Prosperity amid crises, 1789–1853
The period from 1789 to 1853 was marked at the beginning and towards the end by prolonged external crisis. While its outset followed the severe Tenmei economic crisis of the 1780s, the period, 1830s apart, was free from economic difficulties. After the late 1780s the economy entered a period of great prosperity and low prices. Even the number of ikki, that doubtful measure of discontent, fell, and was remarkably low in most years. Low prices of rice, while reducing the purchasing power of samurai, were a positive boon to townsmen. The consequence was that the Edo population, though modestly enough, grew again (while, significantly, the population of Osaka, whose fortunes were linked to rice prices and daimyo finances, did not). There was a boom in consumer expenditure, and the city's social activity and artistic role expanded in an unprecedented fashion. It was a period of abundant cheap reading—matter, and also of a more popular uki—yo-e woodblock printing, best known in the west today from the work of Hiroshige and Hokusai, which sold in multiple copies. In contrast to the boom of Genroku times occasioned by the concentrated merchant wealth in Osaka, the flowering was more wide—ranging and popular, reaching further down the social ladder: it centred also on Edo's commoners more than on its disgruntled samurai.
If the Bunka—Bunsei flowering in Edo was less exalted than the brilliant creativity in Genroku Osaka, its economic base was stronger, and that helped to explain its wider social reach. Intellectual life strengthened. Schools flourished and increased in number: they were larger, the students more numerous, the teaching more structured and less dependent on the personality of one individual. The scale and appeal of the Hita academy of Hirose Tansō is an example of this. 1 Scholarship in Mito han on the Japanese classics not only continued, but was beginning to acquire national attention. Japanese thought was not, of course, being even remotely westernised, but Japanese awareness of western civilisation was no____________________