Kabunakama (株仲間)

Kabunakama was a type of guild formed as a cartel by warehouse merchants. People who owned shares were accepted as a member.

Originally, it was a private group consisting of peer warehouse merchants and the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) feared that this kind of organization would control the distribution system and pose a threat to them because the Edo bakufu adopted the commercial policy inherited the course of rakuichi-rakuza (free markets and open guilds) at first. Thus, the bakufu regulated kabunakama by six interdicts between 1648 and 1670, however, it was officially approved under the policy that such organization was preferable to control the commerce and it was granted special privileges such as exclusive distributorship in exchange for render. During the time of Okitsugu TANUMA, it was more aggressively approved and the bakufu aimed at increasing its revenue and controlling merchants. Kabunakama was distinguished between 'negaikabu' which was formed voluntarily and 'gomenkabu' which was formed on orders from the bakufu. Official approval of kabunakama means that of negaikabu.

In the Tenpo Reforms, Tadakuni MIZUNO ordered to stop the payment of render from 1841 through 1842 and dissolve most kabunakama, saying that the monopoly of the distribution system by kabunakama was the cause of inflation. But, in reality, the monopoly by kabunakama was losing substance due to the development of rural industry and the rise of emerging merchants both in urban and rural areas. Also, kabunakama had a role to guarantee the recovery of debts and performance of contracts by sharing the information of brokers who committed an injustice like default in payment and imposing disciplinary actions such as suspension of trading among the group. However, Mizuno and other heads of the bakufu could not understand the fact that kabunakama got weak due to the protection by the power of bakufu and kabunakama was the institutional basic of trading and thought that they could control the national distribution network if kabunakama were dissolved. As a result, it caused a distributional disruption and in 1851, after the fall of Mizuno, kabunakama were reestablished as toiyanakama (group of warehouse merchants) in which no render was needed. It became kabunakama again in 1857. After the reestablishment, they increased the number of shares and tried to take in emerging merchants.

In 1872 after the Meiji Restoration, kabunakama were ordered to dissolve again and it has never had a resurgence since then. Many members of kabunakama were reorganized into non-juridical organizations.