Maren A. Ehlers
’s Give and Take: Poverty and the Status Order in Early Modern Japan
(Harvard University Asia Center, 2018) examines the ways in which ordinary subjects—including many so-called outcastes and other marginalized groups—participated in the administration and regulation of society in Tokugawa Japan. Within this context, the book focuses on self-governing occupation-based and other status groups and explore their roles making Tokugawa Japan tick. The title, Give and Take
, is part of Ehlers’s argument about the ways in which their relationship to government was one of reciprocity between ostensibly benevolent rulers and dutybound status groups. Within this, Ehlers evinces a special interest in marginalized groups and in poverty, especially “beggar bosses” and blind guilds. Through a detailed examination of an extraordinary collection of primary sources from the castle town of Ōno (Fukui prefecture), Ehlers uses the case study of approaches to the problems of poverty to enrich our understanding of the complex dynamics of interconnectivity and reciprocity that characterized Japan under Tokugawa rule.