previous chapter
Chapter Two Not Quite Capitalism The Rise and Fall of the Contract-Fishery System
next chapter

Chapter Two
Not Quite Capitalism
The Rise and Fall of the Contract-Fishery System

A giant octopus appeared off the Japan Sea coast of Hokkaido at Yoichi in the ninth month of 1828. Its twelve-foot head and sixty-foot tentacles "filled the sky with a shining, blue light." Local fishers adhered to a belief system that could handle the physical and spiritual damage inflicted by bears, foxes, and whales, but through some oversight they had failed to provide for monster octopuses. After consulting at the local shrine, they prudently decided to stay out of the water until the rogue cephalopod left of its own accord, which it did a couple of days later.[1]

Hayashi Chozaemon , who operated the Yoichi fishery, could hardly have been pleased to see two days' salmon catch escape, but, after all, it was his own son, Heikichi, who had first discovered the octopus. At any rate, he and his workers could afford the luxury of their beliefs because it was already well into autumn, long past the spring herring runs that provided up to eighty percent of their annual income. Six months earlier they might have tried to think of some way to accommodate the beast without losing any fish.

Chozaemon was the contractor (ukeoinin ) of the Upper and Lower Yoichi fisheries (basho ). He was a merchant, not a fisherman, at heart, though his business included fishing operations as well as the generally more lucrative processing and marketing of marine products. He also lent money to small fishers as a profitable sideline. He secured his rights as contractor by paying an annual fee (unjokin ) to the Matsumae domain in exchange for a monopoly over trade with local Ainu residents. "Trade," by 1828, was broadly interpreted to include supervision of fishing opera-


25

tions by the native people. In addition, as an increasing number of small fishers from the Wajinchi (southern Hokkaido)[2] and Tohoku came seasonally to fish, Chozaemon and contractors like him assumed broad powers over Wajin as well, including local political authority delegated by the domain and monopsonistic rights to fish landed within their fisheries.

The purpose of this chapter is to examine the relationship between merchant capital and the state in the emergence and growth of the Hokkaido herring fishery between about 1672 and 1868. It will serve as an introduction to Chapter 3, which covers social and economic developments within the fishery during the same period. The two discussions are separated to highlight the dual nature of the basic problem at hand—that is, that the transformation to capitalism manifested itself both at the level of state policy and institutions and at the level of economic and social relations among individuals. The contract-fishery system will figure prominently in both discussions, for it was the nexus between state and economy in Hokkaido.

The contract-fishery system was the cornerstone of the Matsumae economy. It put production of a large proportion of the domain's most important commodity under the control of a handful of merchants. And because that commodity was so important economically, the system shaped the development of Hokkaido society as well. The Matsumae domain, working within the constraints of the bakuhan system, developed institutions like contracting to ensure that trade between Hokkaido and the rest of Japan was conducted on its own terms. Although it was not the only domain to rely heavily on nonagricultural pursuits, Matsumae was unique in that it never even bothered to maintain the fiction that rice cultivation was the mainstay of its economy and society.[3] So while rice, not herring, made the rest of the Tokugawa world go around, the populace of Hokkaido—Wajin and Ainu alike—depended throughout the period on trade with Honshu for their livelihood and on fishing, especially herring fishing, to fuel that trade.

The contract-fishery system as Hayashi Chozaemon knew it was the product of two centuries of institutional evolution. The Matsumae domain began as an intermediary in trade between the Ezochi (Hokkaido beyond the Wajinchi) and the rest of Japan. Fishing emerged in the late seventeenth century as an outgrowth of that trade, and the institutions governing commercial fishing reflected those origins. In lieu of fiefs high-ranking retainers received rights to operate trading posts (akinaiba ) scattered along the coast of Hokkaido north of the Wajinchi. The samurai sent boats laden with ironware, sake, rice, tobacco, clothing, and other


26

household items to exchange for exotic products like bear gallbladders, falcon feathers, and sea-mammal pelts, as well as fish, which they then sold for cash. Between the late seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries merchants gradually took over management of the trading posts in exchange for a set, annual fee. Eventually, instead of simply trading for whatever the Ainu offered, the merchants began to supervise herring, salmon, and other fishing operations themselves, so that by the time Hayashi Chozaemon took over the Yoichi fishery in 1811 there was no question that fishing, not simple trade, was the basis of the contracting institution.

Chozaemon and his three dozen peers, along with a group of shipping agents and fertilizer brokers, were responsible for whatever economic well-being the Matsumae domain enjoyed. Only through the merchants' organization and contacts with commercial houses in Omi and Osaka was it possible to market the herring-meal fertilizer that was the domain's major revenue earner. Indeed, the emergence of the contracting system in the eighteenth century saved Matsumae from financial and political ruin. The domain appreciated the merchants' position and responded accordingly by creating institutions designed to ensure the contractors' continued domination of fishing.[4]

The dependence was mutual. Men like Hayashi Chozaemon were privileged merchants. Their prosperity derived from the protection of the Matsumae domain. At the same time, although they probably neither intended nor even realized it, they represented a new way of organizing production. Their privileged position allowed them to create fishing empires that operated on a far greater scale than anything the fishers of Matsumae could match. The contractors were not, however, capitalists. Indeed, given a choice between being privileged merchants or capitalist entrepreneurs—and many were, in effect, given such a choice—most would have chosen privilege. But almost despite themselves they paved the way for the development of capitalist fishing in the Meiji period.

Small fishers had to live with the fact of the contractors' privileged position. In many ways this was easy enough to do, as the contractors invested heavily in the buildings, boat landings, warehouses, and shrines and temples that made it possible for small operators to fish herring in the Ezochi in the first place. But small fishers also had ample cause to dislike or at least to mistrust the merchants. For one thing, the contractors did not provide their civil services for free: they could claim up to about half a fisher's catch in the form of access fees, interest on loans, and commissions for transporting and marketing the fish. Moreover, the contrac-


27

tors did not hesitate to use their privilege and power to their own advantage when their interests and those of the small fishers clashed. Indeed, by the end of the Tokugawa period most contractors had made such free use of their privilege and power that their operations could not remain afloat without the income from fees, interest, and commissions levied on small fishers.

So long as there was some kind of equilibrium of domination and dependence-and there usually was—the contractors and fishers put up with each other. During the last decade of the Tokugawa period, however, the merchants' stranglehold on access to markets and their early monopolization of new and efficient fishing technology caused unrest among their clients and led to a series of disputes with small fishers. Yet during the same decade, after the bakufu assumed direct control over Hokkaido, fishers in Matsumae conducted a campaign to have the daimyo reinstated, in part to protect the contract-fishery system and with it their own livelihoods.

The institutions created by the Matsumae domain weakened during the final decades of the Tokugawa period and fell apart quickly after the Meiji Restoration. The new regime's colonial administrative organ, the Development Agency (Kaitakushi), abolished the contract-fishery system in 1869 and rescinded the contractors' special economic privileges and political authority in stages through 1876.[5] The new government, over the course of the late nineteenth century, introduced new ideas of fishing rights and land tenure that changed the economic structure of the herring fishery and with it the social relations of herring-fishing communities. Unrestricted migration to productive fisheries, heightened demand for herring meal, and improvements in the technology of herring fishing led to production far greater than under the contract-fishery system.

