AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 195

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Session 195: Managing Urban Poverty in Japan’s Long Nineteenth Century

Organizer: Timothy D. Amos, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Poverty is recognized, measured, and alleviated in ways specific to time and place. Tokugawa authorities adopted a range of policies to combat poverty in its three largest cities (Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka) and smaller rural castle towns during the latter half of the early modern period. The urban poor, particularly after natural disasters, sometimes received state largess in the form of rice and cash. On other occasions, they obtained yearly tax exemptions. Eager to encourage urban residents to take responsibility for this problem, authorities also often publicly identified and rewarded individuals who demonstrated a capacity for sustained generosity to their fellow denizens. Another distinctive feature of early modern society, however, was the way urban poverty came to be managed through the basic unit of the ‘status group’ (mibunteki shudan). Ruling authorities, in close consultation with a wide array of social actors with often conflicting motivations, devised numerous strategies to manage urban poverty which generally included groups like hinin closely associated with poverty through their own life experiences. Such strategies for governing the poor, however, changed noticeably during Japan’s long nineteenth century, especially with the apperance of an array of modern technologies for governing the poor. This panel explores how such strategies for dealing with the poor changed from the 18th through to the early 20th centuries. Through a series of case studies, it reveals how political and social actors envisioned impoverishment and its effects, the strategies they adopted for its limitation and possible eradication, and the benefits they could also sometime accrue through political engagement on this issue.

Policing Edo’s Underclasses: The Place of the Poor in Late 18th-Century Danzaemon Governance
Timothy D. Amos, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Early modern Japanese society was slowly re-organized through the formation and legitimization of status-based groups during the first half of the 17th century. These groups, including numerous outcaste groups such as eta and hinin, entered into official socio-political contracts (goyō kankei) with the Tokugawa authorities in order to ensure their own survival. In eastern Japan, these groups received official acknowledgment and economic privileges in relation to begging and leather production in return for accepting officially prescribed duties usually pertaining to certain ‘death industries’ (execution duties, burial of vagrants, etc). Eta and hinin groups became closely linked together in the public and political imaginary in Edo from around the beginning of the 18th century in an extraordinary legal battle that emerged between the eta and hinin leaders. The head of the former group, Danzaemon, achieved a qualified victory in this struggle, positioning himself at the apex of an increasingly well-defined Edo outcaste order. By the third quarter of the 18th century, however, Danzaemon’s place within the order came under scrutiny and he made various attempts to rearticulate the grounds for his existence. This paper, using official correspondence between Danzaemon and the Edo City Magistrate, reveals the way Danzaemon renegotiated his place in the Edo outcaste order in the latter half of the 18th century. The paper argues that a clear shift can be witnessed in the way Danzaemon’s position was justified in Edo society, from one which explained his existence in terms of performing official duties for the authorities to emphasizing the role the leader played in managing Edo’s urban underclasses.

Rice, Salt, and Water: Soup Kitchens for the Poor in Early Modern Japanese Towns
Maren A. Ehlers, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA

In early modern Japan, as elsewhere in East Asia, the distribution of rice gruel (segayu) was a common method of relieving the hungry. Governments, temples, or merchants established rice gruel kitchens for the poor at times of crisis and sometimes also on a regular basis. The kitchens could be organized and sponsored in different ways and target either townspeople or beggars (broadly defined). But they always posed the same practical challenges, for example how to cook rice gruel for a large number of people, how to determine who was eligible, and how to control the masses who lined up at the distribution site. This paper discusses the main problems involved in the organization of urban rice gruel kitchens in Tokugawa Japan. It focuses on two examples: Kyoto, where the scholar Miwa Kiken composed a proposal in 1713 that called for a reform of the Shogunate-financed segayu, and the castle town of Ōno domain (Echizen province), where rice gruel kitchens were ordered by the lord every winter until 1860 and developed into a seasonal ritual. As these examples show, rice gruel kitchens in the Tokugawa period tended to be collective efforts that relied on the cooperation of different parties such as government and town officials, temples, sake brewers, and beggar associations, each of whom also used the scheme to assert their own authority. As an emergency relief measure for beggars, the kitchens continued to make an important contribution to urban poor relief until the end of the Tokugawa period, despite their costliness and inherent potential for unrest.

Hinin and Townspeople in 19th-Century Urban Osaka
Takashi Tsukada, Osaka City University, Japan

Paralleling Osaka’s development as an urban metropolis, people of hinin status, born as beggars and impoverished persons without material possessions, began to settle in urban society from the middle of the 17th century as the ‘kaito guilds of the four places.’ Hinin had their rights to live as beggars and beg for alms officially endorsed and were entrusted with governing and issuing aid relief to ‘new hinin’ and ‘wild hinin’ who emerged on the periphery of their groups. Hinin, by extension, also came to undertake official policing duties for the town magistrate. Although people of hinin status emerged as groups with special duties in relation to both begging and official duties, these two characteristics could really only be realized within the context of urban society. Begging rights were unattainable without the townspeople who granted them; official duties, moreover, were affirmed through their relationship with the town magistrate which issued orders and townsmen who employed them as guards. In this paper, I will focus on the restrictions faced by townspeople in the 19th century wishing to redistribute begging rights, something that had come to be regarded as communally-owned by the Kaito guild. By doing so, this paper is able to highlight some the special characteristics of early modern Japan’s status society where various status groups existed in layers and pockets.

Cholera 1886: Poverty, Disease and Urban Governance in Meiji Osaka
John Porter, Osaka City University, Japan

On August 3, 1886, at the height of the deadliest cholera epidemic in Japanese history, Chief Inspector of the Osaka Prefectural Police Ōura Kanetake issued an urgent memo to the heads of Osaka’s four city wards and the commissioner of neighboring Nishinari County. Citing the immediate threat to public health and security posed by the city’s rapidly expanding “slums” (hinminkutsu), the memo outlined a plan for Osaka’s first large-scale “slum clearance.” Characterizing the city’s slums as “dens of poverty, crime and infectious disease,” the plan called for their immediate demolition and the mass relocation of thousands of poor urban dwellers to a walled residential compound southwest of the city. Focusing on Ōura’s proposal and the series of debates that followed its presentation, this paper explores the manner in which infectious disease influenced the relationship between urban poverty and local governance in Osaka during the late nineteenth century. It argues that frequent outbreaks of cholera during the 1870s and 1880s gave rise, in both the popular press and official circles, to a discourse identifying the city’s slums and their impoverished inhabitants as the root cause of urban epidemics. Bolstered by a growing body of scientific data suggesting intimate links between poverty, squalor, and disease, that discourse supported efforts by the local authorities in Osaka to permanently segregate the poor and raze the city’s slums. This paper traces those efforts from the summer of 1886, when Chief Inspector Oura’s plan was first announced, to the spring of 1891, when Osaka’s first large-scale slum clearance was executed.