Hero Image: The Yoshino Goun monjo -Document 124-2, Issatsu,
owned by the Department of Japanese History, Osaka City University
As the title of this series indicates, we will be exploring the world of social groups revealed in the historical documents (komonjo) left to us by the people of early modern Japan. Our guide, Dr. Watanabe Sachiko, will present an accessible introduction to the reading of Edo-period sources using the Yoshino Goun monjo, an archival collection held by the Japanese history division in the Department of Literature at Osaka City University.
The analysis proceeds methodically through the deciphering of the original handwritten documents, unpacking their dense style into “spoken” form (yomikudashi), and preparing a modern Japanese translation. The aim is to reconstruct the web of socio-economic relations constituted by the Yoshino Goun, a house of apothecary (gōyakuya), specifically their distribution and sales structures and the field of social groups tied into them.
As such, this series provides a concrete introduction to the agenda and methods early modern Japanese urban social history, which aims to bring to light, in fine detail, the world of these social groups. We very much hope that the series will find wide readership among those with an interest in the history of the Edo period and its rich legacy of komonjo.
The Yoshino Goun Documents (Part 2) – Dr. Watanabe Sachiko
In this installment, continuing our introduction to the Yoshida Goun monjo (YGM), we will go through a complete example document. As discussed last time, the collection contains a set of just over one hundred similarly formatted contracts. To determine what kind of contracts they are and why they were preserved together, first we must decipher the text. We break up the work into three distinct steps, which helps us catch different types of errors and facilitates consultation with other scholars.
First we transcribe the original document’s handwritten cursive characters (kuzushi-ji) into print characters (katsu-ji):
Yoshino Goun monjo – Document 124-2
証人 和泉屋 利兵衛（印）
The original document is written in sōrō-bun, a compact epistolary style distinguished by two main features: 1) hiragana and katakana generally appear very sparingly because phonetic verb tails (okurigana) and grammatical particles are often dropped (also, adpositions that do appear, along with many conjugative/honorific verbal elements, are often replaced by kanji); 2) said particles and verbal elements are regularly condensed into Chinese style (kanbun), i.e., placed at the head of their grammatical phrases rather than the rear as in spoken Japanese (in the above text, examples of 1 are underlined and 2 written in red). Therefore, the next step is to unpack the text into spoken form (yomikudashi-bun):
（日付・差出人・宛先は省略）(Date, sender, addressee abbreviated)
Last, we render our reading of the text into modern Japanese:
証人 和泉屋 利兵衛（印）
Using the modern Japanese, let us confirm the main points of the contract, which the sender, Masuya Yōsuke, submitted to the house of Yoshino Goun on becoming a licensed distributor of a ginseng medicine they produced (ninjin sanzōen): first, he applied for license through the good offices of Izumiya Rihē of Osaka; upon being granted such, he took a placard for that medicine into his keeping; finally, in cases of delinquent payments to the house or other unforeseen difficulties, he promised not to bring any complaints should the placard be confiscated and granted to some other distributor.
The fact that so many of the same type of contracts have been preserved provides a sense of the extent of Yoshino Goun’s distribution network for their ginseng medicine. In the next part of this series, we will go deeper into the contents of the contract to consider what exactly a distributor was and what kind of person could become one.