The Origins and Nature of the Matsumae Domain

Two characteristics of the Matsumae domain had a decisive influence on the formation of Hokkaido society and institutions, including, of course, the herring fishery. The first was the presence of a sizable indigenous ethnic group, the Ainu. The second was the lack of agriculture, particularly rice cultivation, on an economically significant scale. The two are more closely related than they might appear, for the ready availability of opportunities to trade with the Ainu gave domain leaders little incentive to promote farming. The domain's reliance on the Ainu trade and its consequent lack of an agricultural base meant that its institutions were founded


28

upon a set of mutual dependencies: the Ainu's dependence on Japanese commodities; its own dependence on the Ainu trade and the merchants who managed that trade; and the merchants' dependence on the domain for protection and privileges. The domain manipulated these dependencies to its own advantage by keeping the Wajin and Ainu populations separate and by reserving to itself the right to regulate trade and other contact between the two peoples. Matsumae institutions were thus not only highly conducive to commercialization, they were predicated upon it. Moreover, insofar as the Ezochi was left largely to the Ainu and the merchants sent to exploit them, the domain's position did not change even after trade was supplanted by fishing with Ainu labor.

The same institutions that were so well suited to commercialization, however, proved vulnerable in the face of the beginnings of capitalist development. Unlike the contract-fishery system, which worked to the mutual advantage of the domain and the contractors, the capitalist fishery developed outside Matsumae's network of dependencies. Rather, it emerged out of the household fishery and used Wajin instead of Ainu labor. As a result, large-scale fishing operations ceased to be the functional equivalent of the Ainu trade; and without the Ainu trade the domain had no legitimate reason to exist. Let us begin, then, with an examination of the institutional structure of the Ainu trade.

Bands of "armed merchants," as Kaiho Mineo calls them, began making incursions into Hokkaido from northern Honshu in the twelfth century, if not earlier.[6] By the mid-fifteenth century about a dozen strongmen, most notably Takeda Nobuhiro (1431-94), progenitor of the Kakizaki (later Matsumae) house, had established forts (tate ) in the Oshima peninsula in southern Hokkaido. Although they maintained ties to the warlords fighting for hegemony in Honshu, they differed from other Sengoku-period military men in that control over trade, not land, was their principal goal. Between 1457 and 1672 Wajin intruders fought against the Ainu and among themselves; Ainu natives fought against the Wajin and among themselves ; and all the while Wajin fishers and merchants established footholds in places like Nobuhiro's base of Kaminokuni and the port of Usukeshi (later Hakodate).[7]

The Matsumae domain became a part of the bakuhan state even before the Wajin-Ainu struggle had reached a decisive conclusion. The head of the Kakizaki house, renamed Matsumae Yoshihiro, received documents from the national hegemons Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1593) and Tokugawa leyasu (1604) affirming his right to trade with the Ainu.[8] The documents gave the Matsumae neither specific territorial rights nor a fic-


29

tive rice income, although in practice the head of the Matsumae house was usually accorded treatment equivalent to an outside (tozama ) daimyo with a 10,000-koku income. Moreover, the Matsumae did not have formal authority over the Ainu. Ieyasu's letter, which provided the model for those issued at each shogunal succession, granted the Matsumae house the power to regulate all Wajin human and commercial traffic between Hokkaido and Honshu, and it prohibited mistreatment of the Ainu, but a proviso specifically stated that the Ainu were free to come and go as they pleased.

The Ainu retained their formal freedom of movement until the failure of a war against Matsumae in 1672; the document issued in 1682, on the accession of the fifth shogun, Tsunayoshi, guaranteed them mobility only within the Ezochi.[9] Ainu boats in fact traded in ports in Tsugaru and the Shimokita peninsula through at least the 1640s, and the Ainu leaders of Shakushain's War (1669-72) clearly expected to secure steady supplies of necessary commodities from Tohoku domains had their struggle for independence from Matsumae been successful; evidence suggests that Tsugaru, at least, would have been happy to accommodate them. Even after 1672 Ainu in southern Hokkaido apparently maintained sporadic contact with the isolated Tohoku Ainu communities that survived in the Tsugaru and Shimokita peninsulas, and Ainu fishing boats, such as the one that landed near the Shimokita village of Shimofuro in 1833, occasionally drifted across the Tsugaru Strait. (In that instance the two Ainu fishers aboard were returned safely home after Nanbu domain officials first interrogated, then wined and dined, them.) These examples and the bakufu's formal guarantees of freedom notwithstanding, however, the Matsumae domain was generally successful in restricting Ainu access to markets outside of the Ezochi even before 1672.[10]

Shakushain's War, put down in 1672 by the Matsumae domain with the help (at bakufu orders) of Tsugaru, was the final attempt by the Ainu to preserve their political independence and regain control over the terms of their economic relations with the Wajin.[11] Shakushain, the chieftain of the Hidaka Ainu of eastern Hokkaido, led the struggle after the domain imposed a drastic reduction in the size of rice bales used for exchange, a move that made all Japanese commodities much more expensive for the Ainu. Shakushain's ultimate goal, however, was not simply to rectify the terms of trade but rather to eliminate the Wajin from Hokkaido entirely and thereby reestablish the Ainu's right to trade freely in Honshu.[12]

Although a bakufu official reportedly countered Shakushain's vow to eliminate the Wajin from Hokkaido with a threat to "kill all the Ainu"


30

(Ezo nokorazu metsubo ),[13] it would be a mistake to ascribe Shakushain's War primarily to ethnic hatred. Economic interest, rather than ethnic identity, motivated the actors in the conflict. This interest can be seen most readily in the presence of Ainu troops and spies in the Matsumae and Tsugaru forces, on the one hand, and in the participation of at least four Wajin on behalf of the Ainu, on the other hand. Indeed, one of the Wajin, Shodayu of Dewa province, was Shakushain's son-in-law.[14] More significantly, the Ainu rebellion failed in large part because Shakushain was unable to forge a viable alliance among the five major Hokkaido Ainu groups, whose relations had long been characterized by competition and conflict. Indeed, in 1668, just a year before Ainu forces launched attacks upon Wajin gold miners and falconers in the Ezochi, Shakushain had arranged the murder of a rival leader, Onibishi, thus breaking a truce between the two groups that a leading Matsumae retainer, Shimonokuni Hirosue, had mediated in 1655. According to Kaiho, competition for access to fish and animal pelts to trade with the domain had caused the dispute between the two chieftains.[15] Onibishi's supporters immediately approached the domain for weapons, provisions, and other assistance in their planned war of retribution. The domain did not provide support, and, thanks to apparently unfounded rumors that an emissary from Onibishi's group had been poisoned by domain officials, many of the slain chieftain's supporters eventually rallied around Shakushain's banner.[16] 16 In any event, the incident reveals that the Ainu were anything but a monolithic group.

