Bakufu Assistance to the Townspeople

While acknowledging that the relationship between the bakufu and ordinary residents of Edo was different from that of a modern state, Noguchi Takehiko nevertheless criticizes the bakufu for disproportionately aiding its military retainers both in terms of sheer quantities of money and administrative resources. As the “public” (ōyake) authority, he claims, the bakufu should at least have given the appearance of supporting the general prosperity of the realm. The Machigaisho, the major entity for providing civilian relief, was well financed in 1855 owing to a bountiful rice harvest. This good harvest also helped keep food prices—and therefore warrior incomes—low. Nevertheless, the Machigaisho was still inadequate for the task of relief of the general population and had to rely heavily on private charity.[1] Noguchi seems to underestimate the point about the bakufu not being a modern state. Today we unrealistically expect states to be almost godlike in their ability to mitigate natural hazards. The townspeople of Edo, however, did not expect the same degree of government aid that the people of, for example, Kobe did in 1995. Spared any serious physical destruction, the City Magistrate and Machigaisho began their work even faster than other bakufu entities—the very night of the earthquake—and leveraged private charity effectively to multiply their own resources. On balance, relief to the townspeople was a case of successful disaster management, especially by the standards of the time.

City Magistrate officials planned initial relief efforts the night of the earthquake, and the next morning they issued the following set of directives to the neighborhood heads:

1. Distribute rice balls to the disaster victims.

2. Set up temporary shelters where the homeless have congregated.

3. Render speedy aid to the wounded.

4. Summon the heads of the wholesale distributors and have them secure and stockpile daily necessities and items in great demand.

5. Order the heads of trade associations to bring skilled workers from the countryside into Edo. 6. Prohibit sellers from holding items back from the market and buyers from cornering the market.

7. Control price and wage increases.

8. Order police officials to patrol the city, rendering aid and enforcing regulations.

9. Assign emergency assistance duties to the neighborhood heads.[2]

In practice, it was not possible to pursue methodical relief activities until after the fires had been brought under control on the fourth day. Systematic rounds by City Magistrate officials began on the fifth day.[3]

The first order of business was dealing with the dead and injured, a topic already discussed with respect to surveys, casualty statistics, and popular perceptions. The City Magistrate ordered Ekōin in Honjo to serve as the place to bring unclaimed bodies. It also ordered a supplemental survey of serious injuries on the ninth day (turned in on the eleventh).[4] Regarding the wounded, the Machigaisho established treatment stations and recorded the names of as many of the victims as possible. For example, a famous bone doctor named Nakura lived in the Ryōgoku area, and the road and area in front of his house became a sprawling triage station.[5] The case of a bakufusupported hospital for the poor provides some longer-term perspective. The Koishikawa Yōjōsho, a charity hospital, was established in 1722 and reorganized in 1843. A notice sent to the neighborhood heads issued on the tenth day of the twelfth month states that applicants to the hospital have lately become few in number. The notice goes on to say that neighborhood heads should locate impoverished victims of the recent earthquake who may be receiving medical treatment in other circumstances and urge them to make use of the benevolent services of the hospital.[6] This notice suggests that roughly two months after the main shock, there was more than enough capacity to treat earthquake victims who continued to require care.

The second emergency relief policy was setting up temporary shelters and distributing cooked rice. Even people who might ultimately have benefited from the earthquake initially faced many hardships. For example, a ban on fires and a lack of cooking utensils meant that even if rice or other grain was at hand, there was no way to cook it.[7] The Machigaisho dealt with major fires in 1806, 1829, 1834, and 1845, as well as the Tenpō famine of the 1830s. When the earthquake struck, it was able to erect one thousand tsubo (about 0.33 hectares) of temporary dwellings in half a day owing to prior experience in providing fire relief and to its connections with civilian contractors. The Machigaisho sent out public notices about temporary housing on the fourth day, initially in three locations.[8] It ultimately established housing in five locations, three of which were operating by the sixth day, with two more set up by the thirteenth day. The modular dwellings were made mainly out of wood, with most of the needed materials available in warehouses. Sakuma Chōkei likened this work to putting up tents.[9]

