The Merchant's Tale

Yokohama and the Transformation of Japan

Simon Partner

Columbia University Press

The Merchant's Tale

Pub Date: January 2020

ISBN: 9780231182935

320 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: December 2017

ISBN: 9780231182928

320 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£50.00

Pub Date: December 2017

ISBN: 9780231544467

320 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

The Merchant's Tale

Yokohama and the Transformation of Japan

Simon Partner

Columbia University Press

In April 1859, at age fifty, Shinohara Chūemon left his old life behind. Chūemon, a well-off farmer in his home village, departed for the new port city of Yokohama, where he remained for the next fourteen years. There, as a merchant trading with foreigners in the aftermath of Japan’s 1853 “opening” to the West, he witnessed the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate, the civil war that followed, and the Meiji Restoration’s reforms. The Merchant’s Tale looks through Chūemon’s eyes at the upheavals of this period.

In a narrative history rich in colorful detail, Simon Partner uses the story of an ordinary merchant farmer and its Yokohama setting as a vantage point onto sweeping social transformation and its unwitting agents. Chūemon, like most newcomers to Yokohama, came in search of economic opportunity. His story sheds light on vital issues in Japan’s modern history, including the legacies of the Meiji Restoration; the East Asian treaty port system; and the importance of everyday life—food, clothing, medicine, and hygiene—for national identity. Centered on an individual, The Merchant’s Tale is also the story of a place. Created under pressure from aggressive foreign powers, Yokohama was the scene of gunboat diplomacy, a connection to global markets, the birthplace of new lifestyles, and the beachhead of Japan’s modernization. Partner’s history of a vibrant meeting place humanizes the story of Japan’s revolutionary 1860s and their profound consequences for Japanese society and culture.
To an already lively cast of Restoration characters—rascals and rebels, poets and fighters—The Merchant’s Tale adds a new voice: that of the rural entrepreneur. Long on dreams but short on capital, Chūemon decamped early to the treaty port of Yokohama, where he would scramble for years to gain a profitable foothold at the epicenter of Japan’s tumultuous encounter with the modern West. Simon Partner skillfully turns his letters home into a hair-raising romp across the Tokugawa/Meiji divide. A fresh take on a fascinating time. Karen E. Wigen, Stanford University
Like all Partner’s work, The Merchant's Tale is beautifully written, in an engaging style, with vivid vignettes that bring to life the time and place that is his focus. Andrew Gordon, Harvard University
Combining his finely honed skills as a storyteller with his deep knowledge of historical context, Partner paints a compellingly human picture of nineteenth-century Japan’s integration into the global economy, helping us understand the excitement and opportunities, as well as the risks and challenges that it opened up for those who decided to seek their fortunes in the bustling treaty port of Yokohama. The remarkable story of Shinohara Chūemon is essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in the origins of modern Japan. Daniel Botsman, Yale University
The book's focus on proto-industrial development, humanized through the trials and successes of Chuemon's business ventures, offers a refreshing addendum to the sociopolitical histories that currently dominate the field. Choice
Partner writes engaging and entertaining prose with great fluidity and authority. For anyone looking for an introduction into treaty port Yokohama, especially with sensitivity toward the Japanese predicament, Partner’s work is a great place to start the adventure. Simon Bytheway, H-Japan
A vivid and accessible account of the events and places that helped to form modern Japan. The American Historical Review
A Merchant’s Tale is beautifully written and contains many thoughtful insights into the relations between Japan and the West seen from the perspective of ordinary people. . . . It will become essential reading for students of nineteenth-century Japanese and world history. Anne Walthall, The Journal of Japanese Studies
A fascinating read. The Historian
The Merchant’s Tale is engagingly written and covers an impressive range of topics. Eric C. Han, Journal of Asian Studies
List of Tables and Illustrations
Notes on the Text
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Out of Thin Air (1859–1860)
2. Years of Struggle (1860–1864)
3. Prosperity (1864–1866)
4. Transformation (1866–1873)
Conclusion: The Power of a Place
Tables
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Simon Partner is professor of history at Duke University. He is the author of Assembled in Japan: Electrical Goods and the Making of the Japanese Consumer (1999); Toshie: A Story of Rural Life in Twentieth-Century Japan (2004); and The Mayor of Aihara: A Japanese Villager and His Community, 1865-1925 (2009).