The Matsumae domain, fearful of losing its territory, chose to try to bring the war to a quick conclusion rather than pursue total victory. Nevertheless, it took nearly three years for the domain forces to win a compromise settlement, in which the Ainu retained formal autonomy throughout most of Hokkaido and won important concessions on the rice-bale issue that was the immediate cause of the conflict. Still, it was enough of a victory that by the time the smoke cleared the Ainu had been driven out of the Oshima peninsula and into subjugation and Hokkaido was clearly divided into an area for the Wajin (the Wajinchi) and another for the Ainu (the Ezochi).

Kaiho has argued that the area of exclusive Wajin residence, the Wajinchi,[17] originally represented a Wajin sphere of influence, not unlike those held by a number of major Ainu chieftains. Shakushain's War resulted in both the defeat of politically powerful Ainu leaders and an expansion of the Wajin sphere, but the Matsumae victory was not nearly so complete as to permit the complete absorption of all of Hokkaido into


31

the domain. The domain instead ensured its monopoly over the Ainu-Wajin trade by formally segregating the two groups: Ainu could live and travel only within the Ezochi, and Wajin could enter the Ezochi only with domain permission and then only for limited periods. After the Ainu defeat in 1672 the Wajinchi was expanded to encompass most of the Oshima peninsula rather than the small district in the Matsumae peninsula that the Matsumae had controlled since 1550. As Kaiho has noted, the enlarged Wajinchi still comprised only about four percent of the area of Hokkaido, but, at 3,374 square kilometers (about the size of Rhode Island), it was larger than six modern prefectures and, of course, the overwhelming majority of early-modern domains. The effectiveness of the segregation policy can be seen, on the one hand, in the decline of the Ainu population of the Wajinchi from 152 in 1717 to 97 in 1761 and 12 in 1788, and, on the other hand, in the growth in the year-round Wajin population from 15,530 in 1716 to 26,564 in 1787.[18] The separation of the Wajin and Ainu populations not only facilitated the domain's enforcement of its bakufu-sanctioned monopoly on contact between the two peoples but also assured domain control over the development of the fishery when it eventually emerged. Indeed, it worked so well that Emori Susumu has suggested that the creation of the Wajinchi was the product of deliberate domain policy, rather than an ad hoc response to the incomplete military victory of 1672.[19]

The domain's segregation policy worked because the Ainu needed to trade. After their defeat by the Wajin, Ainu groups in southern and central Hokkaido could not simply retreat to the self-sufficiency of their ancestors. Centuries of contact with the Wajin had made the native people dependent on Japanese commodities, particularly ironware. Ainu leaders therefore had little choice but to continue their trade relationship with the Wajin. Moreover, because the war had resulted in the elimination of Ainu chieftains capable of commanding broad, regional loyalty, the native people succumbed to their exploitation without significant physical resistance, aside from a bloody uprising of mistreated fishery workers in northeastern Hokkaido in 1789.[20]

The Matsumae domain organized the Ainu trade through the creation of some sixty trading posts (akinaiba ) along the Ezochi coast, each corresponding roughly to the area under the influence of a local Ainu leader.[21] Under the system important retainers or the daimyo himself held exclusive rights to trade with local Ainu; a corollary, imposed after the failure of Shakushain's War, was that the Ainu had to trade with the retainer who held the nearest post. The system was functionally equivalent to en-


32

feoffment in other domains, although, as Kaiho has noted, it was predicated on exchange (however disadvantageous to the Ainu) rather than outright expropriation, and the retainers had no rights in the land per se.[22]

The retainers were permitted an annual trading mission to the posts under their control. Trade took a corrupted form of the Ainu umsa ceremony, in which an exchange of "gifts" accompanied a ritual submission to Wajin "protection" by the Ainu. The samurai derived monetary income by marketing the tribute received in this manner in Honshu. The institution did not, however, survive long in its original form. Sometime in the early eighteenth century ranking samurai began turning operation of their trading posts over to merchants in exchange for an annual fee. Both sides benefited, as the retainers were assured of a stable income and the merchants could utilize their connections in Omi and Osaka to run the posts at a profit. This sort of arrangement became more or less universal by the middle of the eighteenth century, when it became known as the contracting system (basho ukeoisei ).

The position of merchants in the domain would have been strong even had the Ainu trade been their only area of influence. It was doubly so, then, because of their role in the economy of a domain almost devoid of agricultural production. The Matsumae domain, born of trade, never made a serious attempt to overcome the considerable (but perhaps not insurmountable) difficulties associated with creating an economy based on agriculture in Hokkaido's harsh, northern climate. Rice was in fact beyond the capabilities of the time, but hardier grains like barley and millet were grown and taxed and could have formed the basis of an agricultural economy. In northern Tohoku , where the climate was not much more favorable for farming than in southern Hokkaido, virtually all Ainu had been assimilated, expelled, or exterminated before the Edo period, with the result that medieval trade networks disintegrated and the Tsugaru and Nanbu domains were left to develop institutions predicated upon the centrality of rice cultivation, however impractical that might be.[23]

The inability of the Matsumae domain to produce enough food to feed its population meant, of course, that the residents of the Wajinchi had to rely on trade with Honshu to acquire necessary commodities. Matsumae thus proved to be an especially congenial environment for merchant capital to dominate the domain and its population. Powerful merchant houses emerged in the three authorized ports of Fukuyama, Esashi, and Hakodate. The most influential merchants originated in the province of Omi and particularly the villages of Satsuma, Yanagawa, and Hachiman on the shores of Lake Biwa. The domain recognized their power by allowing them to form a special organization, the Ryohamagumi ,


33

which received preferential treatment in transactions involving the domain. The Ryohama merchants acted as shipping and marketing agents for samurai involved in the Ainu trade and dealt in marine products from the Wajinchi, buying either from small fishers or from the domain's stock of tax fish. They guided commodities entering and leaving Hokkai-do through the customs houses (okinokuchi bansho ) in the three authorized ports and either operated or were closely allied to the shipping agencies that carried merchandise down the Japan Sea coast and around to Osaka. Many of them eventually became involved in the contract fishery system.[24]

Let us pause here to consider the Matsumae domain's position within the Tokugawa polity and how the unusual circumstances of its origins affect our understanding of the nature of that polity. First, the "state" here refers both narrowly to the Matsumae domain and more broadly to the bakuhan system as whole. The imprecise use of such a key term merely reflects the ambivalent nature of the Tokugawa polity. In principle, the 260 or so domains retained autonomous authority over their own lands and people, while the bakufu exercised power over matters of national concern. In fact, the functional autonomy of the domains varied greatly depending on their size, location, and the historical relationship of their lords to the Tokugawa shogun; and in any case the domains widely emulated bakufu policies even when they were not, strictly speaking, required to do so.[25] In short, the domains articulated policies only within broad outlines established by the bakufu. Matsumae was no exception to this rule, its unique location, climate, and ethnic makeup notwithstanding. The contract-fishery system, like all of Matsumae's institutional responses to its unusual situation, was predicated upon the domain's participation as an integral part of the bakuhan system. Any reference to the policies of the Matsumae "state" must therefore carry with it at least an awareness of the sanctioning power of the bakufu.

