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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The Bakufu granted a sum of 7500 ryo towards the expense

was one of the most populous

and prosperous cities in the world. But very little intelligence had been exercised in planning it. The streets were narrow and there were no bridges across the main river. Thus, in 1657, a fire broke out which, being fanned by a violent wind, burned for two days, destroying the greater part of the city together with the residences of nearly all the daimyo. The calamity occurred in the month of February and was accompanied by a violent snowstorm, which greatly increased the sufferings of the citizens. Tradition says that 108,000 persons lost their lives, but that number is probably an exaggeration. In the following year, another similar catastrophe occurred on almost the same scale, and it seemed as though Yedo could never rise from its ashes. Yet the result of these calamities was salutary. The Bakufu selected suitable situations for the residences of the daimyo, and issued a law requiring that the main thoroughfares must have a width of sixty feet and even the by-streets must not be narrower than from thirty to thirty-six feet. Moreover, three bridges, namely, the Ryogoku, the Eitai, and the Shin-o, were thrown across the Sumida. This river, which formed the eastern boundary of the city, had hitherto been left unbridged for military reasons, and the result was that on the occasion of the great conflagration thousands of people, caught between the flames and the river bank, had to choose death by burning or by drowning. Nevertheless, some officials opposed the building of bridges,
and were only silenced by the astute remark of Sakai Tadakatsu that if Yedo was ever to be a great city, the convenience of its inhabitants must be first consulted, for, after all, the people themselves constituted the best stronghold. This may be regarded as an evidence of the deference that was beginning then to be paid to the non-military classes by the samurai.

It was at this time (1658), also, that the city of Yedo obtained its first supply of good water. There was already an aquaduct from Inokashira Lake to the Kanda district of the city, but it carried only a very small volume of water, and the idea of harnessing the Tama-gawa to supply the town was due to two citizens, Shoemon and Seiemon, who subsequently received the family name of Tamagawa. The Bakufu granted a sum of 7500 ryo towards the expense, and on the completion of the work within two years, gifts of 300 ryo were made to the two projectors. The water had to be carried through a distance of over thirty miles, and the enterprise did high credit to the engineering skill of the men of the time.


The era of this fourth Tokugawa shogun, Ietsuna, was remarkable for things other than the lawlessness of the "wave-men." From that time the Tokugawa began to fare as nearly all great families of previous ages had fared: the substance of the administrative power passed into the hands of a minister, its shadow alone remaining to the shogun. Sakai Tadakiyo was the chief author of this change. Secluded from contact with the outer world, Ietsuna saw and heard mainly through the eyes and ears of the ladies of his household. But Tadakiyo caused an order to be issued forbidding all access to the Court ladies except by ministerial permit, and thenceforth the shogun became practically deaf and dumb so far as events outside the castle were concerned. Some Japanese historians describe this event as an access of "weariness" on the shogun's part towards the duties of administration. This is a euphemism which can be interpreted by what has been set down above. From 1666, when he became prime minister in Yedo, Sakai Tadakiyo seems to have deliberately planned the relegation of his master to the position of a faineant and the succession of the shogun's son to supreme power. Tadakiyo's lust of authority was equalled only by his cupidity. Everything went to the highest bidder. It had gradually become the fashion that the daimyo should invite to their Yedo residences all the leading administrators of the Bakufu. On these entertainments great sums were squandered and valuable presents were a feature of the fetes. It also became fashionable to pay constant visits at the mansions of the chief officials and these visits were always accompanied with costly gifts. It is recorded that the mansion of Tadakiyo was invariably so crowded by persons waiting to pay their respects that a man repairing thither at daybreak could scarcely count on obtaining access by evening-fall. The depraved state of affairs brought the administration of the Tokugawa into wide disrepute, and loyal vassals of the family sadly contrasted the evil time with the days of Ieyasu, seventy years previously.

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