Daily Archives: 23 September 2010

Wordcatcher Tales: Kamigata, Kudarimono, Edokko

Tokyo may be the center of modern Japan. All trains bound for the capital, whether coming from northern Japan or western Japan, are nobori-ressha ‘upbound/ascending trains’, while those bound for “the provinces” are kudari-ressha ‘downbound/descending trains’. But the older Kamigata (‘upper’) capital region of Kyoto and Osaka still had the upper hand, both culturally and industrially, well into the Edo period. Goods manufactured in Kamigata for customers in the Tokugawa capital were kudari-mono ‘downbound/descending goods’. I wonder when the directions were officially reversed. Was it after Edo became Tokyo (‘Eastern Capital’) during the Meiji era?

From Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600–1868, by Nishiyama Matsunosuke, trans. and ed. by Gerald Groemer (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. 41-43:

The center of Edo was the shogun’s castle. At least until the Genroku period (1688–1704) the city was primarily the capital of the warrior. It was a teeming metropolis, a million strong, with men outnumbering women by more than two to one. Edo bustled with warriors, craftsmen, merchants, and performers from throughout the land. The upper class amused itself at the kabuki or in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters; the activities of the big spenders captured the public imagination.

The shogun, daimyo, and their retainers spent almost all their money in the city; Edo was a center of consumption. Originally, very little was produced there, neither daily necessities nor high-grade cultural artifacts. Instead, articles were imported from Kamigata, that is, from the Kyoto and Osaka area. Such goods were called kudarimono—quality products that had “come down” from Kamigata. Wares that had not “come down” were considered inferior: thus the origin of the word kudaran (“not come down”), meaning uninteresting or worthless. The sale of imported goods netted great profits for Edo branches of stores headquartered in Ise, Ōmi, or other provinces. From around the Genroku period these businesses, known as Edo-dana and located at Nihonbashi, Denmacho, and elsewhere, expanded greatly. This expansion signaled the rise of the Edo chōnin‘s economic power.

As mentioned earlier, Edo-dana were staffed exclusively by men who had come to Edo only to work. These men even saw to their own cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Unable to sink their roots in the city, Edo-dana employees remained perennial outsiders. During the latter half of the eighteenth century, however, a new type of individual appeared: the Edokko, a pure Edo chōnin, who was rooted in the city itself. The first recorded usage of the term Edokko occurs in a senryū [satiric, witty verse identical in form to more serious haiku] of 1771, and thereafter was used by many authors….

One finds no label corresponding to the Edokko in Osaka and Kyoto. No concept of an “Osakakko” or a “Kyotokko” exists; nor is there any parallel in Nagoya, Kanazawa, or Hiroshima. Thus we must ask why the idea of such a native arose solely in Edo. The answer to this question is simple. In Osaka, Kyoto, and other cities, almost the entire chōnin population corresponded to what the Edokko was in Edo. In the capital, however, a huge number of unassimilated provincials remained “outsiders,” providing a contrast to the distinctly native Edokko. During the city’s early years, this heterogeneous population grew larger and developed evenly; but by the second half of the eighteenth century a marked contrast between natives and nonnatives begins to appear. This contrast was not entirely missing in other large cities such as Osaka or Kyoto, but in Edo a much larger part of the population remained nonnative.

Within Edo there existed yet another distinction: the sharp contrast between the uptown (yamanote) and the downtown (shitamachi) areas. These terms can already be found in the hanashibon (storybook) known as Eda sangoju (Beads of Coral) published in 1690. The yamanote area was a diluvial terrace packed with warrior residences; the shitamachi area was an alluvial area with a concentration of chōnin dwellings. Since the chōnin class was further split between Edokko and a large population of Edo-dana “outsiders,” Edokko were constantly confronted with a large number of people unlike themselves. The unmistakable character of the Edokko developed within this social context.

The Edokko‘s sense of nativeness that emerged during the second half of the eighteenth century fostered the efflorescence of Edokko culture. This unique culture was, however, not created by Edokko alone. Instead, it resulted from the interaction of three groups, each of which complemented the others: the warriors, the provincial chōnin “outsiders,” and the Edokko.

My first younger brother was born in Tokyo, and so claims to be an “Edokko.” But my other two brothers born in Japan have never been labeled “Kokurakko” or “Kyotokko” after their birthplaces. Until I read the passage above, I had never thought to ask why not.


