Yosha Bunko
Yubin hochi shinbun
No. 449b -- 1874-9-7
Convicts learn to read

Story in brief

Prisoners teach themselves to read at Tokyo penitentiary.


Following famines in the late 18th century, people from the countryside gravitated to Edo, and growing numbers of homeless threatened to become a security problem. In 1790, an aging law enforcement official named Hasegawa Heizo (the "Onihei" of TV drama fame) was entrusted with the establishment of a vocational institution, called the ninsoku yoseba, on a triangular strip of reclaimed land between the islands of Ishikawajima and Tsukudajima, where the Sumida River meets Tokyo Bay in what is now part of Tokyo's Chuo Ward.

Here, several hundred prisoners between ages of 14 to 20 were taught skills that ran the gamut from carpentry, shoemaking, blacksmithing, stonemasonry, charcoal- and paper-making, hair grooming and other tonsorial skills, to the carving of false teeth. Wages were paid every 10 days, but one-third of their earnings were held back and given to them in a lump sum upon their release, typically after three or more years.

The functions of ninsoku yoseba ended in 1870 and the facility became a regular prison until moving to Sugamo in 1895. In this 1875 Yoshitoshi picture, a prisoner named Miki Toyokichi and his peers teach themselves to read. (MS)

Print information

Series: Yubin hochi shinbun
Number: 449b
Source: Hochi No. 449, 1874-9-7
Date: Circa early 1875 (seal undeciphered)
Publisher: Kinshodo
Drawer: (Oju) Taiso Yoshitoshi
Carver: Unsigned
Writer: Shorin Hakuken
Size: Oban
Image: Yosha Bunko

Principal sources

Tsuchiya 2000