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The Merchant Class Of Feudal Japan

Guest Author - Joy Alari

Traditionally Japan is a nation of farmers, so every square inch of arable land was put into good use. Eons ago, the people in power such as the Shoguns would give out land, to peasant farmers in return for military service, as well as a share in the harvested crops. This stint in military service eventually led to a standing army, with the samurai class as leaders, these two classes were well respected because of their value to the Japanese society.

As the monetary systems of China improved, so did the Merchant class of Japan but they were not respected, the people looked down on the Merchant class because they thought, they were all a bunch of dishonest rogues, who were always on the look out for ways, to cheat them off their hard earned money.
So payments for transactions which was usually in coins, would be wrapped to hide their presence.

The Government's mode of constant taxation, also didn't help matters and though agriculture was a huge part of the economy, the poor peasant farmers could not make enough for themselves and their families because they continually struggled, under the weight of the heavy taxes but money lending and trade which was frowned upon, was equally taxed as well.

A national system was developed in the 1400s, through the incorporating of textiles, books, food as well as other goods. The center of rice market was in Osaka and every Daimyo, would exchange rice for Cash, to support themselves and their family.
The Samurais were usually paid a fixed income but the Merchants were given free hand to set prices for their goods, this gave the Merchants class so much autonomy, that they usually inflated their prices.

The period of peace in the 1500s, led to more socialization and intimate gatherings, as some of the merchants adopted the tea business as well, the merchants turned themselves into tea masters because the Japanese tea ceremony was back in fashion.
With more leisure time, it was inevitable that the Samurai, as well as the rich merchants from Kyoto and Sakai would regularly, bump into each other and thus socialize more.

Money was also in circulation, this made the people happy as they could now spend as they wished. Harvests were also good and this ensured that, the peasant farmers also had cash as well and with more cash in hand the need for a heir, was no longer a top issue because the people, began to adopt and thus lived longer, without the stress of child bearing.

During the Tokugawa era, the populace of Japan could be classified as Samurai, Peasant, Artisans with the Merchant class coming last but contrary to all expectations, it was the Merchant class that really benefited most from this era.

The Samurais had to survive on their fixed incomes, especially the income coming from the poor peasants hard work on their loaned farms, so it was no surprise that the merchant class, who got the major part of their wealth from their "sometimes inflated" prices of goods and services.
Even though the Merchants didn’t display their wealth, especially because of the Government’s edicts on non-display of wealth, the people could still see beyond their doorsteps and deduce that the Merchants enjoyed immeasurable wealth.

The floating world of pleasure and complacency, was now the theme of the Japanese society, which was a change from the old and sorrowful Buddhist roots. It was obvious to all that life would now be exciting, since the society was no more status based but cash driven.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Joy Alari. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Joy Alari. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Ching Kin Min for details.

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