Leave a comment

Filed under Japan, language

Remnants of Early Baltic Settlers

From The Baltic: A New History of the Region and Its People, by Alan Palmer (Overlook, 2006), pp. 16-17:

Neither anthropology nor philology is an exact science and few today would follow the nationalistic scholars of the nineteenth century who equated race and language when seeking the origin of a country. But new techniques can revive familiar speculation while mellowing past prejudice. In the early 1980s the Finnish historian Matti Klinge argued that research into hereditary blood groups showed that three-quarters of the Finnish population were of western descent and only a third of eastern origin. He pointed out, however, that the linguistic structure of the Finnish language has remained more markedly eastern in character than western. Is this perhaps because the Finns and their kinsfolk south of the Gulf in Estonia are peoples with traditions of folk epic handed down orally? Their languages were shaped before the coming of written words. Finland’s Kalevala and Estonia’s Kalevipoeg survived as tales of patriot derring-do in taming both the forces of Nature and the evil spirits conjured up in a primeval wilderness of lake and forest.

By the end of the Scandinavian Bronze Age (circa 500 BC) other migrants felt drawn towards the setting sun, like the Finno-Ugrian before them. They came mainly from the south-east, to form compact units along the Baltic’s southern shores, with their communities set apart by forests, bogs and rivers. Among them were Prussian tribes astride the Vistula, the Polame on the Warta (farther inland, around modern Poznan) and a group of Lithuanian tribes around the river Niemen (Nemanus) and its tributaries. Over the following centuries tribal chiefs, seeking effective means to defend their homesteads, created what were in effect embryonic nations across these marchlands. Some tribes, like the Salic Franks and the Burgundians, provided a nucleus for historic kingdoms established after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. Others bore names that recur in successive periods of northern Europe’s history. Thus the Cours (or Curonians), a tribe who lived in the peninsula between the central Baltic and the Gulf of Riga, survived as a separate people until the late thirteenth century and gave their name to the Duchy of Courland (Kurzeme, or in German Kurland) which between 1561 and 1795 enjoyed semi-independence within the Polish Commonwealth. The Cours’ neighbours, the Zemgal tribe (Semigallians), also maintained a distinctive corporate existence until 1290, farming the low-lying region west of the Daugava river that later formed the eastern part of the Courland Duchy.

Both Kurzeme and Zemgale are back on the map in today’s atlases: they form administrative divisions in modern Latvia. Three of the Western Slav peoples survive as member states of the European Union: Poland; the Czech Republic; Slovakia. Other tribes, once famed and feared for their fighting qualities, have sunk without trace. Among them were most of the Wends, the Western Slavs who settled between Kiel Bay and the Vistula Spit and may themselves be subdivided into Wagrians, Abotrites, Polabians and Rugians. But two of the ‘lost’ Wendish peoples are still extant, though few in number: some 50,000 Sorbs of Lusatia now live between the Oder and the Elbe and there is an even smaller community of Kashubs, Pomerania’s original ‘dwellers by the shore’. Like the people of Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and Provence, the Sorbs and Kashubs owe their linguistic survival to academics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who defied the exclusiveness of master nations to fire the embers of a dying culture. By contrast, the Setus, a Finno-Ugrian people who settled around Lake Peipsi, were too isolated to find scholarly champions in the West. No more than 7,000 Setu survive, their communities separated today by the geographically ill-defined border that provides a frontier between Estonia and Russia.

I find two of Palmer’s linguistic explanations almost laughable.

(1) Are Finns and Estonians the only “peoples with traditions of folk epic handed down orally,” the only peoples whose “languages were shaped before the coming of written words”? Does he doubt that Norse sagas were orally transmitted long before they were written down? Does he realize that legions of illiterates have done far more over the millennia to influence the structures of the languages they speak than literates have?

(2) Were academics the saviors of Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Occitan, Sorbian, and Kashubian? Are those languages only spoken in classrooms? If so, then they are not yet saved. Academics may have documented those languages and first reduced them to writing, but they haven’t saved them until people pass them on to their children in a wider variety of settings.

As a historian, Palmer depends crucially on written records to construct his view of the world, but his imagination also seems hemmed in a bit too much by that literacy, as if nothing noteworthy exists until it exists in writing.


Filed under Baltics, Finland, Germany, language, migration, nationalism, Poland, Scandinavia