What's new

History Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo, and the Culture of Early Modern Japan

Item details


Alternate attendance (sankin kotai) was one of the central institutions of Edo-period (1603–1868) Japan and one of the most unusual examples of a system of enforced elite mobility in world history. It required the daimyo to divide their time between their domains and the city of Edo, where they waited upon the Tokugawa shogun. Based on a prodigious amount of research in both published and archival primary sources, Tour of Duty renders alternate attendance as a lived experience, for not only the daimyo but also the samurai retainers who accompanied them. Beyond exploring the nature of travel to and from the capital as well as the period of enforced bachelorhood there, Constantine Vaporis elucidates - for the first time - the significance of alternate attendance as an engine of cultural, intellectual, material, and technological exchange.

Vaporis argues against the view that cultural change simply emanated from the centre (Edo) and reveals more complex patterns of cultural circulation and production taking place between the domains and Edo and among distant parts of Japan. What is generally known as "Edo culture" in fact incorporated elements from the localities? In some cases, Edo acted as a nexus for exchange; at other times, culture travelled from one area to another without passing through the capital. As a result, even those who did not directly participate in alternate attendance experienced a world much larger than their own. Vaporis begins by detailing the nature of the trip to and from the capital for one particular large-scale domain, Tosa, and its men and goes on to analyze the political and cultural meanings of the processions of the daimyo and their extensive entourages up and down the highways. These parade-like movements were replete with symbolic import for the nature of early modern governance. Later chapters are concerned with the physical and social environment experienced by the daimyo's retainers in Edo; they also address the question of who went to Edo and why, the network of physical spaces in which the domainal samurai lived, the issue of staffing, political power, and the daily lives and consumption habits of retainers. Finally, Vaporis examines retainers as carriers of culture, both in a literal and a figurative sense. In doing so, he reveals the significance of travel for retainers and their identity as consumers and producers of culture, thus proposing a multivalent model of cultural change.

About the author:

Constantine N. Vaporis, Professor and Director of Asian Studies (PhD Princeton University)


Professor Vaporis teaches Japanese and East Asian History. He has received numerous fellowships for research in Japanese history including a Fulbright Scholar's Award and an NEH Fellowship for College Teachers. He is the author of Breaking Barriers: Travel and the State in Early Modern Japan; Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo and the Culture of Early Modern Japan; Nihonjin to sankin kôtai [The Japanese and Alternate Attendance]; and Voices of Early Modern Japan. Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life during the Age of the Shoguns. Dr Vaporis also holds an affiliate appointment in the Gender and Women's Studies Program and is the Director of the Asian Studies Program. He was awarded the 2013-2016 UMBC Presidential Research Professorship and was recently selected for the ASIANetwork Speakers Bureau for a two-year period, 2016-18. He is currently at work on two major projects, a contracted book tentatively entitled Encyclopedia of the Samurai and a collection of biographies of samurai, Sword and Brush. Portraits of Samurai Life during the Tokugawa Period.

Item information

Added by
Last update

Additional information

Constantine Nomikos Vaporis
University of Hawaii Press
Year of publication
12 November 2009
Number of pages
USD 23.00

More in History

More from JREF

Top Bottom