Constraining the samurai: Rebellion and taxation in early modern Japan

Abbey Steele, Christopher Paik, Seiki Tanaka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


On the eve of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the nearly 300 semi-autonomous domains across Japan had widely varying tax rates. Some handed over 70 percent of their rice yield to the samurai ruler of the domain, while others provided 15 percent. This variation existed in spite of the similar fiscal demands that the domain rulers faced within the Tokugawa regime-the feudal system that governed Japan between 1603 and 1868. This period was remarkably stable; Japan saw no foreign or domestic wars. This allows us to focus on the impact of pressure from below on taxation. We study the extent to which peasant-led rebellions and collective desertion ("flight") lowered the subsequent tax rate imposed by samurai rulers. Using newly compiled data on different types of peasant-led political mobilization-from petitions to insurrections-we find an association between, on the one hand, large-scale rebellions and flight and, on the other, lower tax rates. We interpret the results as evidence of rebellious or mobile peasants' ability to constrain their rulers; the more complacent fail to win concessions. Our findings suggest that peasant mobilization played a role in restricting state growth in early modern Japan through tax concessions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-370
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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