Sengoku Jidai Primer
Scribe Figaro
3 March 2008


A cheat sheet on the history of Japan up to and during the sengoku jidai.

Feel free to use as a roleplaying or writing research.  I started writing this as a personal resource for writing more historically-accurate Inuyasha fanfiction, thus the focus on Musashi and Edo.  Still a work in progress.  Advice is welcome.  Please use with credit.  Thanks!

1. Government and Political Division

1.1 Government of Japan 710-1603
1.2 Division of Musashi – Sengoku Jidai
1.3 Tokyo – Current Day
1.4 Edo – Sengoku Jidai
1.5 War in Musashi – Sengoku Jidai

2. Major Clans of Eastern Japan

2.1 Tokugawa
2.2 Takeda
2.3 Hojo and Uesugi
2.4 Hojo and Takeda
2.5 Oda, Toyotomi, and Tokugawa

3. Official and Effective Capitals and Clans

3.1 Nara
3.2 Heian
3.3 Kamakura
3.4 Muromachi
3.5 Azuchi-Momoyama
3.6 Edo

4. Economics

4.1 Money, Land, and Labor
4.2 Coinage

4.2.1 Copper Coins
4.2.2 Gold Coins
4.2.3 Silver Coins
4.2.4 The Yen
4.2.5 Paper Currency

5. The Inuyasha-tachi

6. Weight, Distance, and Volume Measurement in the Sengoku Jidai

7.  References


 

  
1. Government and Political Division

 

1.1 Government of Japan 710-1603

By the Nara period (710-794), the Empire of Japan was divided into some dozens of kuni (country). Each kuni was administered by a kokushi, a governor appointed by the Emperor.

During the Heian period (792-1192), the Fujiwara clan had thoroughly infiltrated central and regional offices of the Imperial Court, consolidating nearly all control of Japan in a single family. The head of the Fujiwara acted as Regents (sesshou), and removed the Emperor from direct control. Attempts by Emperor Go-Daigo to remove the Fujiwara sesshou had the effect of removing centralized Fujiwara control, but regional Fujiwara offices became stronger in the resulting power vacuum.

A number of rebellions in the 12th century and the Gempei War (1180-1185) finally removed the Fujiwara from power and placed Minamoto Yoshitomo in the position of Regent. The need to reorganize the government and flush out officials disloyal to the new government allowed Minamoto to appoint a large number of officials at the beginning of the Kamakura Era (1192-1333).

Minamoto, having reached his position by military conquest, promoted the idea of a bakufu, a militaristic tent government which operated alongside the Imperial government to ensure peace and order. Beginning in 1185, he appointed shugo, regional military leaders which oversaw each kuni along with its Emperor-appointed kokushi. He also appointed jito, land stewards appointed on various large or important Imperial manors. These officials would eventually usurp the kokushi.

Minamoto gave shugo to his officers as loyalty incentives. These officers often did not want to move their households to a distant kuni, and some of these shugo were given several kuni. This made it necessary for the shugo to appoint lesser officials called shugodai to stay within the kuni and maintain order.

In 1192, in recognition of the power of the new bakufu, the Emperor bestowed the title of seii taishougun, a title that had been used in the early Heian period for a general tasked with conquering the indigenous tribes to the north. It was abandoned until the late Heian Era, when it was given to Minamoto Yoshinaka prior to being killed by Minamoto Yoshitomo. With Yoshitomo, the title shogun meant something entirely new: the commander-in-chief of the Japanese military and the de facto ruler of Japan. Minamoto Yoshitomo kept his ancestral home at Kamakura as his military headquarters, which was thus the effective capital of Japan.

Minamoto Yoshitomo died in 1199 and his wife’s family, the Hojo, took control of the bakufu from 1203 to 1333. Though the Hojo were never appointed shogun, they took most of the offices directly below it, such as shikken (regent to the shogun) and kanrei (deputies to the shogun). The Hojo used these positions to emplace puppet shogun, generally young children with some hereditary claim to the office. During this time, eight shogun were appointed, which included members of the Minamoto, Fujiwara, and several Imperial princes.

