How Japan was a highly civilized society in the Edo period.


Hi there.I’m Naoemon.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), Japan had already set several “world’s best” records. Even before that, in the 1400s, its agricultural technology, commercial development and hygienic culture had amazed the Korean envoys.

Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867) is the only country in the history of the world to have enjoyed peace and tranquility for more than 260 years without a major war. Edo is today’s Tokyo.

World’s highest literacy rate

Japan’s literacy rate has been the highest in the world for hundreds of years. Looking at the Edo period (1603-1867), almost 100% of samurai could read and write.

Even among the common people, 49% to 54% of men could read and write.

In the case of the lower common classes in England during the Edo period, even in the London area, not even 10% of the children could read and write.

In Japan during the Edo period, the school attendance rate of the common people was the highest in the world, along with the literacy rate; around 1850, the school attendance rate in Edo was 70-86%, and even among children living in the downtown area, children of both sexes who did not study were rare. In areas such as Nihonbashi, Akasaka, and Hongo, there are records that the number of students studying was even higher for girls than for boys.

In those days, terakoya (private educational institutions for the children of the common people of Edo) were not compulsory.

“The Terakoya” system is a rare case in the world, as it emerged spontaneously from the enthusiasm of the common people themselves.

At that time in Japan, people did not think that “important things must be solved by the state (government),” but rather that if something was important to them, it was natural for them to manage it autonomously.

In contrast, the school attendance rate in Britain’s large industrial cities around 1837 was only 20-25%; even in the Victorian era, at the height of Britain’s power in the mid-19th century, the literacy rate of London’s lower classes is known to have been only about 10%.

France made primary education tuition free in 1794, but the enrollment rate for 10-16 year olds was only 1.4%.

Many foreigners were amazed at the high literacy rate in Japan and left records about it. Commodore Perry, who visited Japan in 1853 with a black ship from the U.S., wrote in his diary (Journal of the Japanese Expedition) that “reading and writing are universal in Japan, and they are eager to acquire knowledge.

Perry was surprised to find that bookstores existed even in the countryside and that Japanese people loved to read.

The Prussian naval officer “Reinhold Werner” (captain of the Elbe), who visited Japan in 1860 to sign a trade treaty, wrote in his voyage notes

The schooling age of the children appears to be seven or eight years old, but they are learning early.

The schooling of the people was more widespread than in China.

Unlike in China, where most of the population went to school only for boys, in Japan, girls also studied, even though, like in China, only private schools were available.

In Japan, girls in the lower ranks who did menial work wrote letters to each other, and even the lowly manual laborers could read and write.

Only 1% of the Japanese population is illiterate and cannot read or write at all.

What other country in the world can achieve such a thing (1% illiteracy rate)?

In 1861, the Russian Orthodox missionary “Nikolai” was assigned to Japan as the chief priest of the Russian Consulate in Hakodate, and stayed there for eight years. After his return to Japan, he wrote about Japan in the Russian magazine “Russian Report” as follows.

In Japan, almost the same level of education is provided to all classes, regardless of region.

In Japan, “Koshi (Confucianism, Confucianism)” is a major part of learning knowledge, but Japanese people who have studied learn by heart every word, and even the lowest ranked common people know the contents quite well.

No matter where you went to downtown or in the mountains, there was no case where you did not know historical people such as Yoritomo, Yoshitsune, and Masashige KUSUNOKI.

If you estimate the number of literate and literate people, Japan is second to none in Western Europe.

Japanese are really enthusiastic about learning writing.

Schliemann, a German archaeologist known for his discovery of the Trojan Ruins, described in his book the impression he received on a visit to Japan in 1865.

Education is carried out above the standards of European civilized nations. In other Asian countries, including China, girls are left in the middle of ignorance, while in Japan girls and boys can all read and write “kana” (Japanese characters) in kanji.

Japan had the largest population in the world.

Edo in Japan had the largest population in the world.
  • Paris, France (1802) Population: 620,000
  • London, UK (1801) Population: 860,000
  • Japan’s Edo population (1725): 1.12 million

Enrollment rate in each country

Japan’s school attendance rate was the highest in the world.
  • Enrollment rate in the United Kingdom in 1837: 20 ~ 25%
  • Enrollment rate in France (1793): 2%
  • Enrollment rate in Japan (1850): 85%

Hygiene by country

In the 1800s, European rivers, such as the Thames River in Britain, were heavily polluted and filthy with various excrement, causing epidemics and other diseases.

On the other hand, the rivers in Edo were clean in those days.
This is because excrement was traded at high prices in Japan at that time because it was an excellent organic fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus.
As the price of excrement soared, the bakufu intervened and even enacted and promulgated a law forcing the reduction of the price of excrement.

Heinrich Schliemann, a German archaeologist who visited Japan in the Edo period, said, “There is no doubt that the Japanese are the cleanest people in the world.”

Water supply in the world

The wells usually pump groundwater. But it was a little different in Edo. Since Edo was formed as a landfill, it was difficult to use groundwater as drinking water. Against this background, ‘water supply facilities’ to draw water from rivers were developed.

Wooden water pipes (Kioke, Kidori) were installed in some places, and the water drawn through these pipes was stored in storage places and used.

The total length of water pipes in Edo City at that time was 150 kilometers.
However, water supply was not free during the Edo period. The water rate was decided according to the status. In the case of samurai families, water rates were discriminately set according to kokudaka (crop yield of rice).
In the case of ordinary people such as other merchants, the water rate was determined according to the size of the house where each person lived.

By current standards, midsize apartment complexes cost about $4 at their current value.
But it wasn’t a monthly fee, it was an annual fee.
The average Japanese in Edo paid $4 a year to fully use the convenient water supply.

At that time, the London water supply in England was supplied three days a week, 7 hours a day, and 24 hours a day in Edo, Japan.

Korean report

Let’s take a look at the “Report on Japan” presented to King Sejong the Great by a man named Park Soo-sung, who was sent to Japan as a envoy in December 1428 and returned to Korea in December 1429. (King Sejong 46 maki, 11 years (1429 / Hsuan-deok 4 years), December 3,)
  • There are no water wheels in Korea.I have drawn a Japanese water wheel on the drawing, so I should make a water wheel based on it.
  • Unlike us, who barter mainly for cotton cloth and grain, in Japan coins are commonly used, so even people who travel far do not bring food and only carry copper coins on their waists.In addition, along the road, there are facilities (ryokan) where tourists can dine and sleep, welcoming them as guests.The ryokan owner offers the guests the convenience according to the value equivalent to the coin he receives from the traveler.Residents living along the river connect ships to each other to build bridges, receive money from people crossing the bridges, and use it as a living expense and as a cost of repairing the bridges.From land tax to tolls, Japan has become accustomed to using coins for everything from land tax to tolls, and there is no need for anything like the hassle of taking heavy luggage and travelling far away.
  • Each house has its own bathroom, and each town has its own public bath (sento), which the residents pay to use conveniently.Our country should install bathrooms in medical institutions such as Saeseong, Huimin Bureau, Gwangdongqiao, and local clinics where many people go, so that people can learn how to spend money and keep their bodies clean.
  • In Japanese shopping districts, each merchant placed a sign on his or her own shop, made a display stand and displayed products on it, and customers were able to check the products and conveniently select and buy them. Everyone was free to buy the displayed products regardless of their status. In our Korean market, we don’t display dry and wet things separately, and all fish, meat and vegetables are sold on the ground, and passers-by sometimes sit on or step on the products. From now on, we should set up display stands at stores from Jongno to Gwangqiao and have them name products so that customers can easily identify which products are on which display stand, so that they can easily see and select products.