Edo Painting: Sotatsu and Korin

Edo Painting: Sotatsu and Korin

Edo Painting: Sotatsu and Korin

Edo Painting: Sotatsu and Korin

Excerpt

The rise of the machishu of Kyoto came as an immediate aftermath of the ten-year Onin Civil War in the late fifteenth century. How did this new merchant class come to power? Thanks to the research of the eminent historian Tatsusaburo Hayashiya, we can obtain the following rough picture.

The new moneyed class was molded by a powerful group of sakè brewers and money dealers. They took articles in pawn and advanced money at usurious rates. They also collected taxes and thus received government protection. Having joined forces with the Muromachi government, they oppressed the farming class, obtaining immense land- holdings. The farmers often revolted and, to stave off exploitation, formed self-governing organizations.

Confronted with agrarian uprisings, the merchants were put on the defensive. The Onin Civil War and enfeebled Muromachi policing left Kyoto in a state of confusion. Eventually the sakè brewers and pawnbrokers, along with various other business people, gravitated toward one another for mutual aid. This resulted in the formation of the guilds that knitted together most of Kyoto's merchant class. It was from the guilds that the machishu emerged. As a group, they took it upon themselves to maintain the peace and preserve law and order, and so foster business. They were to Kyoto after the Onin Civil War what merchants were to Venice in late medieval times: they established what was in effect a free republic.

Life was exciting in Kyoto right after the civil war. The Muromachi government, the bakufu, was no more than a name; freedom and independence were anyone's for the taking. The great leaders of the period--Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and their rivals--were yet to appear. Kyoto was an open city, the arena of the new elite, and history flowed on undisturbed, ever kind to the prospering machishu. They were the new "aristocrats." With the power of their wealth they soon overtook the older ruling class.

Another factor in the postwar situation sealed their success: this was the firm foothold the machishu obtained in foreign markets and the tremendous profits that accrued. The port of Sakai, now part of Osaka, saw many ships come and go from Ming China, the Ryukyus, and lands to the south, bringing the merchants immense riches. The Muromachi lords and struggling court nobility were now only nominally in charge. Leaning as they had to upon the financially powerful merchants, the ruling class found its authority diminished with each passing day. The Suminokura family, leader of the banker-

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