Tokugawa Iemitsu

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  • Born: 1604/8/12
  • Died: 1651/4/20
  • Japanese: 徳川 家光 (Tokugawa Iemitsu)

Tokugawa Iemitsu was the third Tokugawa shogun. His reign (1623-1651?) saw many of the key features of Tokugawa rule develop into their mature forms, as sankin kôtai was made regular and mandatory for all daimyô, and the various policies of maritime restrictions were put into place. He also oversaw a notable expansion and solidification of Tokugawa authority, through acts such as the expansion of Nijô castle and Nikkô Tôshôgû.

Born in 1604, Iemitsu was the eldest son of Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada and Lady Oeyo (aka Gô). His wet nurse, Kasuga no Tsubone, is said to have played an influential role in ensuring he, and not his brother Tokugawa Tadanaga, was named shogun.[1] Tadanaga became lord of Kôfu castle. Their sister Senhime was married to Toyotomi Hideyori and later to Honda Tadatoki, while their other sister married Emperor Go-Mizunoo and later came to be known as Tôfukumon-in.

Iemitsu was named shogun on 1623/9/27 as his father retired in his favor. Though said to have been "sickly and withdrawn" as a child, as shogun Iemitsu is described as a rather able and active administrator.[2]

Following his renovation of Nijô castle, Iemitsu had a grand mausoleum erected for his father in 1632. This mausoleum, called the Taitokuin Mausoleum, stood within the grounds of the Tokugawa clan temple of Zôjô-ji in Edo, and served a similar purpose to Nijô - as a demonstration of Tokugawa power, wealth, and prestige. Iemitsu's expansion of Nikkô Tôshôgû in 1634-1636 continued this discursive project. He also commissioned or otherwise was involved in expansion or renovation efforts at Tôji, Ninna-ji, Chion-in, and a number of other notable temples.

Wakadoshiyori were appointed for the first time in 1633. That same year, Iemitsu issued further bans on Christianity; implemented changes to the red seal ships system requiring captains to now carry a hôsho license from the rôjû; and issued regulations regarding inheritance/succession practices among merchants and artisans. This might be taken as representative of many other years of Iemitsu's reign, as various policies were shifted, or first implemented, setting precedents and standards that would in many cases be followed for the remainder of the Edo period.

Iemitsu visited Kyoto in 1634, for the occasion of the accession of his niece to the Imperial throne as Empress Meishô. This was not his first trip to Kyoto, but it would be his last. And not only the last trip to Kyoto for Iemitsu, but also the last trip of any shogun to Kyoto for over 200 years. Though Iemitsu was invested as shogun directly by the emperor, as his father and grandfather had been before him, as part of extensive efforts to cultivate a notion of Tokugawa legitimacy, by 1634 Iemitsu and his advisors felt that legitimacy had been secured. And so this trip to Kyoto was less a show of submission, and more a show of power.[3] Iemitsu's entourage on this journey is often said to have involved the largest military procession in Japanese history, with some 307,000 men in the entourage; this can be compared with the 100,000 man entourage brought by Tokugawa Hidetada to Kyoto in 1605, and the entourages of (only) several thousand men regularly brought by even the most powerful daimyô on their sankin kôtai journeys to Edo.[4] This was not Iemitsu's first trip to Kyoto; he went there in 1623 with his father and received a Siamese diplomatic mission at Fushimi castle, and traveled to Kyoto with his father again in 1626. In total, it was the ninth time a Tokugawa shogun had gone to Kyoto to meet with the Emperor.[5] This 1634 visit, however, would be the last shogunal journey to the Imperial capital until Tokugawa Iemochi in 1863, nearly 230 years later. While there, he enjoyed audiences with Empress Meishô and Retired Emperor Go-Mizunoo, and received ambassadors from the Ryûkyû Kingdom. Sometime later, Iemitsu dispersed many of the secondary buildings of the Nijô castle complex as gifts to Buddhist temples across the realm, reducing the impression of shogunal presence in the city.

The following year, in 1635, Iemitsu oversaw the limiting of Chinese ships to Nagasaki, the issuing of bans on Japanese overseas travel, a further fixing of the responsibilities of various Magistrates (bugyô) in the service of the shogunate, the repromulgation of the buke shohatto (Various Laws for Warrior Households), and the implementation of the use of the term Nihon-koku taikun instead of Nihon kokuô ("King of Japan") in diplomatic exchanges. That year also saw Iemitsu judge allegations regarding falsified diplomatic documents in the Yanagawa Affair.

Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu died on 1651/4/20 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Tokugawa Ietsuna. Ietsuna would later be succeeded in turn by his brother (Iemitsu's second son), Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (born to the Ôoku concubine Keishôin). The third son, Tokugawa Tsunashige, ruled as lord of Kôfu han in Kai province. Iemitsu's daughters included Chiyohime (by his concubine Ofuri-no-kata), who went on to marry the second lord of Owari han.[6]

Preceded by:
Tokugawa Hidetada
Tokugawa Shogun
Succeeded by:
Tokugawa Ietsuna


  • Morgan Pitelka, Spectacular Accumulation, University of Hawaii Press (2016), 148-
  1. Dykstra, Yoshiko. The Shôgun's Woman: Lady Kasuga University of Hawaii, Center for Japanese Studies lecture. Honolulu, Hawaii. 9 November, 2006.
  2. Pitelka, 148.
  3. Kate Wildman Nakai, Shogunal Politics, Harvard University Press (1988), 175, 178.
  4. Daniele Lauro, "Displaying authority: Guns, political legitimacy, and martial pageantry in Tokugawa Japan, 1600 - 1868," MA Thesis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (2013), 29.
  5. Watanabe Kazutoshi 渡辺和敏, "Sankin kôtai to honjin" 参勤交代と本陣, Honjin ni tomatta daimyô tachi 本陣に泊まった大名たち, Toyohashi, Aichi: Futagawa-juku honjin shiryôkan (1996), 50.
  6. Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum pamphlet.; Plaques on-site at Jishô-in Mausoleum at Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum.