Nagaoka han

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Nagaoka han was an Edo period feudal domain based at Nagaoka castle in Echigo province, and ruled by the Makino clan. Its chief port and economic center was at Niigata, while much of the rest of the domain consisted of relatively impoverished agricultural areas. Though Echigo rice was famous and much desired throughout much of the realm, the "snow country" climate meant that farmers could only do one harvest a year (as opposed to two or three in warmer regions), and such harvests were never guaranteed.

Nagaoka was also famous throughout the realm as one of the chief suppliers of prostitutes to other parts of the archipelago, with the women of the port-city of Niigata represented in many travel guides as a meibutsu (famous product) right alongside sugar from Satsuma and salt from Chôshû. Many of the post-stations (shukuba) along the realm's major highways recruited in Echigo for "serving girls," who worked as waitresses and inn staff, providing sexual services to inn guests as well; more girls working in such positions in inns along the Nakasendô came from Echigo than from any other province. This had a damaging effect on the reputation of Nagaoka/Echigo in popular discourse, as many writers commented that selling one's children to faraway places as laborers or sex workers was almost as bad - or worse - than infanticide.

Because of the unsteady harvests, ironically, Echigo villagers suffered under a particularly heavy tax burden, aimed at ensuring a steady flow of revenue for the authorities despite widely variable harvests for the villagers themselves.

Echigo is also known for having, on average, larger families than many other regions of the archipelago. While many scholars have attributed lower instances of infanticide in Echigo to a particularly strong belief in certain threads of Jôdo Shinshû (New Pure Land) faith, historian Amy Stanley attributes this to the need for additional hands to help with work in the fields (or otherwise), and/or the villagers' need for income, obtained by selling sons to other places as migrant laborers, and daughters as prostitutes. Though a considerable trend of migration of girls out of the province in the 17th century, taken as wives, maids, or laborers by people of other places, especially Aizu han, led Niigata city officials in 1730 to institute bans on women leaving the domain, by the end of the 18th century, demand was such that a considerable number of women continued to leave the domain. One source of demand for Echigo women was from men in the nearby Kantô region, who due to infanticide and out-migration had considerably more marriageable men than women. Recruiters thus traveled to Echigo to find women willing to move to another province to marry, and some daimyô even instituted policies aimed at helping the male villagers of their domains secure marriages with women from places such as Echigo.


The domain joined in the Ôuetsu reppan dômei alliance of northern domains against the Imperial Armies in the Boshin War of 1868. In the fifth month of that year, battle came to the domain's own territory, and Nagaoka castle fell in the battle of Nagaoka, also known as the Battle of Hokuetsu.


  • Amy Stanley, Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan, UC Press (2012), 111-133.