Tanuma Okitsugu (田沼意次)

Okitsugu TANUMA was a samurai and daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) of the middle Edo period. He was the first lord of the Sagara domain of Totomi province. He was also the first head of the Tanuma family of the Sagara domain.


He was born in the Tayasu residence in Edo as the first son of Okiyuki TANUMA on July 27, 1719. His childhood name was Ryusuke. His father Okiyuki was an ashigaru (common foot soldier) of the Kishu domain, but Okitsugu was appointed as a humble direct retainer to the shogun by the eighth Seii Taishogun (Barbarian-Subduing Generalissimo), Yoshimune TOKUGAWA. Okitsugu was selected as the Nishinomaru (west compound of the Edo castle) pageboy to Ieshige TOKUGAWA, the ninth shogun, and inherited the stipend of 600 koku of rice on his father's death in 1735.

When Okitsugu was born, his father Okiyuki was already quite advanced in age for becoming a father in those days. Okiyuki worshipped Shichimen-daimyojin, hoping to be blessed with a son, and Okitsugu was born. It is said that Okitsugu was very grateful to Shichimen-daimyojin for this and changed his family crest to the the seven luminaries (with one central circle surrounded by six other circles).

Years as lord of the Sagara domain

He became a junior-fifth-rank official of the Imperial Palace Keeper's Bureau in 1737, and served in the castle keep when Ieshige became shogun in 1745. He was given an additional fief of 1,400 koku of rice in 1748 and another 3,000 koku in 1755; he was also promoted from a shogunate attendant to informing him of visitors and conveying messages (toritsugi) to a feudal lord (daimyo) with a fief of 10000 koku of rice by Ieshige TOKUGAWA in order to judge the 1758 uprising in the Hachiman domain of Mino province (the Gujo uprising).

Even after Ieshige's death in 1761, Okitsugu was trusted by the 10th shogun, Ieharu TOKUGAWA, Ieshige's heir; he was promoted quickly, given an additional fief of 5,000 koku of rice, promoted from an officer in charge of general affairs and accounts (goyonin) to a shogunate chamberlain (sobayonin), advanced to the junior fourth rank, became the lord of Sagara Castle with a fief of 20,000 koku, and was promoted to a grand chamberlain (jiju) and a senior councilor (roju). He was appointed feudal lord (daimyo) of Sagara domain with a fief of 57,000 koku of rice, also served as a senior councilor (roju) and was given 10 additional fiefs; in other words, he was promoted from a shogunate direct retainer (hatamoto) with a fief of 600 koku to a feudal lord (daimyo) with a fief of 57,000 koku, and was the first person to be promoted from a shogunate chamberlain (sobayonin) to a senior councilor (roju).

Tanuma period

The cabinet members of the shogunate government, including Okitsugu and Takechika MATSUDAIRA, the head of roju, began to reform the government and took the reins of power, with the result that this period was called the Tanuma period. The shogunate government adopted a policy of mercantilism to bring down the accumulated budget deficit. They executed policies such as the formation of trade guilds (kabunakama), the monopoly system of the copper guild and so on, mine development, the Ezo (current Hokkaido) development plan, the expansion of foreign trade by exclusive selling of sea products (dried sea cucumber, dried abalone, and shark-fin), and the reclamation of the Inba marsh in Shimosa province. As a result, finances improved and business recovered. However, due to this early capitalism of their society, the lives of the townspeople and officials became focused on money, and bribes were rampant.

While the culture of townspeople developed in urban areas, farmers who had been reduced to poverty by non-profitable agriculture abandoned their fields and drifted into cities, thus ruining agricultural communities. The canal work in the Inba marsh failed, disasters such as fires in Edo and a large-scale eruption of Mt. Asama occurred, and the Tenmei Famine took place in weakened rural areas, causing food shortages and epidemics. Okitsugu took measures, but these failed and ended up making the situation worse. Domains with financial difficulties took advantage of the higher rice prices to pay off their debts and collect land taxes more strictly.

Under these circumstances, people were unhappy due to worsened public peace in urban areas and the intensification of uprisings and destructive urban riots, Tanuma was suspected of bribery because he safeguarded the interests of merchants in Edo, and Tanuma's politics gradually began to be criticized.

He tried to expand Japan's trade surplus, increase gold holdings, and open trade with the Russian Empire; he also made friends with Gennai HIRAGA and others, protected Western learning, and took on men of talent based on a merit system regardless of the hereditary four-class order consisting of warrior-rulers, peasants, artisans, and merchants (shinokosho), but these sudden reformations provoked a backlash among conservatives in the shogunate cabinet. In 1784, Masakoto SANO assassinated Okitomo TANUMA, his son and vise-senior councillor (wakadoshiyori), in Edo-jo Castle, and Okitsugu's power began to wane.

