Daimyoand Religious Institutions Assist the Townspeople

Governing the city of Edo was the prerogative and responsibility of the bakufu. Therefore, warrior houses generally provided aid discreetly and only after the City Magistrate began to solicit charitable donations from the public. Prior to the Ansei Edo earthquake, the leading warrior houses had not been active in disaster assistance, although some of them did aid victims of the Tenpō famine and large fires indirectly. In such cases, unemployed samurai or female members of the warrior household gave donations as private individuals, but the warrior household's treasury was the real source of the charity.[1] Following the earthquake, many warrior houses took the unprecedented step of issuing charitable aid directly.

One immediate form of relief was for daimyō whose mansion grounds were in reasonably good condition to allow homeless commoners to camp there temporarily. As the scale of the disaster became known, warrior houses not pressed by their own problems began to provide aid directly to needy areas. According to Ansei Chronicle, the Sendai and Tomiyama domains gave the largest quantities of aid. Praising the lord of Sendai for his virtue, Ansei Chronicle explains that he authorized the distribution of money and rice to devastated townspeople in four nearby neighborhoods.[2] The popular press frequently reported on the contributions of warrior houses but typically omitted their names owing to the sensitive nature of such donations. Sendai, however, made no attempt to remain anonymous in its giving. It sent ten thousand bales of rice to the bakufu for use in disaster relief and provided extensive food aid to the houses and businesses in the areas surrounding its mansions. In all, the domain provided approximately one bale of rice for each of over 425 structures in the zone. The Tomiyama domain distributed over 130 koku of rice. Other domains made lesser contributions, and several leading bakufu officials made significant contributions from their own resources.[3] One characteristic of this domain-derived aid is that it tended to go to districts and neighborhoods receiving relatively little from the donations of wealthy townspeople, suggesting effective coordination of aid distribution.[4]

Buddhist temples were another source of disaster relief, both tangible and intangible. On the second day of the eleventh month, as we have seen, the bakufu paid thirteen large temples to perform rites for assuaging starving ghosts. The material assistance temples provided consisted mainly of temporary shelter for the homeless and aid to their possessions outside the temple grounds. Some also engaged in large-scale charity.[5] The Shibazōjō Temple, for example, distributed 250 ryō in relief money. As a reward for this generosity, the shogun personally gave the head priest a set of seasonal attire.[6] The bakufu also recognized several other temples in formal announcements and awards.[7]

Townspeople Helping Townspeople

Some townspeople of relatively moderate means were generous in providing relief. The bakufu actively rewarded those who provided aid, typically by posting their names and amounts at each neighborhood's public notice area and often bestowing monetary tokens of recognition. To cite but one example from official documents, a declaration dated the twenty-seventh day of the tenth month states that Fukagawa householder Mataemon distributed relief in the form of small amounts of cash to a total of 159 people in fourteen neighborhoods other than his own, for a total contribution of 34 ryō. For his deeds, the bakufu formally recognized Mataemon with two pieces of “reward silver.”[8] For many engaged in business enterprises, such aid was a form of social obligation. At the same time, it was a way of displaying one's de facto social standing.[9] Often when the discussion in Ansei Chronicle turns to a particular district or neighborhood, it presents a list of names, amounts, and occasionally other details of charitable contributors from that place.[10]

Following a disaster on a scale of the earthquake, both commoner society and the bakufu expected wealthy merchant houses and large organizations to provide relief from their vast resources. The possibility of mob violence such as that which occurred in 1787 undoubtedly enhanced this social pressure. An examination of donations by wealthy commoners indicates that in many instances, their giving was coordinated and planned. In one case, for example, five wealthy merchant houses from the same neighborhood each donated the same amount. They surely decided on a total figure and then divided the burden equally. In other cases, donations were the result of discussions between wealthy commoners and local government officials. Expectations of good social behavior served as a quasi-coercive mechanism for generating an outpouring of private charity.[11]

Kitahara examines several cases in which self-interest was clearly the motivation for providing earthquake relief. Mitsui, for example, operated a clothing shop and a money-changing shop in Surugachō of Nihonbashi. These businesses made many donations, but they were mainly to suppliers, subcontractors, and other smaller businesses that performed work essential for Mitsui's welfare. Mitsui provided a sizable sum of 277 ryō for disaster relief. It received no formal praise from the bakufu, however, probably because only 56 ryō went to those with no business relationship with Mitsui.[12] Less obviously self-serving were cases in which businesses that stood to profit handsomely from the earthquake made generous charitable donations to the needy. A hardware guild donated 200 ryō, for example, and the Fukagawa Lumber Association donated 750 kanmon of copper cash.[13]

Such donations, of course, made good sense from a public relations standpoint, while also providing genuinely needed assistance.

