Stimulus and Austerity

From the recently-released Modern Bushido by Toshishiro Obata:

Uesugi Yōzan (1751–1822) was the second son of the daimyō of the modest Akizuki clan; when he married into the larger, related Yonezawa-han, he eventually succeeded the clan leader as the ninth-generation head. When he came to power, however, he inherited an ailing and destitute clan — the Yonezawa-han was deeply indebted and nearly bankrupt, and lacked the means to reverse its fortune.

Yōzan therefore proposed sweeping reforms in civics and industry within the clan, which met fierce opposition from seven obdurate retainers. Not to be stymied in fulfilling his leadership duties, Yōzan had these retainers promptly executed, and quickly set his plan into motion.

His plan was threefold: revitalize the economy, develop new industry, and reform the people’s education and thinking. He prioritized economization and saving for the future, reducing his retainers’ salaries and managing the clan’s expenses frugally; in this, he led by example, reducing his own salary from 1,500 to 209 ryō, trimming his personal attendants from 50 to 9, and relinquishing luxuries like costly food or fine clothes in favor of simpler necessities.

He created many new industries for the clan, such as koi farming, benibana [safflower] farming, silkworm farming, and yonezawa-ori [high-quality woven silk] production. Yōzan also improved the infrastructure of the clan domain, building roads, clearing land for rice fields, cultivating millions of trees for paper production, and so on. Yōzan renovated social policy, instituting the principles of jijo (self-help and self-reliance), gojo (cooperation and mutual aid), and fujo (government aid and support), as well as fukushi (welfare for the elderly).

During the Tenmei famine, the success of Yōzan’s efforts was shown in vivid relief; neighboring clans suffered severe casualties due to disease and starvation, but the Yonezawa, though similarly surviving off of very few resources, experienced no casualties, and no one abandoned the han out of desperation, as was occuring in other clans.

The shogunate later declared Yonezawa a model of excellent governance. To this day, Uesugi Yōzan is considered one of the greatest leaders in history for his use of chi [wisdom] to save his clan.