Quote:Desire for mercantile achievement in Japan predates the drive for Westernization. The Edo period was marked by wealthy merchants pushing the envelope of ostentation, with several rounds of sumputuary edicts being passed by the Tokugawas in response.
The greatest impetus for mercantile pursuits came after the Meiji Restoration in response to the Western (specifically American) advances, out of Japanese desire to "catch up." Two Americans, in fact, Commdore Perry and General MacArthur can be said to be fathers of modern Japan.
Quote:One interesting way to trace the development of materialism in Japan is to look at weaponry. From the Momoyama period on, swords (well, specifically the koshirae or furniture) became much more "blingy." Red lacquered saya (sheaths), gold fittings, etc.
It should be noted that the late Senkoku period saw the first Western influences, including Christianity, in Japan. This was also when Japan (until the Tokugawa closures anyway) became a part of the global trading system. Largely inspired by Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch traders who visited Japan regularly, Japanese merchants, for a time, traded actively in Southeast Asia.
Also, in my view, weapons and armor were much more individualized and flowery, before the Mongol invasions, as ritualized individual combat was the norm of warfare at that time.
By the time of the late Senkoku period, Japan had developed its own version of "pike and ball," rendering the traditional Samurai increasingly obsolescent militarily (though still influential as elites, administrators and officers). In fact, I think there is a strong correlations between the increasing "blinginess" of swords (and the rise of the sword cult) and the obsolescence of the Samurai class, reaching the climax right before the Meiji Restoration.
Quote:And swords in the Osaka region are thought to be much more showy than ones from the Edo region, owing to the fact that merchants were more influential in Osaka, while bureaucrats dominated in Edo.