Poor governance weakened the Hojo, and the Kemmu Restoration from 1333-1336, though a failure in restoring the Emperor’s power, succeeded in destroying the Kamakura bakufu. The Ashikaga family established a puppet Emperor and based their bakufu in Muromachi, a suburb of Kyoto.

As both the Imperial and military governments had been purged, the Muromachi bakufu was immediately plagued with conflict that could threaten full-scale civil war. Within many kuni, fighting among shugo, shugodai, jito, and other regional officers led to a sort of irrelevance of these various titles. That is to say, the true leader of a kuni was no longer chosen by the bakufu. For this reason, the term daimyou came into use, which was an unofficial term describing the person exerting governance of a kuni, and came to indicate, if not sanction, at least acknowledgement that regional control of Japan was through military superiority and not the mandate of a central government.

The danger of war was temporarily settled by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu by rewarding the strongest daimyou with greater power in exchange for maintaining order over the lesser leaders. This ended small-scale war at the cost of creating more powerful clans which could usurp the Ashikaga. By the early 15th century, matters of Imperial succession were decided not by the Ashikaga but by a number of daimyou maneuvering for greater power. The strongest of these took the office of kanrei, deputy of the shogun, and were able to exert great influence on the shogun. (The office of shikken was ended after the fall of the Kamakura bakufu.) An issue of Ashikaga succession to the shogun led to the Onin War (1467-1477), utterly destroying Kyoto. By the end of this war, the Hosokawa became the most powerful clan, and as kanrei, were able to ensure succession of puppet Ashikaga shogun. However, neither the Hosokawa nor any other clan had sufficient power to re-unify the kuni, most of which had been left autonomous during the entire Onin War, if not longer. While the Hosokawa could hold Kyoto and some neighboring kuni, practically all Japan would remain independent warring nation-states until the reunification of Japan from 1573 to 1604. The period from 1477 to 1573 is thus known as the sengoku jidai, the Warring States Era.

Around 1550, a number of clans emerged which were powerful enough to make strides toward unification. The clans of Hojo, Imagawa, Oda, Takeda, and Uesugi fought from Kyoto to Edo, with Oda as the eventual victor.

The Muromachi bakufu, though powerless, continued until 1573. In 1568, Oda Nobunaga’s assault on Kyoto made it impossible for Ashikaga Yoshihide, the appointed successor after the previous shogun died in 1565, to enter Kyoto. Later that year, Oda Nobunaga took Kyoto and installed Ashikaga Yoshiaki as a puppet shogun, ending the Hosokawa’s power. In 1573, Oda Nobunaga expelled Yoshiaki from Kyoto and ended the Muromachi period, though Yoshiaki technically held the office (in name only) until the Emperor rescinded the title of shogun in 1588. The office was earlier offered to Oda Nobunaga but not accepted before his death in 1582. His successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was not offered shogun but took the title kampaku in 1584, effectively the same thing as shogun at the time, and by 1590 all daimyou deferred to him as the true leader of Japan.

Hideyoshi began building a new government based in Momoyama, part of present-day Osaka, made two unsuccessful attempts to colonize Korea in 1592 and 1597, and died in 1598. Dissatisfaction with Toyotomi’s governance led to many daimyou favoring Tokugawa, who was now the last remaining retainer and friend of Oda Nobunaga. At Sekigahara in 1600, the forces loyal to Tokugawa decimated the forces loyal to Toyotomi, making Tokugawa the supreme leader in Japan. In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu became shogun, keeping his new military capital in Edo, and slowly but surely expanding his control to the farthest reaches of Japan. The Toyotomi were kept on the defensive in Osaka until their castle was destroyed in 1615.

In the new Edo Era, Tokugawa completely rebuilt the government from top to bottom, creating a solid Confucian class system, standardizing measurement and currency, and isolating Japan from the outside world to resist change and keep the status quo. During this time, the kuni were made into fiefdoms called han, and daimyou was made an official office given to the military governor of each han over 10,000 koku. (A koku is a unit of rice which has been a traditional currency standard. More below.)

