Ise shonin (伊勢商人)

Ise shonin (Ise merchants) were counted among the three major Japanese merchants along with Osaka shonin (Osaka merchants) and Omi shonin (Omi merchants). They were merchants came from Ise Province in the Edo period. They expanded the business network across the country by starting in business not only in Ise Province, where their headquarters were placed, but also in the so-called three cities, Edo (now Tokyo), Osaka and Kyoto since the latter half of the 16th century, in the Azuchi-Momoyama period.


The most representative person among the Ise shonin was Takatoshi MITSUI, who opened the kimono shop (draper) Echigoya in Edo and laid the foundation of the Mitsui Family.

As their main trade names, Ise shonin used those such as 'Ise-ya' (store Ise), 'Tanba-ya' (store Tanba) and so on. In Edo, many of them opened stores in the vicinity of Tenma-cho. Moreover, it is believed that there were quite a lot of merchants who came from Ise in Edo.
Such conditions was satirized by a saying, 'The famous features in Edo are Ise-ya, Inari (god of harvests, Uka-no-Mitama) and excrement of dogs.'

Ise shonin were originally merchants who had gone around the whole country selling cotton imported to Japan since the mid Sengoku period (period of warring states) (Japan). As cotton at that time was regarded as a high-class cloth, the profit made from the cotton business improved their status so much that they were called wealthy merchants. While some Ise shonin dealt in wood, paper, and sake besides cotton and kimono fabric, some of them started finance businesses and exchange shops.

Ise shonin opened stores in Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto one after another during the Kanei and Genroku eras, namely from the early Edo period to the mid Edo period. This reflects the situation that the rule by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) became steady and the economic system was established and expanded.

As Ise shonin had a character of running considerably sound businesses, a saying 'Omi-dorobo, Ise-kojiki' (Omi shonin are thieves, while Ise shonin are beggars) remains to represent such a unique character.
(This means that Omi shonin were greedy, while Ise shonin were persistent in income and outgo like poor beggars.)
Moreover, the Ise shonin are believed to have had their own information networks. Particularly, it is believed that the information on various areas all around Japan, which was brought by people making a pilgrimage to Ise (Shrine) because they went to Ise Shrine via Tsu City and Matsuzaka City, helped the Ise shonin develop.
(Meanwhile, there are descriptions in "Konjaku Monogatari shu" [a collection of anecdotes] and "Jinkokki" [a book in which geography, customs humanity of each province are written] that people who came from Ise Province plunder property even if they cheat their parents.)
(A theory suggests these descriptions are the etymology of 'Ise-kojiki.')
(However, the above-mentioned description in the former work was only based on the subjectivity of the author, while the latter work was a book filled with sarcasm and slander regarding people living in various areas.)
(Therefore, both works are inadequate to sustain the theory relating to the etymology of 'Ise-kojiki,' because they are no more than fiction.)

[Original Japanese]