Shogun Ieharu died on August 25, 1786. Okitsugu was distanced from Ieharu immediately before his death on the grounds that Ieharu was angry with him, and he lost his position while the death of the shogun was hidden (the death of nobles was usually kept secret for some time). It is said that the anti-Tanuma faction and the Hitotsubashi family may have orchestrated this activity. Tanuma had the post of senior councillor (roju) taken from him and was demoted to one of feudal lords in waiting in the Wild Goose Room of Edo Castle (karino ma zume). The additional fief of 20,000 koku from the Ieharu period was forfeited on leap October 5, and in addition, he was ordered to give up his property in his warehouse (kurayashiki) in Osaka and hand over his Edo residence.

After that, Okitsugu was ordered not to leave his home and his territory was diminished again. He was punished severely: Sagara-jo Castle was destroyed, and the money and grain stored in the castle forfeited. Since his first son Okitomo TANUMA was already dead and his other three sons were adopted out, his grandson Okiaki TANUMA was allowed to take over as head of the family, provided that their territory was reduced to a fief of 10,000 koku in the Mutsu province. This was very severe punishment: Yoshiyasu YANAGISAWA and Akifusa MANABE, who, like Okitsugu, had been promoted from a low rank official to a shogunate chamberlain (sobayonin), were only resigned without punishment and were allowed to keep their fiefs.

He died on June 24, 1788. He was 70 years old.

Personal Profile

After his fall from power, Okitsugu got a bad reputation which lasted beyond the Meiji period.
However, Toshiakira KAWAJI described him as a 'great heroic figure' and 'honest heroic figure.'

When Zennosuke TSUJI's "Tanuma Period" was published in 1917, Okitsugu TANUMA was considered a corruptible statesman, and a Tanuma villain theory was widespead. However, Tsuji valued the progressiveness of Tanuma's policies, and reevaluated him as a progressive statesman.

Shinsaburo OISHI and others considered that his bad reputation as a corruptible politician was a political creation of his opponents. According to this theory, the historical document that was considered proof of the Tanuma villain theory was created by his political opponents after Tanuma fell from power, and its credibility was not verified in Tsuji's documentation. The reason is that there is historical evidence that Tanuma declined a bribe from Shigemura DATE, the lord of the Sendai domain, while even Sadanobu MATSUDAIRA, who criticized Tanuma, wrote that he had presented Tanuma with money and goods reluctantly.

Bribery was a problem during the Edo period, and there is a theory that says it was less frequent than it is in modern times. Sadanobu MATSUDAIRA confiscated Tanuma's private property after his death, but it is said that Tanuma had so little property that 'there wasn't so much as a dust mote'.

The Kansei Reforms were started by feudal lords of hereditary shogunate direct retainer (fudai daimyo) and feudal lords of the Tokugawa family, and the policies of Okitsugu were negated. In the Ogosho period, where the retired (but still de facto) shogun (ogosho) of Ienari TOKUGAWA, the 11th shogun, held power, Tadaakira MIZUNO, the son of Tadatomo MIZUNO, and Okimasa TANUMA, the fourth son of Okitsugu TANUMA, temporarily reevaluated policies based on mercantilism, but due to the extravagance of Ogosho Ienari, they produced little effect. Sadanobu MATSUDAIRA stuck to a policy of simplicity and frugality to the extent that he restricted even the patterns on the kimono of the common people, and, for better or for worse, some looked back on the worldly politics of Okitsugu TANUMA with nostalgia.

Two lampoons shown below became popular at this time. When Sadanobu assumed his position, the former poem grew popular, but when the reform proved too strict, the latter became popular instead.

Rice fields, ponds and the dirty imperial reign are reformed and cleansed like the water of Shirakawa.

Even fish cannot live in the clean water of Shirakawa and old dirty rice fields and ponds are yearned for.

At present Tanuma was mainly discussed in the aspect of 'Tanuma as a senior councillor (roju),' but as a feudal lord of Sagara domain, he carried out very orthodoxical and reasonable policies, including the expansion of roads and ports, fire prevention measures (an order was issued to replace straw-thatched roofs with tile roofs after a great fire in Sagara), and encouragement of new industry.

Ieharu TOKUGAWA, who had promoted Okitsugu TANUMA, was deemed a foolish ruler due to his relationship with Tanuma. The Tanuma villain theory has been denied today, and some think highly of Ieharu for Tanuma's promotion, but the evaluation of Ieharu has not changed yet. One of the reasons that Tanuma gained strong political power is that Ieharu did not actively take part in politics via the shogun dictatorship political system (in which the shogun administers the affairs of state through chamberlains [sobayonin] and attendants [toritsugi]) after Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA and Yoshimune TOKUGAWA.

