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Edo and Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era.

This volume of essays examines the character and development of Edo and Paris, mainly from the 1590s to 1790s, treating state power and mercantile influence as the key variables in urban change. As with all such collections of essays, the work is uneven, but on balance it succeeds admirably. In their opening and closing chapters the editors give coherence to the whole and lay out their thesis that the similarity of the two experiences, not their dissimilarity, must command our attention.

The book is well illustrated, and the several translations from French and Japanese are graceful and lucid. A few typos and misspellings eluded proofreaders, but as a whole the volume is handsomely produced. The best thing about it, to my eye, is that the work is mercifully free of the rhetoric, overt and covert, of Nihonjinron and its white folks' analogue, "Western Civilizationism." And it is almost free of the tired old habit that sets up "Western" models and then attempts to stuff other parts of the human experience into them. Instead, it identifies generic aspects of urban process and looks at their expression in the two cities. Three essays look at governance, three address the use of space, three examine provisioning, four treat culture, and four look at forms of social conflict. In the page-making sweepstakes, Edo wins, with about 250 to Paris's 150, roughly proportional to their populations in 1790.

To report the contents more fully, Kato Takashi does a handsome job of describing the governance of Edo. William Beik and Sharon Kettering present concise analyses of urban rule in France, in the process suggesting that French kings had less control of their cities than the shogun had of Edo, despite a legacy of scholarly handwringing about Bourbon despotism and shogunal weakness. On matters of urban space, James McClain explores Edobashi, a downtown area that the shogunate set aside as a firebreak but townsmen gradually transformed into a bustling, low-budget, commercial enclave. Roger Chartier's chapter on "Power, Space, and Investments in Paris" shows nicely how kings, aristocrats, clerics, and developers shared in the city's physical growth. William Coaldrake employs his architect's eye to reconstruct the elegant mausoleum (destroyed in 1945) that was erected by the third shogun, Iemitsu, in 1632 to memorialize his dead father and help legitimize his own rule. (So that was the origin of those forlorn gates, lanterns, and stone walkways going nowhere in that desolate cityscape I strolled through a lifetime ago!)

Steven Kaplan examines the Parisian food crisis of 1740 and Hayashi Reiko that of Edo in 1733 to illuminate urban provisioning systems and government performance in difficult times. Kaplan shows that the crown, drawing on a broad and expanding resource base, responded - finally - with energy and effectiveness. Hayashi concludes that the Tokugawa, working with a more restricted base and under sharper sociopolitical constraints, proved much less adept. Hatano Jun, in an essay that pertains to the layout of urban facilities as much as the provisioning process, gives us a tantalizing introduction to the web of canals and smaller conduits that brought Edo's million inhabitants so much of their water.

In the section on Culture, Jurgis Elisonas assesses early "guidebooks" to Edo, finding them worthless as guides and trash as literature. Which may be so, but one wonders why they were written as they were, who read them, how they were received, what influence they had on daily life, and what all that reveals about the tenor of urban culture. Robert Isherwood, in a thoroughly pleasing essay taken from a larger study, examines the rise and triumph of "boulevard culture" in Paris. William Kelly follows with a look at the evolution of Edo's firefighters, who began as samurai deployed at government behest but evolved into predominantly professional commoner firefighting brigades under urban control. He sees this trend as part of the larger process whereby Edo evolved from shogunal headquarters into a city dominated by its commoners. Henry Smith closes this section with a broadranging and insightful look at French and Japanese writing and publishing, the only truly comparative topical essay in the volume.

Three essays treat particular forms of conflict. Kaplan, in a fine piece translated from Annales, examines the "false workers" of Saint-Antoine. He looks at their character and their relationship to guilds and urban authority and suggests how these qualities shaped their role in the Revolution. Takeuchi Makoto describes Edo's "festivals and fights," meaning circumstances in which shogunal authorities left communities to police their own affairs, and he shows how disputants used that practice to limit government intervention in their lives. Anne Walthall looks at Edo's three major food riots, those of 1733, 1787, and 1866, seeking to illuminate their sociopolitical character. Eiko Ikegami and Charles Tilly then set up a "more or less Mumfordian" model of state and economy as determinants of city history, based on "the European experience over the long run" (p. 430), and conclude that, indeed, the Japanese case supports the model.

Readers will enjoy the detail that gives body to so many of these essays. And the book does sustain its thesis of basic similarity in urban process despite myriad particular differences. As a student of Japan I was struck time and again by the ways in which the Paris experience resembled Edo's. By the nature of our trade, however, young scholars commonly try to make their mark by standing on the shoulders of predecessors and smartly stomping them into the mud. So we can expect an eventual rebuttal to show, with grand persuasiveness, that apparent likenesses notwithstanding, the basic dynamic of these two urban experiences was dissimilar. And the building blocks for some such argument lie scattered through this volume.

Even setting aside differences in ideological and rhetorical postures and trends, which could - at the very least - be invoked to resurrect old Nihonjinron and Eurocentric images, there are grounds for revision. Hatano observes directly, and a number of the other essayists also note, that cities are dependent creatures which require, and are shaped by, their contexts. During these centuries there were major differences in French and Japanese resource bases, technological trends, and demographic trajectories, and these interconnected variables surely had a major bearing on the two cities. A revisionist treatment might link them to dissimilarities of urban social disorder and political jockeying, as well as to the differences in physical and cultural trends that characterized the two cities from the early eighteenth century until the 1860s, when Edo found itself thrown again into an open-ended context, with effects that still reverberate today, as evidenced by the modern history and present character and roles of the two cities.

Conrad Totman Yale University
COPYRIGHT 1995 Journal of Social History
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Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Totman, Conrad
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1995
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