Hirosaki han

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Hirosaki han was an Edo period domain based at Hirosaki castle and ruled by the Tsugaru clan. It controlled some of the northernmost portions of Mutsu province, the domain covering roughly half of modern-day Aomori prefecture. The domain, also known as Tsugaru domain, has been characterized as possessing a relatively large samurai population compared to many other domains, and a relatively under-developed economy.[1] The domain's chief exports were rice and lumber, with no other notable proto-industrial or cash crop exports to speak of, to the point that it was commonly said at the time that "the country produces rice and only rice."[2] Even as late as 1877, the entirety of Mutsu province's exports were 80% rice.[3]

Tsugaru Tamenobu was the first Edo period lord of Hirosaki, being confirmed in his lands by Tokugawa Ieyasu after supporting the Tokugawa at the Battle of Sekigahara. Hirosaki served as a post-station on the Ushû Kaidô, a highway connecting Kôri-juku on the Sendaidô in modern-day Fukushima prefecture with Aburakawa-juku on the Matsumae-dô (a branch or section of the Ôshû kaidô). The domain also boasted several major ports, including Aomori, on the Eastern Circuit shipping route, and Ajigasawa, Fukaura, and Jûsan, ports facing the Sea of Japan, on the Western Circuit.[4]

Though the Tsugaru controlled one of the largest domains in the realm, by sheer land area, and thus boasted considerable actual agricultural production (uchidaka, or gendaka), they were not of sufficient lineage to merit the esteemed kunimochi status, and were ascribed a much lower omotedaka (official kokudaka standing) than their actual production. However, the Tsugaru began to receive a number of benefits by the beginning of the 19th century equivalent to those enjoyed by kunimochi daimyô. In 1808, the domain's omotedaka or hôdaka (official kokudaka) was raised to 100,000, and the Tsugaru daimyô was from then on permitted to sit in the ôhiroma of Edo castle for shogunal audiences, alongside the kunimochi daimyô. In 1824, Tsugaru Nobuyuki, the eleventh lord of the domain, was raised in court rank to fourth-rank, equivalent to a kunimochi lord.


Due to the relatively large samurai population, which strained the domain's ability to support them solely with rice stipends, many lower-ranking samurai were resettled in the countryside, and became a sort of rural gentry, supporting themselves through agriculture, the overseeing of agriculture, or other commercial or semi-commercial activities. Though in most domains samurai were removed from the countryside and given residences in the castle town, this is one example of where realities differed from the generalization.[5]

At the beginning of the Meiji period, the domain had a population of roughly 230,000 commoners and just over 4300 retainers, making for a ratio of 1.89 retainers being supported by each 100 commoners. This ratio was nearly double that of Tokushima han (1.06), but far lower than, for example, Yonezawa han (6.77). However, Hirosaki was particularly hard hit in the Tenmei (1780s) and Tenpô famines (1830s), losing over 80,000 people in each, and making the population far more variable than in many other domains.[6]

Relying far more heavily on rice agriculture than on any proto-industrial production or regional specialty cash crops, Hirosaki undertook land reclamation efforts to a great extent than the vast majority of other domains. Over the course of the Edo period, the domain saw a 623% increase in its arable land, and a 528% increase in the number of villages, going from 133 villages in 1600 to 836 in 1872, with the domain's uchidaka (internally assessed kokudaka, as opposed to the officially externally designated figure) rising from 47,000 koku to 340,000 over that same period. Reclaimed land was generally categorized in one of two ways: when a retainer worked to reclaim an area of land, it might be added to his fief or made a small fief (kochigyô) unto itself, thus providing a direct source of income for that retainer, or it might be declared kurachi ("treasury land"), contributing to the domainal government's treasuries. Either way, it worked to relieve the financial burden on the domainal government's obligations to pay stipends to its retainers. The burden was further eased by a policy known as dochaku, which placed samurai out in the countryside and required them to, essentially, at least in some respects, become farmers, undertaking agricultural work to earn their own living.[7]

Retainers, gôshi, ronin, and peasants alike undertook land reclamation efforts, and earned kochigyô. The domain converted many landed fiefs into stipends in the 1680s, but then reversed this policy in the 1710s-1770s. Those who reclaimed at least 30 koku worth of land were named ashigaru and given stipends of 30 hyô, while those who reclaimed more than 100 koku worth of land were made full retainers (kyûnin, 給人). This retainer status was only for one generation, and was not directly heritable; however, the descendants of kochigyô holders were sometimes retained as castle guards (rusui).[8]

