Nozoki Yoshimasa

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Nozoki Yoshimasa was a prominent domain official and policy advisor in Yonezawa han. He is often credited with at least partial responsibility for the dramatic reversal, for the better, of Yonezawa's financial situation in the 1790s.

Nozoki served as head secretary (koshô gashira) to daimyô Uesugi Shigesada before he and a group of like-minded domain officials, known as the Seigasha, convinced Shigesada to retire in 1767 in favor of Uesugi Harunori.[1]

Nozoki retired from service himself in 1783, returning in 1791 and by the following year being named bugyô, with a 1000 koku stipend. Though a follower of the Confucian scholar Hosoi Heishû, like many of his Seigasha comrades, during his retirement he began to reconsider Hosoi's teachings. Nozoki wrote in a 1789 essay that peasants cared only for their immediate benefit, seeking profit and being annoyed by inconvenience or sacrifice, without recognizing or understanding the greater good which domain policies aimed to create. Where Hosoi advocated a particular focus on educating and enlightening the peasantry in order to resolve this problem, Nozoki came to the conclusion that since it is impossible to truly bring such education to every single peasant family throughout the domain, the goal instead should be to convince the peasants to follow domain policies loyally even when they created inconvenience, or losses of profits, suggesting that they ought to have faith that the lord's decisions were in the best interests of peace and prosperity for the realm even if the individual peasant did not understand how or why.

Where Hosoi and his followers (such as Takenomata Masatsuna) advocated morality as the chief cause of prosperity or decline, Nozoki began to be critical of this idea. He still saw immorality, laziness, frivolity, and excessive luxury as problems, but cited the practical demographic matter of having too few peasants for the land as the root cause of Yonezawa's economic difficulties, rather than morality as the root. To that end, he called a tax moratorium from 1791 until 1795, in the hopes of luring back those who might have fled the domain because of high tax rates. In 1796, he had the domain forgive all debts.

Seeing poverty and desperation, and not immorality, as the root cause of the practice of infanticide, Nozoki also had the domain begin to grant rice, cotton, building materials, or other supplies to individuals or families in certain circumstances (e.g. to newlyweds, or to families with small children, in order to encourage or incentivize population growth, and to discourage a feeling of a need to commit infanticide). Nozoki also had the domain begin to subsidize the cultivation of silk, by giving farmers mulberry seedlings for free, along with the possibility of loans, and a certain degree of exemption from nengu payments. These policies were quite successful, bringing upticks in population growth almost immediately. From 1796 until the famines of the 1840s, Yonezawa saw continual growth, and not decline, of the population.

Nozoki also took steps to reverse Takenomata's policy positions on samurai by-employments. Seeing commercial or manufacturing activities as counter to the samurai ethos, and corrupting of it, Takenomata had sought to expand agricultural and other production by commoners/peasants to the point that the domain could afford to pay retainer stipends at a sufficient level such that the samurai would not need to engage in by-employments, such as weaving cloth. By contrast, Nozoki encouraged samurai to take up farming, weaving, and other activities in order to support themselves, thus alleviating the domain's financial burdens. The domain assured these samurai, however, that they would retain all the perks of samurai status, and that contributing to the domain's economy (kokueki) in this way was not dishonorable but rather quite the opposite, it being simply an alternate way of doing one's duty to the lord. Citing that even ladies-in-waiting at the castle were engaging in activities related to silk cultivation, and that daimyô Harunori was wearing garments made by those ladies within his court, Nozoki also managed to encourage sericulture.

Further, Nozoki began to see the imposition of education or enlightenment, and the kind of mandates and coercive policies advocated by Hosoi and Takenomata, as tyrannical. He thus advocated employing economic incentives instead; in short, he suggested playing on people's greed and envy, rather than decrying such emotions, to motivate production. He also reversed policies Takenomata had put in place which sought to encourage economic activity by mandating it. As Takenomata saw when he mandated the growing of lacquer trees, Nozoki suggested that mandates only lead to peasants seeking ways to fulfill their obligations in the least way possible, producing low-quality goods, so that they can devote more time and energy to more profitable pursuits. Thus, Nozoki asserted, the domain should work to make certain pursuits actually profitable and thus desirable for the peasantry, by not taxing those activities too heavily, and by not mandating them to engage in other, less profitable, activities. He further sought to abandon the monopsony system, arguing that a freer market in which peasants are free to produce whatever is most profitable would result in the most profits, through market forces which would allow prices to rise and fall freely, creating the proper incentives.

Nozoki was unsuccessful in dismantling the flax and lacquer monopsonies put in place by his predecessors. Following his death in 1803, his son Nozoki Masamochi succeeded him, and continued to fight to remove the monopsonies until 1807.


  • Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, Stanford University Press (1999), 97-105.
  1. Ravina, 88.