Tosa han

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Tosa was a prominent tozama and kunimochi domain located on the island of Shikoku. The 200,000 koku[1] domain was ruled by the Yamauchi clan from Kôchi castle, its territory roughly coterminous with Tosa province.

Tosa is of particular significance in Bakumatsu and Meiji Period politics as one of the chief domains (along with Satsuma and Chôshû) from where many of the most prominent anti-bakufu shishi rebels, i.e. Imperial loyalists emerged. Prominent Tosa figures from that period include Sakamoto Ryôma, Yoshida Tôyô, Itagaki Taisuke, and Takechi Zuizan. Tosa is also significant as the domain which, while Satsuma and Chôshû were preparing for war, presented Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu with a petition requesting that he step down; though in the end there was some considerable fighting in the lead-up to the Meiji Restoration and its immediate aftermath, in truth, the last shogun was not forced to resign at swordpoint, but rather accepted this Tosa petition and gave up his position willingly and relatively peacefully.



Tosa is comprised of roughly the southern half of the island of Shikoku, facing the Pacific Ocean. Though not one of the designated domains for engaging in foreign interactions, as a result of its location, and the effects of the Kuroshio Current, Tosa saw a great many shipwrecks and castaways over the course of history.

Though a relatively large domain in total land area, much of this area is quite mountainous, and thus not suitable for rice cultivation; in addition to fishing and other maritime activities, much of the domain's basic agricultural production consisted of the growing of wheat, millet, beans and the like. Tea, lumber, and paper also became prominent domainal exports in the Edo period.

The domain's castle town capital was at Kôchi, located roughly midway along the domain's coast. The city boasted a population of roughly 200,000 consistently throughout the period, while the population of the domain as a whole roughly doubled over the course of the period, from just under 275,000 according to a 1665 census, to over 500,000 in 1870 records. The most dramatic growth came in the late 17th century, with much of the 18th century seeing relative stagnation in demographic growth, due to recurrent famine, among other factors.[2] At the end of the 18th century, there are believed to have been around 700 samurai households amongst the domain's population, and another 800 gôshi (rural samurai, below rank of right of audience with the lord) households. These gôshi were the highest-ranking retainers of the domain below full samurai status. Many were descendants of retainers of the Chôsokabe clan, while many others were commoners who had bought into the status. Though they lacked the right of audience with the lord of the domain, Tosa gôshi could wear two swords, and were permitted to ride in the annual military parade, the domain's most important political ritual event, provided they could afford to rent or own a horse. While many could not, others were comparatively wealthy, keeping up with the latest fashions and riding fine horses.[3]

Edo Period

The Yamauchi were not traditionally from Shikoku, but were transferred to Tosa by Tokugawa Ieyasu in return for their loyal service, including in the Battle of Sekigahara. The Yamauchi takeover of the territory was somewhat violent, involving the forcible pacification of armed resistance by those loyal to the Chôsokabe. As a result, throughout the Edo period, even as late as the Bakumatsu, many spoke of the Yamauchi as outsiders and invaders, and those who resisted or resented Yamauchi rule often claimed associations with the Chôsokabe.[4]

The domain's governance and laws were based, in part, however, on the "100 Article Code of the Chôsokabe," written by the Chôsokabe clan who ruled Tosa prior to the Yamauchi. Their kokudaka was based on land surveys performed by the Chôsokabe as well. Though Chôsokabe records indicate that land surveys performed in the 1590s discussed 248,3000 tan of land, an area that could produce far more than the 98,000 koku omotedaka recognized by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, in 1604, Yamauchi officials recalculated, based on the Chôsokabe reports, without actually performing a new land survey, and submitted to the Tokugawa a reported kokudaka of 202,626 koku. Only around 64% of this figure reflected rice cultivation, while the remaining portion was an estimated conversion into rice of the level of cultivation of other products, such as millet, wheat, and beans.[4] What rice was produced was taxed heavily, as was typical throughout much of the archipelago at the time; tax rates as high as 60% were typical. Incentives were kept in place, however, to encourage the bringing of new land under cultivation; those who did this had to pay only 40% in taxes, and receiving exemptions from corvée labor obligations.[5]

