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Tempō Reforms

Reforms undertaken during the Tempō era (1831-45). The term refers to reforms initiated by the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867) under the leadership of Mizuno Tadakuni during 1841-43 as well as those reforms undertaken by daimyō of various domains. During the 1830's Japan experienced various crop failures; foreign ships appeared offshore in unprecedented numbers; and Western imperialistic activity in China suggested the imminence of a major foreign crisis. Mizuno Tadakuni, chief among senior councillors, and others were alarmed, and the death of retired shogun Tokugawa Ienari in 1841 enabled them to initiate vigorous reforms. To increase food production, Tadakuni forbade peasants to divert their energies from agriculture. To improve the morals and morale of samurai, he ousted men from office, punished others for corruption, and ordered daimyō and lesser samurai to practice frugality and self-discipline. He outlawed gambling and unregulated prostitution. He prohibited production of luxury items and ordered merchants to reduce prices. He also instituted various reforms to strengthen Japan's military capabilities, lessen the threat posed by foreign ships, pacify domestic critics, and control unauthorized foreign trade. Some historians see the Tempo Reforms as marking the emergence of new "absolutist" forces that eventually led to the Meiji Restoration of 1868. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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