Online ISSN : 2424-2616
Print ISSN : 0018-2478
ISSN-L : 0018-2478
Trade commodity prices and local society in ancient Japan : The "customary provincial price" system
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2012 Volume 121 Issue 12 Pages 2034-2057


The research to date concerning commodity distribution in ancient Japan has concluded that it was provincial governors (kokushi 国司) who manipulated commodity prices and controlled markets within their jurisdictions. The present article disputes these conclusions by showing that provincial governors did not manipulate prices, but rather when they did trade with people within their jurisdictions, a system of fixed prices was used. Since these fixed prices did not fluctuate in accordance with changes in current prices, the system did not conform to the price stipulations contained in the ritsuryo codes. Given the fact that each province developed its own system of fixed prices, the author calls them "customary provincial prices". These "customary provincial prices" were a part of administrative precedents being established at the time by lower level bureaucrats (kuni-zonin 国雑任) for the purpose of discharging their duties with the utmost speed and efficiency. Therefore, rather than the top provincial bureaucrats manipulating prices at their own discretion, it was their subordinates who put local customary prices into practice, thus established a provincial precedent. One example of this practice has found at archaeological sites in Kaga Province (present day southern Ishikawa Prefecture), indicating that the river ports and fords (including their markets) operated by local powerful families during the 8th century came under the administrative control of the provincial governments during the 9th. Such a change corresponds to the absorption of local powers into the provincial government as its functionaries. What this means in terms of the "provincial customary price" system, is that it was local powerful families in the capacity of lower level provincial administrators that were greatly influencing their respective provincial economies.

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© 2012 The Historical Society of Japan
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