Saito, O. and T. Settsu: one banker v. seven samurais

December 20, 2010

Saito, Osamu and Tokihiko Settsu (2006) Money, credit and Smithian growth in Tokugawa Japan. Hitotsubashi University. Institute of Economic Research. Discussion Paper #139.

In Osaka, Japan’s commercial capital, under the Tokugawa, rich merchants began to add to their functions that of lender to the mighty overlords (daymo) who needed to transform the production of their domain in bullion in order to cover their expenses in Edo and the taxes due to the Shogun (p.2). At the time, the country was segmented in small local capital market and no security was traded over the whole country. Despite those limitations, the rural industries did grow over the period, yet for that they had to have access to some fundings. Where did this capital come from? (p.3)

This wholesaler system arose in replacement of an inexistent banking sector (p.4). However this organization favored greatly the Osaka merchant who managed to impose de facto their service as a necessary precondition to any industrial or agricultural endeavor (p.5). But at that time, local merchants took on Osaka’s oligopoly.

To develop the production and trade of a wealth of proto-industrial products, they started delivering themselves those products to Edo, thus by-passing the Osaka intermediaries. Local lords backed these initiatives, for instance by issuing bank notes (hansatsu) to remedy to the dramatic shortages of money (p.9). However often successful, these initiatives led to a quick segmentation of the Japanese capital market and each of these small areas suffered from high interest rates (more than 18%), while at the same time interest rates in Osaka kept following (p.10).

A system, close to the earlier one arose after the Meiji Revolution, but this time with several commercial cities as the center of the operations instead of Osaka alone (p.13).

History’s among us

May 21, 2009

Google unveils an odd cast-based discrimination dating back from the Tokugawas: scandal in Japan (from Yahoo! tech).

Old Japanese maps on Google Earth unveil secrets

By JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press Writer – Sat May 2, 2009 11:39AM EDT

TOKYO – When Google Earth added historical maps of Japan to its online collection last year, the search giant didn’t expect a backlash. The finely detailed woodblock prints have been around for centuries, they were already posted on another Web site, and a historical map of Tokyo put up in 2006 hadn’t caused any problems. Read the rest of this entry »

Mitchener K. and Ohnuki M. (2009) Capital integration in Japan

March 15, 2009

Mitchener, Kris James and Ohnuki, Mari (2009) “Institutions, competition and capital market integration in Japan”, The Journal of Economic History, 69/1, 138-171.



The causal relationship between finance and economic growth makes “understanding the factors that encourage capital market development […] a key question” (p.138). Meiji-era policy-maker recognized that “the geographical mobility of capital [was] critical to allocative efficiency” and that to modernize the economy they had to forge an integrated capital market (p.139). Read the rest of this entry »

Sylla R. (2002) Financial sytems and economic growth

March 11, 2009

Sylla, Richard (2002) “Financial Systems and Economic Modernization”, The Journal of Economic History, 62/2, 277-292.



The author answers the age-old question, “why isn’t the whole world developed?” by arguing that development differences can be explained by the “spread of modern financial systems, which serve to facilitate the acquisition and application of both nonhuman and human capital”. And the “key institutional components” necessary to describe what is a modern financial system are: “sound public finances and public debt managements; stable monetary and payment arrangements; sound banking system (more generally, institutional lenders); an effective central bank; and sound insurance companies (more generally, institutional investors)” (p.280). Read the rest of this entry »

Atwell W. S. (1986) Seventeenth-Century Crisis in China and Japan

June 22, 2008

Atwell William S. (Feb. 1986). “Some Observations on the ‘Seventeenth-Century Crisis’ in China and Japan”, The Journal of Asian Studies, 45/2, 223-244.

Causes the most often advanced by scholars to explain the Ming’s collapse of 1644:
• Wan-li emperor (1580-1644) irresponsible behaviour,
• the cost of war against Japan,
• the defeat of Liaotung in 1619 against the Manchus,
• the “reign of terror” of the eunuch Wei Chung-hsien in 1625-6.
On the other hand, the first century of the Tokugawa is often presented as a golden age. But that contrast ought not to undermine the fact that Chinese and Japanese history are mutually intelligible. What was deferent was the response to a common situation. Read the rest of this entry »

Pearson M. N. (1991) Merchants and states

June 15, 2008

Pearson Michael N. (1991) “Merchants and states”, in Tracy James D. (ed.), The Political Economy of Merchant Empires. State Power and World Trade 1350-1750, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.41-116.

What is the general role of governments in economic development?
Policies can impede or induce growth. Political elites can also have a significant influence on development. Governments support the class that provide the most important share of their revenue (fiscalism). Besides, the poorest the sate, the strongest the non-state players.

Fiscal policies
“The crucial variable is sizes of state, class structure, and revenue resources. Controllers of small political units typically have to take much more interest, for better or worse, in overseas trade than do rulers with large peasant population that can be taxed relatively easily” (69). Large entities preserved an “indifferent neutrality” towards merchants community. The author takes the example of the early modern long-distance trade and distinguishes between two types of polities: the territorial empires and the merchant empires.

Read the rest of this entry »

Berry M.E. (2008) Market revolution in 17th-century Japan

March 16, 2008

Mary Elizabeth Berry (2008) “Is Consumption Virtuous? The Market Revolution and the Motives for Work in 17th-Century Japan”, conference given at UCLA.

The conference was introduced by prof. Sanjay Subrahmanyam in front of a very receptive audience in the great campus that is UCLA. These are my notes, the construction and the mistakes are mine. The drawing above have been ignominously stolen from the Gütenberg project’s Tales from Old Japan.


Prof. Berry started by reminding the “Tokugawa litany” to the audience: the 17th century was a time of tremendous change in the Japanese economic history; perhaps even more so than the Meiji period.

The population doubled, reaching 30 million. The proportion of urban population went from 3 to 12%. These figure are particularly impressive when one compares Japan to, say, France, which is 3 times larger and almost entirely arable (unlike Japan where at the time only 12% of the landmass could be cultivated), had only 19 million inhabitants. Read the rest of this entry »