1.2 Division of Musashi – Sengoku Jidai

From pre-Nara Era until the beginning of the Edo Era, Japan was divided into many provinces (kuni) which were subdivided into districts (gun). Within each gun were fiefdoms held by samurai families.

During the Sengoku, the kuni surrounding Tokyo Bay were Sagami, Musashi, Shimousa, Kazusa, and Awa. These are currently Kanagawa, Tokyo, Saitama, and Chiba. Most of Sagami and Musashi are modern-day Kanagawa, Tokyo, and Saitama.

Current-day Western Tokyo was Tama District while Eastern Tokyo was Ebara, Toshima, Adachi, and Katsushika Districts. During the Sengoku, Edo was a castle town comprised of the coastal region of Toshima, which is current-day the Tokyo Special Wards of Chiyoda and Chuo.

1.3 Tokyo – Current Day

Today, Tokyo is the metropolitan region which is the capital of Japan. The Eastern section of Tokyo, the heart of the city, is separated into 23 special wards (ku) which surround the northwest region of Tokyo Bay from the Edo River to the Tama River, a block of land roughly 30 km north-to-south and east-to-west. The Western section of Tokyo, which comprises two-thirds of Tokyo, stretches the city into the mountains, and is divided into 39 municipalities which consist of 26 cities (shi) 5 towns (machi) and 8 villages (mura). Additionally, there are a number of islands that stretch hundreds of kilometers southward from the bay which are also part of Tokyo.

Eastern Tokyo is built on and around the old city of Edo.

1.4 Edo – Sengoku Jidai

During the Kamakura period, a village developed in the district of Toshima, within the country of Musashi, on the northwest coast of present-day Tokyo Bay. This village was given the name Edo, meaning “Opening to the bay.” The village remained one of many unremarkable fishing villages for several centuries.

During the Muromachi Era, Toshima was the fiefdom of the Ota clan, while the area far to the West – old Tama district and modern Western Tokyo – was the fiefdom of the Oishi clan. Both clans were at this time subservient to the Uesugi clan. Oishi built a number of castles in Tama (their ruins still exist today) while Ota built Edo Castle in Toshima, which is today the Imperial Palace.

1.5 War in Musashi – Sengoku Jidai

In the early 1400s, the Uesugi, operating from Echigo kuni, ventured south and took about half of Koutsuke kuni and Eastern Musashi kuni, including Edo. Uesugi’s power was recognized in Muroumachi in 1439 when they were given the office of kanto kanrei, which they kept until the abolition of the office in 1552. In 1457, Edo Castle was built by Ota Dokan, a retainer of the Ogigayatsu branch of the Uesugi clan, in what is now the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo.

The Hojo, coming from Sagami, campaigned against Uesugi, capturing Edo in 1524 and the castle of Kawagoe in 1537. An unsuccessful attempt to retake Edo in 1545 decimated Uesugi and made Hojo the undisputed warlord of Musashi.

In 1550, Edo exists as one of the largest and most powerful cities in Eastern Japan, and all Musashi is decisively held by the Hojo, which keeps Odawara Castle, in Sagami, as its base of power.

Musashi was threatened by Takeda beginning in 1568 but Hojo held it until defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590. Tokugawa Ieyasu was given the Hojo lands and made Edo Castle his military capital.

As Eastern Tokyo was primarily a fiefdom of the minor clan of Ota, most of Western Tokyo was a fiefdom of Oishi. Oishi built Ninomiya Castle in 1356 (modern Akiruno-shi), Matsutake Castle in 1384 (modern Hachioji-shi), Takatsuki Castle in 1458, Takiyama Castle in 1521, and Hachioji Castle in 1572.

Oishi held its fiefdoms as a retainer of Uesugi, but became servants of Hojo along with most other Musashi minor clans after 1545. Inter-clan marriage and adoption in 1558 solidified this loyalty.

