The seminar's members, representing the full range of academic disciplines that bear upon the study of Japan and including Japan specialists from government, business, and the nonprofit sectors, meet regularly to discuss scholarly papers on all aspects of modern Japan, from history, literature, art, and the performing arts to politics, economics, social issues, and the US-Japan bilateral relationship.

Seminar: #445

Founded: 1960

May 22, 2008

Economic Thought in Early Modern Japan
June 26-27, 2009

Venue: Bonhoeffer Room in the Union Theological Seminary
Sponsored by the University Seminar on Modern Japan at Columbia University

The papers will be pre-circulated in order to allow maximum discussion.

Friday, June 26: 1 PM – 5 PM
Bonhoeffer Room

ETHAN SEGAL (Harvard University). “Money and the State: Medieval Precursors of the Early Modern Economy”
(Discussant: Ronald Frank, Pace University)

YAJIMA MICHIFUMI (Kantō Gakuin, Japan). “‘Mercantilism’ in Early Modern Japan: Trade and agricultural policy under the national isolation
(Discussant: Robert Horres, Tübingen University)

JAN SYKORA (Charles University, Prague). “Economic thought of Shōji Kōki and the Tempō Reforms in Saga Domain”
(Discussant: Mark Metzler, UT Austin)

GREGORY SMITS (Pennsylvania State University). “Guiding Horses Using Rotten Reins: Economic Thought in the Eighteenth-century Kingdom of Ryukyu”
(Discussant: David Howell, Princeton)

Saturday, June 27: 9 AM – 12:30 PM
Bonhoeffer Room

KAWAGUCHI HIROSHI (Waseda University). “Economic Thought Concerning Freedom and Control”
(Discussant: Gregory Smits, Penn State)

OCHIAI KŌ (Hiroshima Shūdō University). “The shift to domestic sugar production and the ideology of ‘national interest’”
(Discussant: Jan Sykora, Charles University)

BETTINA GRAMLICH-OKA (Columbia University). “A Domain Doctor and Shogunal Politics”
(Discussant: David Howell, Princeton)

12:30 PM – 2 PM LUNCH

2:00 PM – 5 PM

ISHII SUMIYO (Keiō University, Japan). “Economic thought as a basis of economic activities: a case study of a local entrepreneur in the Meiji era”
(Discussant: Robert Horres, Tübingen University)

MARK RAVINA (Emory University). “Confucian banking: the community granary (shasō) in rhetoric and practice”
(Discussant: Gregory Smits, Penn State)

MARK METZLER (University of Texas, Austin): “Policy Fields, Polarities, and Regimes”
(Discussant: Bettina Gramlich-Oka, Columbia)



ETHAN SEGAL (Harvard University)
“Money and the State:Medieval Precursors of the Early Modern Economy”

Modern scholars quite correctly recognize the important economic advances that took place during the early Tokugawa period. For the first time in centuries, Japan had a central government that provided peace and stability, minted coins, and built infrastructure. Intellectuals and officials debated fiscal policy and currency reform and the use of money penetrated to all levels of society as goods and labor became commercialized. It is in part due to this high level of economic expansion and the rise of an urban commoner class that some scholars refer to the Edo period as early modern rather than pre-modern. But what of the medieval economy that preceded the seventeenth century? Medieval Japanese never enjoyed the prosperous economy of the Edo period, but there are clear signs of economic growth and monetary use from the twelfth through sixteenth centuries. Did Tokugawa developments build upon, or have any connection to, earlier economic institutions and ideas? This paper addresses intellectual and institutional aspects of Japan’s medieval economy in hopes of stimulating discussion on the relationship between medieval and Tokugawa economic developments. Specifically, the paper focuses on imported copper cash, domestic bills of exchange, and evolving notions of tokusei as points of connection with the Edo economy. One goal of the paper is to call renewed attention to the use of cash and bills in medieval Japan and to look at the ways in which elites as well as commoners understood the role of money in their society. A second goal is to explore how medieval Japan’s economy grew in spite of a weak central government that did not always support trade, credit, and the use of money. A third goal is to examine the ways in which the early modern economy included some degree of continuity with the medieval. Although highlighting these points of continuity is not intended to minimize the significant changes that occurred in the seventeenth century, it does suggest that medieval thought and practice may have left a legacy to early modern Japan that is helpful in understanding the Tokugawa era.

