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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

This system was radically changed by Yoshimune


THE

SANKIN KOTAI

It has already been stated that the financial embarrassment of the Bakufu in Yoshimune's time was as serious as it had been in his predecessor's days. Moreover, in 1718, the country was swept by a terrible tornado, and in 1720 and 1721, conflagrations reduced large sections of Yedo to ashes. Funds to succour the distressed people being imperatively needed, the shogun called upon all the feudatories to subscribe one hundred koku of rice for every ten thousand koku of their estates. By way of compensation for this levy he reduced to half a year the time that each feudal chief had to reside in Yedo. This meant, of course, a substantial lessening of the great expenses entailed upon the feudatories by the sankin kotai system, and the relief thus afforded proved most welcome to the daimyo and the shomyo alike. Yoshimune intended to extend this indulgence ultimately by releasing the barons from the necessity of coming to Yedo more than once in from three to five years, and, in return, he contemplated a corresponding increase of the special levy of rice. But his ministers opposed the project on the ground that it would dangerously loosen the ties between the feudatories and the Bakufu, and inasmuch as events proved that this result threatened to accrue from even the moderate indulgence granted by the shogun, not only was no extension made but also, in 1731, the system of sankin kotai was restored to its original form. The experiment, indeed

proved far from satisfactory. The feudatories did not confine themselves to assertions of independence; they also followed the example of the Bakufu by remitting some of the duties devolving on their retainers and requiring the latter to show their gratitude for the remissions by monetary payments. Nominally, these payments took the form of loans, but in reality the amount was deducted from the salaries of vassals. This pernicious habit remained in vogue among a section of the feudatories, even after the sankin kotai had been restored to its original form.

OFFICIAL SALARIES

From ancient times it had been the habit of the Bakufu to assign important offices to men who were in enjoyment of large hereditary incomes. This was mainly for financial reasons. Salaries were paid in the form of additions to the hereditary estates in other words, the emoluments of office became permanent, and the charge upon the Bakufu being correspondingly increased, it was obviously expedient to fill high administrative posts with men already in possession of ample incomes. This system was radically changed by Yoshimune. He enacted that a clear distinction should be made between temporary salary and hereditary income. Thenceforth, salary was to be received only during the tenure of office and was to cease on laying down official functions. This reform had the effect not only of lightening the burden upon the Bakufu income, but also of opening high offices to able men without regard to their private fortunes.

ENGRAVING: VARIOUS OCCUPATIONS OF WOMEN, KYOHO EHA

THE CURRENCY

From the first day of assuming administrative power, Yoshimune gave earnest thought to reform of the currency. His ambition was to restore the gold and silver coins to the quality and sizes existing in the Keicho era. This he effected, though not on a sufficiently large scale. Each of the new coins was equal in intrinsic value to two of the corresponding kenji coins, and the circulation of the latter was suspended, the new coins being called Kyoho-kin after the year-name of the era (1716-1735) when they made their appearance. It was a thoroughly wholesome measure, but the quality of the precious metals available did not suffice. Thus, whereas the gold coins struck during ten years of the Kyoho era totalled only 8,290,000 ryo, a census taken in 1732 showed a total population of 26,921,816. Therefore, the old coins could not be wholly withdrawn from circulation, and people developed a tendency to hoard the new and more valuable tokens.


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