Our discussion here is further complicated by the confusing administrative history of the island of Hokkaido. For most of the Tokugawa period Hokkaido was under the administration of the Matsumae domain, and the institutions of the commercial herring fishery all developed under its auspices. In that sense, the "state" with which fishers, contractors, and other participants in the fishing economy were most immediately concerned was the Matsumae domain. However, the bakufu twice assumed direct administration over large parts of Hokkaido, first between 1799 and 1821 and again from 1834 until the collapse of the Tokugawa regime in 1868; during the latter period, moreover, it assigned parcels of territory to six northeastern Honshu domains. Finally, both Matsumae


34

and the bakufu distinguished between the Wajinchi, seen as the "home" territory of the domain, and the Ezochi, which was ostensibly the autonomous realm of the Ainu, even if under the effective political control of Matsumae and the economic domination of the contract-fishery operators. Any ambiguities regarding Hokkaido's sovereignty concerned the Ezochi alone.

Asao Naohiro has argued that the three institutional pillars of the Tokugawa order were the policy of national "seclusion" (sakoku ), the use of putative rice yields (kokudaka ) to organize economic and political institutions, and the separation of the samurai and peasantry (heino bunri ).[26] The case of Matsumae reveals how surprisingly supple Tokugawa political institutions were in practice. The domain, as Kaiho has pointed out, seemingly met none of Asao's criteria for participation in the bakuhan system: its relations with the Ainu undermined the principle of "seclusion"; its failure to conduct land surveys and extremely low agricultural productivity left it without even a nominal assessed yield; and, consequently, there was no agricultural peasantry from which to separate the samurai.[27] Yet Matsumae was an integral part of the Tokugawa state. This apparent paradox can be resolved through a closer examination of each of these defining features of the early modern polity.

As the revisionist scholarship of Ronald Toby, Arano Yasunori, and others has demonstrated, the notion of national "seclusion" seriously misrepresents the Tokugawa bakufu's foreign policy.[28] Arano instead writes of the bakufu's prohibition on foreign travel (kaikin ) in the context of a bifurcated international order of "civilized" and "barbarian" countries modeled after the traditional Sinocentric world view (ka-i chitsujo ). Seen in this way, the bakufu's ordering of foreign contacts conformed to practice elsewhere in East Asia.[29] The prohibition of foreign travel did not isolate Japan but rather ensured that foreign relations would be conducted according to terms set by the bakufu. Inasmuch as the bakufu delegated responsibility for maintaining contacts with Korea, Ryukyu, and the Ainu to the Tsushima, Satsuma, and Matsumae domains as part of their respective feudal obligations, the fact that Matsumae was not "secluded" merely reflects its role as the bakufu's proxy.[30] .

A major purpose of the kokudaka system was to make explicit the relative status of the daimyo and hence to order their feudal obligations to the shogun.[31] Agricultural productivity was, at least in the early seventeenth century, a reasonable indicator of a domain's wealth and hence its ability to support the military potential that formed the core of its obligations to the bakufu. But there was never a necessary correlation between a domain's actual productivity—its "real" kokudaka —and its relative


35

standing in the institutional hierarchy of the bakuhan state, as reflected by its official kokudaka . In that respect, Matsumae's lack of agricultural production was not important so long as its obligations to the bakufu were clean Although it did in fact take more than a century for the bakufu finally to determine the value of Matsumae's contribution to the functioning of the Tokugawa state, its core obligation—maintenance of trade relations with the Ainu—remained unchanged throughout the early modern period.[32]

Kitajima Masamoto, following Sasaki Junnosuke, distinguishes between the separation of the samurai and peasantry (heino bunri ) as an organic process—that is, as a by-product of the social division of labor in late-sixteenth-century central Honshu—and heino bunri as an institution of the Tokugawa state, imposed in areas where a clear distinction between warriors and cultivators had not yet emerged.[33] In Matsumae the separation of the samurai from the merchants—the functional equivalent of heino bunri —was clearly an artificial imposition, and an incomplete one at that, considering the fact that the daimyo and his retainers traded with the Ainu[34] The fact remains, however, that the same social distinctions between samurai and nonsamurai were observed in Matsumae as elsewhere. In this critical respect Matsumae was no exception to the rule. After all, the point of the process was to identify the samurai as a distinct and privileged class.

In sum, Matsumae was hardly a "typical" domain, yet it conformed, in function if not form, to the major institutional patterns of the Tokugawa state. Matsumae's participation in the bakuhan system ensured that in responding to its unique circumstances its point of reference would always be the institutions of the broader state. In other words, for our purposes, social and economic relations within the herring fishery developed securely within the context of Tokugawa feudalism. This observation by no means denies the importance of the Hokkaido environment for the development of proto-industrial and capitalist production. Rather, it simply reveals that the Tokugawa polity was organized around a set of universal principles, which could be adapted even to such an unlikely location as Hokkaido.

The Contract-Fishery System

In 1691 the Matsumae domain declared that "no one shall discharge a firearm within earshot of the sea" during the second through fifth months. It might startle the herring; startled herring do not spawn, and only spawning herring come close enough to shore to be caught. Bonfires


36

scare herring, too, so the domain banned them as well. The domain also prohibited night fishing as dangerous and the loose casting of nets and float cutting as likely to cause contention among fishers. Such were the provisions of Matsumae's herring-fishing ordinances (nishinryo okite ), which were enforced by a number of herring magistrates (nisbin bansho bugyo ), who traveled around the Wajinchi each spring.[35] One might expect that a domain that took fishing seriously enough to make it a crime to frighten herring would formalize the central institution of its fishery in law, but it did not. Never formally created, only abolished, contracting was an institutional anomaly that emerged piecemeal over the course of the early eighteenth century as the daimyo and his retainers found it more convenient and more profitable to turn management of their trading posts over to merchants than to run them themselves.

Without a formal basis in domain law, the exact nature of the contracting institution necessarily remained ambivalent. Under the earliest contracts the merchants' only responsibility, other than paying the annual fee, was to "obey the laws of the land." However, by the nineteenth century the contractors had assumed an official function as agents of the state. Their contracts reflected this new responsibility with stipulations that they provide food to the Ainu; maintain roads, station houses, and facilities for government officials traveling in the Ezochi; rescue shipwreck survivors; keep an eye out for strange ships; and, perhaps most importantly, collect a levy of ten to twenty percent of the catch of independent fishers operating at their fisheries.[36] Contracts could run anywhere from three to twenty years, but renewable, seven-year leases were most common. The fee was negotiated on the basis of the productivity of the fishery. According to the figures in Table 1, the typical western Ezochi fishery in 1854 commanded a fee of about one ryo for every 7,500 kilograms of marine products processed. There was, however, a great deal of variation, in part because the profitability of a fishery depended on a number of factors other than productivity, such as its proximity to markets and the number of independent fishers who utilized the fishing grounds and therefore relied on the credit of the local contractor.