YAJIMA MICHIFUMI (Kantō Gakuin, Japan)
“‘Mercantilism’ in early modern Japan:trade and agricultural policy under national isolation”
Existing research to date on the relationship between ‘mercantilism’ and economic thought in Japan has not fully explored the problems of methodology and definition created by applying the term in the early modern Japanese context. Given that since its beginnings with the French physiocrats and Adam Smith ’mercantilism’ has come to take on variety of meanings in the Western European context, what does it mean to say that mercantilist thought influenced Japan?
Work by recent scholars of early modern Europe, including Vine and Magnuson, has suggested a model in which concern with the universal problems faced by early modern nations, mainly the drive to increase national (military) power and national wealth, led to a variety of different political measures in England, France, and Germany. If it is possible to apply “mercantilism” in Europe to a variety of individual paths, then its application to early modern Japan becomes possible as well, even considering unique aspects of Japan’s foreign policy, such as the national isolation system. If one of the premises of mercantilism (broadly defined) is the pursuit of wealth, then we can see that Japan’s bakuhan polity, too, shared this notion of gaining "national wealth" and prosperity for the country.
This paper will discuss the characteristics of what might be termed “Japanese mercantilism”. On the one hand, "Japanese mercantilism" was shaped around the political thought of foreign trade policies similar to the Western model; on the other, practical policies towards the pursuit of national wealth relied on agricultural production and administration, which allowed self-sufficiency in terms of food and thus made the "national isolation system" possible. In other words, "Japanese mercantilism" had an agricultural character, and its interaction with the seclusion policy meant that it did not include elements of militarization or colonization.

JAN SYKORA (Charles University, Prague)
“Economic Thought of Shōji Kōki and the Tempō Reforms inSaga Domain”

The economic problems Saga domain tackled with on the eve of the nineteenth century showed several common features related to the late Tokugawa society - declining tax revenue and other incomes, huge expenditures due to alternate attendance and the necessity of maintaining the mansion in Edo, rising loans, which resulted in a self-destructive spiral of indebtedness, the harmful effect of domain paper currency, etc. Compared to both the shogunate government and the majority of domains, Saga-han coped with the problems rather successfully. The sweeping reforms implemented by young hanshu, Lord Nabeshima Naomasa, since 1835 became a platform for introducing and operating the first reverberating furnace (hansharo) in Japan with which Saga domain successfully manufactured heavy artillery and opened the door for the implementation of the policy of “the rich country with the strong army” in early Meiji period. Although the leading role in the sketching and elaborating of these plans was played by a group of domain intellectuals of samurai origin with Naomasa’s advisor, Koga Kokudō, as the central figure, one cannot omit the partial role of the commoners represented by a wealthy merchant from Arita, Shōji Kōki 正司考祺 (1793 - 1857), whose main writings are included in both Nihon keizai sōsho and Nihon keizai taiten. The paper will focus on Koki’s main economic ideas and on his role in the initial stage of the Tempō Reforms in Saga domain.

GREGORY SMITS (Pennsylvania State University)
“Guiding Horses Using Rotten Reins: Economic Thought in the Eighteenth-century Kingdom of Ryukyu.”

