Officialdom’s classic how-tos

by Reiji Yoshida

The nature of bureaucrats hardly ever changes, even over the course of hundreds of years. As if to prove the point, documents from the 18th century that recently came to light on how to host government delegates closely resembles the wining and dining that led to scandals in the 1990s.

The documents, showing how to handle delegations from the shogunate, were recently made public by the board of education in Chizu, Tottori Prefecture. They include a 1761 record showing detailed meal menus for shogunate officials.

The documents were prepared by the Tottori clan and give detailed instructions on hosting five delegations sent by the shogunate from 1717 to 1837.

“Offer sake if someone (in the delegation) likes drinking,” reads one of the documents, which was discovered at the house of the Ishitani family.

The shogunate, which was supposed to pay the costs of the meal, had issued a notice saying one dish and one bowl of soup would be enough for the delegation. But the documents show that far more delicious dishes were served to the guests.

The documents include a menu for a delegation of the Tsuyama clan, located next to the Tottori clan. Meals included bream sashimi, jellyfish and “yamane” trout, as well as stew and a meat dish.

“The delegation was so powerful that some regional samurai lords were deprived of their territories because of their report,” Yasunori Murao, an expert on history and a member of the board of education, said during a telephone interview.

“The documents showed how sensitive (local officials) were in treating the delegations,” he said.

The shogunate sent a delegation every time a new shogun was installed. The delegation was tasked with reporting on the regional political situations to the shogun.

Fast forward to the late 1990s, when local government officials engaged in excessive wining and dining of central government officials in bids to win bigger budgets.

Asked if these cases are similar to the ones shown in the Tottori documents, Murao said: “Yes, I think so.”