This process greatly expanded the taxable land and thus the domain's tax revenues, without costing the domainal government any outlay of capital; however, since 40% of reclaimed land was made into private small fiefs, this earned the domain only 60% of the increase in revenues it would have seen from reclaiming the land itself. The process also ran counter to the general Tokugawa period trend of consolidating power in centralized domain governments, and diminishing the power of individual retainers by pulling them off the land. That said, by the 18th century, as the domain government began to grow concerned about the luxurious lifestyles of urban samurai, rural retainers came to serve as a symbol of vigor and self-reliance.[9]

Even so, like most Edo period domains, Hirosaki saw considerable financial difficulties over the course of the period. A famine in 1695 killed roughly 30,000 people in Hirosaki domain, and led to the domain government cutting retainer stipends in half and borrowing from the shogunate. Stipends were cut in half again in 1750, after repeated harvest/budget difficulties in the early 18th century, and by 1754, the domain owed more than 300,000 ryô to merchants, and held total debts amounting to more than double the domain's annual tax revenues.[10]

The domain undertook a more serious and widespread policy of dochaku, resettling samurai in the countryside, in the 1790s. This was done both in order to alleviate socioeconomic problems of the domain's waning finances (by allowing samurai to simply farm their own land and earn their own income, rather than relying on the domainal stores), and as part of philosophies or ideologies that this would return the samurai/peasant relationship to an earlier, more balanced, form. Many retainers resisted, however, seeing this merely as a way of cutting their stipends, while many rural elites saw the resettled samurai as disrupting or displacing their own local elite status. The project was abandoned by 1798, in response to the opposition, though in 1803, the domain once again allowed samurai to move to the countryside if they so chose; those who elected to do so, however, would be giving up their samurai status.[11]

Due to the domain's location, it was obligated beginning around 1800 to aid in the military defense of Ezo (Hokkaidô) against Russian incursions, receiving a reduction in its sankin kôtai obligations in return. By 1809, Hirosaki had 400 troops regularly stationed in Matsumae domain. The defense of the north was more fully entrusted to Matsumae beginning in 1822, though Hirosaki was still expected to provide additional troops in case of emergency.[12]

Bakumatsu & Meiji

Unlike in many of the more oft-discussed domains, Hirosaki saw little domestic disturbance - e.g. sonnô jôi factions, millenarianism, or peasant uprisings - during the Bakumatsu period.

Coastal defenses for the domain were provided in large part by retainers, who were obligated from 1864 onwards to provide one gun for each 100 koku of their income. The domain also arranged naval fortifications, coastal artillery and the like.

As in Yonezawa han and many others, the high officials of Hirosaki's domainal government saw the Imperial loyalists as a threat to their domain. Unlike those in Yonezawa, however, the leaders of Hirosaki felt that resistance was futile, and so did not join up with the active resistance.[13] Overall, the domain's position throughout the conflict was one of prevarication. In 1868/4, the domain dispatched 540 troops to Shônai han in response to Imperial orders, but then only two months later, decided to join the Ôuetsu reppan dômei alliance of northern domains in support of the shogunate. Then, just two weeks later, in response to communications from the Konoe family, the domain reversed its position again.[14]

Lords of Hirosaki

  1. Tsugaru Tamenobu (d. 1607)
  2. Tsugaru Nobumasa
  3. Tsugaru Nobuyasu (d. 1784)
  4. Tsugaru Nobuharu
  5. Tsugaru Yasuchika (r. ?-1825)
  6. Tsugaru Nobuyuki (r. 1825-1839)
  7. Tsugaru Yukitsugu (?-1859)
  8. Tsugaru Tsuguakira (1859-1871)


  • Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, Stanford University Press, 1999.
  1. Ravina, 9.
  2. 「御国の物産は米より他にこれなき。」, Ravina, 119.
  3. Ravina, 119.
  4. Ravina, 115.
  5. Ravina, 10.
  6. Ravina, 118-119, 128-129, 147.
  7. Ravina, 120.
  8. Ravina, 130.
  9. Ravina, 120-122.
  10. Ravina, 122-123.
  11. Ravina, 136-140.
  12. Ravina, 152.
  13. Ravina, 202.
  14. Ravina, 152-153.