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date: 26 September 2022

Domestic Commerce during the Tokugawa Periodlocked

Domestic Commerce during the Tokugawa Periodlocked

  • Martha ChaiklinMartha ChaiklinIndian Ocean World Centre


Under Pax Tokugawa, a wide variety of social, political, and economic factors coalesced to allow commerce in Japan to flourish to a theretofore unprecedented degree. The preceding century of civil war had had relatively little impact on the economy, but the removal of barriers to expansion such as toll roads that had been erected by warring daimyo (feudal lords) allowed the mechanisms of commerce that already existed in domanial economies to expand exponentially. Increased agricultural productivity and prosperity engendered a population boom in the 17th century.

In 1635, the formal institution of sankin kōtai—a hostage system designed to ensure peace and prevent excessive accumulation of wealth in the provinces, usually translated as “alternate attendance”—created a movement of people and goods across the country that stimulated urbanization. The number of cities increased as did their sizes, with the largest of them, Edo, reaching an estimated million inhabitants by 1700. Robust distribution networks proliferated to support this urbanization, leading to greater monetization and consumerism.

To support improving living standards and the need for revenue, the daimyo promoted the development of regional specialties, many of which flourished, buttressed by increased travel among all segments of society. Competition led to the development of branding and marketing. Merchants, who, according to Confucian ideals, were at the bottom of the social structure, became a larger and more important part of society in this period, resulting in the creation of unique ethical codes, religious sects, and philosophies geared to their specific needs and anxieties. Merchant houses, monopolies, and trade organizations formed. Some of the more successful—such as Mitsui and Sumitomo—would, in the late 19th century, form zaibatsu, and they still continue to exert influence on Japanese commerce.


  • Economic/Business
  • Japan

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