Vice Divisional Director／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.
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
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
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.
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
History of Japan, History of Thought
What defines people’s behavior? —A Case Study of 19th Century ‘Tohoku’—
Since the Edo period, the Tohoku region has faced frequent disasters such as bad harvests and famines, and these have caused a large number of casualties. Moreover, industrialization was delayed after the Meiji era, and the Tohoku region was gradually positioned as a backward region. As a result, Tohoku received a negative image of “poverty” and became known as a “dark and unchanging” region, which diverges from reality. Historical studies have also argued that wealthy farmers and merchants in the Tohoku region have suppressed the nago (lower class peasants), that this is a society with significant economic disparities. However, are such theories correct? To promote new research, we have examined in detail the formation of ideas (collection formation and acceptance of books) of wealthy farmers and wealthy merchants, mainly those in the Hachinohe domain in the 19th century, and shown the diversity of these people. We have also examined how the differences in positions arose due to the uneven distribution of books. In the future, we would like to examine in more detail what regulated the behavior of people in this area, focusing on the lord of the domain and physicians residing in the village. At the same time, we would like to clarify the social and cultural characteristics, including trends in mining, a major industry in the Tohoku region in the 19th century.
One of the places where Nanbu Nobumasa, lord of Hachinohe Domain, is believed to have composed Chinese poetry (Kabushima, Samemachi, Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture)
Border mound between Morioka Domain and Sendai Domain (Boundary mound) (Nishine, Kanegasaki Town, Isawa District, Iwate Prefecture)
Principal areas of interest
- Formulation of the idea of wealthy farmers and wealthy merchants in 19th century “Tohoku”
- Mechanism of “Pollution” in 19th Century Mines
- History of book loan networks and public libraries