Ryukyu can serve an excellent point of comparison in a volume on Tokugawa-era Japanese intellectual thought. Although the island kingdom was not formally part of Japan, it was under the domination of Satsuma at this time. Ryukyu also maintained direct ties to China. Intellectually, the kingdom was open to prevailing currents of Chinese and Japanese thought. In the political and economic realms, Ryukyu's situation was often precarious, which was conducive to economic thought grounded in concrete problems and experience. Although kinsei Ryukyu was home to many intellectual and literary figures, the prominent economic theorist was Sai On (1682-1761), who was also the most powerful politician during the first half of the eighteenth century.
A Confucian scholar, Sai On's ultimate stated goal was to create a society conducive to bringing forth the best in each of its members, regardless of social station. Like a typical Confucian, Sai On's highest ideal was personal and social moral excellence. He realized, however, that a morally superior society could not exist without a firm economic base. This firm economic base depended on a government that intervened actively and intelligently in economic matters. Social complexity meant that the state should set broad goals, create infrastructure, provide valuable information, and utilize the profit motive to nudge people to adopt a longer-term vision of the future. For Sai On, the market was a powerful force that a skillfully governed state could guide but not control with a heavy hand. He likened the process of governing to guiding a galloping horse using rotten reins.
This paper examines Sai On's economic thought in the context of Ryukyuan society of the early eighteenth century. I take as my main focus a close reading of Sai On's essay Essentials of Governance 図治要伝, (Ch. Tuzhi yaozhuan, Jp. Toji yōden) to explain the main features of Sai On's economic thought, its relationship to the conditions of Ryukyuan society, and its intellectual context. I also compare Sai On's ideas with major trends in Japanese economic thought. For example, whereas some Japanese thinkers advocated reliance on merchant expertise for guiding economic policy, Sai On argued that, while commercial activity itself was of great value to society, only government officials were―or should be―positioned to act in the best interests of society as a whole and formulate policies accordingly. Naturally, to do their jobs effectively, government officials must study the technical details of key industries. Sai On himself spent months in the rugged mountains of northern Okinawa studying forestry techniques and other aspects of agricultural production.

KAWAGUCHI HIROSHI (Waseda University)
“Economic Thought Concerning Freedom and Control”

Throughout history, economic markets have existed as a function of both free circulation of goods and various forms of control over economic activity. In this sense, freedom and control always accompany each other. The manner in which people have conceived and negotiated relations between free circulation and control are specific to time and place. From the viewpoint of economic thought, this paper examines the interplay of freedom and control in early modern Japan. Representative examples of early modern Confucian and Buddhist thought indicate the emergence of a viewpoint that valued economic activity as a social good and understood all economic actors in society as an interconnected network.

OCHIAI KŌ (Hiroshima Shūdō University)
“The rise of domestic sugar production and the ideology of 'the national interest’”

This paper is an introduction to the changes caused by shifting from imported sugar to domestic sugar production in Japan in the latter part of the Tokugawa era (1600-1867). It also assesses the historical significance of this change in policy, which was conceived by the Tokugawa Shogunate, by clans, and by the general populace.
Almost all sugar was imported from overseas in the early Tokugawa period, and little was produced domestically, with the partial exception of brown sugar in Satsuma province. Motivated by growing concerns about the declining supplies of gold and silver caused by the balance of overseas exports, several key shogunal reformers (including the eighth shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune and the tenth shogun’s grand chamberlain Tanuma Okitsugu) pushed for increased domestic sugar production. In the second half of the Tokugawa era (the first half of the 19th century), the level of domestic sugar production increased in south-western Honshu, Kyushu, and the Okinawa islands.
Not only did the domestic sugar policy influence the development of cash crops, but it also affected the ideas of the people and the form of government. Spread on a popular level by figures like the herbalist Tamaru Ransui and the village head Ikegami Torozaemon, the shift to domestic sugar production resulted in a growing tendency for farmers to pay tax in money from sugar sales, rather than in grain, which undermined the traditional feudal tax system. On both popular and governmental levels, domestic sugar production was conceived in terms of the concept of ‘national interest’ and linked to the need to increase national wealth; paradoxically, it thus both fell in line with one of the key ideologies underpinning the Tokugawa state, and also shook its feudal foundations.

BETTINA GRAMLICH-OKA (Columbia University)
“A Domain Doctor and Shogunal Politics”

