Goyo shonin

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  • Japanese: 御用商人 (goyou shounin)

Goyô shônin were merchants officially in service to a lord, whether the daimyô of a domain, or the shogun.

Whereas most merchants' work was traditionally considered to operate in a realm of personal or private (私, shi) activity or benefit, goyô shônin, by providing goods to the lord, served a public benefit; that the term or ôyake (公) can mean either "lord" or "public" gives a sense of the overlapping or intertwined nature of this concept in early modern Japan. The spread of kokueki ("national/domainal prosperity") thought beginning in the 18th century, however, led to the conception becoming increasingly common that even "private" merchant activity served the public good, that is, the economic prosperity of the domain.[1]

Many goyô shônin were those who served a given lord, or the shogunate, as official purveyors of particular goods. For example, a given lord might have a given merchant family serve as his chief source of porcelain, lacquerware, or silk textiles. Other goyô shônin were those who operated domainal or shogunate warehouses, shipping operations, or sales in major port cities such as Nagasaki or in major market cities such as Osaka or Edo, including those who oversaw the shipment of domainal specialty products to the market city, the sale of domainal specialty products at the market cities, and/or the procurement of luxury goods in those market cities to provide to the lord.[2] Finally, goyô shônin could also include those who provided a given service in a more local context, such as families who ran inns in port towns or post towns reserved for the use of the lord of a given domain and his retainers, as they made their way to and from Edo on sankin kôtai, or traveled on other business.

Goyô shônin were often granted certain privileges as a result of their special position, including the right to bear a sword, the right to audiences with the lord, and/or the right to use a family name in official documents.[3]


  1. Luke Roberts, Mercantilism in a Japanese Domain: The Merchant Origins of Economic Nationalism in 18th-Century Tosa, Cambridge University Press (1998), 11.
  2. Roberts,20.
  3. Roberts, 11n26.