- Lust, Commerce, and Corruption: An Account of What I Have Seen and Heard, by an Edo Samurai by Mark Teeuwen et al.
In the opening and closing scenes of the film Garibaldi’s Lovers (Il comandante e la cicogna, directed by Silvio Soldini, 2012), a dejected Giuseppe Garibaldi—in the form of his equestrian statue erected near the busy intersection of a contemporary Italian city—looks down at the country he had helped create a century and a half earlier and bemoans its sorry state. What the general sees from his vantage point atop the monument is a parade of backstabbers, vandals, and buffoons engaging in acts of incivility, abuse, and deception: “They yearn not for the common good or for justice,” he laments; “they’ve lost sight of real ideals and are duped by petty promises.” Unlike Garibaldi, the samurai who penned Seji kenbunroku (Matters of the World: An Account of What I Have Seen and Heard, 1816) under the pseudonym Buyō Inshi did not contribute to the unification of his country, but in many ways his comments echo those of the maker of modern Italy, or at least those of his cinematographic reincarnation. Like Garibaldi, Buyō, too, laments the decline of a society that has forgotten the ideals upon which it was built and in which almost everyone has been “carried away by luxury and crimes of passion” (p. 345).
To the joy of scholars and instructors of early modern Japanese history, Buyō’s woeful assessment of his times is now available in English as Lust, Commerce, and Corruption: An Account of What I Have Seen and Heard, by an Edo Samurai. The book is highly accessible owing to the quality of the translation; the inclusion of several maps and a glossary; the addition of annotations and citations of the sources Buyō quotes without attribution; and the editorial choice to break down Buyō’s narrative into distinct sections absent in the original work. Moreover, the delightfully thorough introductory essay (“Buyō Inshi and His Times”) situates Buyō’s work within its broader historical context and offers a compelling list of the specific events that likely shaped his worldview: the ineffective reforms launched during the Kyōhō and Kansei periods, which resulted in compromises with merchants rather than in the curbing of their powers, and the economic woes of the Kantō region, which Buyō “projects . . . on Japan as a whole” (p. 27). Thus, Lust, Commerce, and Corruption makes a difficult and important Edo-period text not only accessible to students but useful to scholars as well. [End Page 155]
Buyō’s work is a good reminder that, for some observers of the time, the glitzy urban culture of the late Edo period did not elicit feelings of joy and celebration, but of nostalgia and disappointment. The gist of Buyō’s argument is that the Great Peace “transformed the world” (p. 42), paving the way for freedoms and excesses that turned a once-perfect society on its head. Money ruined everything, according to Buyō; as he puts it, “the world has grown too prosperous for its own good” (p. 175). The only way to halt the collapse of society entails a return to the ways of the past. Buyō’s holy grail is the age of the Divine Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu, about whom he always speaks “in awe” (p. 426) and in virtually hagiographic terms.
Buyō’s lengthy disquisition on the ills of his day opens with a somber assessment of the detrimental repercussions of peace and affluence on the samurai: some warriors have become “concerned solely with convenience” (p. 42), others are destitute and “with their backs against the wall” (p. 59), and most have lost any sense of what it means to be a fighter and “have become like women” (p. 43). In chapter 2, Buyō turns to the farmers, scolding those who...