While others have used income levels to conclude that the Japanese household was relatively poor in those centuries, Hanley examines the material culture—food, sanitation, housing, and transportation. How did ordinary people conserve the limited resources available in this small island country? What foods made up the daily diet and how were they prepared? How were human wastes disposed of? How long did people live? Hanley answers all these questions and more in an accessible style and with frequent comparisons with Western lifestyles. Her methods allow for cross-cultural comparisons between Japan and the West as well as Japan and the rest of Asia. They will be useful to anyone interested in the effects of modernization on daily life.
The authors suggest that the Japanese economy grew throughout the Tokugawa period, though slowly by modern standards and unevenly. This growth, they show, tended to exceed the rate of population increase even in the poorer regions, thus raising the living standard despite major famines. Population growth was controlled by a variety of methods, including abortion and infanticide, for the primary purpose of raising the standard of living.
Contrary to the prevailing view of scholars, thus, the conclusions advanced here indicate that the basis for Japan's rapid industrialization in the Meiji period was in many ways already established during the latter part of the Tokugawa period. The authors' analysis combines original fieldwork with study of data based on findings of the postwar years.
Originally published in 1978.
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