Takiyama Castle was unsuccessfully sieged by Takeda Shingen in 1569. Hachioji Castle was captured by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590, which quickly led to the fall of Odawara and the end of the Hojo clan.

In 1550, major Hojo castle towns in Musashi are Edo and Kawagoe, on the Sumida River 35 km north of Edo. In Sagami, about 60 km southwest of Edo is Odawara, the seat of the Hojo. Other nearby castles and towns are Kamakura, Ozawahara, Hachigata, and Takiyama. The last battle in Musashi was at Kawagoe in 1545. After that, Hojo campaigns remained in Sagami, against Uesugi, Takeda, and eventually Toyotomi and Tokugawa. Tokugawa was rewarded with all the Hojo lands.

2. Major Clans of Eastern Japan

2.1 Tokugawa

In 1550, Ieyasu was about seven years old and living as a hostage of the Imagawa clan in Sumpu. Note that he invented the Tokugawa surname; his birth name was Matsudaira Takechiyo. The Matsudaira clan was trapped between the Imagawa and Oda clans: they could not stand against either clan but could not decide for certain which clan to side with. Eventually, Tokugawa allied with Oda and against Imagawa. Thus, the Tokugawa family did not even exist in 1550; it was the Matsudaira clan, still based in Mikawa, and of limited power.

2.2 Takeda

In Kai, just north of Musashi, Takeda Nobutora (1493-1574) was the daimyou until ousted by his son Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) in 1542. Takeda Nobutora was exhiled to Suruga, under the custody of the Imagawa, which forged an alliance between Takeda and Imagawa. From 1542-1553 Takeda Shingen waged dozens of battles in Shinano to take control of the province from the many minor clans in that region. During this time there existed a tenuous alliance with Hojo until Takeda conquered Shinano. Takeda began assaulting Hojo at Hachigata in 1568.

In 1550, Takeda Shingen was still fighting in Shinano and had won battles and sieges at Sezawa, Uehara, Kuwabara, Fukuyo, Nagakubo, Kojinyama, Takatō, Ryūgasaki, Uchiyama, Odaihara, and Shika. He suffered a defeat and loss of 10% of his 700 men against Murakami Yoshikiyo at Uedahara in 1547. From 1548-1550 he succeeded at Shirojiritoge, Fukashi, and Toishi. He would siege Katsurao in 1553 and would battle at Kawanakajima beginning in 1553.

2.3 Hojo and Uesugi

The Hojo of this period are often called the “Lesser Hojo” or “Later Hojo” to discern them from the family that ruled Japan as Kamakura regents. The previous family had long since died out; this later Hojo took the name but had no actual connection to the Kamakura family.

Two major Hojo leaders were Hojo Ujiyasu (1515-1571) and Hojo Tsunashige (1515-1587). Ujiyasu was the leader of the Hojo (and daimyou of Sagami) from 1541 until his death. His brother Tsunashige was a very effective military officer, whose leadership won the Battle of Kawagoe in 1545.

In 1450, Hojo controlled Sagami from its home base at Odawara Castle. Uesugi controlled Musashi with Edo Castle (Ogigayatsu branch) Shirai Castle in Shimousa (Ogigayatsu branch) and Kawagoe Castle in Saitama (Yamanouchi branch).

Hojo seized Edo Castle in 1524 and Kawagoe in 1537. Uesugi attempted to retake Edo Castle in 1545 but the Hojo garrison in Kawagoe destroyed Uesugi’s forces and rendered the family powerless.

The Uesugi were revitalized after Nagao Kagetora was adopted into the line, who took the name Uesugi Kenshin and made the Uesugi a powerful military force.

Luckily for Hojo, Uesugi Kenshin directed his efforts almost entirely against Takeda Shingen in defense of his family lands in Echigo, rather than attempt to retake Musashi from the Hojo for Uesugi. Uesugi Kenshin made a brief campaign against the Hojo in 1560, ending after an unsuccessful siege of Odawara.

