Episode 405 – The Road Not Taken

This week, we’re talking about one of the last attempts to save the Tokugawa shogunate: the Tenpo Reforms of the 1840s, and their chief architect, the hard-partying Mizuno Tadakuni. What did he see as the most pressing problems Japan faced? How did he try to solve them? And how did this final attempt to salvage Tokugawa rule fail so badly?


Stanley, Amy. Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World.

Totman, Conrad. “Political Succession in the Tokugawa Bakufu: Abe Masahiro’s Rise to Power, 1843-1845.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 26 (1966)

Beerens, Anna. “Interview with a Bakufu Official: A Translation from Kyuji Shinmonroku.” Monumenta Nipponica 57, No 2 (Summer, 2002)

Bolitho, Harold. “The Tempo Crisis.” in The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol 5: The Nineteenth Century.  Edited by Marius Jansen.


Ichikawa Ebizo V in one of his most famous roles (Kamakura Kagemasa, the lead of the play Shibaraku). Ichikawa became enormously wealthy and bought a mansion in Edo, for which he was exiled from the city during the reforms.
Lake Inbanuma in Chiba Prefecture. Mizuno Tadakuni tried to have this area drained to make productive farmland for the bakufu, a project that failed given the enormous expense involved.
Mizuno Tadakuni’s grave in what’s now Ibaraki prefecture (specifically, Yuki City, Banshouji).
Prints like this 18th century piece, which depicts a well-dressed courtesan, drew the ire of samurai conservatives who considered the valorization of townspeople as contrary to proper social order.
A monument to the victims of the Tenpo famine in Jyorenji, Itabashi, Tokyo.
Mizuno Tadakuni, the architect of the Tenpo Reforms.

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