The domain initially maintained a number of regional castles, assigning most to high-ranking retainers as the seats for their sub-fiefs. All had to be destroyed in 1616, as a result of the shogunate's "one country, one castle" policy, but in some parts of the domain, fortified samurai residences or small samurai districts remained the centers of regional merchant towns. One of the largest was the town of Sakawa, the seat of a 10,000 koku sub-fief with a population of as many as 1,200 commoners and 800 retainers in the 18th century. These were not necessarily the largest towns in the domain, however, as some with less of a samurai presence (and thus more autonomously commoner-run) were considerably larger.

The administration of the domain was divided into four sectors, with separate magistrates for castle town (urban commerce), ports (fishing & shipping), forest mountains (lumber), and agricultural villages (grain) reporting to the more senior officials of the domain government.[6] While agricultural villages were permitted to be largely self-administering as was typical in most domains, the Yamauchi placed particular importance on maritime activity, and exacted heavy taxes and corvée. An official known as a buichiyaku (lit. "fractioner") operated in the port towns, collecting ten or twenty percent of all incoming and outgoing trade and fishing hauls, and giving it over to the domain to be sold to feed domainal coffers. Tosa fishermen of course caught or harvested numerous different kinds of fish & marine products, but bonito, used for among other purposes making katsuobushi, was particularly prominent. Whaling was also prominent in Tosa, being performed chiefly from bases on the southwestern and southeastern points, or capes, of Tosa Bay, at Aizuri and Murôto respectively. Both whales and bonito (a type of tuna) passed by Tosa as part of their migration routes.[7]

Tosa was perhaps one of the most active domains in shipping activities, with a considerable proportion of the ships at Osaka in most periods being Tosa boats. Tosa boatmen were frequently obligated to transport goods to Osaka for the samurai, or to undertake other shipping or transportation tasks, to the extent that many complained it seriously cut into the time they could devote to their own livelihoods. In the early half of the Edo period, lumber and firewood were the chief export; however, as deforestation set in towards the mid-18th century, the domain's merchants shifted to smaller boats, and to shipping increasing amounts of eggs, paper, sugar, and tea.[7]

Tosa also played a particularly prominent role in the lumber market in Osaka, especially in the 17th century. Early in the century, a canal dug at Osaka to help facilitate the on- and off-loading of lumber was dug by the Yamauchi, and in return Tosa lumber merchants operating in Osaka were given a number of special privileges; they operated their own wholesaler association, and were exempt from most of the fees paid by other lumber guild merchants. While much of the lumber was shipped out of Tosa along rivers that flowed south towards the Pacific, some major sources of lumber were shipped along rivers which passed north to the Inland Sea, through Tokushima han, making the journey much shorter for the shippers, but also requiring them to pay 20% in fees to Tokushima.[7] As early as the 1610s, feudal obligations to the shogunate, in the forms of corvée labor for public works projects, and sankin kôtai, drove the domain into deep debt. The problem was so severe that domain officials had difficulty finding Osaka or Edo merchants who were willing to lend to them, and by 1620, daimyô Yamauchi Tadayoshi was warned he was in danger of losing his domain. Through the imposition of a new corvée for his own peasants, and other economic reorganizational efforts, Tadayoshi mobilized the entire domain to dramatically expand the output of lumber, repaying the domain's debts almost overnight, and in fact generating a budget surplus by 1627. This might be said to mark the start of a mercantilistic sense of the domain economy as a unified engine of production for the financial benefit of the entire domain. After this incident, Tadayoshi secured an agreement with the shogunate allowing Tosa to contribute lumber, instead of labor, from then on to shogunal construction projects. Tosa would remain heavily reliant on its lumber industry for at least the rest of the first half of the Edo period, until the supply of lumber began to decline.[8] In the 19th century, the domain's chief exports came to be paper and sugar.[9]

A particular type of Japanese long-tailed fowl called the onagadori was specially bred in Tosa, and its feathers were often used to decorate spears used in the lord's sankin kôtai processions, adding to the distinctiveness of Tosa's processions.