Is there a way to reconstruct the decision making of shogunal economic policies, or the economic thought behind these policies? Since written sources do not illustrate process and reason, circumvention may be a strategy to approach the many closed gates of the Edo castle. Recently, the sociologist Eiko Ikegami has introduced the idea of viewing social networks as “enclave publics,” which combine and integrate the pleasure quarters, the theater, private academies, and poetry salons. In my larger research I take this concept further and argue that these public enclaves, or networks, were also the sites, or antechambers, of political and economic discussion and, by extension, of political and economic thought. Charles Tilly suggests focusing on transactions among persons rather than on the cultural consciousness of the actors, a path that I will pursue in a larger study as well. For the purpose of this paper, the idea of the network will guide me, though I will focus on only one political actor, whose social relations made his proposals known, discussed, and pursued in shogunal policies. By highlighting the author’s writings in concurrence with shogunal politics we gain insight into the interactions among officials, the government and political actors.
In the fifth month of 1784, one of the most powerful men in the shogunate at the time, Tanuma Okitsugu 田沼意次 (1719–1788), took up a proposal called Akaezo fūsetsukō 赤蝦夷風説考 (Thoughts on Rumors about Kamchatka, 1781–1783). In the account, the author Kudō Heisuke 工藤平助 (1734–1800) advocates the development and colonization of Ezo 蝦夷 (today’s Hokkaido), which would indeed change the future of the northern frontier. The Sendai domain physician Kudō Heisuke expressed his economic thought further in another account, which deals with the foreign trade in Nagasaki, calling here for immediate reform. By examining Heisuke’s political and economic ideas of “national” political and economic boundaries as they are exposed in the proposals, the actors he shared them with and the associated political practices, I call attention to the particular site of the network in which shogunal policies during the Tanuma period were formed. This paper seeks to explore, albeit in a preliminary way, the question of what we can learn about shogunal policies and political economy and their ideological underpinnings from such brief encounters of otherwise undisclosed political decision making.. Thereby we can not only win a greater understanding but also obtain a more complex picture of the late Tokugawa period, in which continuation and changes of shogunal policies pursued in the 1780s were perpetuated in the following decades.

ISHII SUMIYO (Keiō University, Japan)
“Economic thought as a basis for economic activities: a case study of a local entrepreneur in the Meiji era”

This article aims to examine the relationship between economic thought and economic activities, focusing on a local entrepreneur who engaged mainly in indigenous industries in the Meiji era.
Itō Yōzō (1864-1934) was born in Tōtōmi province, and adopted into the Itō family, a local land-owning family. His worldview involved an inseparable relationship between an individual and the network of human relationships that makes up society; as a primary goal, every individual must act to develop society. Yōzō put these ideas into concrete practice, viewing his economic activities as a means for developing home, region and nation; he devoted himself to the family business of agriculture and to regional businesses like railway enterprise, which promoted local economic growth. Yōzō provides an instructive example of an entrepreneur who was motivated by specific structures of social and economic thought, yielding a case study that illustrates one possible set of connections between economic theory and practice.

MARK RAVINA (Emory University)
“Confucian banking:the community granary (shasō) in rhetoric and practice”

The shasō 社倉, or community granary, was a type of relief storehouse common in Tokugawa-era. Nominally based on the writings of Zhu Xi, the storehouses were originally designed to provide food relief during harvest failures. But the granaries also made loans, using the interest payments to build up their reserves, and Zhu Xi’s writings provided support for this practice. In the Tokugawa economy, some shasō began to function more as banks than relief granaries, and by the 18th century, reformers were advocating shasō in order to restore or sustain active credit markets 融通. The shasō thus allowed reformers to engage the problems of a market economy within the language of Song-era moral philosophy

MARK METZLER (University of Texas, Austin)
“Policy Fields, Polarities, and Regimes”

In the background of movements in economic thought, and often in the foreground, lie fluctuations and structural shifts in the larger macroeconomy. Conversely, economic thought, applied as policy, shapes macroeconomic movements. In order to theorize this double movement, and to bring the contributions in this volume into a single view, this chapter outlines some conjunctural (or fluctuating) and developmental (or linear/structural) aspects of Japanese macroeconomy over the long run. It first offers an account of macroeconomic trend periods, referring especially to monetary movements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It then connects this chronology to a hypothesized picture of shifting intellectual/policy fields and shifting polarities within them. One classic policy polarity, for example, is found in the alternation of expansion-oriented “positive” policies (which have some historical association with kokueki policies) and austerity-oriented “negative” policies. One finds a similar tension between market-conforming and market-suppressing policies. Such considerations lead to some new methodological observations on how to conceptualize the oppositions and the timing of economic policy thought.