Echigoya and Mitsui


Echigoya 越後屋 and Mitsui 三井

Echigoya,越後屋 a rich merchant residing in Edo, is a famous character in the well-loved Jidaigeki dramas of Edo.

He is usually a "bad merchant", 悪 waru, trying to make the most money he can.
And the bad Daimyo, trying to get some extra money, would snicker:
"O-Nushi mo waru yo noo, fufufufu".

The main road leads from Nihonbashi into an area known as Suruga Machi (Suruga Cho). This neighborhood is home to one of the largest and most prosperous merchant groups in all of Japan -- the Mitsui Echigoya. This wholesale and distribution conglomerate runs a cluster of high-class stores in the center of Edo, and it has gained a reputation as perhaps the most prestigeous shopping district in Edo.

The Mitsui Echigoya was founded by Mitsui Takatoshi, a merchant from Ise province who got his start selling fine kimono in Edo only a few years after the Tokugawa Shoguns began building their new city. Mitsui was the grandson of a samurai who fought for Oda Nobunaga, and his mother was from a small but reasonably successful merchant family in Ise province. Ise is a good headquarters for wholesaling businesses, especially cloth and kimono merchants, since it is a source of both silk and cotton cloth. The city where the Mitsui family lived, Matsuzaka, is one of the key ports on the route between Sakai (Osaka) and Edo. In fact, one of the Mitsui Echigoya's main competitors is the Iseya, which is also based in Matsuzaka.

Using his connections in Ise and Kyoto, and the money he earned from selling kimono, Mitsui steadily built his family's tonya (wholesale business) into a nationwide conglomerate known as the "Echigoya". Although the business specialised in clothing, it traded many other goods as well. Many of the leading retail businesses in Japan got their start as tonya -- family owned wholesale businesses -- which were founded during the early Edo period, or a few decades earlier.

Echigoya, Ando Hiroshige 広重

Conditions in Japan during the late 1500s and early 1600s were ripe for the growth of nationwide trading companies. The country was just starting to settle down after decades of continuous war, and people in different regions of Japan were starting to trade the products made locally for merchandise produced in other parts of the country. For example, lacquer and wood from the far north of Japan could be traded for sugar and indigo from the far south. People from all over the country began to produce a surplus of products, rather than just making enough for their own needs. They could then take the extra goods they produced and trade them for goods made elsewhere in the country.

The only problem was that it was complicated and expensive to transport goods to far-away places. Even rich daimyo found it difficult to organize the large-scale trading networks needed to transport different types of merchandise to the main towns. They needed a rich middle-man who could hire horses and boats, collect products from one region and ship them to other parts of the country. Most daimyo and other local leaders were too busy to deal with all the activities requred to organise trading activities, so they tended to appoint lower-ranking samurai or relatively wealthy local merchants to handle the job for them.

The person appointed by the local daimyo would usually send sales agents to all of the local villages in the area, and buy up all of the extra goods that were being produced in their local region. They would collect a large stock of the goods, and then ship them to markets in Edo, Kyoto or Osaka. They also bought a variety of merchandise in the big cities and shipped them back to the local towns, where they sold the products in their shops. These businesses came to be known as tonya 問屋, which roughly translates as "sales agent" or "wholesaler".

A sketch of the Mitsui shop in Suruga street in Edo

At first, most tonya were only appointed to work in a particular region of the country, and specialized in only one or two products. For example, they might be called the "Kotsuke wood tonya" or the "Ise silk tonya". Naturally, the tonya that were set up in important regions, or ones that handled very valuable products, became very wealthy. After a generation or two, these bigger tonya started to expand their businesses and set up "buying centers" all over the country. The most successful, such as the Mitsui Echigoya and the Iseya, started to handle a wider variety of products. They also set up their own retail stores in Kyoto, Sakai and Edo. Today, many districts in central Edo are dominated by these large retail conglomerates.

As Edo grew bigger and bigger, so did the wholesalers. Today, the leading merchants often dominate an entire street, with many elaborate stores selling all kinds of products. The Mitsui Echigoya, for example, operates over a dozen main stores in the Suruga-machi area alone, as well as its major stores in Kyoto, Osaka and Matsuzaka. If you walk down the main street in Suruga-machi, almost every building has large noren (curtain-like draperies) bearing the well-known "Mitsui mark".

