Furiuri (Peddling or Peddler) (振売)

Furiuri is a form of commerce which was actively practiced up to recent times in Japan.

This form of commerce was called furiuri ("furi" literally means "swing" and "uri" means "sell") derived from the image of vendors who walk around to sell goods and services while shouldering a carrying pole with bamboo sieves, wooden buckets, wooden boxes or baskets hung at both ends. It is also referred to as botefuri (Fig. 1).

Food situation in Edo

This business which had been already called 'furiuri' or 'botefuri' in the Muromachi period reached its peak in the Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate governed Japan.

The city of Edo was originally built based on the shogunate plan and then developed by building a warrior's district around Edo-jo Castle and allowing merchants and craftsmen to move to the city. From the start, however, a large amount of food had to be supplied from outside to samurai emerging as the biggest consumer's class from the shogun down that did not conduct productive activities at all under the hierarchical system of Shinokosho (samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants).

Since then, an increasing number of people immigrated into Edo and ninsoku (laborer) who came for restoration work after massive fires settled down. As a result, Edo Ninbetsu Aratame in 1743 (population survey in the Edo period) shows that Edo was populated by 310,000 male and 215,000 female townspeople and samurai adding up to more than 1 million.

In order to supply food to every corner of Edo, the most highly populated city in the world beyond London and Paris that were the most advanced cities in those days, the distribution was developed into a big, complicated and fine system, and people categorized into business called the furiuri were at the lowest end of the system.

Furiuri business

The characteristic of the furiuri is to walk around to sell mainly raw ingredients, seasonings or ready-made food without carrying a fire, and it was the easiest business to begin among the food business because special technique or knowledge and rights to set up a shop were not required. For that reasons, the furiuri was though to be a job for the socially vulnerable, and the bakufu issued a law that gave people aged 50 and over, or 15 and under, and people with disabilities permission to start the furiuri.

The 'Morisadamanko' written for about 30 years since 1837 and considered as the first-rate historical material to study early-modern folkways describes the furiuri as "a commoner's job to walk around the city with a cry while carrying products on the shoulder or back in three cities (Edo, Kyoto and Osaka)," which shows that the socially vulnerable were able to make living by doing the furiuri healthily.

The Morisadamanko also says "a fish peddler walks around and cries lively everyday, saying 'sea bream, raw octopus, and red sea beam'," which allows us to guess what a fish peddler did.

Peddlers were not limited in places to do their business, and were so everywhere around Edo that there were few pages without illustrations of the peddlers in the 'Edo Meisho Zue' (the topography consisting of 20 books in 7 series in the Edo period written from 1834 to 1836). As mentioned above, people aged 50 and over or 15 and below alone were allowed to do the furiuri by the law, but the peddler illustrations for the Morisadamanko did not obviously look like people in those age groups and after all, commoners in Edo seemed to do the business in disregard of the bakufu's order.

The bakufu might have had no choice but to turn blind eyes to the unlawful furiuti because strict control over the unlawful furiuri would result in inconvenient life of samurai society as well as commoners and the bakufu did not have enough manpower to catch every lawful furiuri in Edo.


The 'Morisadamanko' mentioned above introduces dozens of furiuri business dealing with food.

It is hard to list all of them, but the furiuri dealing with the following foods were introduced: Deep-fried tofu, fresh fish, stockfish, shellfish, tofu, soy sauce, red peppers, sushi (Fig. 2), amazake (sweet mild sake), matsutake mushrooms, zenzai (rice cake with red bean paste), shiruko (sweet red-bean soup with pieces of rice cake), shiratama (rice-flour dumplings), natto, nori (a sheet of dried laver), and boiled eggs. When the 'Morisadamanko' is read more, it would appear that it was easy to develop new products to start the business if they came up with ideas and exercised a little ingenuity during the time when there were no troublesome laws such as Utility Model Act and Patent Act.

A 'cold water peddler' in particular is introduced like this, "On a summer day, the vendors take water from a pure fountain and sell it with white soft sugar and rice-flour dumplings for four mon (unit of currency) per bowl, or eight mon at customer's request, and more sugar is added if it is sold for twelve mon.
Its street cry is 'hyakkoi, hyakkoi.'
In Kyoto and Osaka, something similar is sold on roadsides. Vendors usually sell water with sugar alone for six mon per bowl without dumplings, and they are called a sugar water peddler, not a cold water peddler."