According to one account, Tosa was during the Edo period one of the strictest domains in terms of allowing individuals in and out of its borders, with only Satsuma, Awa, and Hizen han being identified as more tightly "closed."[10]

In 1787, pleading poverty, daimyô Yamauchi Toyochika submitted to the shogunate a request to fulfill his feudal obligations to the shogunate as if he were a daimyo of half the status (i.e. 100,000 instead of 200,000 koku), on a temporary basis, for just ten years. After much consideration, this request was granted. Requests to extend it ten years later, and ten years after that, were also approved, and Tosa continued to perform its duties at a halved level through 1816.[11] Around the same time, a group of domain officials, including Imakita Sakubei and Kyûtoku Daihachi, traveled to Osaka and negotiated with merchants about refinancing the domain's loans; they managed to secure a one-hundred-year long term repayment plan, allowing the domain to begin repaying its loans even while reducing the goyôkin payments imposed upon local Tosa merchants. By 1854, the domain had repaid 83 percent of its debt, and perhaps even more significantly had accumulated no new debt since 1787. While some other domains fell further and further into debt, Tosa recovered its reputation, and soon found itself able to secure new loans from Osaka.

Dramatic shifts after 1787 in the attitudes of the domainal government, including a reduced devotion to the economy of service to the shogun, and a renewed focus on domestic domainal prosperity based on mercantilist or kokueki ideas of Tosa's place in an inter-domainal commercial marketplace, led to dramatic changes in the economic stability and financial well-being of the domain's government. Adopting kokueki attitudes, the government reduced restrictions on well-developed industries such as paper-making, while maintaining or implementing monopoly privileges on less-developed industries, in order to help them develop. Bans on the export of certain goods were also lifted. The domain also shifted away from relying on fees and levies placed on monopoly merchants, and taxation of production, towards sales taxes and export taxes, allowing the domain government to continue to profit from these cottage industries while at the same time easing domainal centralized hierarchical control over the economy.


Lords of Tosa

  1. Yamauchi Kazutoyo (d. 1605)
  2. Yamauchi Tadayoshi (1592-1664)
  3. Yamauchi Tadatoyo
  4. Yamauchi Toyomasa


  1. Yamauchi Toyonobu (r. 1725-1767)
  2. Yamauchi Toyochika (r. 1768-1789)
  3. Yamauchi Toyokazu (r. 1789 - ?)
  4. Yamauchi Toyooki


  1. Yamauchi Toyoteru (d. 1848)
  2. Yamauchi Toyoatsu (1825-1854)
  3. Yamauchi Toyoshige (aka Yamauchi Yodo, 1827-1872)


  • Luke Roberts, Mercantilism in a Japanese Domain: The Merchant Origins of Economic Nationalism in 18th-Century Tosa, Cambridge University Press (1998).
  1. Constantine Vaporis, "Lordly Pageantry: The Daimyo Procession and Political Authority." Japan Review 17 (2005). p11.
  2. Roberts, Mercantilism, 60-61.
  3. Luke Roberts, "Mori Yoshiki: Samurai Government Officer," in Anne Walthall (ed.), The Human Tradition in Modern Japan, Scholarly Resources, Inc. (2002), 32-33.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Roberts, Mercantilism, 33-36.
  5. Roberts, Mercantilism, 50.
  6. Roberts, Mercantilism, 39.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Roberts, Mercantilism, 45-49.
  8. Roberts, Mercantilism, 52-55.
  9. Roberts, Mercantilism, 190.
  10. Munemasa Isoo 宗政五十緒, “Tachibana Nankei ‘Saiyūki’ to Edo kōki no kikō bungaku” 橘南谿『西遊記』と江戸後期の紀行文学, in Shin-Nihon koten bungaku taikei 新日本古典文学大系, vol. 98, (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1991), 442.
  11. Roberts, Mercantilism, 169.
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