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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The real counterfeiters being Yanagisawa and Hagiwara


As

for his successor, Ietsuna, he had to deal with several calamitous occurrences. After the great fire in Yedo, he contributed 160,000 ryo for the relief of the sufferers; he rebuilt Yedo Castle, and he reconstructed the Imperial palace of Kyoto twice. In the Empo era (1673-1680), the country was visited by repeated famines, which had the effect of reducing the yield of the taxes and calling for large measures of relief. In these circumstances, a proposal was formally submitted recommending the debasement of the gold coinage, but it failed to obtain official consent. It may be mentioned that, in the year 1659, the treasury was reduced to ashes, and a quantity of gold coin contained therein was melted. With this bullion a number of gold pieces not intended for ordinary circulation were cast, and stamped upon them were the words, "To be used only in cases of national emergency." The metal thus reserved is said to have amounted to 160,000 ryo. The register shows that when the fifth shogun succeeded to power, there were 3,850,000 gold ryo in the treasury. But this enormous sum did not long survive the extravagance of Tsunayoshi.

After the assassination of Hotta Masatoshi, the administrative power fell entirely into the hands of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, and the example set by him for those under his guidance, and by his master, the shogun, soon found followers among all classes of the people. As an instance of ludicrous luxury it may be mentioned that

the timbers intended for the repair of the castle in Yedo were wrapped in wadded quilts when transported to the city from the forest. Finally, the treasury became so empty that, when the shogun desired to repair to the mausolea at Nikko, which would have involved a journey of ten days at the most, he was compelled to abandon the idea, as the officials of the treasury declared themselves unable to find the necessary funds. That sum was calculated at 100,000 ryo, or about as many pounds sterling, which fact is alone sufficient to convey an idea of the extravagance practised in everything connected with the Government.

The immediate outcome of this incident was the summoning of a council to discuss the financial situation, and after much thought the suggestion of Hagiwara Shigehide, chief of the Treasury, was accepted, namely, wholesale debasement of the gold, silver, and copper coins. The old pieces, distinguished as "Keicho coins," that being the name of the year period (1596-1614) when they were minted, were replaced by greatly inferior "Genroku coins" (1688-1703), with the natural results--appreciation of commodities and much forging of counterfeit coins. Presently the Government is found levying a tax upon 27,200 sake brewers within the Kwanto, and, in 1703, fresh expedients became necessary to meet outlays incurred owing to a great earthquake and conflagration which destroyed a large part of Yedo Castle and of the daimyo's mansions. Further debasement of the currency was resorted to, the new coins being distinguished by the term "Hoei," after the name of the year-period when they were minted.

About this time several of the feudatories found themselves in such straits that they began to issue paper currency within their dominions, and this practice having been interdicted by the Bakufu, the daimyo fell back upon the expedient of levying forced loans from wealthy merchants in Osaka. Meanwhile, the crime of forgery became so prevalent that, in the interval between 1688 and 1715, no less than 541 counterfeiters were crucified within the districts under the direct control of the Bakufu., The feudatory of Satsuma is credited with having justly remarked that the victims of this cruel fate suffered for their social status rather than for their offence against the law, the real counterfeiters being Yanagisawa and Hagiwara, who were engaged continuously in uttering debased coins.


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