All they had to do was just to take clean water from somewhere and sell it with sugar. It is interesting to see that the price of the water was six mon even without dumplings, which it should be said is Osaka all over. Sugar might have been relatively expensive as a material cost, but it might have been enough to earn it back if they worked with a lot of effort because water was free.

The furiuri gives seemingly cheap, strong and heartwarming impression, but there were some dishonest peddlers as usual. Those peddlers are what is called in the 'Morisadamanko' 'ayashiuri' which is described as "peddlers deceiving customers to sell fakes." The 'Morisadamanko' says "the ayashiuri takes meat from chicken and goose to sell tofu refuse as meat and some of them commit different types of frauds." What exactly they sold is not sure because the article does not have illustrations, but they might have sold chicken stuffed with tofu refuse.

In addition to the food peddlers, the 'Morisadamanko' introduces other furiuri dealing with daily necessities including brooms, flowers, wind bells, copper containers, moxa, calendars, ink, barrels, tubs, kindling woodchips, baskets, mosquito nets, sandals, straw raincoats and hats, garden trees, small drums, soap bubbles, gold fish, insects such as bell cricket and pine cricket, varicolored golden carps as well as children's toys, and on top of that, pet peddlers are introduced. The furiuri includes 'bamboo pole peddlers' who still exist now, and 'shobuzuke-uri peddlers' who sold prompt report on the results of sumo matches are introduced too.

In an excerpt from the article of sushi peddlers in Fig. 2. In Edo, hakozushi (pressed sushi) went out of fashion as seen in Kyoto and Osaka and only nigiri sushi is sold. Rice balls are usually topped with rolled eggs, abalone, fatty tuna, seasoned shrimp powder, small sea bream, spotted shad, ice fish and octopus. The sushi is topped with any other various ingredients. One rice ball has one topping. Sushi roll is called nori-maki and contains a gourd strip only. Neither new ginger nor old one is pickled in vinegar and two types of gingers are added together with xx. Kenukizushi refers to nigiri sushi pressed in a low, striped bamboo, which costs around six mon a piece. Some peddlers sold the kenukizushi at high price ranging from four to five mon and up to sixty mon a piece. In the Tenpo era, about 200 peddlers were arrested for selling expensive sushi and sentenced to tegusari penalty (confinement to one's residence and restraint in behavior with handcuffs on the wrists). After that, it was four or eight mon, but some peddlers sell it for thirty mon because the regulations have been relaxed recently. xx denotes illegible words.

As commoners led a luxurious life, seeing it as life beyond their means, the Edo shogunate often cracked down on it and arrested sushi chefs for making expensive sushi costing as much as sixty mon a piece. The 'Morisadamanko' says that it happened in the Tenpo era, but it is not certain whether the Tenpo Famine or Tenpo Reforms triggered the crackdown.


Besides the furiuri dealing with foods and daily necessities, there were peddlers who walked around to provide services necessary to daily life and buy certain types of goods. The former peddlers provided services such as repairing locks, fixing pairs of glasses, mending cracked pans, giving massage, mending clog supports, polishing mirrors, mending cracked pottery, re-tightening hoops on barrels, catching rats, fixing abacuses, repairing wooden frames of kotatsu, mending a braid of haori (a Japanese half-coat), repairing andon (a lamp with a paper shade) and chochin (Japanese paper lantern), and writing letters on nameboards.

Those peddlers are not different from ordinary furiuri at all in that they walk around with fixing tools and material boxes hung at a pole on their shoulder. Rather than simply selling foods, some artisan skills were required.

The latter peddlers walked around to buy paper wastes, ashes in furnace, used clothes, old umbrellas, and residues of melted candle wax. Since paper was valuable in the Edo period, it was recycled by remaking after collected and melted. Ashes in furnace were used for fertilizer on farms and used clothes were made over or recycled into fabric. Old umbrellas were remade for reuse and candle wax residues could be sold as new candles if new wicks were put in them after collected and melted. The furiuri reflects the aspect of thorough recycling and reusing society in the Edo period which is like there were nothing to discard.