral reform, the encouragement of frugality and retrenchment, recoinage, forced loans from wealthy merchant houses, and the cancellation of samurai debts". [16] In addition, the bakufu met with fierce objection when land transfers were impressed upon the daimyōs in an attempt to reinforce the reach of influence and authority that remained of the Tokugawa government. [17]

Though the reforms largely ended in failure, the introduction of economical change during this period is seen as the initial approach leading ultimately to the modernization of Japan's economy. [16]

Fires at Edo Castle

Edo Castle was devastated by two fires during the Tenpō era, in 1839 and 1843 respectively, and despite rampant rebellion during this period, neither fire was due to unrest. [18]

Other Events of the Tenpō era

Calendar revision

During the Tenpō era, Koide Shuke translated portions of Jérôme Lalande's work on astronomy. Koide presented this work to the Astronomy Board as evidence of the superiority of the European calendar, but the effort produced no identifiable effect. [21] However, Koide's work and translations of other Western writers did indirectly affect the Tenpō calendar revision in 1842–1844. A great many errors had been found in the lunar calendar; and a revised system was publicly adopted in 1844. The new calendar was called the Tenpō-Jinin calendar. It was in use in Japan until 1872 when the Gregorian calendar was adopted. [22]

See also


  1. Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Tempō" Japan Encyclopedia, p. 957 , p. 957, at Google Books; n.b., Louis-Frédéric is pseudonym of Louis-Frédéric Nussbaum, see Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Authority File Archived 2012-05-24 at Archive.is .
  2. Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan, p. 247
  3. Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan, p. 249
  4. Cunningham, Mark E. and Zwier, Lawrence J. (2009). The End of the Shoguns and the Birth of Modern Japan, p. 147
  5. Hall, John Whitney. (1991). The Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 4, p. 699
  6. 1 2 Jansen, Marius B. (1995). The Emergence of Meiji Japan, p. 5
  7. 1 2 Jansen, Marius B. (1989). The Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 5, p. 119
  8. Totman, Conrad D. (1993). Early Modern Japan, p. 447
  9. Hane, Mikiso and Perez, Louis G. (2009). Modern Japan: A Historical Survey, pp. 100–101
  10. Frédéric, Louis. (2002). Japan Encyclopedia, p. 382
  11. 1 2 McClain, James L. and Osamu, Wakita. (1999). Osaka: The Merchants' Capital of Early Modern Japan, p. 227-228
  12. McClain, James L. and Osamu, Wakita. (1999). Osaka: The Merchants' Capital of Early Modern Japan, p. 228
  13. McClain, James L. and Osamu, Wakita. (1999). Osaka: The Merchants' Capital of Early Modern Japan, p. 229
  14. Shavit, David. (1990). The United States in Asia: A Historical Dictionary, p. 354
  15. Lu, David J. (1997). Japan: A Documentary History, pg. 273
  16. 1 2 Hauser, William B. (1974). Economic Institutional Change in Tokugawa Japan: Osaka and the Kinai Cotton Trade, p. 54
  17. Hauser, William B. (1974). Economic Institutional Change in Tokugawa Japan: Osaka and the Kinai Cotton Trade, p. 55
  18. Cullen, L. M. (2003). A History of Japan, 1582-1941: Internal and External Worlds, p. 165
  19. 1 2 "Significant Earthquake Database", U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC)
  20. Hall, John Whitney et al. (1991). Early Modern Japan, p. 21.
  21. Smith, David. (1914). A History of Japanese Mathematics, pp. 267. , p. 267, at Google Books
  22. Hayashi, Tsuruichi. (1907). "A Brief history of the Japanese Mathematics", Nieuw archief voor wiskunde ("New Archive of Mathematics"), p. 126. , p. 126, at Google Books

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Preceded by
Era or nengō

Succeeded by