John Whitney Hall of Harvard University judged Okitsugu to be 'a pioneer of modern Japan' in 'Tanuma Okitsugu'.

Personal connections

Heisuke KUDO, a doctor of the Sendai domain, presented Okitsugu TANUMA, then shogunate senior councillor (rojo), with ' (A study of rumors about Russians (Akaezo-fusetsu-ko)' in 1783 to prepare for threats from Russia, a northern large country. It is said that this formed the basis of the development of Ezo (present Hokkaido).

Tanuma tried to appoint Toshiaki HONDA as a member of the Ezo research group, but he declined the offer. Honda recommended Tokunai MOGAMI instead.

Tanuma seemed to like Gennai HIRAGA, a famous inventor, very much. Tanuma let him study in Dejima, where Dutch merchants lived. However, Gennai HIRAGA killed a man, so Tanuma denied all connection to Hiraga. It is said that if Hiraga had not killed the man, Tanuma would have assigned him as one responsible for the development of Ezo (present Hokkaido).


The politics of Yoshimune TOKUGAWA provided an occasion to promote a monetary economy. Yoshimune was concerned about the violently fluctuating price of rice, and it is said that Tanuma wondered whether the problem could be solved by promoting a monetary economy in Japan. The dominant explanation is that Tanuma's economic revitalization policies were intended to control the distribution speed of money in the market.
If the simplicity and frugality of the Yoshimune period were continued, they would only, in modern terms, 'promotion of saving and keeping money under the mattress,' which would cause 'a continuing consumer slump.'
Domestic demand (economic conditions) would not be stimulated and the financial affairs of the shogunate government would not improve. If financial affairs did not improve, administration work would not increase and the shogunate government could not undertake public enterprises freely. For that reason, persons and recommended proposals were adopted, but it produced an era in which many speculators appeared. The policies he executed were often criticized as 'money politics,' but so far, no reasonable answer has been provided for the question of how the nearly-bankrupt financial affairs of the shogunate government at the time could have been recovered without carrying out mercantilism policies which resulted in bribery. It is important to note that the monetary income of the shogunate finances increased when Okitsugu TANUMA was on duty.

Development of Ezo (present Hokkaido)

Tanuma organized an expedition team to investigate Ezo (present Hokkaido) for the government. Its members included Toshizo AOSHIMA, Tokunai MOGAMI, Ippei OISHI and Yaroku ANBARA. Clerks for the investigation and development of Ezo included the chief commissioner of finance (kanjo bugyo) Hidemochi MATSUMOTO and the head of the accounting section (kanjo kumigashira) Sojiro TSUCHIYAMA.

Tanuma spent plenty of the government money on the development of Ezo, with scant results.

After Tanuma's downfall, the Ezo development policy was abandoned and the persons responsible punished, but the shogunate government, anxious about frequent appearances of Russian ships on the sea near Ezo, made Ezo a shogunal demesne for the defense of the northern land.

Official career

1734 - Became a pageboy of Ieshige TOKUGAWA.

1737 - Given the title of the junior fifth rank of the Imperial Palace Keeper's Bureau.

1747 - Head of page office.

Leap October 1, 1748 - Changed to the head of page office and concurrently a servant in the domestic quarters of Edo Castle. A fief of 1,400 koku of rice was added. Until then, the head of page office and concurrently a servant in the domestic quarters of Edo Castle.

April 18, 1751 - Changed to one of close shogunate attendants to informing him of visitors and conveying messages (toritsugi osobashu).

1755 - A fief of 3,000 koku of rice was added.

1758 - A fief of 5,000 koku of rice was added. He became a feudal lord (daimyo) with a fief of 10,000 koku of rice.

1762 - A fief of 5,000 koku of rice was added.

July 1, 1767 - Transferred to a shogunate chamberlain (sobayonin). Promoted to junior fourth court rank. A fief of 5,000 koku of rice was added. Became the feudal lord of Sagara, Totomi province, with a fief of 20,000 koku.

August 18, 1769 - Transferred to a senior councillor (roju) and concurrently a shogunate chamberlain (sobayonin). Served concurrently as a grand chamberlain (jiju). A fief of 5,000 koku of rice was added.

January 15, 1772 - Transferred to a senior councillor (roju). A fief of 5,000 koku of rice was added.

April 21, 1777 - A fief of 7,000 koku of rice was added.

July 15, 1781 - A fief of 10,000 koku of rice was added.

January 21, 1785 - A fief of 10,000 koku was added. The total fief became 57,000 koku of rice.

August 27, 1786 - Retired from a senior councillor (roju). A fief of 20,000 koku of rice was forfeited.
Demoted to one of feudal lords in waiting in the Wild Goose Room of Edo Castle (karino ma zume)

October 2, 1787 - A fief of 37,000 koku of rice was forfeited. He was confined to his house.

[Original Japanese]