By the beginning of the 18th century, Japan had a strong centralized government led by the Tokugawa Clan. Thereby, military conflicts between feudal lords were over and economic reforms resulted in the start of capitalism development.

As for the samurai, by that time, since there were no wars, they had ceased to serve their main purpose and most of them turned into the estate, which produced nothing. It got to the point where samurai were employed as firefighters. As a result, this was their main purpose – to extinguish fires or be at post and alert to fires.

Over time, the samurai’s situation worsened a lot. The reason was that the reinforcement of goods/money relations caused the feudal lords, whose economy was based on an outdated feudal production, to be dependent on merchants and forced to reduce their samurai army since they had nothing to pay them.

The ronin samurai did not manage to find a new duty station as there was no one to serve. So they went into trade, crafts, and became teachers. Those who could not adapt to the new situation simply languished in misery and were no different from the lower classes. Often the ronin joined the peasant and townspeople revolts. Just as common among samurai was the fact that they became to sell their weapons and armor. An unemployed samurai could also earn money by selling his estate status by marrying the daughter of a wealthy merchant or adopting a wealthy townsperson.


Considering the worsening of economic conditions, many samurai had to adapt and many of them found a quite suitable solution – farming.  Thus, in the 18th century, a new estate of goshi samurai, or country samurai, was developed. They belonged to the samurai class and were engaged in farming along with peasants, thus ensuring a sound financial position, unlike the ronin and other samurai who received rice rations. Most commonly, the goshi had much larger land holdings than the peasants. This allowed some lands to be leased to peasants. The goshi could also engage in trade and usury, often buying up lands from peasants and thus becoming wealthy landowners. 

The samurai class was completely degenerated by the middle of the 19th century when the feudal system which divided people into higher and lower estates no longer existed.  After Tokugawa agreed to open up Japan to the world and began trading with Europe and America, the local market was flooded with cheap goods. This finally destroyed Japan’s subsistence production and its economy. This event had a negative impact on all classes of Japanese society.

This situation naturally affected the Tokugawa Clan which suffered from growing opposition and supporters of the imperial court.  Backed by merchants, bankers, and imperial supporters, the samurai and ronin increasingly opposed the Tokugawa regime and stand out for the expulsion of foreigners. The reason was that the foreigners were considered the main culprits of Japan’s economic collapse.

The samurai’s interests coincided with those of the peasants, the urban poor, the petty bourgeoisie, and the emperor’s supporters causing a revolutionary movement and the outbreak of civil war that lasted from 1866 to 1869. The result of the war was the overthrow of the Tokugawa Clan and the restoration of the emperor’s power. The event is known in Japan’s history as the Meiji Restoration.

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