Igarashi Motoyoshi: Control Over Trade with the Emishi People of the Northeastern Frontier
 in Ritsuryo Times

Control Over Trade with the Emishi People of the Northeastern Frontier in Ritsuryo Times 律令制下における蝦夷支配と交易
IGARASHI Motoyoshi, Ph.D. Candidate in History, Meiji University 五十嵐基善

The central government of classical Japan under the ritsuryô code could not maintain strong control over people residing on the northern frontier, in northeastern Honshu and Hokkaido. These people were called “Emishi” by the Kinai government. To expand its territory and conquer the Emishi, the central government made several attempts to invade the northern frontier between the seventh and ninth centuries.

It is important to note, however, that both sides needed the other as a trading partner. The Emishi people loyally paid tribute to the central government and in return obtained cloth and iron from the central government. From the standpoint of the center, not only was the order of the government maintained owing to the Emishi people obeying its directives, but the central government also obtained horses, sea weed, and furs from the Emishi.

Indeed, the central government was able to procure hard-to-obtain items from the north. For example from the Emishi people residing in Hokkaido the central government imported skins and feathers of animals and birds that did not inhabit in mainland Japan. These rare items were not only used in rituals in the capital, but they also served as prestige goods to be gifted to influential elites. Although these rare items were originally meant to be markers of loyal tribute to the central government, they became trade items over time. So while the Emishi people were seen as subjects by the central government, at the same time they were important trading partners.

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