Recognized as honorable warriors from Japan, the samurai class emerged from the rise of battles between the samurai lords. Highly skilled in the sword and the bow, the samurai were essential to the Japanese armies. Regardless of their talent, the demand for samurai lowered when peace came in the 1600s. And with that, the samurai were left to fend for themselves with insufficient pay from the central government.
While some samurai clans became financially successful through mass production of paper, salt, sugar, and wax, Yanagizawa Yosishato’s samurai clan in Koriyama rid themselves of debt by selling goldfish.
Samurai and Their Second Jobs
The Japanese samurai, or bushi, emerged into existence in Japan’s 10th century. The samurai class is elite and highly trained, both in the bow and the sword. Known as warriors, samurais also performed military service and played a pivotal role in Japanese armies during the medieval period. In addition to that, samurai also uphold great chivalry, honor, and loyalty to their samurai lords. (Source: World History)
Samurai lords of various regions in Japan frequently fought against each other, and with that, the demand for samurais rose high. When the early 1600s came, Japan had achieved peace as it became unified under a single samurai family. And as battles no longer occurred much from the 17th century onwards, the expertise and skill of most samurai proved to be of no use.
The samurai made a living from the central government’s allowances, which came from the tax paid by peasants. While most samurai hardly contributed to the country, some were politically talented and skillful in desk work that aided the country. Not long after, samurai became a liability to the peasant masses, and the central government paid less and less to samurai who belonged to the lower classes.
Not long after, samurai were struggling to make ends meet. To get food on the table, numerous samurai began taking on second jobs, offering manual labor to provide for their needs. (Source: Metro-Classic Japanese)
The Samurai, A Warrior Beloved by Goldfish
Samurai continued to experience financial struggle, individually or as samurai clans. Most of the 240 samurai clans in the Edo period were drowning in debt. And while some samurai clans managed to pay off their debt by encouraging their men to create local products such as paper, wax, sugar, and salt, one samurai clan found a distinct method to rid themselves of debt.
In the 18th century, Yanagizawa Yoshisato, a skillful samurai lord, was assigned to rule over Koriyama. When he arrived at Koriyama in the Fukushima prefecture, Yoshisato saw Koriyama’s vast waters and immediately thought of utilizing them to his benefit. With Koriyama’s richness in water, Yoshisato successfully converted his great backyard into a large goldfish farm with the aid of the goldfish breeders he brought along.
Before, goldfish were exclusive pets for the high status. But not long after Yoshisato’s arrival, the Koriyama samurai clan began a low-margin high turnover business by selling goldfish, making goldfish easily accessible to everyone. Thanks to Yoshisato’s goldfish-selling clan, Koriyama survived a dreadful famine that made the whole country suffer. (Source: Metro-Classic Japanese)