CHAPTER II
ECONOMIC PROBLEMS
AND REFORMS

Mizuno Tadakuni--Zusho Hiromichi--Murata Seifu

IN THE eighteenth century money became of prime concern to Japan's feudal rulers. From the Shogun to the humblest samurai, from the central government to that of the smallest domain, failure to adjust to the needs of a changing economy brought growing financial stress. It was a stress, moreover, due in large measure to factors outside their own control. The concentration of the ruling class in castle-towns, especially the huge agglomeration that was Edo, had acted as a stimulus to trade. Commercial efficiency, in turn, had put temptations in the way of buyers. Since most samurai had been reduced to idleness by the years of peace, encouraged to engage in scholarship and martial exercises or to perform administrative tasks which rarely took up all their time, it is not surprising that their tastes and habits grew expensive. Income, despite the rise in agricultural production, failed to keep pace with costs. This was often as much a result of laxity among tax-collectors, the almost inevitable concomitant of hereditary office-holding, as it was of higher standards of living; but it meant, whatever the cause, that a misfortune like fire or flood, bringing an increase in expenses or a drop in revenue, put a domain almost invariably in debt to the city rice-brokers who handled its finances. Individual samurai suffered by a similar process, though on a smaller scale. At the opposite extreme, the Tokugawa government succumbed slowly but inexorably to the same pressures. And once in debt, neither the samurai nor his lord found it easy to recover.

B

-21-

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