The fisheries spread with the influence of the Matsumae domain, appearing first in the southwest and extending north and east as far as Karafuto (southern Sakhalin) and Etorofu (in the Kurils) by the early nineteenth century. In 1786, there were thirty-eight contract fisheries in the eastern Ezochi and twenty-eight in the west, but the number fluctuated slightly as old ones were combined or became defunct and new ones were created.[37] Reflecting their greater productivity, the total fee for the


37

TABLE I
FEES AT CONTRACT FISHERIES
IN THE WESTERN EZOCHI, 1854


Fishery

Fee
(ryo )

Productivity
(metric tons)

Okushiri

32

Kudo

60.5

40

Futoro

50

342

Setanai

65

709

Shimakomaki

200

3,517

Suttsu

100

2,519

Utasutsu

210

1,324

Isoya

220.5

1,400

Iwanai

515

5,637

Furuu

197

4,376

Shakotan

219

2,897

Bikuni

215

2,822

Furubira

389.5

2,744

Yoichi

556

3,797

Oshoro

327

3,12

Takashima

350

2,411

Otarunai

547

1,805

Ishikari

1,039

3,610

Atsuta

340

3,604

Hamamashike

267

1,003

Mashike

1,350

11,447

Rurumoppe

1,045

2,815

Tomamae

(included with Rurumoppe)

 

Teshio

527

267

Soya

600

2,018

Rishiri

350

2,276

Rebunshiri

(included with Soya )

424

Shari

(included with Teshio)

750

Total

9,771.5

68,616

Average

349

2,541

SOURCE : Calculated from Shirayama, Matsumae Ezochi basho ukeoi seido no kenkyu , p. 107 (contracting fee for Yoichi fishery); fig. 3, following p. 264 (all other figures).


38

western fisheries was 3,932 ryo as compared with only 1,578 ryo for the east. By 1854, the figure for the western Ezochi fisheries had risen to 9,772 ryo , while those in the east commanded 8,608 ryo and those in Karafuto, 1,560 ryo . The rapid development of fishing in the Ezochi is evident from the jump in average fee per fishery from 71 ryo in 1786 to almost 407 ryo in 1854.[38]

The herring-meal fertilizer (nishin shimekasu ) that kept the contract fisheries in business and the Matsumae domain prosperous was apparently known in Tohoku from an early date but did not become a major commodity until cultivators of cotton and other commercial crops in Omi began using it sometime around the Kyoho period (1716-36). It spread through the Kinai region over the course of the eighteenth century and by the Meiji Restoration was found all over Japan. The introduction of herring meal relieved farmers of their dependence on dried sardines, which had grown prohibitively expensive as rapidly expanding demand outstripped limited supplies.[39] Although herring meal had to be transported over far greater distances to market than did dried sardines, after the Meiji Restoration it was almost always cheaper, the result of a combination of abundant supply and low production costs. By the beginning of the twentieth century herring meal and other herring fertilizers (such as dried herring and processed milt) dominated the commercial fertilizer market, outselling dried sardines by about fourteen to one.[40]

Herring and other marine products were shipped either to Japan Sea ports like Tsuruga and Obama for transshipment to the Kinai plain via Lake Biwa or, much more commonly, to Hyogo and Osaka via Shimonoseki. The Kinai region remained the main destination for shipments throughout the Tokugawa years, receiving about forty-four percent of the total in 1857, with another fourteen percent going to ports in nearby Kaga, Noto, Etchu , and Wakasa provinces on the Japan Sea coast. Herring meal was not common in the Kanto region until the mid-Meiji period, but that seems to have been the result of poor marketing as much as anything else.[41] The vessels used to carry merchandise to and from Hokkaido were kitarnaebune , large boats with capacities ranging from 500 to 1,000 koku (1,515 to 3,030 cubic meters). About 2,300 of the 2,500 boats sailing in 1857 were registered in Hokuriku provinces; another 120 were based in Matsumae and the rest in Tohoku and Pacific coast ports. The boats were operated by independent shippers, agents of the contractors, or by merchants involved in the herring trade but not in contracting.[42]

Most contractors spent little or no time at their fisheries. A few, such


39

as Takadaya Kahei in Etorofu, kidnapped by the Russians during the Golovnin Incident (in which the crew of a Russian surveying ship was held in Matsumae for two years), or Yamadaya Bun'emon, who discovered a scientific way to grow kelp, took great interest in their operations; others never even set foot on Hokkaido, much less their own fisheries. Indeed, some did not even really exist: when three Omi merchants combined their capital to run the Soya fishery, they put it in the name of a fictive merchant, Omiya Sobei , whose name can be rendered "all the Omi merchants.".[43]

Life at the contract fisheries centered on the store (unjoya ) and adjacent buildings. The manager (shihainin ) handled everyday business with the assistance of a bookkeeper (choba ) and an interpreter (tsuji ). The rank-and-file of Wajin laborers consisted of overseers (bannin ) and ordinary workers (kasegikata ), who participated in fishing, herring-meal processing, odd jobs, and supervision of Ainu labor.

The operators of the contract fisheries used Ainu labor whenever possible because it was cheap and available locally. It gradually became less available because of a steady decline in the Ainu population, which probably began in the seventeenth century or even earlier—largely as a result of smallpox and measles epidemics brought by Wajin—and continued unabated throughout the Tokugawa era. Between 1807, the first date for which even remotely reliable figures are available, and 1854, the Ainu population fell by more than twenty percent, from almost 24,000 to under 19,000.[44] As the number of Ainu in the western Ezochi fell, fishing contractors sometimes turned to their colleagues in the east for "loans" of native workers, but for the most part they augmented their labor force with workers from Tohoku and the Wajinchi.[45]

Those Ainu who survived the epidemics found that the intruders had preempted the most desirable lands in southern Hokkaido and introduced a pattern of wage work in contract fisheries that conflicted with traditional hunting and gathering routines.[46] They were thus confronted with an impossible choice: retreat to mountainous areas with insufficient resources or work in the spring and summer fisheries for poor wages and face the winter with inadequate food supplies. If they chose to work for the Wajin they were subjected to brutal working conditions under cruel and insensitive employers. Wajin workers and supervisors took advantage of the vulnerability of the Ainu to subject them to systematic and even institutionalized abuse. For example, the same contractors who put pregnant Ainu women to work carrying heavy loads insisted that because the fate of the native people was "in nature's hands, beyond any-


40

one's control," they could not be held responsible for the Ainu's welfare.[47] Far from protecting the native people, contractors and their agents, particularly interpreters, used their power to cheat them in trade, appropriate their women as concubines, and terrorize them into working harder.

