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The tax system

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The tax system in Edo period Japan was based firmly on rice. Although each level of government, from the Bakufu down, imposed taxes on those beneath it, it was the annual rice yields that formed the basis of taxation and therefore underpinned the economy. The taxes themselves were levied and delivered in the form of rice itself, causing substantial development of Japanís transport infrastructure. The rice ended up at Edoís rice markets, or Fudasashi.

Taxes ran at about 40% of the annual crop yield, and did not take into account inflation or the rising price of rice. This decreasing monetary value of the base of the tax period caused considerable political and social problems throughout the Edo period.

f However, as far as farming villages were concerned, the situation was simple. They were assessed on either a yearly (kemi) or five yearly (jomen) basis. Villages were taxed as a unit, with the village headman allocating the tax burden amongst the individual farmers. Bribery was rife – the villages would throw drinking parties and shower the visiting tax inspector with gifts, in return for him understating their rice yields. This corruption was a major source of problems for the Bakufu, as it meant that they were constantly strapped for cash. They often had to impose extra, arbitrary taxes on the han, to cover such things as major building projects, and resort to other economic tricks to try to raise money. The result was usually massive inflation as they devalued the currency.

Villagers usually preferred the jomen tax inspection system, as they had to deal with corrupt officials left often, and having their tax rate fixed for several years at a time gave them an incentive to increase their production, as any extra they could produce would not be taxed. However, the risk was also greater, as crop failures could leave them seriously short of food.