Inside the stores are huge halls filled with shoppers, with all sorts of clothing and other products on display. Most of the shoppers are very well dressed. You can tell that most of them are daimyo, high-level samurai, rich merchants, or their family members. The women are all wearing beautiful silk kimono. Their faces are covered with white makeup and lipstick, and their teeth are stained black. This is the typical makeup of high-class women. Fair skin is considered very beautiful, so women do their best to keep their skin looking white. They use powders and lotions, and on special occasions they paint their entire face with a white makeup, which contrasts sharply with their red lipstick.

The main sales room is decorated with colorful displays. There are fine tatami mats on the floor and brightly colored kimono hanging from the rafters. On the walls are large signs announcing the store policy:
"genkin kake-ne nashi" (one low price if you pay cash).

All around the room are large cabinets with large wooden drawers. Every now and then, a sales clerk will go to one of the cabinets, take out a garment and bring it over to the client. The client examines the kimono, and if they decide they don't like it, the clerk will go back and get another one. The youngest sales clerks -- only about ten or twelve years old -- bring tea and snacks for the shoppers to eat as they examine the clothes.

Check here for the photos :

source : edomatsu/suruga

Old Shopsign 看板 kanban

. Surugachoo 駿河町 Suruga Cho, Suruga Machi
Suruga Quarter, Suruga village, Suruga street .

This road ran straight in the South-Western direction and provided a view to Edo Castle and Mount Fujisan.
It is named after the view of Mount Fujisan that was similar to the one in Suruga no Kuni, Shizuoka.
Since Suruga was the birthplace of the founder of the Edo Government, Tokugawa Ieyasu, this street was of special honor to the Edoites.
Suidobashi Surugadai 水道橋駿河台 / Kanda Surugadai 神田駿河台


Daruma kinchaku bag, sold at the store
Echigoya in Edomura, Nikko

source : ottaka.blog22


- quote
Mitsui Group (三井グループ, Mitsui Gurūpu) is one of the largest corporate conglomerates (keiretsu) in Japan and one of the largest publicly traded companies in the world.
Founded by Mitsui Takatoshi (1622–1694), who was the fourth son of a shopkeeper in Matsusaka, in what is now today's Mie prefecture. From his shop, called Echigoya (越後屋), Mitsui Takatoshi's father originally sold miso and ran a pawn shop business. Later, the family would open a second shop in Edo (now called Tokyo).
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !

shichiya 質屋 pawn shops were also often lending money, put mostly accepted kimono and other clothing items. In Edo during the 18th century there were more than 2.700 pawn shops and in Osaka during the 19th century, there were about 2.400 such shops.
Even in small mountain villages there were these important shops, which used to be open till late in the night.

futa-mura ni shichiya ikken fuyu kodachi

for two villages
one pawn shop -
a grove in winter

hidayama no shichiya tozashinu yowa no fuyu

in the Hida mountains
the pawnshop is closed -
midnight in winter

. Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 in Hida (Gifu) .


shichiya 質屋 pawn shop

There were many pawn shops in Edo, more than 2700. From an early time on they formed a guild and tried to keep a proper business, not getting into trouble with the Bugyo town authorities.

It was one of the eight important businesses in Edo:
happinshoo 八品商 eight recycle businesses

The government kept an eye on them, because sometimes the merchandise was stolen.

They all used some kind of common shop sign (kanban), symbolizing two people coming in and a lot of money is made.

. Recycling and Reuse in Edo - リサイクル と 再生 / 再使用 .

machibito ni natte samurai shichiya o de

the samurai
left the pawn shop and
became a normal townsperson

Samurai often had to pawn their swords and thus became equal to the normal merchants in the town.

first bonito of the season -
to pawn one's wife for this is
a worthwhile exchange

. katsuo 鰹 bonito .


- Legends about the shichiya

Once a poor man asked a fox to turn him into the owner of a sake shop. Then he went to a pawn shop to get some money for the sake. But the pawn shop owner found out when the client licked some oil, saying it was sake. "That must be a fox!" But it was too late, the deal was done and he was quite ashamed of his stupidity.
So the poor man/fox did not have to pay any money back,

Once the priest of a temple was in need of money and brought its temple bell 釣り鐘 to the pawn shop. At the town where it was re-sold there was a fire and nobody new why. A fortune-teller found the reason: The temple bell wanted to go back to its temple and hat caused fire to bring attention to itself.

Once the priest of a temple has lost a lot of money in a dubious deal on a trip and had to bring a Jizo statue from the roadside to the pawn shop to get some money. This Jizo appeared in the dream of a shipping merchant and asked him to buy the statue. When he did so the speed of his trade ships became much faster !

