restricted access Chapter 10. Inventorying Nature: Tokugawa Yoshimune and the Sponsorship of Honzōgaku in Eighteenth-Century Japan
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189 10 Inventorying Nature Tokugawa Yoshimune and the Sponsorship of Honzōgaku in Eighteenth-Century Japan Federico Marcon Our friend Robinson Crusoe learns this by experience, and having saved a watch, a ledger, ink and pen from the shipwreck, he soon begins, like a good Englishman, to keep a set of books. His stock-book contains a catalogue of the useful objects he possesses, of the various operations necessary for their production, and finally of the labour-time that specific quantities of these products have on average cost him. —Karl Marx, Capital Channeling Luck, Controlling Resources Ihara Saikaku (1642–1693), chronicler of merchant life in early modern Japan, seemed to share his contemporaries’ belief that chance was the most important source of business prosperity: “Fortune be to merchants, luck in buying and happiness in selling!” he recited at the beginning of his Seken munezan’yō (Worldly mental calculations, 1692).1 On the other hand, Saikaku’s urban heroes nicely fit John Stuart Mill’s definition of homo economicus when they act in his merchant tales as “a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end.”2 His shopkeepers, artisans, and wholesale traders are well aware that if chance is a fundamental component of success, there are also means at the disposal of ingenious and industrious businessmen to catalyze luck: “Getting rich,” Saikaku explained, “is a matter of luck, we say; but this is simply an expression. In point of fact, a man builds his fortune and brings prosperity to his family by means of his own wit and ingenuity.”3 The preoccupations of Saikaku’s townsmen with financial prosperity—what renders Saikaku’s stories so familiar to us—reveal the degree of how, already by Federico Marcon 190 the end of the seventeenth century (just less than a century after the founding of the Tokugawa regime), the lives of Japanese of all social classes had increasingly adjusted to the logic of the market and of profit. The monetization of trade that had begun in the fifteenth century encompassed now almost all economic activities . With the establishment of the Dōjima Rice Exchange (Dōjima Kome Ichiba) in 1697, the logic of the market came to exercise a strong influence over political affairs simply by controlling the exchange rate of rice, the formal unit of measurement of wealth and power among the samurai political elites, for money, the actual measurement of wealth in the larger field of economic transactions. In other words, the incremental separation of the political and the economic spheres—a structural creation of the compound regime of the Tokugawa that Yoshimune’s reforms accelerated—created a situation in which the wealth of the ruling elites was increasingly at the mercy of the ups and downs of the market. Channeling luck into more profit and managing misfortunes with back-up plans were certainly central concerns for wealthy peasants, artisans, and merchants , as Saikaku’s lively stories show. As the growing volume of trade in international and, especially, domestic markets required the ruling samurai elites to exercise an active role in the economic life of the various domains, the necessity of “managing” luck became a matter that called for political attention. This chapter reconstructs the organizational effort of a massive survey campaign of all vegetal and animal species living and growing in Japan, carried on under shogunal oversight between 1734 and 1736 and resulting in a load of statistical data unprecedented in world history for quantitative and qualitative magnitude .4 The pharmacologist Niwa Shōhaku, the mind behind the formidable organization of the resource inventory, acted under the aegis of Tokugawa Yoshimune to mobilize retainers of all domains to carry on the survey locally at the smallest village level. Like one of Saikaku’s shopkeepers, Shōhaku knew that to channel luck and secure profit one had to take control over one’s labor and resources. The first days of the New Year, Saikaku instructed, are “the time for merchants to bind their ledgers, take inventory, and open the vaults to inspect their silver.” What Shōhaku achieved was the creation of “national ledgers” where an inventory of the natural riches of the state could be recorded in an orderly fashion. The organization of the surveys under Yoshimune brought fundamental changes to the study of nature in early modern Japan. Under his rule, the bakufu sponsored scholars such as Abe Shōō, Norō Genjō, Uemura Saheiji, Aoki Kon...