2.4 Hojo and Takeda

Alliance between Hojo and Takeda weakened as Takeda Shingen wrapped up his conquest of Shinano and it became clear that Musashi was a tempting follow-up. Takeda Shingen, after securing Shinano, began an unsuccessful but highly damaging campaign to capture Musashi from the Hojo, beginning with the Siege of Hachigata in 1568 and continuing off and on until 1580. Takeda Shingen had greatly overspent himself, as he was also battling Uesugi Kenshin and Oda Nobunaga, and the Hojo retained Musashi while the Takeda were soundly defeated by Oda at Nagashino in 1575. Hojo retained control of Musashi until defeated at Odawara by Tokugawa in 1590. Tokugawa took Edo Castle as its military base.

2.5 Oda, Toyotomi, and Tokugawa

Oda Nobunaga was born in 1534 to Oda Nobuhide, a minor lord in Owari kuni.  Through deft political maneuvers, alliances, and assassinations, he became leader of his clan and Owari in 1558.  At the Battle of Okehazama in 1560, he conquered Mikawa, Totomi, and Suruga kuni.  He marched into Kyoto in 1568, securing the Shogunate with a puppet governor.  In response to warrior-monks assaulting Kyoto, he razed Mt. Hiei in 1571, burning temples and slaughtering thousands of monks.

Takeda Shingen began his campaign against Oda in 1572; the Takeda were soundly defeated at the Battle of Nagashino in 1575, largely due to Oda's skill in bringing effective firearms tactics to the battlefield.  The remaining elements of the Takeda were wiped out by 1582.  The Uesugi, meanwhile, managed a great victory against Oda at Tedorigawa in 1577, and continued to fight against Oda, and later his retainers, until Sekigahara.

Oda formed alliances with many other daimyou, including Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who became his most powerful retainers.  When Oda Nobunaga was betrayed and assassinated in 1582 by his retainer Akechi Mitsuhide, Toyotomi killed Akechi and, after a few battles, secured Oda's forces.  Tokugawa became Toyotomi's retainer.

Toyotomi and Tokugawa defeated the Hojo in 1590 using a massive three-month siege on Odawara, while simultaneously  capturing a half-dozen Hojo strongholds.  Toyotomi made an unusual offer during the Odawara siege: Tokugawa could take all of the the captured Hojo lands in exchange for giving Toyotomi the Tokugawa province of Mikawa and the captured provinces of Totomi, Suruga, Shinano, and Kai.  Toyotomi's intention was to weaken Tokugawa by removing them from their ancestral home, while still giving them desirable lands to prevent ill will.  But Ieyasu was able to take advantage of the situation by  creating an efficient government with intelligent economic policy, thus gathering the loyalty of the people in Kanto and the willing service of the Hojo samurai.  Their distance from Osaka Castle allowed Tokugawa to grow strong, and thus, after Hideyoshi died in 1598, many Toyotomi retainers recognized Tokugawa's strength and offered their loyalty.  For this reason, Tokugawa was able take control of Japan from the Toyotomi at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, finally completing the reunification of Japan and ending the sengoku jidai.

3. Official and Effective Capitals and Clans

A summary of the leaders of Japan, clan affiliation, and the location from which they governed.

Imperial code dictated that the Imperial Residence must move to a new city on the death of the Emperor. This rule ended in the Nara Era. From then on, the history of Japan can be divided into periods named after the seat of power – first of the Emperor, and then of the Shogun.

3.1 Nara Era 710-794

Official seat of power was Heijo-kyou (later called Nara).
From 740 to 745 the Emperor attempted residence in Kuni-kyou, Naniwa-kyou, and Shigarakinomiya. (Naniwa-kyou is present-day Osaka.)
In 745 the capital is moved back to Nara.
In 784 the capital is moved to Nagaoka-kyou (in/near Kyoto).
In 794 the capital is moved to Heian-kyou (present-day Kyoto).
Official and effective control was with the Emperor.

