Why is evil merchant always called Echigoya?

ihitokage

Senior Member
Czech
こんにちは
I've heard this for example in Gintama anime, in Tenchu videogame and some other stories. Every time there is an evil or greedy merchant his name is Echigoya or Echimoya or something similar. Is there a story behind it or is it a Japanese pun of some kind?

よろしくお願いします
 
  • Contrafibularity

    Senior Member
    Japanese - Osaka
    Echigoya (越後屋) is a stereotypical evil-merchant figure in period dramas. He is often seen hatching a plot with a high official (often referred to as 悪代官), where their secret conversation goes like:

    悪代官: 越後屋、お主も悪(わる)よのう。 You are a bad man, Echigoya.
    越後屋: いえいえ、お代官様ほどでは。 I'm no match for you, sir.

    I don't know how the figure of Echigoya has stereotyped its way into our cultural vocabulary, but my guess is it was just a coincidence. Back in the Edo period, many merchants took their store name from the province they were from. Echigo or Echigonokuni is the old name of Niigata Prefecture (roughly speaking), so Echigoya is a merchant from that province. There were also 三河屋, 駿河屋, 丹波屋 etc., and for all I know it could have been any of these instead of 越後屋. There might have been an incident that involved Echigoya's dishonest practices, or the scriptwriter might have chosen Echigoya out of a whim.
     

    ihitokage

    Senior Member
    Czech
    I see, thanks for the explanation! It's been bugging me for some time. I even saw the name on one sign in Tokyo and I immediately knew that the shop there was definitely evil :D
     

    Contrafibularity

    Senior Member
    Japanese - Osaka
    With a little bit of research on the web, I still find it hard to decide who we should give most credit to for the creation of the character. It is probably one of those period dramas (Samurai dramas, more specifically) that first featured the evil-merchant character. The secret conversation between the two rogues is a literary device necessary for introducing poetic justice ("punishing bad and rewarding good" policy) into the story. Like I said, it could have been anyone other than Echigoya, and there in fact appears many other evil merchants in those dramas.

    Still, we easily associate the evil-merchant character with Echigoya, and why is that? I think it has more to do with later recurrent adaptations of the character in other genres of entertainment such as variety shows and comic books than the creative mind of one single scriptwriter or the memorable performance of one single actor in period dramas. It is possible that one of those writers chose Echigoya as the model of a prosperous merchant that people could easily recognize at the time of writing.
     
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