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Sankin kōtai

("alternate attendance"). A rule of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867) whereby daimyō, or territorial lords, were required to reside in alternate years at Edo (now Tokyo) in attendance on the shogun. The sankin kōtai system was a device to maintain control over the more than 260 daimyō who were the virtually autonomous feudal rulers of four-fifths of the country. This service -- actually a polite form of hostage-taking -- included the requirement that the wives and children of the daimyō live in Edo not only during alternating years but permanently. Given that the daimyō himself often travelled with a retinue of 150 to 300 or more, the journeys and the upkeep of the daimyō's Edo estates consumed about 75% of his income. This system endured with little change until it was terminated in 1862. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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