Osaka, the Merchant's Capital of Early Modern Japan

By James L. McClain; Wakita Osamu | Go to book overview

C H A P T E R F O U R
Protest and the Tactics
of Direct Remonstration:
Osaka's Merchants Make
Their Voices Heard

Uchida Kusuo

TRANSLATED BY JAMES L. MCCLAIN

The 1720s and 1730s were not easy times for merchant and artisan families in Osaka, or more generally for much of the commoner population throughout Japan.To an unprecedented degree, collective violence and organized dissidence scarred those two decades, providing an index of growing popular antipathy with the shogunate and regional daimyo governments.Flames of discontent flared up in every quadrant of the rural countryside, from Kyushu to Tōhoku, and residents of Japan's major cities were equally restive.In Edo, the poor and angry employed violence as a tactic of protest for the first time in that city's history in 1733, when they attacked the shop of a rice dealer who was closely identified with the shogunate.Just three years later, thousands of merchants in Osaka gathered to express their unambiguous dissatisfaction with economic conditions and with shogunal policies that threatened to jeopardize their well-being.

Sparking the disquiet of the early eighteenth century in Osaka were complicated problems that resulted from the imposition of new taxes in the surrounding countryside, an upward ratcheting of urban rice prices, and fresh initiatives by the shogunate to intervene in the marketplace to advance its own fiscal interests at the expense of merchant and artisan families.Those events provoked a debate, carried on through legal petitions on some occasions and through acts of dissidence at others, about how much tax rice the state was en

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