By Shousei Suzuki
Assistant Professor, Mejiro University
People born and raised in Tokyo are sometimes referred to as "Tokyokko"
("people of Tokyo"), but not very often. They are usually referred to
as "Edokko" ("people of Edo," Edo being Tokyo's name in premodern
times). The word expresses nostalgic admiration for the old life and ways, and
the pride that comes from being able to trace one's household or lineage back
to the Edo period (1603-1868) and from possessing a certain quality that sets
one apart from people born in the provinces.
Boisterous, Quick-Tempered, but Lovable
The word Edokko is said to have made its first appearance
in 1771 in a senryu (a humorous and/or satirical poem):
"Edokko no / waranji o haku / rangashisa." The gist of the poem, a commentary
on the Edokko character and behavior, is that Edokko are noisy even when they
are wearing straw sandals. These cantankerous townsfolk were supposedly so impatient
that they were unwilling even to take the time to tie the cords of their sandals,
so their approach was heralded by a noisy flapping sound.
The Edo period writer Santo Kyoden (1761-1816), who depicted the pleasure quarters
and popular customs of the day, made reference to Edokko in the 1787 Tsugen
somagaki ("A Dilettante's Report on the Top Brothels"), one of
the genre known as sharebon ("witty books")
that portrayed life in the pleasure quarters. As Kyoden wrote in this book, Edo
denizens had a superiority complex born of living in close proximity to, and drinking
the same water as, the shogun. Kyoden portrayed the trueborn Tokyoite as someone
who lived in the Nihonbashi district and who never let the sun rise on his earnings.
So has this character known as the Edokko been around since the time of Tokugawa
Ieyasu (1542-1616), the warrior chieftain who established the Tokugawa shogunate
and chose Edo as its headquarters? Edokko were not yet around in the early part
of the eighteenth century. In 1590, when Ieyasu began constructing the new castle
town, he gathered merchants and craftsmen from places including Mikawa and Suruga,
which he ruled; Kyoto, Japan's capital at the time; and Osaka, the nation's commercial
hub. The merchants and artisans who came to Edo did not refer to themselves as
Edokko. Most of them merely viewed themselves as being on temporary assignment
or business travel to their branch locations in Edo. On an everyday basis, they
spoke their provincial dialects and made little effort to familiarize themselves
with the culture or customs of Edo, which was not yet the capital.
However, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the merchants and craftsmen
who had taken up residence in the new capital came to form a composite picture
of the classic Edo denizen. The characters who made up the picture included the
merchants along the riverbanks; the craftsmen and merchants of Nihonbashi; the
moneylenders of the Kuramae district in Asakusa; and the masters of shops in Shinkawa,
Reiganjima, and the lumberyard district of Kiba. These people were the Edokko
who emerged in the late 1700s. People like them formed the distribution mechanism
via which money and goods flowed into Edo under the revenue-increasing economic
policies of Tanuma Okitsugu (1720-1788), a high official in the Tokugawa government.
The new capital's economy, heretofore dominated by the economies of Kyoto, Osaka,
and vicinity, was at last producing its own wealthy merchants, born and bred in
Edo. These large merchants, blessed with financial freedom, had no need to boast
or put on airs. Warriors and merchants mixed freely without regard to social station
and expressed their style and connoisseurship in woodblock prints and the novelettes
about the pleasure quarters known as sharebon. They
established a unique Edo culture, distinguished not least by the steady, year-round
whirl of festivals and temple and shrine visits. But after Tanuma fell out of
power, the culture and creativity sparked by his energy were reined in by the
belt-tightening reform policies of his successor, Matsudaira Sadanobu (1758-1829),
who favored getting back to the basics of samurai government. The lively culture
that had produced and then come to be defined by the Edokko went on the decline.
Starting in the late eighteenth century, the desolation of farming villages intensified,
and an influx of farmers into the capital fueled a sharp increase in the ranks
of Edo's lower classes. Some of these newcomers blended adeptly into Edo society
and passed themselves off as Edokko, eventually far outnumbering the established
residents who looked down their noses at the arrivistes.
This trend disrupted the social order of born-and-bred city dwellers and engendered
feelings of anxiety, but rather than wreak havoc, the new arrivals adopted the
The Late Edo period: When True Edokko Were a Rarity
In the nineteenth century, the new Edokko formed the nucleus of a new culture,
known as "Kasei culture," that was centered on the townspeople. Particularly
flourishing elements of this society included shrine visits, festivals and fairs,
and flower-viewing and snow-viewing parties. These events and pastimes were supported
by the publication of guides to the new hotspots for enjoying them, and pleasure
trips and circuit pilgrimages became all the rage. Ukiyo-e
(woodblock prints depicting scenes of everyday life) by artists like Hokusai (1760-1849)
and Hiroshige (1797-1858) with their daring composition and lavish kabuki productions
characterized by ghost stories or quick-change artistry can also be cited as defining
elements of this culture. In contrast with the privileged culture of the Tanuma
days, the culture that flowered in this era was amenable to enjoyment by the large
numbers of people who had flocked to Edo. That is why the commercialization and
popularization of culture are said to have taken place during this era.
By the end of Japan's feudal era, large numbers of people were referring to
themselves as Edokko, and a definition of Edokko was
spelled out. A true Edokko was defined as a child of two Edo-born parents. A person
with one Edo-born parent was said to be madara ("speckled"
or "striped"), and someone whose parents were both born outside Edo
was an inakakko ("country child"). Under
that definition, true Edokko were said to account for only 1 in 10 Edo residents.