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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Yet the Bakufu officials did not hesitate to resort to force


While with one hand scattering abroad debased tokens of exchange, the Bakufu legislators laboured strenuously with the other to check luxury and extravagance. Conspicuous among the statesmen who sought to restore the economical habit of former days was Mizuno Echizen no Kami, who, in 1826 and the immediately subsequent years, promulgated decree after decree vetoing everything in the nature of needless expenditures. It fared with his attempt as it always does with such legislation. People admired the vetoes in theory but paid little attention to them in practice.


From 1836 onward, through successive years, one bad harvest followed another until the prices of rice and other cereals rose to unprecedented figures. The Bakufu were not remiss in their measures to relieve distress. Free grants of grain were made in the most afflicted regions; houses of refuge were constructed where the indigent might be fed and lodged during a maximum period of 210 days, each inmate receiving in addition a daily allowance of money which was handed to him on leaving the refuge, and this example of charity was obeyed widely by the feudatories. It is on record that twenty thousand persons availed themselves of these charitable institutions in Yedo alone. One particularly sad episode marks the story. Driven to desperation by the sight of the people's pain and by his own failure to obtain from wealthy folks a sufficient measure of aid, although he sold everything he himself possessed by way of example, a police official, Oshio Heihachiro, raised the flag of revolt and became the instrument of starting a tumult in which eighteen thousand buildings were destroyed in Osaka. In a manifesto issued before committing suicide in company with his son, Heihachiro charged the whole body of officials with corrupt motives, and declared that the sovereign was treated as a recluse without any practical authority; that the people did not know where to make complaint; that the displeasure of heaven was evinced by a succession of natural calamities, and that the men in power paid no attention to these warnings.

The eleventh shogun, Ienari, after fifty-one years of office, resigned in favour of his son, Ieyoshi, who ruled from 1838 to 1853. Ienari survived his resignation by four years, during which he resided in the western castle, and, under the title of o-gosho, continued to take part in the administration. As for Ieyoshi, his tenure of power is chiefly notable for the strenuous efforts made by his prime minister, Mizuno Echizen no Kami, to substitute economy for the costly luxury that prevailed. Reference has already been made to this eminent official's policy, and it will suffice here to add that his aim was to restore the austere fashions of former times. The schedule of reforms was practically endless. Expensive costumes were seized and burned; theatres were relegated to a remote suburb of the city; actors were ostracized; a censorship of publications checked under severe penalties the compilation of all anti-foreign or immoral literature, and even children's toys were legislated for.

At first these laws alarmed people, but it was soon found that competence to enforce was not commensurate with ability to compile, and the only result achieved was that splendour and extravagance were more or less concealed. Yet the Bakufu officials did not hesitate to resort to force. It is recorded that storehouses and residences were sealed and their inmates banished; that no less than 570 restaurants were removed from the most populous part of the city, and that the maidservants employed in them were all degraded to the class of "licensed prostitutes." This drastic effort went down in the pages of history as the "Tempo Reformation." It ended in the resignation of its author and the complete defeat of its purpose.

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