Organized Panel Session
Rejecting the idea of a “typical” Tokugawa village, scholars in Japan in recent years have increasingly sought to explore the histories of specific communities in order to develop a better understanding of the diversity of social experiences that existed across the archipelago during the Edo period. This paper contributes to this larger project by examining the case of Seinaiji, a village located high in the mountains of Shinano in central Japan, and the broader spatial networks formed through Seinaiji's links to markets across the archipelago. Because its physical location made rice production difficult, during the early Tokugawa period the village’s economic life was focused on timber and other mountain products, but from the second half of the 18th century the cultivation of tobacco was to become increasingly central. The paper will begin by considering the reasons for this shift and its implications for social relations within the village, particularly in relation to the emergence of wealthy peasant households connected to the tobacco trade. In keeping with the overall theme of the panel, the paper will then ask why it was that tobacco processing (leaf cutting) technologies, although widely available, were not taken up in Seinaiji until the early Meiji period. It will then examine the social impact of these new technologies after they were taken up, the brief boom that followed and the eventual demise of tobacco cultivation in the early twentieth century.