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Castle Towns: An Introduction to Tokugawa Japan

Castle Towns: An Introduction to Tokugawa Japan

Regular price $44.95 Sale

Comprehensive Unit
45 pages
Grade Level: Middle School – High School
Includes curriculum unit + 42 images on CD-ROM

Edwin O. Reischauer theorized that Japan's ability to move easily into the modern world is due to the fact that Japan had a feudal period similar to Western feudalism. This theory is still generating controversy, but the castle, the towns that grew up around castles, and the people who lived in these towns and castles are accepted as key elements in Japan's modernization by people on either side of Reischauer's thesis. This curriculum unit focuses on these three elements and can be used in middle and high school classes of world geography, history, or culture. Though the unit primarily concerns Japan, there are points where comparisons can be made to similar phenomena in the West. How far such comparative studies can be taken is left to the individual teacher.

This unit is a image-based introduction to life in Japan during the late feudal period (1600–1868), known as either the Tokugawa or Edo Period. The images focus on architecture and defense features of the castle, the rise of castle towns as nascent urban centers, and those who lived in the castle towns. Students interpret the images in a closed-inquiry fashion to derive some basic features of geography, including the relationship between topography and human activity.

A castle town maze, an activity designed especially for middle and high school students, adds a first-hand sense of how towns were established to protect the castle from opposing forces. Students will also be introduced to the daily life of the four classes in Japanese society during the Tokugawa Period. Supplementary materials for both student and teacher can be used to extend the unit.


The purpose of this unit is to introduce students to the historical tradition of a non-Western nation seen within the comparative concept of feudalism. This will be done partly through a look at Tokugawa Japan itself, and partly through a comparative examination of the concept of feudalism. Although the unit deals mainly with a specific time span in Japanese history, it will nevertheless prepare students to make broad generalizations regarding the history and development of other world areas.


  • to learn basic features of Japanese history during the late feudal period
  • to understand the physical structure and functions of Japanese castles which can be used as a basis for comparison with European castles
  • to understand the relationship between castle activities and the resultant creation of castle towns
  • to learn the definition of feudalism
  • to learn the four classes of feudal Tokugawa society, which may then be compared with Europe under feudalism or contemporary class structures in Europe, Japan, or the United States
  • to discuss the transformation from an agricultural economy to a mercantile economy
  • to define and differentiate between the concepts of status and power; nobility, emperor, and samurai


  • to appreciate the importance and relevance of another country's historical tradition
  • to begin to understand and thus demystify the concept of "samurai"
  • to realize the fluidity of life in the Tokugawa Period, thus re-examining the idea of rigid adherence to the class structure


  • to analyze and interpret visual materials and derive hypotheses from their interpretation
  • to use basic principles of geography—especially, the relationship between topography and human activity—in determining the location and importance of castles and towns
  • to make observations regarding the structure and function of castles
  • to point out similarities and differences between castles, towns, and class structures of European and Japanese feudalism
  • to deduce basic principles of urbanization
  • to make preliminary inferences regarding the roots of urban Japan