Despite a self-serving quality to much of the charitable donations by wealthy merchants and business organizations, statistical and anecdotal evidence indicates a large number and a wide variety of private contributions, the majority of which were modest donations by ordinary townspeople. There were 174 instances of donations to the temporary shelters of such things as rice, pickled plums, pickles, and pots, and 255 people made cash donations to the city's poor that totaled 15,037 ryō. Similar to wealthier donors, there was a strong tendency for people to give aid to their neighbors or to their tenants. Relatively wealthy neighborhoods, therefore, tended to be richer in charitable aid. Using the same districts as for population statistics, the range of charitable donations generated from a district's own residents ranged from 13 to 3,733 ryō. This large disparity suggests one reason the bakufu distributed aid based on relative poverty and income levels.[14]

Those who could not contribute money often provided goods or services. A partial list includes bean paste, tea, noodles, pickled radishes, pickled plums, sweet potatoes, dried fish, straw mats, towels, paper, pickled vegetables, and other practical items. One hair dresser offered free services. Donations were not limited to the residents of Edo. A rural physician donated two hundred packages of medicine for treating cuts, bruises, and puncture wounds, and the peasants of one rural village donated six barrels of pickles. Donations of useful goods and services rarely registered in official statistics, but such contributions were significant. All indications point to a strong spirit of mutual assistance, and the Ansei Edo earthquake was not the first manifestation of widespread charity in the city. There was a similar reaction to previous disasters from at least the time of the Sakumachō fire of 1829.[15]

Charitable giving was part of normal life in nineteenth-century Edo. With bakufu sanction in 1822, the heads of hinin (officially recognized beggar) groups began periodically collecting a small sum from each household in return for promises of hinin cooperation in suppressing the activities of unsanctioned beggars. In short, “giving” in ordinary times had become a de facto tax, one that reinforced differences in social status. Charitable giving after the earthquake, however, took on nearly the opposite quality, which Kitahara characterizes as “girei-teki.” Although this word normally brings to mind rigid formalities, what she means in this context is something akin to a theatrical performance whereby that which is visionary or otherwise impractical is temporarily enacted within altered social reality. One reason for the widespread outpouring of post-earthquake charity is that it complemented the earthquake itself in destroying or blurring ordinary social distinctions. Such giving thus had a psychologically liberating effect, more so for givers than for receivers. In this sense, the earthquake and the charitable giving by ordinary people possessed many of the same qualities and appeal as the spontaneous mass pilgrimages to the Ise Shrine (okage-mairi).[16] This insight into the temporary liberating effect of the earthquake may also help explain why so many commoners tended to interpret the event as an instance of social renewal.

  • [1] Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 167.
  • [2] AKS, vol. 3, 5–6. See also Arakawa, Jitsuroku, Ō-Edo kaimetsu no hi, 172.
  • [3] Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 288–290. For several examples of bushi contributions, see “Ansei zakki,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 183–184.
  • [4] Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 126, 286–287.
  • [5] For examples of dozens of temples actively involved in aid, see “Ansei zakki,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 184–189, 193–196, 198–200, 210–214, 217–222, and 224–231.
  • [6] Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 288, and Noguchi, Ansei Edo jishin, 194.
  • [7] For decrees and the text of formal notices of award, see NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 76–78.
  • [8] NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 125. For documents recognizing hundreds of examples of relief provided by a wide range of townspeople, see NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 122–157.
  • [9] Kitahara, “Saigai no shakaizō,” 79.
  • [10] AKS, vol. 1, 6, 8–11, 14, vol. 2, 10–13, 5 and 6 page faces from end (pagination barely discernible), and vol. 3, 7–9, 11. See also Arakawa, Jitsuroku, Ō-Edo kaimetsu no hi, 107–108, 109, 113, 114–115, 117, 151, 155–155, 168, 169, 173, and 177.
  • [11] Noguchi, Ansei Edo jishin, 174, 176–179. Kitahara points out that popular newspapers issued segyō (charity) editions to honor donors. Such publicity, of course, also had the effect of pressuring others to contribute. Jishin no shakaishi, 272.
  • [12] Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 282–283, 304–305.
  • [13] Ibid., 274–275.
  • [14] Kitahara, “Saigai no shakaizō,” 79–80. For data on cash donations in tabular form, see hyō 2-13, Chūō bōsō kaigi, 1855 Ansei Edo jishin hōkokusho, 101.
  • [15] Kitagara, Jishin no shakaishi, 272–274, and Noguchi, Ansei Edo jishin, 179–181.
  • [16] Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 307–327. For the definition of girei, see 307, and for the links between segyō and okage-mairi, see 326–328.
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