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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Son of Tayasu Munetake and grandson of Yoshimune



Among these terrible conditions the tenth shogun, Ieharu died, in 1786, and was succeeded by Ienari, a son of Hitotsubashi Harunari and a great-grandson of Yoshimune. Ienari was in his fifteenth year, and, of course, at such a tender age he could not possibly deal with the financial, economic, and administrative problems that presented themselves at this, the darkest period of Tokugawa sway. Fortunately a man of genius was found to grapple with the situation. Matsudaira Sadanobu, son of Tayasu Munetake and grandson of Yoshimune, proved himself one of the most capable administrators Japan had hitherto produced. In 1788, he was appointed prime minister, assisted by a council of State comprising the heads of the three Tokugawa families of Mito, Kii, and Owari. Sadanobu was in his thirtieth year, a man of boundless energy, great insight, and unflinching courage. His first step was to exorcise the spectre of famine by which the nation was obsessed. For that purpose he issued rules with regard to the storing of grain, and as fairly good harvests were reaped during the next few years, confidence was in a measure restored. The men who served the Bakufu during its middle period in the capacity of ministers had been taken almost entirely from the families of Ii, Sakai, and Hotta, but none of them had shown any marked ability; they had allowed their functions to be usurped by the personal attendants of the shogun. This abuse was

remedied by the appointment of the heads of the three Tokugawa families to the post of ministers, and for a time Sadanobu received loyal and efficient support from his colleagues.


The series of calamities which commenced with the tempests, floods, and famines of 1788 culminated in a fire such as never previously had swept Kyoto. It reduced to ashes the Imperial palace, Nijo Castle, 220 Shinto shrines, 128 Buddhist temples, and 183,000 houses. The loss of life (2600) was not by any means as severe as that in the great fire of Yedo, but the Imperial city was practically destroyed. Ishikawa Jinshiro, who commanded at Nijo Castle, immediately distributed a thousand koku of rice from the Government's store to relieve the distressed citizens. He acted in this matter without waiting to seek sanction from the Bakufu, and his discretion was rewarded by appointment to the high office of inspector-general of police (o-metsuke).

The problem of restoring the palace presented much difficulty in the impoverished state of the country, but the Bakufu did not hesitate to take the task in hand, and to issue the necessary requisitions to the feudatories of the home provinces. Sadanobu himself repaired to Kyoto to superintend the work, and took the opportunity to travel throughout a large part of the country. During his tour all that had any grievances were invited to present petitions, and munificent rewards were bestowed on persons who had distinguished themselves by acts of filial piety or by lives of chastity. Such administrative measures presented a vivid contrast with the corrupt oppression practised by the Tanuma family, and it is recorded that men and women kneeled on the road as Sadanobu passed and blessed him with tears.

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