The Echigo province migrant was a familiar type in nineteenth-century Edo. Every year in the tenth month, snow country peasants would come down the mountains on the Nakasendō Highway and enter the city through Itabashi Station. They wandered down the main street in Hongō, where they were met by labor scouts who had learned to recognize their bewildered expressions and country accents. Many ended up in hitoyado, the city’s notorious boarding houses for laborers, where they were dispatched to rice polishers and bathhouses. Others found work in service with the help of migrants who had come before. Most went home eventually, but others stayed on in the city – they became shop owners, peddlers, and even low-ranking samurai. This talk examines the lives of Echigo people in Tenpō-era Edo to illuminate the importance of regional connections and rural-urban migration in the development of Japan’s largest city. It also considers how documents kept in far-flung places (in this case Niigata Prefecture) can illuminate urban space.
Amy Stanley is an associate professor in the History Department at Northwestern University, where she teaches early modern and modern Japanese and global history. She is also the author of Selling Women: Prostitution, Households, and the Market in Early Modern Japan (UC Press, 2012) and “Maidservants’ Tales: Narrating Domestic and Global History in Eurasia, 1500-1800” (AHR, 2016), as well as articles in The Journal of Asian Studies and The Journal of Japanese Studies. She is on Twitter @astanley711.