Tanuma Okitsugu

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Tanuma Okitsugu served as Tairô from 1767 to 1786. Though Tanuma is generally remembered as a terribly corrupt official, John Whitney Hall emphasizes his contributions to the expansion of trade through expansion of government control over it, going so far as to suggest that his programs might have led Japan towards industrializing earlier. Hall places the blame for Japan's economic and military weakness in the 19th century on the conservative policies of Tanuma's successor, Matsudaira Sadanobu.[1]

Early Life and Career

As Tairô

Tanuma's time as Tairô is generally associated with political corruption, especially in the form of bribes, and with rampant inflation, and widespread moral decay.

In the 1770s, Tanuma provided Tsushima han with sizable monetary loans and grants on a number of occasions, eventually putting into place an annual grant of 12,000 ryô which helped the domain accommodate for the decline in the Korea trade caused by continued debasement of silver coinage and expansion of domestic production of ginseng and other goods which drove down the demand for imports; the domain would continue to be paid this grant every year until 1862.

In 1785, he established clearinghouses in Hakodate, Edo, Osaka, and Shimonoseki which oversaw the collection and transportation of marine products to Nagasaki for export; as with similar steps taken in other industries where the shogunate established or reorganized za trade associations, this did not push private merchants out of the business, but rather made them into something akin to government contractors, placing the operations of that business under more direct government oversight, in the hopes of stemming fluctuations, smuggling, and other problems.

The 1783 eruption of Mt. Asama, combined with the nearly ten-year-long Great Tenmei Famine, were widely seen as symbols that the country was in need of serious change and a return to virtuous leadership. Tanuma was ousted from power in 1786, and replaced as Tairô by Matsudaira Sadanobu the following year.

He is buried at the Zen temple Mannen-zan Shôrin-ji in the Komagome neighborhood of Tokyo.[2]


  1. Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 103, citing Hall, Tanuma Okitsugu (1719-1788): Forerunner of Modern Japan, Harvard University Press (1955), 57-60, 86.
  2. Signs on-site at Shôrin-ji and Somei Cemetery.