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Emergence of Economic Society in Japan, 1600-1859

Author(s):Hayami, Akira
Saito, Osamu
Toby, Ronald P.
Reviewer(s):Mosk, Carl

Published by EH.NET (October 2004)


Akira Hayami, Osamu Saito, and Ronald P. Toby, editors, Emergence of Economic Society in Japan, 1600-1859. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. xviii + 420 pp. $160 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-828905-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Carl Mosk, Department of Economics, University of Victoria.

Revolutionized by the techniques of historical demography and family reconstruction and the statistical approaches of cliometrics, the mainstream field of economic history in Japan has experienced a groundswell transformation. Gone are applications of Marxist stage theory. Today long-run quantitative analysis of economic and demographic activity in villages, towns and urban centers or analysis of government policy largely conceived in neo-classical categories command central stage. Concepts like industrious revolution, proto-industrialization, income elasticity of demand, Gresham’s law, Marshall’s k (propensity to hold money), and budgetary balance dominate the contemporary literature.

The present volume consisting of ten chapters culled from contributions to the series The Economic History of Japan originally published in Japanese by Iwanami Shoten in 1988-1990, exemplifies the new mainstream approach. In his introduction the noted demographic and economic historian Akira Hayami firmly characterizes the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) as the first period in Japanese history when a national economy was created, when market related behavior came to dominate life in the most remote regions of Japan. Describing long-run population growth estimates for the Tokugawa era (that suggest population totals in 1600 are considerably lower than was once believed), Matao Miyamoto develops a sophisticated flow of funds model of the national economy that links major regional markets to two central markets, one with Osaka as its hub, the other linked up through Edo, the capital of the shogunate that acted as a national authority with a confederation-style government in which warlords were given authority over fiefs with populations typically running into the tens of thousands. An important strand in the argument developed in the book is that economic incentives were strengthened under this system of confederation government. Masaru Iwahashi argues that the national land survey carried out just before Tokugawa rule, policies separating peasants from warriors, standardization of weights and measures, and a tax system that was not too burdensome to the peasantry (a view that flies in the face of the Marxist view that warlords exploited their villagers to the maximum degree possible) created incentives for economic growth.

One of the traditional pictures of Tokugawa Japan is that it was almost completely isolated from the rest of the world, save for a window onto the west at Dejima in Nagasaki harbor where Dutch traders were allowed to reside. While it has been recognized for some time that Japan continued to participate in tribute trade with China and Korea during the reign of the shogun, the extent of that trade has been underestimated, or at least that is the argument advanced by Kazui Tashiro who shows that Japanese agents continued to import raw silk and silk textiles in volume, paying for these products with silver.

Monetary and fiscal policy undertaken by various shogunate governments is a major theme in this volume. Surveying long-run macroeconomic dynamics, Matao Miyamoto studies the recoinage campaigns of various administrations, those operating within a relatively closed country environment, and those struggling with the forced opening of the country in the 1850s. Taking another tack, Yujiro Oguchi analyzes shogunate taxation and forced loan policies, linking them up to the monetary accounts of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Theories of peasant and craftspeople behavior rooted in the proto-industrial model motivate four chapters: one by Akira Hayami and Hiroshi Kito that focuses on population dynamics, analyzing them in terms of conflicting regional patterns (post-1720 population stagnation resulting from decline in population in the Northeast countered by modest growth in the Southwest); a second by Osamu Saito and Masayuki Tanimoto that focuses on changes in the rural economy in late Tokugawa; a chapter by Ronald Toby that draws inferences from a study of the records of an entrepreneurial family in central Japan about the growth of finance in the nineteenth century; and a summary overview of late Tokugawa policy and regional economic activity penned by Hiroshi Shimbo and Osamu Saito.

Finally, a valuable contribution by Shunsaku Nishikawa and Masatoshi Amano links up the regional and local to the national through an analysis of fief fiscal and monetary activities, and the growing interest of fiefs in promoting fief monopolies stretching into the burgeoning proto-industrial economy.

As the reader can (I hope) see, this book provides an excellent summary of recent research in Japanese economic history, covering all of the major bases that one would like to see covered. Conceived from a merging of Western concepts in economics and demography with long-standing Japanese historical scholarship attentive to the hustle and bustle of village life at one end, and the practices of elite fief and shogunate administrators at the other, this volume is an indispensable read for those who want to dive into the thriving field of Japanese economic history.

Note: Akira Hayami is Emeritus Professor, Keio University; Osamu Saito is Professor of Economic History, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University; and Ronald Toby is Professor of Asian History, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign.)

Carl Mosk is Professor of Economics at the University of Victoria and the author of a number of books on Japanese economic and demographic history. He is presently completing a book for Routledge titled Trade and Migration in the Modern World, and is working on the economics of the nation state.


Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):19th Century