This study is an unique approach to social and cultural history of Japan through the scope of food and food ways. In this book-length study of food markets in the early modern Japanese capital of Edo, Akira Shimizu draws a fascinating picture of early modern Japanese society where specialty foods—seasonal, regional, and hard-to-find delicacies that satisfied the palate of nation’s highest political authority, the shogun—served as a powerful nexus that connected different social groups. In the course of their daily lives, peasants, fisherfolks, and merchants, who made specialty food available at the market, were in constant negotiation with powerful wholesalers and government authorities in charge of procuring specialty foods of the highest qualities for the shogun’s Edo Castle. Utilizing a number of previously unused archival materials that reveals the lives of those at the bottom of the society, the book traces the production, supply, and handling of specialty foods and shows how ordinary people were empowered to assume control over the distribution of specialty food, eventually affecting their procurement for the shogunal kitchen. In doing so, they disrupted the existing market order on the shogunal requisition, and led to the reconfiguration of market relations.
Akira Shimizu is associate professor at Wilkes University.
List of Figures
List of Tables
1. The Market Landscape in the Late Tokugawa Period
2. Deregulating the Market: Wholesalers’ associations and Serigai merchants in the Case of Eggs
3. Wholesalers vs. Shōsuke: One Man’s Attempt to Promote Ezo Kelp
4. In Defense of the Brand: Kōshū Grapes and Peasants’ Power in the Market
5. Legitimizing with the Past: The Yuisho of Tsukudajima’s Shirauo (Japanese Icefish) Fisheryg and the End of Early-Modern Tribute Duties
About the Author
Brand-name grapes, kelp terroirs, icefish as ancestral patrimony, and eggs as an exotic treat: commodities destined for the shogun’s kitchens made their way through the markets of Edo (modern-day Tokyo), each marked by the tension between a regime inclined to tightly regulate the flow of goods and entrepreneurs eager to exploit new opportunities or preserve old privileges. Akira Shimizu’s case studies reveal the complications of economic relations in a stratified society as they played out in one of the early modern world’s biggest cities.
This solid study of early-modern trade in specialty foods fills an important lacune in our understanding of Japanese culinary culture. In particular, the case studies of Ezo kelp and Kōshū grapes have opened my eyes to the pervasive practices of food branding that extend to the present. A highly recommended and long overdue addition to seminal literature on Japanese food history.
Akira Shimizu brings cultural, economic, and social history together in this insightful book about the contested marketplace for specialty foods in nineteenth-century Edo. The shogunal castle served as the linchpin of food distribution networks by privileging certain groups to supply the best products to the shogun’s own kitchen. But Shimizu shows that the true dynamism in this system lay elsewhere: with the village communities, fishing groups, traveling merchants, and wholesalers’ associations that challenged each other’s privileges and vied for access to Edo’s gourmet consumers. This bottom-up view of the nineteenth-century food market opens up a fresh new perspective on Edo’s economy and social order during these transformative decades.
Shimizu’s book presents an extremely detailed discussion of the Kanda and Nihonbashi food markets, which have only received passing mention in previous English-language scholarship. He shows both the effects of famine and government reform policies on the operations of these sites of commerce and the trade networks that used them, and he reveals how ordinary merchants, villagers, and fisherfolk worked against them or used them for their benefit to secure economic rights. The result is a vibrant picture of food commerce made clearer through several maps and illustrations.
Shimizu delivers an interesting and informative study about the transformation of Japan from the late 18th to the late 19th century from a peculiar angle. He focuses on the specialty food market in the greater Edo/Tokyo area, which included highly valued seasonal and regional items that were desired among ordinary residents. In particular, he details the buying and selling of Ezo kelp, Kōshū grapes, icefish, and exotic eggs in four chapters, offering an in-depth investigation of how these specialty food items shaped the lives of both merchants and their customers. His main finding goes as follows: while the specialty food market was subject to government control at various levels, it was also an important space where peasants, fishermen, street vendors, peddlers, and customers of all social walks exercised their power of control. The book sheds light on the multifaceted process of Japan’s transformation, taking the regulation and deregulation of the specialty food market as a window through which to view the “interactions between political authorities and commoners” (p. 8) on a daily basis. It demonstrates both the change and continuity of history. This book is recommended for graduate students and faculty.