- Edo and Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era
Edo and Paris marks a watershed in Western-language historical scholarship on Japan, in that it is a comparative study that does not take early modern Japan as an anomaly to be dismissed as a quaint but ultimately irrelevant oddity. The editors have successfully assembled a collection of nineteen interpretive essays and studies that actually compare (implying that common issues and structures exist to be compared) the two urban spaces of Paris and Edo. Before Edo was renamed Tôkyô, or “Eastern Capital,” in 1868, it had developed as the center of a complex military bureaucracy that had grown in authority since the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, had chosen that location for his capital in 1603. Edo shared much with Paris, growing rapidly from modest beginnings to become eventually a microcosm of the entire region around it. Edo and Paris both absorbed outside influences and then quickly radiated them to the outside, to the point that both cities eventually became synonymous with the culture of the state as a whole. The contributors to Edo and Paris carefully examine the dynamics—material and intellectual—behind such developments in both cities.
The collection of essays, the result of a symposium of nearly fifty urban historians held in Tokyo in 1990, is divided into five sections that follow a highly insightful overview by John L. McClain and John M. Merriman: “Governance”; “Space”; “Provisioning”; “Culture” and finally, “Resistance.” The collection closes with an integrative essay by McClain and Ugawa Kaoru. A book like this one will not succeed if it lacks a compelling thesis, and fortunately, Edo and Paris accomplishes its editors’ aims. The authors argue through their examination of urban spaces from multiple perspectives that an interrelationship exists between the conscious construction of urban centers by a power elite and the concomitant rise of the early modern state. The states of France under Louis XIV and of Japan under the Tokugawas could not have existed without their respective capital cities, and conversely, the capitals could not have developed as they did without the structure and the legitimacy that the notion of statehood provided them. “Absolute rule,” for example, existed in Edo and Paris less in the person of the ruler himself than in the bureaucratic structures that rulers and their ministers built over time. Rule may have been [End Page 329] absolute, but it was no longer direct. “Like the physical appearance of the city itself, the jacket of government resembled a quilted fabric in which separate threads of authority ran from the shogun through the major offices . . . and then spun themselves out in various directions” (15). In other words, we are looking at an early modern state.
Among the several informative essays in the book, this reviewer found especially rewarding the essays on “akubasho” (notorious places) in early Edo, by Jurgis Elisonas, and on the rise of the book as a commodity in Edo and Paris, by Henry D. Smith II. While examining what Japanese writers communicated—or failed to communicate—to pilgrims (tourists?) to the various sights of Edo, Elisonas introduces us to the erudite samurai poet Toda Mosui and his surprisingly frank (and well-informed) guide to the city, “A Sprig of Purple” (ms., 1683). Likewise, in “Sprig” we discover some of the “quintessential literary spirit of Edo” that would appear in full force some eight decades later. In his tantalizing discussion of books and their cultural milieus in Edo and Paris, Smith touches upon such issues as orality in literacy, printed media in urban and rural settings, and the contrast between the private lending libraries that traveled throughout Japan and the public reading rooms of Paris. Smith underscores how much work remains to be done before a comprehensive history of books in Japan can appear and that without understanding print culture outside of Europe, we can never claim to know what print media “meant” in the eighteenth...