3.2 Heian Era 792-1192

Imperial residence in Heian-kyou (later called Kyoto) and would remain so until 1868.
Official control was in the hands of the Emperor until 879.
Effective control was in the Fujiwara regent (sesshou) from 879-1185

3.3 Kamakura Era 1192-1333

Seat of the shogunate was Kamakura.
Official military power was with the Minamoto shogun.
Effective control was in the Hojo Regent to the Shogun (shikken) and Deputies (rokuhara tandai, or kanrei) from 1199-1333.

3.4 Muromachi Era 1336-1573

Seat of the shogunate was Muromachi, a region of Kyoto.
Official military power was with the Ashikaga shogun, though defied by daimyou and kanrei throughout the period.
Capital nearly demolished during Onin War 1467-1477.
Effective control of the west was in the Hosokawa kanrei from 1367-1568.
Effective control of the East by kanto kanrei (Deputy of the East) Ashikaga 1337-1439.
Effective control of the East by kanto kanrei (Deputy of the East) Uesugi 1439-1552.
(Kanto kanrei was dissolved in 1552; by this point Uesugi had been weakened in war against Hojo.)
Effective control was by Oda Nobunaga from 1568-1573.

3.5 Azuchi-Momoyama Era 1568-1603

No shogun in Japan!
Oda Nobunaga built Azuchi Castle on Lake Biwa.
Oda Nobunaga killed by Akechi Mitsuhide in 1582.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi took control and took title kampaku in 1584. Made government in Momoyama, in Osaka.
Tokugawa Ieyasu took control in 1600

3.6 Edo Era 1603-1868

Seat of the shogunate was Edo.
Official military power was with Tokugawa shogun.
Tokugawa shogunate kept effective control until Meiji Restoration.

4. Economics

4.1 Land and Labor

The primarily agrarian nature of Japanese culture led to a standard unit of wealth known as the koku, a volume of uncooked rice sufficient to feed one person for a year. The koku is a volume equal to ten cubic shaku (30.3 cm) or 278.3 liters. One koku of uncooked rice weighed approximately 150 kg. By the Edo period, the koku was used to assess the wealth of each fiefdom (han) which varied from ten thousand to one million koku, and were administered by daimyou.

A koku of modern-day rice has a value of 35,250 modern yen. Ten koku was approximated as the ideal product of a rice field one choo (9917 sq. meters) in area, which required the full-time work of 4 to 5 people. Thus 2 koku represents the fulltime work of a rice farmer for half a year, from spring planting to late summer harvest. During the winter, the farmer will work at other tasks such as woodcutting.

In early Nara a land ownership system existed which (ostensibly) distributed land equally among every person in Japan, who then paid a 3% tax to the Emperor. During this period, many families collected their lands together as a more efficient form of farming, and when these communes became strong enough they would pay tribute to government officials so that the land would not be redistributed upon the death of a member. These communes became shoen, manors or plantations, many of which were privately owned by families.

By the late Heian Era essentially all arable land was shoen. During the Kamakura Era, Minamoto Yoshitomo’s emplacement of jito placed most of the largest shoen under direct control of a central government.

During the Muromachi Era, most land and labor was still under control of these shoen, supervised by jito and other bakufu officers, who were in turn supervised by shugo and shugodai, who were (to varying degree) answerable to the shogun. Ideally, each laborer produced 2 koku of product, kept about 1.5 koku for himself, and gave the rest to the jito, who would pass it up to the shugo. The shugo would collect all the koku of all his shoen, give a tribute to the shogun (the amount of which varied extensively on the political situation), and redistribute the rest among his samurai. During the Warring States, distant daimyou could often ignore the tribute to the shogun, and of course, increase his holdings by taking them from a neighboring daimyou.

Not so ideally, many laborers produced much less than 2 koku and were left without enough income to support themselves or their families.

