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The Moneylenders of Late Medieval Kyoto

The Moneylenders of Late Medieval Kyoto

Suzanne Gay
Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    The Moneylenders of Late Medieval Kyoto
    Book Description:

    The Moneylenders of Late Medieval Kyoto examines the large community of sake brewer-moneylenders in Japan's capital city, focusing on their rise to prominence from the mid-1300s to 1550. Their guild tie to overlords, notably the great monastery Enryakuji, was forged early in the medieval period, giving them a protected monopoly and allowing them to flourish. Demand for credit was strong in medieval Kyoto, and brewers profitably recirculated capital for loans. As the medieval period progressed, the brewer-lenders came into their own. While maintaining overlord ties, they engaged in activities that brought them into close contact with every segment of Kyoto's population. The more socially prominent brewers served as tax agents for religious institutions, the shogunate, and the imperial court, and were actively involved in a range of cultural pursuits including tea and linked verse. Although the merchants themselves left only the faintest record, Suzanne Gay has fully and convincingly depicted this important group of medieval commoners.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6488-0
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    This is a study of a group of people, residents of medieval Kyoto, who brewedsakeand lent money for a living. Demand for credit was strong in medieval times, and available from a variety of sources. From about the early thirteenth century,sakebrewers dominated secular moneylending in the city.¹ Under the direct or indirect control, first of Enryakuji, the great Buddhist monastery on Mount Hiei, and later of the Muromachi shogunate, they numbered in the hundreds in the late medieval period (approximately 1350 to 1550). Flush with capital from brewing and a constant flow of interest income, they...

  6. Part One The Setting: Kyoto’s Early Years and Medieval Residents
    (pp. 9-34)

    Medieval Kyoto evolved gradually on the site of the ancient capital, Heiankyō. Although transformed in many respects, the medieval city still bore a physical resemblance to the earlier metropolis and remained home to the same group of elite residents. Moneylenders and other merchants had more shallow roots, for the city was originally designed for administrative not commercial purposes.

    Kyoto was made Japan’s capital in 794 in an attempt to solve political problems in the previous capital, Nara. The move from Heijōkyō (the ancient name for Nara) to Heianky o was part of an effort by Emperor Kammu to assert the...

  7. Part Two The Lives of the Moneylenders

    • Chapter One The Business of Lending Money
      (pp. 37-55)

      The poet’s diary notation of the early thirteenth century suggests there was already a large community of moneylenders in Kyoto. A burgeoning demand for credit was met by these merchants, primarily through the medium of coinage imported from China. Some started as storehouse keepers (mikura) for aristocratic families and gradually extended their activities to include moneylending.¹ Others began as creditors like pawnbrokers offering small loans and in time added the safekeeping of valuables to their services. As pawnbrokers, these small-scale moneylenders were regarded as reliable not only because of their sturdy storehouses but because in the event that items were...

    • Chapter Two Overlords
      (pp. 56-89)

      Until about the early sixteenth century most Kyoto merchants, like the moneylenders, were not independent agents. Rather, like most peasants, they were members of occupational groups bound by prescribed obligations to overlord families, temples, and warriors. In return the overlord was expected to bestow patronage: exemption from other taxes and monopoly protection from competitors. (The monopoly protection extended to the brewer-lenders was onsake, not on moneylending; the overlord may have been helpful in dunning tardy debtors as well.) How effectively patronage was in fact bestowed depended on the overlord and the time. It seems to have diminished over the...

    • Chapter Three Transcending Subordination
      (pp. 90-126)

      At the end of the fourteenth century the moneylenders occupied a position fraught with complexity as well as potential. At this point they were indeed victims of multiple taxation—Enryakuji, the imperial court, and the shogunate were each getting a piece of their profits. At the same time, however, they were merchants of great worth: not only did they provide credit, but their business acumen produced revenues for several overlords and their leading members’ management skills were sought after as well. They parlayed their usefulness into a relationship of interdependence with the overlords that the latter could not upset without...

    • Chapter Four Responding to Siege
      (pp. 127-171)

      The last two centuries of the medieval period in Japan differed from the preceding ones in several ways. For this study, the most important of these was the ascendancy of an urban culture and monetized economy centered on Kyoto, in which not only traditional overlords but also commoners participated fully. At the same time, peasant resentment over mounting debt began to find a voice at the village level in large and well-organized leagues demanding debt amnesties. Initially successful, for about a century attacks by these forces repeatedly inflicted damage on moneylenders’ premises and invited regulation of their lending practices by...

    • Chapter Five Urban Affairs
      (pp. 172-200)

      By no means were the last two centuries of the medieval age in Kyoto merely a time of unrelieved chaos. Even as they endured periodic attacks by peasant leagues and the strife of warriors, many moneylenders thrived in the late medieval city. With their wealth and status they were at the forefront of neighborhood self-governing efforts, advancing collective aims in the face of weak overlords and often nonexistent city administration. As financiers and participants, the wealthiest of them played a prominent role in the urban cultural efflorescence of the late medieval period, mingling easily with elites and other townspeople alike....

    • Chapter Six The Fate of the Moneylenders in the Early Modern Period
      (pp. 201-210)

      The fortunes of two successful moneylenders, Shōjitsubō, originally of Enryakuji, and the lay family Suminokura, provide contrasting examples of long-term survivors in the business. The experience of each in his own way illuminates the hazards and survival strategies of successful merchants. Undeniably, luck played some role in the success of the two, but business acumen and shrewdness in dealings with overlords were also essential to their longevity. Shōjitsubō served various overlords while the Suminokura were by contrast nearly independent businessmen. The Suminokura survived beyond the medieval period and Shōjitsubō flourished at least through Nobunaga’s time.

      Shōjitsubō was an anomaly among...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 211-224)

    In an essay on the culture of medieval commoners in Japan, Barbara Ruch makes a strong case for the representation of ordinary people in history.¹ Toward this worthy goal the sources by no means yield information readily. Nearly all medieval sources, whether official documents, diaries, literature, or works of art, are elite in focus and origin. Thus they tend to ignore commoners altogether or to treat them in a fragmentary manner, depreciating their role. To pursue the history of commoners requires wresting from the sources a perspective of the medieval age that their authors never intended and probably lacked themselves....

  9. Appendix Lists of Kyoto Moneylenders
    (pp. 225-236)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 237-284)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-296)
  12. Index
    (pp. 297-302)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)