The Ainu's position at the contract fisheries was so weak that resistance was difficult, and when it did occur was generally limited to individual acts of flight.[48] The only significant instance of organized physical resistance occurred in 1789, when Ainu workers at Kunashiri, in the southern Kurils, and Menashi, in northeastern Hokkaido, rose and killed seventy-one Wajin employees of the local contractor.[49] In addition to inflicting widespread physical and sexual abuse upon the local Ainu, Wajin workers at Kunashiri and Menashi engaged in extensive psychological terrorism: they drowned dogs before groups of Ainu, threatened to poison uncooperative workers, and, in one particularly disturbing instance, even placed an Ainu woman and her infant child in a large pot with the apparent intention of boiling them alive. Although some workers treated the Ainu well (the rebels made a point of sparing two who had been particularly kind), it is clear that the mistreatment was too extensive and too systematic to dismiss as the excesses of a few sadistic supervisors. The rebellion was quickly put down with the assistance of Ainu chieftains from neighboring districts—including even the father of one of the uprising's organizers—who relied too heavily on Matsumae's sponsorship for their leadership positions to allow the rebellion to succeed. This action alone testifies all too eloquently to the collapse of Ainu society.

The development of the contracting institution was greatly affected by the bakufu's intercession into the administration of the Ezochi, first between 1799 and 1821 and later from 1854 until the downfall of the Tokugawa regime in 1868.[50] The bakufu assumed responsibility for the Ezochi when it became apparent that the Matsumae domain was neither able nor particularly eager to deal with the threat posed by Russia. Moreover, the Ainu uprising of 1789 had occurred in the far northeast—just the area that seemed most vulnerable to foreign incursion—giving rise to the fear that Japanese claims to the Ezochi and Kurils would be jeopardized if the Ainu fled north to the protection and assimilating influence of the Russians.[51] In 1799 the bakufu took control of the eastern Ezochi and promptly abolished the contract fisheries in favor of a program of direct administration (jikisabaki ). Under the policy, the Nanbu and Tsugaru domains deployed garrisons to Hokkaido to cope with military exigencies, while bakufu officials administered fishing and the Ainu trade, supervised road and station-house construction projects, implemented Ainu welfare


41

programs, established Buddhist temples, and introduced iron coins to the region. The bakufu also opened trade offices in Hakodate and Edo and sent agents to major ports to buy or hire boats to transport Hokkaido products to Honshu. Officials even entertained plans for agricultural development and colonization, though they met with little success.[52]

In 1802 the bakufu made its takeover of the eastern Ezochi nominally permanent and switched administration from a five-member board of commissioners (the Ezochi torishirnari goyo gakari ) to two magistrates (Ezo or Hakodate bugyo ) who reported directly to the senior council (roju ) in Edo. John Stephan sees the period between 1799 and 1807 as one of positive achievement, as concerned and able officials, particularly Habuto Masayasu, overcame fiscal problems and a lack of enthusiasm in Edo to forge an aggressive and even profitable program of development throughout the eastern Ezochi. Direct administration was extended to the western Ezochi in the spring of 1807, but Habuto and his colleagues lost their opportunity to prove themselves there when they were forced to take responsibility for Russian raids on Rishiri island and Karafuto that summer.[53]

After 1807 bakufu concern turned almost wholly to defense. Consequently, the contract fisheries were never disturbed in the west, and the institution was reinstated in the east in 1813 with a new set of contractors. After the amicable resolution of the Golovnin Incident in 1813, Russo-Japanese relations remained good—that is, there were none—until the opening of the first treaty ports in 1854, with the result that support for direct administration waned, despite the fact that the policy was generating annual profits of about 20,000 ryo for the bakufu. The decision to return the Ezochi to the Matsumae domain in 1821 apparently came after vigorous lobbying by Matsumae, which, languishing in a far less lucrative territory at Yanagawa in Tohoku , had been forced to fire most of its low-ranking samurai.[54]

The legacy of the bakufu's direct-administration policy was that the operation of fisheries throughout the Ezochi became literally a matter of national security. This change did not have much lasting impact on the actual business of harvesting and processing marine products, but because it affirmed the public nature of the contract fisheries and thereby strengthened the position of the merchants operating them, it blurred the line separating the private economic interests of contracting merchants and the security concerns of the bakufu. It hardly mattered in 1821, as few fishers were in a position to challenge the preeminence of the contractors anyway, but it created problems in the last decade or so of the


42

Tokugawa period, when independent fishers from the Wajinchi, including some with substantial operations, began settling permanently in the vicinity of fisheries on the west coast.

The second period of bakufu control came after the opening of Hakodate as a treaty port in 1854. The following year, the entire island save the Matsumae peninsula (including Fukuyama and Esashi) came under two, later three, magistrates based in Hakodate. Defense was again the bakufu's primary concern, but the promotion of agriculture and industry was an important corollary. For example, the magistrates sponsored several moderately successful experimental farming communities near Hakodate and in the Ishikari plain and even proposed sending Hakodate prostitutes into the interior to deflower virgin territory for the state. The bakufu also encouraged—even coerced—Ainu to adopt Japanese ways.[55] At the end of 1859, financial problems forced the bakufu to divide most of the Ezochi among six Tohoku domains (Nanbu, Tsugaru, Akita, Shonai , Aizu, and Sendai). While some did little other than their assigned coastal-defense duties, others, particularly Shonai , took an active interest in improving conditions for local fishers.[56]

The second period of bakufu control had a tremendous impact on the contract-fishery system, even though the institution itself was protected by the bakufu.[57] First, it destroyed the insularity of the contractors' relationship with Matsumae by subverting the domain's control over the flow of goods in and out of Hokkaido. For example, beginning in 1858 the bakufu attempted to control the marketing of Ezochi products by establishing trade offices (sanbutsu kaisho ) in Osaka, Edo, Hyogo , Hakodate, Sakai, and Tsuruga; a sales office (urisabaki dokoro ) in Kyoto; and supply agencies (goyotashi ) in Shimonoseki, Niigata, and Fukuyama. In 1861 it even tried to get Edo and Osaka capital behind a scheme to corner the fishery credit market. Although the plan was not successful, it did affect the way herring meal and other marine products were marketed.[58]

Second, the bakufu takeover destroyed the insularity of the contractors' relationship with independent fishers. Soon after assuming control of the Ezochi the bakufu began gradually to eliminate restrictions on travel to the area, which in effect made it possible for fishers to move there permanently. Many did so eagerly. In Utasutsu and Isoya, for example, the number of permanent residents rose from 792 in 1858 to 1,558 by 1866.[59] In some areas, like Utasutsu and Isoya, the contractors were able to maintain a measure of authority over resident fishers, but elsewhere administrative power passed into the hands of officials of Tohoku domains. For example, the Shonai domain encouraged peasants


43

from its home territory to migrate to Hokkaido, where it was hoped they would take up farming rather than fishing. The domain also enticed fishers to the relatively undeveloped Rumoi district with promises of loans and other material aid. This assistance policy deprived the local contractor, Suhara Kakubei, of a potential source of income.[60] Shonai's policy at the Hamamashike fishery, further south, was to replace the previous contractor, Date Rin'emon, with a merchant formerly based in Sakata, Nakagawaya Yusuke . Yusuke had neither the experience nor the resources to run a contract fishery, so he ended up being little more than a conduit for loans of domain funds and rice to independent fishers. Moreover, soon after taking over the fishery in 1865, the new contractor found himself embroiled in a struggle with a number of independent fishers over control of the apparatus to market herring products. Yusuke's predecessor had fought off a similar challenge easily, but the newcomer could not, in part because the bakufu and Shonai were torn between their desire to foster economic development and their need to maintain firm control, through the contracting system, over fishers.[61]

Hokkaido remained outside the control of the Matsumae domain until the Meiji Restoration. Considering that much of the Boshin War was fought in and around Hakodate harbor, the coup d'etat and subsequent fighting of 1868 and 1869 had remarkably little immediate impact on life in Hokkaido. A blockade imposed by the Imperial forces of course hurt business, but the battles themselves were fought between groups of outsiders who just happened to be in Hokkaido. The real change did not come until later.