Seeking to make the most of its modest resources, the Machigaisho was careful not to duplicate relief assistance. It first distributed ready-to-eat food to the needy inside their houses. Later, each household sent a representative to a collection point to pick up its share of uncooked rice.[10] Those who entered temporary housing received food aid there and were not eligible for other food handouts. As officials made their rounds to determine which households needed food assistance, they also determined which houses were so badly damaged that their residents were eligible for temporary housing. According to Sakuma, several City Magistrate staff filled a stretcherlike device with food and set out to distribute it. Assisted by neighborhood heads, the retinue hoisted an official duty flag for easy identification. Landlords assisted in transporting relief supplies and distributing them to their tenants. The city came to life in a flurry of activity as people rushed around to look after neighbors or acquaintances, provide aid, or transport the injured to medical stations.[11]

About 202,400 people across Edo received cooked rice, the distribution of which stopped on the twentieth day, replaced by handouts of uncooked rice.[12] The conditions established for those continuing to receive food aid were based on income level or poverty, not earthquake damage. Examples of eligible categories included “workers supporting a family on day wages,” “subcontractors to skilled workers,” “shopkeepers whose sales are insufficient,” or “landlords with holdings so small that they have to do outside work to make ends meet.”[13] The population of day laborers in Edo in 1855 numbered about 288,000, and ultimately about 381,200 people received relief rice of some kind for days or weeks after the earthquake. In other words, the bakufu conducted large-scale poverty relief under the banner of earthquake relief. Moreover, this situation occurred earlier, following the same pattern as recent large fires or the temporary shelter set up during the Tenpō famine of the early 1830s. During the nineteenth century, townspeople had become an explicit object of government relief efforts.[14]

It is possible that this policy of aiding those of modest means resulted at least in part from fears of social unrest. Riots prompted by food shortages had rocked Edo and all of Japan's other major cities in 1787, one reason for the establishment of the Machigaisho shortly thereafter. When riots broke out in many other parts of Japan in 1837, Edo remained calm in part because of the ability of the Machigaisho to provide relief.[15] Massive food aid was surely a major reason that there was no looting, rioting, or mob violence in 1855, in contrast with 1923.

Control of wages and prices was an area in which the bakufu was generally ineffective. At least in the minds of bakufu officials, control of prices was closely connected with the suppression of rumors, another notoriously difficult task. For example, on the fifth day the City Magistrate ordered city officials to suppress and correct rumors that the bakufu had ordered a business holiday when in fact the official policy was to encourage business to operate. Moreover, officials were to suppress rumors of food shortages.[16] In the realm of wage increases, the City Magistrate posted notices, had notices read to workers directly, and forced work crew chiefs to affix their seals acknowledging rules concerning wages. Its officials even arrested a few offenders here and there.[17] Decrees regarding wages and prices outnumber those about any other topic. [18]The City Magistrate, however, could not change market forces by decree, nor could it afford to arrest significant numbers of those who were essential for rebuilding the city. One decree from the twenty-third day of the twelfth month, almost two months after the main shock, can serve as a benchmark. It complained of “illegal” prices for lumber and construction wages and threatened punishment (without specifics) for anyone investigators might find guilty of violating previous decrees.[19]

When not dealing with emergencies, the Machigaisho made loans in the manner of the “righteous granaries” (gisō), de facto banks that had become established in many domains during the Tokugawa period.[20] Owing to the earthquake, beginning at the end of the twelfth month and extending into 1856 the Machigaisho issued edicts suspending repayments on outstanding loans for periods ranging from two to twelve months, depending on the degree and nature of damage borrowers had sustained.[21] In a related realm, the City Magistrate tried to deal with false rumors concerning money. For example, on the fifth day of the eleventh month, a directive explained that earthquake-related rumors are “not few” and that some people had become so confused that they stopped using money, thus hindering its circulation. The directive strictly prohibited dissemination of rumors.[22] Although it did not specifically mention unauthorized prints, the same directive became the basis for an eventual crackdown on the production of catfish prints. Some of the alleged rumors have a contemporary ring to them. For example, on the twentieth day of the tenth month the City Magistrate issued an edict denying a rumor that all debts had been canceled by government order and warned against con artists claiming to be able to secure bakufu loans.[23] In many respects, public behavior during the weeks after the earthquake was exemplary, but rumors and deceit flourished in the post-earthquake confusion.[24]

