Matsudaira Sadanobu, 松平 定信|, (January 15, 1759 - June 14, 1829) was a Japanese daimyo of the Edo period, famous for his financial reforms that helped save the Shirakawa Domain, as well as for similar reforms he made while serving as senior advisor (rōju shuza; 老中首座) to the Tokugawa shogunate, from 1787 to 1793.
Sadanobu was born at Edo Castle on January 15, 1759, into the Tayasu branch of the Tokugawa house. The Tayasu were one of the gosankyō, the oldest of the junior cadet branches of the Shogun families, and still bearing the Tokugawa name (as opposed to the cadet branches that had the nickname Matsudaira).
His father was Tayasu Munetake, the son of the reform-minded eighth Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune. The Tayasu house stood apart from the other cadet branches residing at Edo Castle, practicing a more austere way of life, following the example set by Yoshimune-in Munetake's words, the praise of a manly spirit(masuraoburi) as opposed to a feminine spirit (taoyameburi).
It is also set apart from other branches because of its history of frustrated political ambitions - the founder, Munetake, hoped to become his father's heir but this was passed on to Yoshimune's eldest son, Ieshige.
As a result, Sadanobu was raised from an early age in the hopes that he would be anointed as the next Shogun heir. His education was very extensive, being conducted along the lines of Confucian thought, and by the time he was a fifteen year old Sadanobu had already read and memorized much of the Confucian canon.
As he matured a greater responsibility was created for Sadanobu to succeed as several of the members of the Tayasu household began to pass away early.
New attempts were made by the family to place Sadanobu as the next shogunal heir, but they were thwarted by the political maneuverings of Tanuma Okitsugu, who was then in power as the chief rōjū.
Following the last failed attempt at adoption by the shogun, Sadanobu was adopted by Matsudaira Sadakuni, head of one of the Hisamatsu-Matsudaira houses (another Tokugawa cadet branch), who ruled the southern Shirakawa Domain (Mutsu Province with an assessed valuation of 110,000 koku), succeeding to the command in late 1783 following a prolonged illness of his father-in-law.
Immediately he was confronted with the disastrous economic position of his domain: of the 110,000 koku it was supposed to be capable of producing, 108,600 were reported as "lost. " Sadanobu worked tirelessly to fix the economic situation in Shirakawa, ultimately saving it and bringing its finances and agriculture back to stability.
These reforms, paired with continued political management, brought him fame, and he was appointed chief advisor to the Shogunate the summer of 1787, and regent to the 11th Tokugawa Ienari Shogun early the following year.
This Sadanobu period of strengthening the faltering Tokugawa regime is known as the Kansei Reforms. His policies may also have been constructed as a reactionary response to the excesses of his predecessors under Shogun Ieharu.
He recovered the shogunate's finances to some extent, and had some success in salvaging its prestige.
However, following the Title Incident and Adam Laxman's visit, the credibility and popularity of the Tokugawa bureaucracy became excessive, and in keeping with the suggestion in his autobiography that "one should retire before discontent sets in," he resigned.
Outside of his political reforms, Sadanobu was also known as a writer and moralist, working under the pseudonym Rakuō (楽翁). Some of his notable texts include Uge no Hitokoto, Tōzen Manpitsu, Kanko-dōri, Kagetsutei Nikki, Seigo, and Ōmu no Kotoba, among others.
Some time after his death it was discovered that he had written a satirical text parodying daimyo life, entitled Daimyō Katagi. Scholars have somewhat distanced themselves from this discovery, as the text falls into the category of gesaku, which Sadanobu officially opposed.
Although Sadanobu resigned from his position on the high council, he continued to stay involved in political affairs, keeping in close contact with Matsudaira Nobuaki (his successor on the high council), as well as with the rector of the Shogunate college, Hayashi Jussai, whom he personally installed in that position.
During these last years of his tenure at Shirakawa, he was also involved in matters of national defense, assuming security duties on the Boso Peninsula in 1810 along with Matsudaira Katahiro of Aizu.
In domain matters, Sadanobu continued to devote himself to the reforms he had established, as well as to education. He retired from family leadership in 1819, and was successfully succeeded by his son Sadanaga.
Sadanobu died in 1829, and according to his will, his son petitioned the Yoshida family in Kyoto to bestow upon him the deified title of Shukoku-daimyōjin. This was granted to him in three stages, in 1833, 1834, and 1855.
Sadanobu was sanctified along with the founder Hisamatsu, Sadatsuna, Sugawara no Michizane, and two other personalities, at the Chinkoku-Shukoku shrine.
This shrine has its branches both in Kuwana, to where Sadanaga was transferred, and in Sadanobu's former fief, Shirakawa, where the shrine was built in 1918.
One of Sadanaga's sons, Itakura Katsukiyo, became almost as famous as his grandfather in the late Edo era, due to his attempted reforms of the shogunate.