Peddler (行商)

Peddling (Gyosho) is one of retailing industry(service business) where peddlers sell products by moving from customer to customer without having their specific stores.


Unlike deliveries of products after receiving customers' orders, peddling is a sales method to sell products while transferring them and looking for customers in the areas where there seems to be customers, which includes, in a broad sense, the sales form to travel around the markets held regularly to sell goods and the form to provide the services such as Rau-ya, sharpening knives or scissors, and shoe shining. Peddling is a word for retailing, it does not refer to wholesaling. The area for peddling differs depending on the type of products (length of expiry period or best-before period), which means some types of fresh food required to be eaten on the day they are gathered are often sold in peripheral areas and urban areas, but products which can be stored for long periods are sometimes sold by peddlers moving from city to city.

In these days, the people carrying their products on their back often use public transportation including trains, bicycles, motorbikes, two-wheeled carts, or cars including small trucks for transport of products. In the Edo period, peddlers sometimes carried a yoke hanging their products from both ends of it for transport. They use streets and empty lots, borrow a corner of parks as places for selling, or visit each house to sell their products.

Business usually spreads from the place with many products for selling and many people to the place with few products and people, so it can be said that peddlers are the origin of business in order to connect both places.

Besides, the number of business methods which use cars equipped with facilities for selling is increasing these days, though their products had been sold mostly in fixed facilities (stores). This facility is called a mobile shop and this sales method is called tailgate sell, so the word, peddling is not generally used. In addition, the sales method to provide meals by using movable facilities is called Yatai (food stall), it is rare to be called peddling since its moving range is narrow.

Peddlers in the Edo period

Peddlers were also called bote-uri derived from their sales method to carry a yoke, and they sold seafood (including shellfish such as corbicula clams and asari clams), food (including tofu and candies), everyday goods (such as medicine), goods enriching people's lives (such as asagao (morning glory), goldfish, and wind chimes), furniture (including big chests) and water. Ukiyoe (Japanese woodblock prints) has shown the scenes of peddlers to pass down the special feature of the Edo period to the present.

Repair services of umbrellas, pans, pots and shoes by peddlers started to be provided later. Around that time, preservation methods for fresh food were limited, so it had to be sold as soon as it was purchased. Therefore, the sales methods to travel around residential areas, to peddle, or to sell at early-morning markets were often seen.

In addition, the dishes like sushi or soba (buckwheat noodle) were sold at mobile shops (Refer to "Yatai"). The sales method to sell drug for household delivery by peddlers, which was popular in Ecchu Province (Toyama Prefecture, later) started around that time.

Whereas these types of businesses later became stores at fixed locations gradually in accordance with development of transportation and storage technology and increasing consumption in urban areas, the new types of peddling due to new industries, such as peddling milk (selling milk by measures) starting in the beginning of the Meiji period, seemed to be sometimes seen with the times (refer to "Milk bottle").

Peddlers in these days

Even in our time of the 21st century, peddling of seafood still remains in the mountains far from the seas and peddling of all kinds of food and everyday goods also remains mainly in solitary islands or remote areas far from urban areas where the mainstream of circulation centers. Peddler as a job of the day in Japan is required notification of doing business and the items which permitted to be sold are limited by prefectural regulations.

Although the names of related regulations are slightly different in nuance, like "Food peddling health code", "Food peddling code" or "Seafood peddling regulation", items for peddling are generally defined, which are seafood, its processed products, meat, its processed products, sweets, bread, ice cream, tofu and lunch boxes. The regulations are widely different by prefecture or by government-ordinance-designated city, for example, peddling meat is specifically prohibited, but peddling noodles can be seen specifically in Tokyo. In any prefectures, notification to public administrations is usually unnecessary regarding farm products including vegetables, fruits, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted gingkoes and simple processed goods of those food. Furthermore, peddling of antiques is required permission by the police.

Outside Japan

Many of those business conditions can be globally seen, for example, a lot of merchants who traveled around villages to sell goods purchased from markets in urban areas can be seen in all ages and countries.

Some of them brought goods to dotted villages by crossing over the mountains or deserts at their own peril like merchants who had come and gone along the Silk Road, others sold the foreign goods purchased through a lot of merchants with glossy explanation (sometimes including lies). In mysticism of the Medieval Period of Europe, many goods with lies spread, which were created by merchants and thought to be accepted, for example, "Unicorne" (fangs of unicorns) circulated as antidotes, related to a legend of unicorns.

In the earliest years, merchants peddling from city to city had taken a role in so-called trade, so it is considered to be developed into massive trade routes including overseas trades after the routes were organized and connected each other according to the development of transport technologies.

[Original Japanese]