- source : yokai database -


H A I K U - S E N R Y U

Edo-juu o echigo-ya ni shite niji ga fuki

Echigo-ya spread
all over Edo and then
a rainbow above

source : www.deepkyoto.com
“Haifu-Yanagidaru”(『誹風柳多留』; 1765-1840)


Echigoya ni kinu saku oto ya koromogae

at the Echigoya shop
the sound of cutting cloth -
changing the robes

. Enomoto Kikaku Takarai 宝井其角 .


Mitsui Shuufuu 三井秋風 Shufu "Autumn Wind"
(Shufu - 1646 - 1717)
Shufu was a haikai disciple of Kitamura Kigin and one member of the famous Echigoya family.
He entertained a lot of bunjin literati of his time, a sort of SALON in the Kansai region.
But because of his debauchery he eventually lost his riches and died a poor man with relatives in Edo.

Matsuo Basho at the mountain retreat 花林園 of Shufu in Narutaki 鳴瀧の山家
in 1685 貞享2年

ume shiroshi kinoo ya tsuru o nusumareshi

the plums so white
yesterday - did someone steal
the cranes ?

Tr. Gabi Greve

The cut marker YA is in the middle of line 2.
In the beautiful park of Shufu there should also be some cranes with the plum trees, but there are none.
This refers to the Chinese T'ang poet Rin Nasei 林和靖 (Lin Bu 林逋 Rinpo, 967 - 1028) who is said to have lived with a plum tree as wife and a crane as child.

. WKD - Lin Bu (林逋) and the Plum Blossoms .

kashi no ki no hana ni kamawanu sugata kana

the Kashi oak
seems not to care about
the cherry blossoms . . .

Tr. Gabi Greve

The cut marker KANA is at the end of line 3.
Written in 1685, when Basho visited Mitsui Shuufuu 三井秋風 Shufu at Narumi.
A rich kimono merchant and haikai poet from Kyoto.

Basho compares the Kashi oak to his independent-minded host (or rather, vice-versa).
Basho often uses the nature around him to imply a human condition also just now around him.

. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .
Nozarashi Kiko


. Echigoya, Mitsui and the Hata Clan 秦氏 Hata Uji .
and the Korean and Christian connection

. Merchants of Edo - 豪商 gooshoo .

. shinise 老舗 a long-established store .

. - - - Welcome to Edo 江戸 ! .

. Amulets and Talismans from Japan . 




Gabi Greve said...

Senryu from Edo

furugasa ni itsumo Echigo ga ni-sanbon

well, old umbrellas
are always stocked at Echigoya store,
two or three of them

Echigoya had printed his shop crest on each umbrella and gave them to customers for cheap advertisement.

Umbrellas in Edo !

Gabi Greve said...

December 20
depaato kaigyoo no hi デパート開業の日 day of the department store

created in 1904. Mitsukoshi Store at Nihonbashi Tokyo opened 三越呉服店.
Calendar Days in Japan

Gabi Greve said...

Edo Yuuzen 江戸友禅 Edo Yuzen Kimono

A drapery called "Echigoya" 越後屋呉服店 opened in Nihonbashi (now known as the Mitsukoshi Department Store) in the first year of the Enpo Era (1673). It established a dye works further up the Kanda River around Tokyo Yamanote (close to modern Takadanobaba in Shinjuku Ward). Even today, the largest number of dye works in Tokyo is found in Shinjuku.

MORE about yuzen

Gabi Greve said...

A legend from Hyogo

kogane 黄金,hakugin 白銀,doosen 銅銭 gold silver and bronze money
Once upon a time there was a family almost extinguished by tuberculosis. Their home was thought to be under a bad spell of monsters.
Then came a Rokubu and stayed there over night all alone.
On the 丑満 spooky hour if the night three monks came along, clad in white, yellow and black robes. They walked around the Rokubu on the floor three times, mumbling strange sutras and spells and then left. The Rokubu followed them secretly and saw them disappear in the horse stable. There he found gold, silver and bronze money burried in the ground.
Some say this Rokubu was 三井家の祖先 the ancestor of the Mitsui family.
Rokubu pilgrims

Gabi Greve said...

Mimeguri Inari Jinja 三囲稲荷神社 Mimeguri Shrine, Tokyo
the 三井家 Mitsui-Family made this shrine their protector Shrine.
The Chinese character for Mimeguri 三囲 includes the 井 of the Mitsui name in the second character.
The Mitsui family also had a torii 鳥居 Shrine gate made with three pillars:
There is a stone lantern offering from the Mitsui family with only three openings