The Prosperous Merchant in Tokugawa Society

The Tokugawa period was a time of dynamic commercial growth. At the center of this was the merchant class. Although socially the merchants had less prestige then other classes, they held great economic power. A number of the great Japanese multi-national corporations of today came from simple beginnings in the Tokugawa period.

"A great peace is at hand. The shôgun rules firmly and with justice at Edo. No more shall we have to live by the sword.
I have seen that great profit can be made honorably. I shall brew sake and soy sauce and we shall prosper."

— Mitsui Takatoshi (1622-1694), founder of the Mitsui empire

Translation provided by Carol Gluck, George Sansom Professor of Japanese History, Columbia University.

Discussion Questions and Classroom Exercise

  1. What does the writer mean when he says "No more shall we have to live by the sword"?
  2. The Mitsui empire began with food products. What businesses is Mitsui involved in today?
  3. Research what other major Japanese corporations had their beginnings in the Tokugawa period.