Immediately after the Restoration Hokkaido was divided among a mishmash of domains, government agencies, private colonization groups, and even temples. Within three years, however, the entire island was put under the new Development Agency. In 1869 the agency tried to abolish the contracting system on the grounds that it hindered the growth of population and productivity in the former Ezochi. That was certainly true enough, but it did not alter the fact that the Development Agency had neither the manpower nor the financial resources to administer the island without the help of merchants, especially contractors. The merchants themselves banded together and presented a document to the government asking that their privileges not be revoked. Within months the government and contractors reached a compromise agreement in which the contracting system was formally abolished but the former contractors were nevertheless allowed to retain many of their privileges. But rather than being private merchants, most of them were installed as local


44

officials of the Development Agency. Now called "fishery operators" (gyobamochi ) instead of contractors, they retained use of their fishing grounds and some economic privileges, although they lost whatever rights to other fishers' produce they had retained under the bakufu and domains. Perhaps the most important privilege they lost was the exclusive right to employ Ainu labor. After the Restoration the native people were designated "former aborigines" (kyudojin ) and made Japanese citizens and therefore eligible to work and travel without restriction. The merchants continued in their new function until 1876, when the Meiji land-tax law was applied to Hokkaido.[62]

Merchant Capital and Feudal Institutions

The contract fisheries were not capitalist enterprises, superficial characteristics like their large scale, extensive ties to Honshu commercial houses, and the entrepreneurial energy of their operators notwithstanding. From its origins the contract-fishery system was an institutional appendage of the Matsumae domain, maintained to regularize economic relations between the domain and the Ainu people. The presence of Ainu labor at the contract fisheries in this context was hardly an accident. It was these two factors—the institutional dependence of the contract fisheries upon the state and their use of Ainu labor—that preclude treating them as capitalist enterprises.

A key element of capitalism as I characterized it in the opening chapter is the use of wage labor in production. Since wage labor under capitalism is a commodity sold by the individual worker to earn his or her living, it follows that that labor must be free because only free labor can enter into a wage contract. Ainu labor was not free, and therefore production based upon it cannot be called capitalist. Rather, Ainu labor in the fishery was a product of the feudal institutions of the Matsumae domain. The Ainu were not formally bound to their Wajin employers, either as slaves or indentured servants, or even through the long-term credit relations that tied Wajin fishers to their creditors. Moreover, they enjoyed formal freedom of movement within the Ezochi and, ostensibly at least, could elect to work at the fisheries at their own discretion. Nevertheless, Ainu labor was not free. First, after 1672, the Ainu could not leave the Ezochi to seek employment or indeed for any other reason. Moreover, their formal freedom of movement within the Ezochi was constrained by their inability to enter into economic relations with whomever they chose. Because labor at the fisheries was formally a manifestation of the trade relation-


45

ship between the Matsumae house and the Ainu, and because the Ainu trade was the economic support of the Matsumae house and its retainer band, the native people could only trade with (or work for) the holder of the nearest trading post or his agent (i.e., the contractor). This arrangement worked in part because the contractors respected one another's rights to Ainu labor—we have already seen how surplus labor was sometimes "lent" to other fisheries—and in part because the Ainu themselves maintained strong ties to particular localities and therefore were not eager to move about.

A second and more immediate constraint on Ainu freedom was the native people's dependency on Japanese commodities like ironware, lacquer ware, weapons, rice, sake, and tobacco—a dependency so strong that their communities simply could not function without them. The only way to obtain such commodities was by working for Wajin fishing contractors, but that work merely further undermined Ainu independence because labor in the various fisheries—herring in the spring, trout in the summer, and salmon in the fall—precluded participation in hunting and gathering activities. Sadly, even Ainu who had avoided direct contact with the Wajin often found it necessary to turn to wage labor because the contractors' resource-depleting salmon-fishing operations undercut the basis of the traditional Ainu economy, which was centered on rivers used by spawning salmon.[63]

Compounding the tragedy of economic dependence was the significance assumed by certain Japanese commodities in Ainu culture. An important measure of social standing among the Ainu was the possession of "treasures" (ikor ), which not only served a critical function as indemnities in conflict-resolution but also benefited their possessor in his relations with the gods (kamui ). These treasures—lacquer ware and especially swords—were almost invariably of Japanese origin. Matsumae and its agents actively manipulated the Ainu's need for these goods by, for instance, distributing swords to leaders who provided labor for the contract fisheries or otherwise cooperated with the Wajin authorities. (The swords, incidentally, were considered too precious actually to be used as weapons; and, at any rate, they were usually of such low quality that they would not have been very useful in battle.) Thus, even Ainu with no immediate economic need for dealings with the Wajin were often drawn by cultural imperatives.[64]

In this manner contact with Wajin destroyed the traditional Ainu economy. The damage was so severe that, for example, during the rice shortage caused by the Tenpo famine in Honshu, the domain instructed


46

contractors to see to it that local Ainu stored sufficient supplies of edible roots and fish to get through an expected two-year suspension of grain shipments to the Ezochi. As hunters and gatherers, the Ainu ought to have been better equipped than anyone to handle the crisis, but their need for rice and other goods had led them to sell even the fish and game they caught for themselves in their free time from the Wajin fisheries.[65] The effect of wage labor on Ainu culture was not, however, limited to times of economic crisis. Thomas Wright Blakiston, who traveled around the Ezochi in the 1860s, commented on the pitiful state of the native people at the contract fisheries:

Few things strike a traveller in Yezo more than the subdued nature of the Ainu; careless and good natured as they are, they appear to have lost all idea of independence, and to have assigned themselves almost as slaves to the more civilized Japanese. Throughout the leased fishing basho [i.e., the contract fisheries] they are used as menials about the stations. They act as fishermen only under the direction of masters. . . . The inordinate love of ardent spirits, militates greatly against their social elevation; and unfortunately this propensity is by no means discouraged by the Japanese, who thereby profit in their transactions with them.[66]

It is not simply a question of the Ainu being unfree because they had no realistic alternative to wage labor—if that were the case they would be no different from a modern industrial proletariat. Here the critical factor is not the fact of dependency so much as the causes of that dependency. The native people's lack of freedom was a function of the institutional structure of the Matsumae domain. Their participation in the fishery as wage laborers was an integral part of the contracting system as it had evolved by the beginning of the eighteenth century, yet they could not participate in the fishery on the same terms as Wajin. Similarly, their dependence on Japanese commodities was more than just a matter of dietary preferences; as a manifestation of the Matsumae house's "trade" with the native people, it too was a necessary element of the domain political economy.

