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Mori Heiemon

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Mori Heiemon was a prominent advisor to Uesugi Shigesada, lord of Yonezawa han. After rising to the top advisory/political post within the domain in 1760, he spearheaded a number of policies aimed at improving the domain's financial well-being, before being assassinated by his political opponents three years later.

Mori rose from very meager origins, bearing a stipend of just over six koku in 1748, when he served as a member of a foot battalion (yoitagumi). By 1754, however, he had already become chamberlain (osobayaku) to Lord Uesugi Shigesada, and two years later, he held the post of lead secretary (koshô gashira) and enjoyed a stipend of 250 koku. By 1760, when he became the daimyô's chief advisor, he had engineered the removal of some of the domain's most influential families from the domain government, and had appointed his own allies.

Among his first policy initiatives were the reorganization of taxes, allowing peasants to pay their taxes in various different forms, and in monthly installments, and streamlined the process of tax collection in certain ways. He also created new offices and posts in an attempt to cut down on corruption; the daikan who oversaw tax collection and other matters in certain areas inherited their posts, as part of their household patrimony, and so had a certain degree of independence from domain authorities, which they abused by extorting the peasantry, and in other ways. Mori attempted to combat this by appointing vice-daikan (fukudaikan), and placing both daikan and fukudaikan under the oversight of a new office, the office of rural affairs (gundaisho).

Mori also had the daimyô enfeoff merchant families who contributed significantly to the domain's finances. While it was relatively common in many domains for merchants to be given the right to wear swords, or the right to bear a surname (and thus a household and patrimony on a level different from other commoners), merchants being granted fiefs was more unusual. The Igarashi merchant family had its lands doubled from 50 to 100 koku in 1750, and the Terashima family was granted a fief in 1754 of 130 koku. These two wealthiest of the domain's merchant families now had domains larger than those of ninety percent of the domain's landed samurai retainers.

The domain's finances came up against another major obstacle when called upon by the shogunate to provide 100,000 ryô in contributions to the reconstruction of Kan'ei-ji; with the domain's reputation so poor he could not secure loans from the Osaka merchants, Mori turned to a poll tax and kariage "borrowing" against retainer stipends to help fund the project.

In the 1750s, the domain was then struck by a series of natural disasters, which led to famines; hungry and angry peasants, sometimes even aided by low-ranking retainers, began rioting, attacking merchants in the hopes of getting at hidden or extorted surpluses, and breaking into government storehouses to steal and distribute rice. This only exacerbated an already quite tenuous financial situation. Mori turned to extracting taxes from landed retainers, who normally paid no taxes to the domain but only contributed service. He ordered that taxes paid by peasants living on retainers' lands pay their taxes to the domain, rather than to the retainers, and gave the retainers vouchers with which they could claim their rightful portion of tax revenues. These vouchers quickly became depreciated, however, and Mori earned the enmity of many of the domain's top retainers not only for cutting deeply into their revenues, but for violating their patrimonial authority within the lands, rights, and privileges inherited & passed down within their household.

A group of offended samurai elites petitioned the daimyô, Uesugi Shigesada, to dismiss Mori from office, but when they were unsuccessful, on 1763/2/8, four of them confronted Mori and stabbed him to death. Official documents recorded that he committed suicide in atonement for his crimes.

References

  • Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, Stanford University Press (1999), 84-87.
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