Most work below the jito – which included all physical labor and most supervisory and administrative work – was done by hyakusho, the peasants, who made up approximately 80% of the population of Japan. Some hyakusho were independent landowners, but by the Sengoku most of the hyakusho organized themselves in bands of hyakusho-uke, tenant-farmers for shonen or for shugo directly, paying a yearly rent for the land and keeping the rest of the crop for themselves. Others were shomin, serfs who gave all their production to the shoen in exchange for (generally inadequate) living expenses. While slavery was technically illegal by Imperial decree, some jito allowed or encouraged excessively long contracts for shomin, or inflated expenses to keep the shomin in debt. The worst jito would deal with bandits, who would kidnap travelers and sell them to the shoen for money. As such, a de facto slave market existed, especially in times of chaos.

This was the design at the beginning of the Muromachi, in any case. But during the Sengoku, many jito overthrew shugodai, shugodai overthrew shugo, and the upward movement of power led to the creation of warlords operating independent of Kyoto, known as daimyou. These daimyou focused on military conquest which took attention from the administration of their own lands, and a great number of shoen dissolved. Additionally, though significant controls on travel were established, commerce was generally allowed a great deal of leeway. As a result, commerce boomed even as anarchy reigned at the higher levels of government. Many peasants found themselves landowners and villages developed themselves into farming communes, appointing their own leadership, and taking control of their own operations and their own defenses. Industrial and merchant towns which produced high-value goods developed fortress towns; the town of Sakai was nearly a kuni by itself, answering to no authority except its own appointed government of townspeople.

Towns and villages which did not produce so much could not afford strong defenses against bandits, and especially could not resist a roving army intending to take whatever it can find for supplies.

Note that good rice is in fact sort of expensive as a bulk food, and a single person can survive on less than a koku per year by supplanting his diet with millet, barley, wheat, maize, rye, and beans. Millet was generally seen as the cheapest food a person could live on; it could be grown on farmland inhospitable to most other grains. To the higher classes – and to most people today – this type of Japanese millet is unfit for anything but animal fodder.

4.2 Coinage

Japanese currency (minted and imported) originally consisted of only copper. Gold and silver saw significant use in the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively. (Increased industry and foreign trade greatly increased the need for high-value currency.) The value of each mode of currency was (at least initially) by weight and quality of the metal used. Gold could be easily compared to the koku because of the ryou, a coin containing an amount of gold that it had the approximate value of one koku.

The use of multiple standards meant that the value of coins with respect to each other changed as the values of copper, silver, and gold changed. Additionally, values of coinage decreased with debasement. For the most part, the values of rice and gold remained stable, so where appropriate there are conversions to modern-day yen through the current value of rice and gold.

4.2.1 Copper

The Emperor minted copper coinage from 600-900 AD. As the price of copper increased, the government began debasing coins, which led to massive inflation. This was so disastrous that the government suspended the minting of coins.

From 900 AD to 1600 AD, a large amount of Chinese coins were imported to fill the currency void. These were called toraisen, and most generally were circular copper coins approximately 1 cm in diameter with a square hole, very similar to many Chinese coins and some Japanese coins today. Most of these were copper Song dynasty coins exported from Northern China. By the 15th century, the import of Chinese coin was not enough to fulfill demand and some Japanese metallurgists took to minting coins of similar appearance and copper content; these were called shichusen.

As the shichusen were minted without any centralized supervision, and as many toraisen in Japan had seen centuries of use, the quality of these coins was very questionable. If a coin was badly damaged, it was called bitasen, and oftentimes a person would refuse to accept bitasen at face value, a practice known as erizeni.

To combat erizeni, bitasen were banned and copper coins were issued as the mon in the Edo Period, with 1000 mon equaling 1 kan, and 1 kan (3.75 kg copper) defined as equal to 1 bu (gold). Eventually, the sen was completely removed.

Prior to this, during the Sengoku Jidai, the value of shichusen and toraisen had no certain value compared to gold, but as a rough estimate 4000 sen would be equivalent to 1 ryou, depending on the local market and quality of the sen. So the sen was the standard unit of currency for day-to-day activity in the Sengoku Jidai, equivalent to 40 grams of uncooked rice or 3.75 mg gold. Today, that would be equal to 9.4 yen (by rice) or 9.6 yen (by gold).