The Ainu were in a kind of political and cultural limbo, barred by their ethnicity from full inclusion within the structure of the bakuhan state yet tied to the Wajin because their culture had lost its ability to survive independently. The Matsumae domain could not function unless the Ainu were defined as outsiders; thus, ironically, the Ainu's alien ethnicity became institutionalized within the feudalism of the domain and, by extension, the bakuhan state. Its institutionalization within the bakuhan state is revealed by the use of Ainu labor, under conditions very similar to


47

those prevailing at the contract fisheries, by the Ono domain of Echizen, which was awarded territory in Karafuto by the bakufu at the close of the Tokugawa period.[67] The Ainu's dependency was thus qualitatively different from that of Wajin workers, whose increasing presence in the fishery reflected the erosion of the feudal social order of northern Honshu and the concomitant emergence of a new mode of production.

The contract fisheries, then, were not capitalist enterprises because their existence depended upon their privileged position within the domain, as symbolized by their monopoly over Ainu labor. But even if production at the contract fisheries was not "really" capitalist, there is no question that it established the model for capitalist production later emulated by entrepreneurs independent of the feudal regime. It was the contractors, after all, who developed the Ezochi fishing grounds, brought their organizational and financial resources to the development of markets for Hokkaido marine products, and first used wage labor on a large scale in the fishery.

The contractors did not take the final step to capitalist production because, quite simply, it did not seem worth their while. It was much easier to rely on the privileges accorded to them by the Matsumae domain to profit from low-risk, high-yield ventures like dealing in the wholesale fertilizer market, supply lending, and—lowest risk and highest yield of all— collecting taxes and access fees from small fishers operating in areas under their control. The contractors showed their conservatism especially clearly in the closing years of the Tokugawa period, when many retreated from direct involvement in production in the face of challenges from independent entrepreneurs from the Wajinchi. Tabata Hiroshi has made a detailed study of the account books of Nishikawa Den'emon, the Omibased contractor of Oshoro and Takashima, two fisheries in the vicinity of present-day Otaru. He finds that fishing had become a relatively minor part of Nishikawa's operations by the end of the Tokugawa period and that the contractor maintained tenuous direct ties to production simply to retain access to the twenty-percent fee levied on all independent fishers' catches. Nishikawa also reaped huge profits from supply lending and from shipping cargo between his fisheries and ports in the Wajinchi and Honshu.[68] Similarly, at Hamamashike, the contractor Nakagawaya Yusuke limited his fishing operations to three sites and concentrated instead on his role as supply merchant and shipper.[69] This seems to have been the general pattern at most contract fisheries, except those in the far north and east, which were under the authority of the three largest contractors, Fujino Kihei, Date Rin'emon, and Suhara Kakubei, and were for


48

the most part closed to significant development by independent fishers.[70]

However, the place of the contract-fishery system as a precursor to capitalist production is clear from a look at the transition from Ainu to Wajin labor. The Ainu entered into communal labor agreements with the contractors who employed them, in which the head of an Ainu community offered to supply the labor of the people under him in exchange for a seasonal wage, expressed in cash but in fact paid in kind (if at all). When contractors recruited Wajin workers to supervise or, eventually, to replace the Ainu, they drew up wage contracts very similar in form, though not in substance, to those used with the Ainu: they paid a percentage of the seasonal wage in advance and the remainder upon the expiration of the contract, less wages docked for sick days or other nonperformance and debts incurred for food and miscellaneous commodities purchased at the fishery store (unjoya ).

Free Wajin labor did not replace unfree Ainu labor suddenly. Rather, the transition came about gradually, partly in response to a decrease in the Ainu population and a simultaneous increase in Wajin immigration from Honshu, and partly because even at its peak the Ainu population was not sufficient to meet the rapidly increasing labor needs of the fishery, much of which came from independent fishers who did not have access to Ainu labor in the first place. Thus, the influx of Wajin labor did not result in the immediate dislocation of the Ainu labor force. Rather, Ainu laborers worked in the fishery until its collapse in the 1950s. However, under the Meiji regime the Ainu's ethnicity lost its former institutional meaning; they too became free labor, eligible to find work on the open market under conditions similar to those faced by Wajin workers.[71]

The contract-fishery system represented a transitional stage, not yet capitalist but necessary to the later development of truly capitalist production. In that sense the contractors played a critical role in the process of transformation—one typical of merchant capitalists in a declining feudal economy—by acting as a solvent of the old forms of production. At the same time, paradoxically, the institution impeded the emergence of capitalism, insofar as it drew financial and human resources away from the more vibrant independent fishery.[72]

The history of the contract-fishery system illustrates the difficulties of positing a teleological connection between proto-industrialization and capitalism. Gary Leupp makes a useful distinction between two major forms of proto-industry, putting-out and manufactures. He likens putting-out to commercial agriculture and manufactures to capitalism.[73] Leupp's characterization highlights important differences in the outward forms


49

of production; considered together with the political dimension, it helps to explain the emergence of capitalism in the Hokkaido fishery and other industries in nineteenth-century Japan.

Putting-out, in which merchants provided raw materials, credit, and sometimes tools to peasants who then engaged in handicraft production at home, was the most common form of proto-industrial production in both Europe and Japan. Its functional equivalent in Hokkaido was the supply-lending institution, in which merchants provided advances of cash, daily necessities, and gear to small fishers in return for exclusive marketing rights to the fishers' herring, plus interest and commissions. Insofar as the individual fisher had control over his productive activities and usually owned his means of production, the arrangement was not capitalist: the fisher sold fertilizer—not labor power—to the merchant. The same could be said of other putting-out arrangements, making them akin to commercial agriculture (which often entailed credit relationships between cultivators and merchants).

The strength of the putting-out arrangement lay in its relative freedom from the institutions of the feudal polity. Unlike the contract-fishery system, supply lending emerged in response to the exigencies of the fishing economy and never became an integral part of the domain political or administrative structure. As we shall see in the following chapter, this element of leeway made it possible in Hokkaido for some supply merchants and their clients to circumvent the domain and bakufu and take advantage of developments in the use of labor, technology, and capital to bring about a capitalist transformation from within the fishery.

Production at the contract fisheries corresponded to manufactures, in which an entrepreneur brought peasant workers together at a single location, provided them with tools and raw materials, and oversaw their labor.[74] The contract fisheries, like other examples of manufactures, were superficially capitalist enterprises in the sense that the workers sold their labor power rather than some other commodity to their employer. But they were only superficially capitalist because their existence was predicated upon their ties to the feudal authorities. Beneath the veneer of apparently capitalist production one finds merchants whose control over both the means of production and their workers' labor was linked so closely to the protection of the domain that once that protection was removed—as indeed it was after 1868—their operations ceased to be viable. The contract-fishery operators were "capitalists" who needed feudalism to survive.


50

previous chapter
Chapter Two Not Quite Capitalism The Rise and Fall of the Contract-Fishery System
next chapter