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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The Bakufu rendered aid on a munificent scale


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untoward effects also were produced. The shogun paid much attention to promoting agriculture and encouraging land reclamation, so that the yield of rice increased appreciably. But this proved by no means an unmixed blessing. Side by side with an increase in the quantity of rice appearing in the market, the operation of the new currency tended to depreciate prices, until a measure of grain which could not have been bought at one time for less than two ryo became purchasable for one. In fact, the records show that a producer considered himself fortunate if he obtained half a ryo of gold for a koku of rice. This meant an almost intolerable state of affairs for the samurai who received his salary in grain and for the petty farmer. Thus, a man whose income was three rations of rice annually, and who consequently had to live on 5.4 koku for a whole year, found that when he set aside from three to four koku for food, there remained little more than one ryo of assets to pay for salt, fuel, clothes, and all the other necessaries of life.

So acute was the suffering of the samurai that a rice-exchange was established at Dojima, in Osaka, for the purpose of imparting some measure of stability to the price of the cereal. Just at this time (1732), the central and western provinces were visited by a famine which caused seventeen thousand deaths and reduced multitudes to the verge of starvation. The Bakufu rendered aid on a munificent scale, but the price of

rice naturally appreciated, and although this brought relief to the military class, it was misconstrued by the lower orders as a result of speculation on 'Change. Riots resulted, and rice-merchants fearing to make purchases, the market price of the cereal fell again, so that farmers and samurai alike were plunged into their old difficulties.

Ultimately, in 1735, the Bakufu inaugurated a system of officially fixed prices (osadame-soba), according to which 1.4 koku of rice had to be exchanged for one ryo of gold in Yedo, the Osaka rate being fixed at forty-two momme of silver for the same quantity of the cereal. Anyone violating this rule was fined ten momme of silver for each koku of rice purchased or sold by him. It is related that the osadame-soba was operative in name only, and that the merchants secretly dealt in the cereal at much lower prices than those officially fixed. The Yedo financiers now concluded that the quantity of currency in circulation was insufficient and its quality too good. Accordingly, the gold and silver coins were once more reminted, smaller and less pure tokens being issued under the name of bunji-kin with reference to the Genbun era (1736-1740) of their issue. Thus, the reform of the currency, achieved with so much difficulty in the early years of Yoshimune's administration, had to be abandoned, and things reverted to their old plight.

If this difficulty operated so acutely under a ruler of Yoshimune's talent, the confusion and disorder experienced when he withdrew his able hand from the helm of State may be imagined. The feudatories were constantly distressed to find funds for supporting their Yedo mansions, as well as for carrying out the public works imposed on them from time to time, and for providing the costly presents which had become a recognized feature of ordinary and extraordinary intercourse. As an example of the luxury of the age, it may be mentioned that when the fifth shogun visited the Kaga baron, the latter had to find a sum of a million ryo to cover the expenses incidental to receiving such a guest. In these circumstances, there arose among the feudatories a habit of levying monetary contributions from wealthy persons in their fiefs, the accommodation thus afforded being repaid by permission to carry swords or by promotion in rank. The poorer classes of samurai being increasingly distressed, they, too, borrowed money at high rates of interest from merchants and wealthy farmers, which loans they were generally unable to repay. Ultimately, the Bakufu solved the situation partially by decreeing that no lawsuit for the recovery of borrowed money should be entertained--a reversion to the tokusei system of the Ashikaga shoguns.


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