By: Utagawa Yoshitsuya II, 1873 (Meiji 6). Calico and Tortoise-shell Rabbits, woodblock prints.
The scene: 1870’s Japan, the end of the Edo period, when Japan has resumed diplomatic trade relations with the West, and begins importing exotic plants and animals. Emperor Meiji 6 (inspired by Britain’s theories of free markets without the burden of governmental interference) proclaims: All classes high and low shall unite in vigorously promoting the economy and welfare of the nation.
Of the most exotic imports, the “calico” or “tortoise shell” rabbit brings about an immediate breeding frenzy in the larger cities, particularly Osaka and Tokyo. “All classes, high and low” embrace the business of breeding, buying, trading, and selling rabbits, resulting in a frenetic speculative rabbit trade. The high-stake rabbit trade introduces a new crime wave, as everyone rushes to make millions from the exotic rabbits, and it isn’t long before city governments implement regulations, requiring traders to report monthly activity and pay a one yen tax per rabbit sold to the government. The high-stake hopes of rabbit-breeding-wealth comes abruptly to an end, after a tumultuous two-year (1872-74) bubble.