4.2.2 Gold

A gold coin called the koshu kin was minted in Kai by Takeda Koshu. They were irregular nugget-like gold coins of varying purity. They were stamped with a face value determined by its weight and purity. A 1 ryo coin would contain 15 g of 80% gold, and have a value approximately equal to 1 koku. These coins were intended to only be used in Kai but they saw some use outside of the area, and more importantly, they formed the model for Tokugawa gold coinage in ryou, bu, and shu. Denominations were as follows:

4 bu = 1 ryou
4 shu = 1 bu
2 shuchu = 1 shu
2 itome = 1 shuchu
2 koitome = 1 itome
2 koitomechu = 1 koitome

Interestingly, one ryo contained an amount of gold which would today have a value of approximately 38280 yen. A koku contained an amount of rice that would today run for approximately 35250 yen.

4.2.3 Silver

As gold was fulfilling the need for high-value currency in Kanto, silver was doing the same in Kansai, with Osaka especially doing much of its business in silver coins.

The basis of silver coin was the silver momme, weighing 3.75 g. Denominations are as follows:

1 kamme = 1000 momme
1 momme = 10 fun
1 fun = 10 rin

Before the momme was debased by Tokugawa, 50 momme had a value about equal to 1 ryou. Debasement of currency by Tokugawa led to deviation between the official value and the market value of gold and silver coins. This would eventually lead to monetary reformation in the Meiji Restoration.

4.2.4 Yen

The en (yen) was introduced in 1870, equivalent to 24.26 g silver or 1.5 g gold. The value of the en has decreased substantially with respect to precious metals since then; the modern en is only worth 0.39 mg of gold. The sen and rin were resurrected during Meiji as minor coins with 1000 rin = 100 sen = 1 en and were used until 1953. Note this modernized sen had a value of 38 current-day en; that is, it had a value 4 times larger than the Sengoku sen.

Note: In August 2007, gold was valued at 2552 yen per gram, and rice was valued at 235 yen per kilogram.

4.2.5 Paper Currency

Legal tender paper bills were first introduced by Meiji. During the Edo Era, there was tremendous use of negotiable-bearer instruments first issued by merchants and later by daimyou, which could be exchanged for coinage by the issuer, or could be exchanged for goods and services with anyone who trusted the legitimacy of the note and the credit of the issuer.

Since such notes were only valid so long as the issuing clan continued to have enough power and fortune to honor it, paper notes were useless during war and were nonexistent during the sengoku jidai.

5. The Inuyasha-tachi

In the Sengoku Jidai, gold coinage would be incredibly rare, and silver even more so, in the Hojo and Takeda regions. Characters would be carrying sen coins on knotted ropes, which had a value of approximately 4 Meiji en, 10 modern day yen, or $0.09.

Extrapolating backward from Westerner cost-of-living accounts in late Tokugawa (i.e., very error-prone) I made some guesses for common expenses:

Day’s worth of rice for one person 10 sen
Good prepared meal 30 sen
Bottle of good sake 10 sen
Tasty dango sweets 10 sen

A major problem with sen is that (at least for copper coins) their value was proportional to their weight. A pure copper sen weighed 3.75 g

6. Weight, Distance, and Volume Measurement in the Sengoku Jidai

1 kan = 3.75 kg
1 mom’me = 3.75 g
1 shaku = 30.3 cm
1 koku = 10 cubic shaku = 278.3 liters (redefined in Meiji era as 180 liters)

7.  References

http://goldprice.org/gold-price-per-gram.html
http://www.imes.boj.or.jp/cm/english_htmls/feature_gra1-11.htm
http://www.imes.boj.or.jp/cm/english_htmls/feature_gra.htm
http://www.animeigo.com/SamLiner/BLOODPASSLINER.t
http://www.crystalinks.com/japan5.html
http://www.mint.go.jp/eng/kids/history.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Tokyo
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoshiwara
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo


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