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Hunting in the Edo Period
Topic Started: Feb 13 2018, 10:30 AM (128 Views)
Fijure
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Rice Farmer
I've been doing a lot of research on the Dutch colonial period in Taiwan from roughly 1624-1662 lately, and one thing has been bugging me: One of the main industries of the Dutch on Taiwan was tride in hide from sika deer, primarily to be sold to Japan in vast quantities, for the use of making leather cuirasses for samurai armors. Now the scale of this trade was huge, until the temporary trade reductions of 1640 easily in the high thousands each year, peaking in 1638 and 1639 where respectively 148.000 and 131.000 deer skin were exported from Taiwan to Japan, causing deer populations to basically collapse.

What irks me about this is that apparently Japan never tried to sate this demand for deer hides through hunting their own populations of deer on an industrial scale. I'm aware that hunting of big animals wasn't really a big thing in Japan for much of the pre-modern times, with the Buddhist respect for animals and the limited consumption of venison, but I still have a hard time believing that a religious decree should prevent a nation from fulfilling an economic demand of that scale, causing them to import the hides rather than hunting them in Japan.

What I'm getting at, is that I know very little of deer hunting traditions of the Edo period in Japan, and haven't been able to find much interesting through a few searches, so I want to ask you knowledgeable people, if any of you are aware of deer hunting on any scale larger than merely pest eradication during the Edo period? Was there any industrial scale hunting of wild animals in early modern Japan at all, and if not, then why, when there was obviously an economic demand for deer hide at least?
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ltdomer98
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Daijo Daijin

Very interesting question. If you don't mind, I'm going to take this to a few professors and a grad student I know who works on the Dutch trade to see if they have any ideas.
Edited by ltdomer98, Feb 13 2018, 02:03 PM.
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Daijo Daijin Emeritus
退職させていただきます。
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Fijure
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Rice Farmer
I don't mind at all. I already tried the professor of Japanese history at my university, and she couldn't give a fulfilling answer, so I'm more than interested to have other expert opinions on this.
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Bethetsu
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Tsushima no kami
This is a guess. Wouldn’t large-scale hunting in mountainous Japan be somewhat impractible? Even low mountains, at least around Tokyo, are quite steep and covered with underbrush. Also, which class would hunt, and with which weapons, guns or arrows? With these considerations, why not import? What problems did importation cause? Maybe they did not even consider developing their own industry.
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Fijure
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@Bethetsu

That is certainly a guess, but I think its oversimplifying things a little, especially seeing that an area like Taiwan is also largely mountainous. However, I suppose its true that importing it was simply cheaper and easier for them than starting a hunting industry themselves, especially with the disarmament of the population and such.

However, according the study by Wei-Chung Wen on the Deerskin Trade in Taiwan, price hikes on deerskins happened at several instances in the 1630's do to political events outside Japan, and I find it surprising that even when the prize of deerskin nearly doubled on short notice, apparently it wasn't even attempted to meet the demand through domestic hunting.
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ltdomer98
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Daijo Daijin

Fijure, do you read Japanese? I got a scan of an entry on deer from a prof, but don't have time to skim through it just now. If you read Japanese, I'll just post it and you can read it.
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Fijure
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I do somewhat, but not really on a high level yet, please post it so I can at least try, though I would like your explanation later when you have time.

Thank you for looking into this!
Edited by Fijure, Feb 15 2018, 09:31 AM.
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ltdomer98
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Daijo Daijin

Here's the entry in Nihon Doubutsu-shi (History of Japanese Animals), that a prof forwarded me. He promises to think about it and get back to me with more.

I HAVE NOT READ IT AT ALL, so if it doesn't answer the question, that's not my fault. I'll try to look at it probably this weekend. If any of our other Japanese readers want to give it a scan to help Fijure out, that's welcome.

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Attachments: 1621_001.pdf (477.73 KB)
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Toranosuke
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Nagato no kami
Not helpful in answering your question (sorry), but incidentally deer hides being sent to Japan were also a major export good for Siam (Ayutthaya) around the 1580s-1630s or so - for the same reasons and purposes.
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Bethetsu
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Tsushima no kami
Why did Japan need deer hide in "vast quantities, for the use of making leather cuirasses for samurai armors" in the early Edo period? I could understand for during the Sengoku period, but not Edo. Also, what did they use for making cuirasses in the Sengoku?
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Fijure
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@Itdomer98

As I thought the link is too hard for me to read, especially when I can't copy the kanji directly into a kanji dictionary, but I'll keep it around anyway and maybe get my Japanese professor to look at it, so thanks a lot for sharing it.

@Bethetsu

That's one of the questions I'm hoping to answer here, I've found some really good articles in English about the trade, but they are all from Taiwan and surprisingly silent on the Japanese side of it, which is why I'm reaching out here. According to this article http://www.jtco.or.jp/en/tradition_report/?id=19, which admittedly, might not be the most scholarly, deer hides has been used as leather since the Asuka period, the market was just booming in the 1600's. I'm pretty sure they also made cuirasses of deer leather in the Sengoku period, but because this part of the trade was likely carried out by Wokou and smugglers that didn't exactly leave accounts for us, I'm sure the exact volume is lost - it is well known that Japanese were ubiquitous in the Chinese Seas during the Sengoku period. The reason we know about the Taiwan trade in such details are because of the detailed accounting books kept by the VOC.

I really do not know why so many hides were imported in what was ostensibly peace time, but I'll take the liberty to assume that the memory of war was still fresh at this point, and perhaps more importantly, the samurai class were conscious of efforts that could establish them as samurai as compared to commoners, and a proper armor, which included a deer hide cuirass, was part of that. Perhaps the peace time actually made it easier to make a "proper" armor of deer leather compared to the Sengoku period, where you had to make do with whatever could be acquired. I'm just guessing now though.

And yeah, deer hides was a major import from Siam as well, one of the reason it really boomed from Taiwan in the 1630'es was that the Siamese markets collapsed around 1630 because of the political turmoil surrounding the death of Yamada Nagamasa. For those interested in this subject I recommend reading Emergence of Deerskin Exports from Taiwan under VOC (1624-1642) by Wei-chung Cheng, its amazingly detailed but lacks the Japanese perspective.
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