Law for Transporting Five Articles through Edo (五品江戸廻送令)

The Law for Transporting Five Articles through Edo was a law for trading control over raw silk thread, cereals, hair oil, wax and draperies issued by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in 1860.

Background

Following the conclusion of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and Japan as well as the Ansei Commercial Treaties, trade started in three ports such as Hakodate Port, Yokohama Port and Nagasaki Port from 1859, and merchants in Japan began to have dealings with foreign merchants living in these ports. Japanese main export was raw silk thread, and because exported goods such as raw silk thread were exchanged at higher prices on the trading market than on the domestic market, local merchants, who mediated between a place of production and market, began to sell products wholesale directly at open ports, not to warehouse merchants in big cities such as Edo (now Tokyo). Therefore, traditional distribution system led by wholesalers in Edo began to collapse. Moreover, when the intervention in the Taiping War by England and France intensified, there was an increased demand for exports of war supplies such as cereals and wax, which were originally not in demand. Rapidly increased demand for exports far exceeded the supply of production, while prices of commodity soared in general, throwing Japan's economy into great confusion.

Law for Transporting Five Articles through Edo

To deal with such situation, and in response to the wishes of wholesalers in Edo the Edo bakufu issued the Law for Transporting Five Articles through Edo, which was a law providing that merchants never failed to get through the warehouse merchants in Edo regarding five articles such as raw silk thread, cereals, hair oil, wax and draperies in 1860. Although this law was intended to protect warehouse merchants in Edo and to control steep price rise, it immediately met with strong opposition from powerful countries insisting that the law would hamper free trade policy as specified in the treaties. In addition because local merchants still continued to directly transport goods to open ports, the law did not produce satisfactory results. In 1862 instead of raw silk thread, its material a silkworm-egg card, which increased in exports, was prohibited from exporting as a secret passage, but this was also abolished under the pressure from powerful countries in a year.

However, supported by the trend toward expulsion of foreigners and national isolation arising in reaction to the opening of Japan to the world, the bakufu promoted full-fledged enforcement of the law from 1863, and as a result it began to produce material results slowly such as the decreased exports of raw silk thread. However, prompted by the Shimonoseki War in 1864, powerful countries heavily pressed the Edo bakufu for the abolition of the law while there were opinions within the Edo bakufu that it would lead to improved financial affairs of the bakufu and be wiser to keep trading under control by imposing tax on exports of raw silk thread. Therefore, the Edo bakufu judged that it would not be good policy to stop the trend toward the opening of the country to the world, and eventually the law was abolished.

Afterwards

Subsequently in 1865 the Edo bakufu established the system for changing a seal on raw silk thread and silkworm-egg card, and it placed producers of silkworm-egg card and raw silk thread under an obligation to pay myogakin (money to dedicate). Although the aim of this system was that imposing tax on producers would lead them to shift the increased burden for taxation onto salespeople and exporters for prices, this provoked agricultural producers into raising a reform riot. Nevertheless, this policy was continued even after the establishment of the Meiji government, and in 1873 the government proclaimed the regulation for controlling the production of raw silk thread, putting producers under an obligation to affix a revenue stamp in the shipment of raw silk thread. After that, the Meiji government became more and more involved in increased production, and export policy of raw silk thread in terms of encouragement of new industry and Shizoku jusan (providing former samurai with employment).