Yonezawa Domain (米沢藩 Yonezawa-han?) was a feudal domain (han) of Tokugawa Japan, controlled by daimyō of the Uesugi clan. Covering the Okitama District of Dewa Province, in what is today southeastern Yamagata Prefecture, the territory was ruled from Yonezawa castle in Yonezawa city. The Uesugi were tozama daimyō, with an initial income of 300,000 koku, which later fell to 150,000-180,000.
The domain is perhaps most notable for its rapid shift from a poor, indebted, and corruptly led domain to a very prosperous one in only a few decades in the 1760s-80s. Yonezawa was declared in 1830 by the shogunate to be the paragon of a well-managed domain. Scholar Mark Ravina uses Yonezawa as a case study, in analysing the political status and conceptions of statehood and identity in the feudal domains of the Tokugawa period (1603-1868).
The region was held by the Date clan for much of the Sengoku period, from 1548-1591, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to power and declared the Date move to Iwadeyama in Mutsu province. The Gamō clan were given Aizu to govern under the Uesugi, and Tairō Uesugi Kagekatsu gave his karō (advisor) Naoe Kanetsugu a 300,000 koku income.
In 1600, however, the Uesugi opposed Tokugawa Ieyasu in the Sekigahara Campaign, and lost, becoming tozama daimyō (outsider lords) under the new shogunate. Their income and territory worth 1,200,000 koku was shrunk to 300,000, and they were forced to move from Aizu to Yonezawa, recovering the castle from Naoe. They now possessed 180,000 koku worth of land in Dewa province, and 120,000 koku in the neighboring Mutsu province, the Honjō clan given nearby Fukushima Castle by the shogunate in order to pressure the Uesugi and prevent them from expanding their territory. This 300,000 koku territory would represent the peak of the Uesugi clan's income in the Tokugawa period.
Like many han in the archipelago, Yonezawa was operated as a semi-independent state, directly under the daimyō. The Uesugi demanded respect for the shogunate from their retainers, and forbade public criticism, but only imposed and enforced those edicts and policies which they chose to. Retainers were ordered to obey shogunal laws while outside the domain, but within it, shogunal orders did not apply unless conveyed by the daimyō.
In 1664, the third daimyō of Yonezawa, Uesugi Tsunakatsu, died without producing an heir. The succession was determined at the advice of his father-in-law, Hoshina Masayuki, the younger brother to shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu. He suggested that the clan adopt as heir Uesugi Tsunanori, the son of Tsunakatsu's younger sister and Kira Yoshinaka, though this would mean splitting the domain in half, down to only 150,000 koku within Dewa province.
This decision led to severe financial difficulties in the domain, for the Uesugi and their administration, and for the increasingly impoverished peasants. The problem became so severe that the eighth daimyō, Uesugi Shigetada, seriously considered turning over the domain to the shogunate. Instead, he resigned his position as daimyō in favor of Uesugi Harunori, who then began to reform the domain's administration and to revive its economy. He introduced strict disciplinary measures, and ordered the execution of several karō (advisors) who opposed his plans. In order to finance castle repairs imposed upon his domain by the shogunate, Harunori asked his retainers to agree to a reduction of their stipends, for the good of the domain. As a result of various measures he took, Yonezawa became fairly prosperous, and did not suffer much from the famine which swept Japan in the Tenmei era (1781-9). In 1830, the shogunate formally declared Yonezawa to be a choice example of a well-governed domain.
When the Boshin War erupted in 1868, and the shogunate came to an end with the abdication of shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the Uesugi joined the "Northern Alliance" (Ouetsu Reppan Domei), voicing their support for the embattled Aizu domain and opposing Satsuma and Chōshū domination of the new imperial government, while stating an intent to "reconquer Japan, that the Emperor may indeed reign over it." The Alliance members also acknowledged their debt to Hoshina Masayuki, the first Aizu lord, who was a respected figure in many domains. After several months of battle, the Alliance was defeated, and the Meiji period began, under a new imperial government. The domain was cut down by 3000 koku, then combined with other territories to form "Yonezawa Shinden han" in 1869, and abolished along with the han system as a whole two years later. It was renamed Yonezawa prefecture, but was combined very shortly afterwards with Okitama prefecture to form Yamagata prefecture.
The end of the shogunate and abolition of the han system brought with it an end of the samurai class and of the daimyō. The Uesugi clan were incorporated into the kazoku or noble peerage, as Counts, or Hakushaku in Japanese.
List of daimyo
- Mark Ravina (1999). Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
- Toby, Ronald (2001). "Rescuing the Nation from History: The State of the State in Early Modern Japan." Monumenta Nipponica 56:2. p206.
- John R. Black. Young Japan: Yokohama and Yedo, Vol. II (London: Trubner & Co., 1881), pp. 213-215
- Much of the content of this article comes from the corresponding one on the Japanese Wikipedia.