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Yugeshima

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  • Japanese: 弓削島 (Yugeshima)

Yugeshima is an island in the Inland Sea, belonging to Ehime prefecture (formerly, Iyo province). It immediately neighbors Innoshima (Hiroshima prefecture/Aki province), a major center of the Murakami clan during the medieval period.

Yugeshima was home to a shôen (estate) known for its salt production. The small island had few fields or rice paddies, and so paid its annual tribute (nengu) in salt, and its public fees (kûji) in marine products such as seaweed. Since all tribute/taxes were nominally counted in rice, the estate was made to appear, on paper, as if the village paid its nengu in grain, which was then loaned back to the village, with the loan being paid back in salt. In fact, historian Amino Yoshihiko argues, no such exchange likely took place, with the nengu in truth being paid simply in salt to begin with. Other shôen may have similarly paid their nengu in iron ore, silk, paper, gold, horses or other commodities.

Due to the lack of paddy land and agricultural production, Yugeshima has typically been seen as a rather poor estate, and its villagers just scraping by. Amino argues, however, that economic comfort, quality of life, or wealth of an individual or community should not be judged purely on the basis of agricultural production; he points out the example of one villager from Yugeshima who is known to have possessed ten cattle and five indentured servants, along with some expensive personal items, such as silk kosode (kimono). It seems likely from this example that the villagers of Yugeshima were, on average, relatively well-off; they simply lived off of salt production and/or marine products, rather than agriculture.

References

  • Amino Yoshihiko, Alan Christy (trans.), Rethinking Japanese History, Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan (2012), 66-68.

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