The resent of the merchants towards the Tokugawa, the lack of power of the samurai and daimyo classes, and the shogun’s fear of being overthrown all played leading roles in the declination of feudalism in Japan before the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853.
Japan during the period of the Tokugawa believed in Confucianism. Confucius stressed hard work and because merchants thrived off of the hard work of others in order to become wealthier, they were hated and disliked by the other classes in Tokugawa society. This caused the merchant class to resent Tokugawa society and support anyone interested in overthrowing the shogun (Leyasu) and the Tokugawa all in all. This was one of the reasons feudalism was declining before the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853.
The Japanese shogun Leyasu was very intelligent. He made it necessary for the daimyos to spend every second year in Edo. Also it was necessary for the families of the daimyos to stay in Edo. This meant that the daimyos would have to pay all the expenses necessary for their families to stay in Edo out of their own pockets. This often left the daimyos very poor or in debt because they had to borrow money from merchants. And since the Edo period in Japan was quite peaceful, there were no wars to be fought and samurais no longer had ways to earn money. This meant that the samurais would have to borrow money from merchants and be in debt as well.
“The decline of the samurai weakened the Bakufu, because they occupied an important position in the entire feudal system.” (East Meets West Vol. II – Alberto C. Morales) Since the samurais and daimyos had no money, they had very little power, therefore causing feudalism to decline. “We can gaze upon the lords, but looking at the shogun will make you blind and the emperor could not be seen at all.” (Bob Fitzpatrick)
Because feudalism is a social structure in which people were placed in certain classes with certain rights and duties, it declined in Japan during the period of the Tokugawa because there no longer was a balance in power between the daimyos, the samurai, and the merchants. Therefore the different classes no longer had the same rights and duties. The shogun was very confident in his beliefs. But his beliefs will promote conflict and decline in feudalism long before the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853.
“You should treat the people of Japan like sesame seeds. The more you squeeze them, the more you get out of them.” (Bob Fitzpatrick) The shogun made sure the power-hungry daimyos would not have the power and wealth to be able to overthrow him. This in turn would backfire because anti-Tokugawa and shogun clans/groups will arise.
“While social tensions had indeed developed, perhaps most severely among impoverished samurai and peasants, and many imperfections and illogicalities strained the social and political system, the samurai Confucian ethic still pervaded the nation, and the whole Tokugawa political structure still stood firm.” (East Asia – Craig, Reischauer, Fairbank) This breakdown of a once balanced social structure in Japan promoted conflict within the nation long before the arrival of Commodore Perry.
Because of this internal breakdown it made it easier for foreigners to establish trade relations and it made it easier to influence the Japanese religiously and politically. The shogun’s acts of reducing power of the daimyos and samurai, the resent of the merchants towards the Tokugawa society ultimately caused the decline in feudalism in Japan.