Divisional Director/Visiting Professor

Hirakawa Arata

Professor (International Research Institute of Disaster Science)

History of early modern Japanese political economy

The Edo Period as an Age of Public Opinion: Reassessing Early Modern Japan-Russia Relations as the Dawn of the Pacific Rim Era

The dominant image of early modern (Edo period) Japan is of an oppressive feudal society. Examined in dispassionate perspective, however, the Tokugawa regime can be seen to have lasted as long as 260 years because the central government and the provincial rulers paid careful attention to public opinion and willingly accepted views expressed by the masses. Contrary to widespread belief, the Edo period was actually a time when public opinion counted for a great deal and when public policy was often drawn from below rather than handed down from above.
The Edo period was also a time when encroaching foreign influences began to force Japan to change. From the late eighteenth century onward, Russians ventured into the North Pacific in search of fur while Americans came across the Pacific on whaling ships, greatly altering Japan’s international situation. Seen thus from the perspective of the entire Pacific Rim, Edo Japan reemerges as the nexus of a complex mixing and clashing of civilizations and cultures.

Written and pictorial sources like those shown here are the primary sources of historians. Even the same materials may yield varying interpretations, depending on the point of view of the reader.

Principal areas of interest

  • Politics and regional societies in early modern Japan
  • Regional economies in early modern Japan
  • Japan-Russia relations prior to the opening of Japan to foreign trade
  • Castaway Japanese sailors of the early modern period
  • Preservation of historical materials
  • Folklore and folk traditions

Vice Divisional Director/Associate Professor

Kenichiro Aratake

Associate Professor

Japanese history, Economic history

Theme: Identifying the economic exchange in the early modern Japanese archipelago

I mainly study the history of Japanese economy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. My research findings on night soil transactions in the Osaka region have been summarized in my book (Kenichiro Aratake, Shinyo o meguru kinsei shakai: Osaka chiiki no noson to toshi [The Night Soil of Early Modern Society: The Farming Villages and Cites of the Osaka Region], Osaka: Seibundo, 2015). This study of these transactions has led me to begin studies of merchants and goods distribution across Japan. For example, I studied old manuscripts to examine the state of kitamaebune (northern-bound ships), which played a significant role in an early modern western marine route (Osaka – Ezo) and local markets. I feel it important that specialty goods of one region were distributed across the Japanese archipelago and that commoners were conscious of local brands. Also, the economic centers of the time were generally Osaka, Kyoto and Edo (called the “big three cities” of the Edo period), and the merchants who thrived there had gathered attention. There is also great historical significance in making clear the existence of the merchants who cooperated with merchants of the three cities and created footholds across Japan. Shiroishi city, Miyagi prefecture functioned as a castle town / post-station town in the Edo period; there, the influential local merchants engaged in active transactions with other city merchants. This did not only mean one merchant was managing business skillfully, but also carried great significance in the regional economy. I aim to produce research that connects small villages and towns with the history of Japan, Asia, and the world.


A document stating that a merchant vessel was in an accident in the Japan Sea (Held by the Yamagata Prefectural Museum, nineteenth Century)

Un’yo Koseki: Illustration of Shiroishi Castle (Possession of Shiroishi city, Miyagi prefecture, nineteenth century)

Principal areas of interest

  • Night soil transactions in early modern Japan
  • History of goods distribution in the Japan archipelago
  • Domain finance of the Edo period

Assistant Professor

Teiji Nomoto

Assistant Professor

Japanese history, Political history

Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate last for more than 260 years? –Revealing the governance structure of modern Japan