  • [1] Noguchi, Ansei Edo jishin, 187–188.
  • [2] Information based on the recollections of Sakuma Chōkei. See “Ansei daijishin jikkendan,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 470. See also Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 252, and Noguchi, Ansei Edo Jishin, 149–150.
  • [3] NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 56–57.
  • [4] Ibid., 61–62. See also Kitahara, “Saigai no shakaizō,” 74–75, and Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 259–260, 266–268.
  • [5] For details regarding medical treatment, see “Ansei daijishin jikkendan,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 472–473.
  • [6] NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 79.
  • [7] For a discussion of these practical difficulties, see “Jifūroku,” in DNJS, vol. 2 (otsu), 539.
  • [8] NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 90.
  • [9] “Ansei daijishin jikkendan,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 470–471; Noguchi, Ansei Edo jishin, 155–160; and Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 254–263. For tables showing the locations and number of residents in temporary housing, see Kitahara, 254 and hyō 2-13, Chūō bōsō kaigi, 1855 Ansei Edo jishin hōkokusho, 101. Nearly every substantial account of the earthquake and many popular prints list the locations of temporary housing. To cite but one example, see “Yabure mado no ki,” in DNJS, vol. 2 (otsu), 554.
  • [10] NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 97–98.
  • [11] “Ansei daijishin jikkendan,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 473. There is an excellent visual image of a similar scene toward the end of a long scroll of earthquake-related materials from 1855: Edo ōjishin kiji. To view the image, see bunko10_08871_p0018.jpg. Two samurai officials sit with a banner that says “go-yō” (on duty) as other officials distribute food aid (directly above it is an announcement about temporary housing). AKR includes an image of a samurai official distributing food aid in the form of cooked rice (in front of a damaged restaurant). AKR, vol. 1, 4 (jō e yon). To view this image, see http:// wo01_03628_0001_p0023.jpg. See also Noguchi, Ansei Edo jishin, 159–160.
  • [12] NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 97.
  • [13] Ibid., 97–98.
  • [14] For documents connected with food relief, see “Shimai, hidari no gotoshi,” in Tōkyō shiyakusho, ed., Tōkyōshi shikō, kyūsaihen 4 (Rinsen shoten, 1975, originally published 1922), 474–487, and NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 95–105, 180–182. See also Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 260–265, and Kitahara, “Saigia no shakaizō,” 75–76.
  • [15] The broader context was the shogunate’s Edo-first policy. See Anne Walthall, “Edo Riots,” in James L. McClain, John W. Merriman, and Ugawa Kaoru, eds., Edo and Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), 419.
  • [16] NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 52–53. See also 63–64 regarding lumber supplies.
  • [17] Kitahara, “Saigia no shakaizō,” 76–78, and Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 246–248.
  • [18] For the various decrees concerning wages and prices, see NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 51, 58–59, 62, 64–72, 79–80, and 90.
  • [19] NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 79–80. A similar decree was issued on the same day (supplemented on the next day) warning plasterers about excessive wages. See 80–81.
  • [20] Regarding righteous granaries, see Mark J. Ravina, “Confucian Banking: The Community Granary (Shasō) in Rhetoric and Practice,” in Bettina Gramlich- Oka and Gregory Smits, eds., Economic Thought in Early Modern Japan (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 179–204.
  • [21] NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 107–121.
  • [22] Ibid., 74.
  • [23] Ibid., 68–69. See also Kitahara, “Saigai no shakaishi,” 78.
  • [24] For a warning against such fraud, issued on the fifth day of the thirteenth month, see NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 74.
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