Keian Uprising

  • Date: 1651
  • Japanese: 慶安の変 ・ 慶安事件 (Keian no hen; Keian jiken)

The Keian Uprising was a failed rebellion against the Tokugawa shogunate led by ronin martial arts instructors Marubashi Chûya and Yûi Shôsetsu.

Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu died in 1651/4, and was succeeded by his ten-year-old son Tokugawa Ietsuna. Marubashi and Yûi hoped to take advantage of the instabilities surrounding the succession, and the new shogun's minority, to launch an attack in which they would set the city of Edo on fire, and overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate in the ensuing confusion.

The plot was discovered before any element of it was launched, and investigations revealed those involved to be mostly students of Marubashi or Yûi, including both ronin, and samurai in service to a lord. Yui Shôsetsu committed suicide, while Marubashi and a number of his followers were arrested and crucified, their families executed as well.

Aftermath & Implications

This incident is cited as one of a number of impetuses that led to the senior shogunate advisors recognizing the problem of the great number of ronin in the city (and across the archipelago), and to question what might be done about it. Due to the strict stipulations and restrictions on how a daimyô could officially name his heir, a great many daimyô (61 to be exact) were attaindered in the first half of the 17th century. That is to say, they had their lands taken away from them by the shogunate after failing to formally name an heir in accordance with the official procedures set down by the shogunate. Roughly one-fifth of the samurai in Japan, or roughly 150,000 men, became ronin as a result, most of whom then journeyed to Edo in search of work. Many of these men failed to find work, most, because of their samurai background, either lacked the skills or refused to stoop to performing certain jobs, and most if not all had reason to be disgruntled against the shogunate. Unemployed, disgruntled, and skilled primarily in the ways of the sword, rather than in the ways of an artisan, merchant, or farmer, many of these ronin turned to crime and violence.

Following the suppression of the Keian Uprising, Sakai Tadakiyo suggested that the ronin problem be addressed by banishing all the ronin from the city, an action which might have brought a dramatic drop in crime and violence in the city, and might have prevented future ronin uprisings of the sort engineered by Marubashi and Yûi. Abe Tadaaki, however, is recorded as challenging this suggestion, noting that the big cities such as Edo were the chief places that these ronin had any potential of finding work, and that banishing them from the city would only lead to increased crime, violence, and general turmoil in the rural areas. Furthermore, he cautioned that the shogunate had to save face and protect its reputation, so as to not encourage the idea that lowly ronin posed a genuine threat to, or genuinely frightened, the shogunate. The other officials and advisors present at this meeting agreed, and agreed to take no drastic action against the ronin of the city at that time. However, they announced the following day a series of changes in the procedures associated with daimyô naming their heirs; these new regulations would make it easier for daimyô to pass on their lands to an heir, and would severely cut down on attainders, thus dramatically reducing the number of samurai becoming ronin.


  • Roberts, Luke. Performing the Great Peace: Political Space and Open Secrets in Tokugawa Japan. University of Hawaii Press, 2012. pp77-78.