My major research objective is to investigate the governance structure of the Tokugawa Shogunate through the study of hatamoto, which refers to government bureaucrats in the Edo period. While they are referred to as government bureaucrats, hatamoto?unlike the bureaucrats in the modern government?had territories granted by General Tokugawa along with their duties and had the characteristic of federal lord. Therefore, in order to elucidate the governance system of the Tokugawa Shogunate, it is important to paint a real picture of not only daimyo (feudal clans) but also hatamoto who were involved in both the bureaucracy and lordship under the Tokugawa Shogunate. In particular, since the situations of hatamoto in their territories have not been explained for the most parts; I have worked on the examination based on documentary records from the Edo period. The lordship of hatamoto in the Edo period was not limited to their territories. As in the case of daimyo, many tasks such as making tax payments to the lord and managing community expenses were performed by village officials representing farmers. Furthermore, based on the cases I have investigated so far, sometimes those village officials even managed the household budget of their lord. It has not been known at all in Japanese history studies that the people of the domain managed the finance and household budget of their lord. However, discovering such historical facts allows us to accurately understand the modern Japanese governance structure and provides great clues to paint the overall picture. Comparing the characteristics of the bureaucracy developed by the Tokugawa Shogunate to those of East Asian countries during the same period should also become an academically meaningful task. I would like to continue contributing to the study of political history in the Edo period by going beyond the traditional framework by focusing on hatamoto and their territories in various parts of Japan and closely examining historical records on both samurai warriors and villages.

The document a hatamoto submits to the Tokugawa Shogunate at the time of assuming the role (prepared in the 19th century, the Cabinet Library at the National Archives of Japan)

A monument erected by village officials honoring their Tokugawa Shogunate official (hatamoto) (installed in 1828, Higashine City, Yamagata Prefecture)

Principal areas of interest

  • Analyze the lordship of hatamoto
  • Explain the relationship between Edo and surrounding villages
  • Political activities of influential individuals in regions under direct control of the Tokugawa Shogunate

Assistant Professor

Fujikata Hiroyuki

Assistant Professor

Family history in early modern Japan

Theme: Elucidating early modern Japan through the household unit

The household unit was the basic unit that comprised many social status groups in early modern Japan. These household units were intended to be succeeded directly and permanently from father to son regardless of the unit’s social status. For example, the household unit was the basic unit of the political powers which were ruling Japan at the time, such as the Tokugawa shogunate and domains. However, unlike peasant and merchant household units, samurai ones were united vertically, together forming the “family” of the lord. Therefore, the continuance of a vassal’s household unit not only was a private matter of that family and its relatives, but also important for the stable operation of a power structure. I study issues relating to these samurai’s household units by examining the vassals of domains. In particular, I focus on the various activities which arise around household units?specifically, policies of lords and vassals’ activities?and analyze the structure of samurai society in early modern Japan. This research not only deeply analyzes the history of samurai, but also contributes to elucidating the structure of overall society at the time. Furthermore, this is also research for understanding modern Japanese society, as the Meiji government utilized the samurai household unit as a model for the family system, which became a foundation of the nation-state.

A letter of a lord awarding territory to a vassal in 1865(the red writing was written in the Meiji era, and indicates the end of the shogunate-domain system).

Surveying old manuscripts (photographed by the author in September 2013).

Principal areas of interest

  • Household units of Daimyo vassals in early modern Japan
  • The dominance of Murayama county in Dewa province, and village societies
  • The samurai after the beginning of the Meiji era

Research Fellow

Runa Inoue

Japanese Art History, History of Painting

Clarifying Forms of Early Modern Japanese Painting and Changes in These Forms

I study early modern Japanese painting with a focus on portraiture. In particular, I analyze forms of portrait painting, and am currently engaged in the study of the Ishuretsuzo. These works were painted in 1790 by Hakyo Kakizaki, a chief retainer of the Matsumae domain. Kakizaki was both a samurai and a famous artist. The Ishuretsuzo refers to the portraits of 12 Ainu chieftains who cooperated with the Matsumae domain following the Menashi-Kunashiri Battle, an Ainu uprising that took place in Ezochi. These pieces have certain characteristics: the figures are precisely painted using brilliant colors on small surfaces. The fact that this painting was appreciated by Emperor Kokaku and that copies were made by other artists indicates that it had a significant effect on society at that time. Having attracted such attention, the Ishuretsuzo are therefore not only valued for their theme and for what they depict, but also for continuing a form of painting. I would like to reveal something about early modern Japanese culture and the values that permeated that society by elucidating changes to artistic forms that are concealed in such paintings.

Principal areas of interest

  • Continuation of the Ishuretsuzo form
  • Research on the artistic activities of Hakyo Kakizaki
  • Examination of materials related to the history of disasters in Miyagi Prefecture

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