During the Tokugawa period of Japan a singular map consisted of numerous feudal towns and villages each ruled by individual daimyo lords. The list of individual domains was enormous, so too was the list of cultures, traditions, and material goods specific to the domains and feudal families that lived within the domain’s borders. The right to govern each domain was given to a daimyo lord by the Tokugawa Shogunate; in return, each ruling vassal was required to complete a “form of feudal service. Known as alternate attendance the Shogun imposed this requirement as a means of political and economic control which restricted individual daimyo rule and reinforced the overall power of the Shogunate.
While alternate attendance was a mechanism of political control that promoted peace throughout Japan, Constantine Nomikos Vaporis illustrated the unintentional effects of the hegemon’s policy in Tour of Duty. Vaporis argued that alternate attendance, while considered a “disciplinary institution” by other Japanese scholars, was nevertheless “instrumental in producing a population with a high level of shared culture and experience. Throughout Tour of Duty Constantine Nomikos Vaporis argued that alternate attendance was the vehicle which transported various material culture and ideologies throughout feudal Japan.
Furthermore, alternate attendance not only offset local cultural fragmentation but also helped neutralize the isolating propensities of individual domains. Through the influence of foreign and Western theologies, the spread of material culture by the practice of giving gifts, and the development of a shared economic and visual experience throughout the population; Vaporis argued that alternate attendance “demolished social nd cultural boundaries, so that by the end of the eighteenth century or the beginning of the nineteenth, there was an integrated or ‘national culture’ in Japan. ”
A tiny island surrounded by powerful political giants Japan was constantly in fear of foreign military pressures and, consequently, implemented a policy of foreign isolationism. Some Japanese scholars believed that Japan’s policy of isolationism was instrumental in creating a “closed country” but, as Vaporis clarified, foreign culture especially Western and Dutch, nonetheless piqued the interest of the Japanese population.
The Tokugawa family attempted to reinforce the policy of isolationism by granting a daimyo a reprieve from alternate attendance should a foreign threat arise. Included was an example from 1853 when Nagasaki was threatened by Russians, four domains were granted a temporary exemption from alternate attendance in order to deal with the potential danger. However, the Tokugawa family could not entirely obliterate foreign culture from interesting the Japanese people.
Western culture, specifically Dutch, permeated the Japanese population in seemingly small ways but which impacted the local culture tremendously. Inversely, alternate attendance created a lasting impression on foreign visitors who witnessed the phenomenon. Throughout the text, Vaporis gave several examples of foreigners who visited the country and viewed the processions of alternate attendance. These examples provided insight into how foreigners viewed the procession as well as how foreigners were viewed by the procession and its spectators.
While the Japanese remained curious about Western culture, not every occurrence of foreign contact was pleasant. One such example involved the beheading of a British diplomat who was inadvertently killed after his horse became excited in the middle of a daimyo procession. While it resulted in a “major diplomatic crisis for the Tokugawa” family, according to Vaporis, this specific account suggested the general misunderstanding of acceptable social behavior by both the daimyo processions and foreign representatives.
This was further demonstrated later in the work during a “cross cultural investigation” between Francis Hall, his group, and the Owari procession. Hall fails to adhere to the Japanese standards of etiquette, he does not politely turn away from the daimyo and the domain procession, which, could have resulted in a grievous incident similar to the one experienced by the British diplomat. However, Hall’s account alludes to the daimyo being just as impolite, noting that he “took a long look at them, especially Mrs. Simmons whom he presumed ‘was the first foreign lady he had ever seen.
Vaporis used these examples to illustrate the ineffective efforts of the Tokugawa to keep Japan wholly isolated from foreign observers. However, these negative encounters failed to deter curiosity for European culture and further illustrated the growing interest of the Japanese people in foreign cultural elements. While most of Vaporis’ early examples of foreign interaction were related solely to the alternate attendance processional, he later provided examples regarding Edo as a cultural conduit for foreign ideas and concepts.
During assignments in the city center, domain retinues took advantage of the “cultural nexus,” and satisfied their curiosity in foreign culture by further advancing their studies and participating in various cultural networks. Western culture specifically Dutch, was especially interesting to the Japanese elite, possibly due to the close proximity of a Dutch settlement located in Nagasaki. Vaporis provided various examples of Dutch influence in artwork, medicine and military arts that numerous retainers acquired when they traveled to Edo.
He also provided evidence of informative discussions of European current events and the study of rare and unique books not accessible to individual domains. All of these examples further illustrated Vaporis’ argument that Japan was not closed or isolated from the outside world. In reality, despite the efforts of the Tokugawa hegemon, the Japanese daimyo were widely interested in Western civilization and culture. Furthermore, even if the Tokugawa family truly isolated Japan from every foreign diplomat, the country itself could never practice a policy of pure isolationism.