A Welcome Find

One of the very interesting things I discovered doing my dissertation was the relatively meager state of scholarship on Meiji era financial institutions, particularly on the ways in which Japanese used (and avoided) new systems of savings, transfers/remittances, loans, etc. I ended up being quite impressed by the financial sophistication of supposedly unsophisticated peasant migrant laborers, and considerably more sympathetic to the assumptions of economic history as a result.

My advisor even tried to steer me in that direction: I had to do some background reading on the Yokohama Specie Bank, which played a role in early Hawai’i-Japan remittances (by establishing one of Japan’s first overseas bank branches!), and he was disappointed that the bank itself did not sufficiently fire my historical curiousity that I might take it up as a topic in itself. It is true, though, that there remain questions which I can’t answer to my own satisfaction because I don’t know enough about Meiji banking.

Well, Sharon Howard forwarded me a link to Michael Schlitz’s Histor¥ which is described both as a “weblog about Meiji financial reforms” and (quite tantalizingly) an “opensource project on Japanese financial history 1850-1917.” I’m thrilled to see this topic getting the attention it deserves and available on-line, to boot! Now, I just need time to read through his archives and make notes….


  1. Thank you for identifying Schlitz’s website. I, for one, do enjoy these type of sites where economic history can be studfied or viewed. I do find it somewhat funny, though, that Michael refers to history as being in some type of conspiracy. I saw some talk show where Senator Schumer mentiolned that conspiracy was against the law (this was in relations to the Plame affair), and so I thought that perhaps some vigilant DA should bring charges against history, Michael can give supporting evidence for the complicity of history in this conspiracy.

    I am also rather suspicious over his brief overview of the tri-metalic coinage system used in Tokugawas japan. He referred to the Gold as used by Samurai, Silver by tradesmen, and Copper used by common people. Immediately I wondered if the samurai used gold when they purchased paper, or silk for their kimonos, or for the food.

  2. I can’t seem to find the conspiracy comment, but I did find the tri-metallic coinage discussion. I agree that there’s something overly schematic about it (particularly given plenty of contemporary sources that describe samurai using silver and copper coinage, merchants using gold, etc), but I don’t think it’s entirely whacky, either. In a multi-metallic coinage system with floating exchange rates, most people would probably try to keep their transactions uni-metallic, which would help explain the existence of multiple denominations in each metal (though one thing about the denomination comments confuses me: I thought there was only one standard size copper coin). Moreover, there is a strong association with gold/stipend/gift/samurai, silver/weight/merchants and copper was for everyone….

    I’m going to have to root around in there a bit more carefully, though, I can tell.

  3. I am not in opposition to thinking that most transactions involving Gold were conducted by a samural class. Nor that most activities involving silver were conducted by tradesmen, and copper by everyone. I do not think I would go along with the idea that people have a tendency to only want to transact business in one metal only. As an example, although not quite the same, but it will give some idea to my thinking. In the USA, not everyone uses $100 or $500 dollar bills. That is because their use is for practical purposes conducted for large transactions. Most people use $1, $5, $10 bill. That does not mean that only drug dealers use $100 bills and the common people use $1 bills. Copper coins would generally be used by most people because most items they procured were more conveniently bought using copper coins. Tradesmen would obviously take in large amounts of copper coins. They probably would use silver to pay their taxes and purchase largee quantities of mercandise just because it was more convenient to do so.

    History conspiring comments were in the earlier sections, I think before he went into his comments on semantics. I skipped that section, although it may be useful to read. But, given this is an economic history, I would have preferred his basis of economic theory (I myself am in the Austrian Economic School, but if you are a Marxist or a keynesian or perhaps follow Friedman, it is nice to know. To me, the semantics theory only reflects on the public relations part of the history.

  4. What do you know about a nasty little Taiwanese author names Ko Bunyu whose is resident in Japan and who been printing some unplesent anti-China books?

  5. I think I know who you are talking about. Don’t know much about him except that I ignore anything his name is on in Japanese bookstores. He has a whole section dedicated to him at the Yasukuni shrine museum Yûshûkan as well, Japanese right-wingers are a big fan, if it is the guy who I am thinking of.

  6. Hi John and Jonathan, thanks for paying attention to my webproject. Concerning the differentiation of standards, I mainly wanted to draw attention to the importance and realities of social stratification. It is indeed amazing that the denominations of gold, or silver, or copper were relatively independent from the other two metals. Or: it is not so amazing if one considers that the social and regional differentiation of feudal socieites make it hard to speak of a ‘standard’ after all. Obviously, the samurai class did not only use gold, nor did the merchants only use silver, but the use of metals was remarkably consistent with (a) certain social class(es). That is simply to say that premodern or, in this case: feudal, economies, are less integrated than we are used to in modern times. Certain social practices (e.g. the practice of the gift in the samurai class) make it necessary to speak of different types of economies. For instance: gift economies do not function as market economies, as a wealth of sociological data make clear.

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