Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

'Edo and Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era': Essays on growth and bureaucracy

by Don O'Keefe

Special To The Japan Times

“Edo and Paris” compares the development of these two great cities of the early modern era. It compiles 19 essays by American, European and Japanese academics, edited by James L. McClain, John M. Merriman and Kaoru Ugawa, professors of history at Brown, Yale and Rikkyo universities, respectively.

Edo and Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era, Edited by James L. McClain et al.
512 pages
CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESS, Nonfiction.

McClain and Merriman explain that “burgeoning urban growth and the expansion of state power” exemplified Edo (now Tokyo) and Paris. The striking parallels between the two are detailed in essays describing efforts to manage commerce, fire prevention, urban development and more. In response to these challenges, both governments created increasingly complex bureaucracies.

Strong states were central in unifying national economies, but “Edo and Paris” reveals that, ultimately, the rise of the merchant class was responsible for the vibrant culture and dynamic growth of the early modern period. In theory, both the Japanese shogunate and the French monarchy exercised absolute authority, but in practice they relied on compliance and economic support from the private sector, creating a system that McClain calls “negotiated autocracy.”

“Edo and Paris” discusses discrepancies in the development of the two cities, but these are “differences of degree and magnitude, not of kind,” according to McClain and Ugawa. For Tokyoites, native or expatriate, examining Japan alongside France provides valuable new insights into the triumphs and shortcomings of civil society and governance in the Edo Period (1603-1868).

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