Tokugawa Ieyasu

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  • Born: Tenmon 11/12/26 (31 Jan 1543)
  • Died: 1616/4/17
  • Titles: Shôgun (1603-1605), Udaijin, Ôgosho, Mikawa no Kami, Daifu[1]
  • Japanese: 徳川家康 (Tokugawa Ieyasu)

Tokugawa Ieyasu was a prominent Sengoku daimyô, and the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.

The Matsudaira

Tokugawa Ieyasu

Tokugawa Ieyasu was born Matsudaira Takechiyo, the eldest son of 16-year-old Matsudaira Hirotada (1526-1549) and the 14-year-old Odai no kata (1528-1602). Hirotada had spent much of his young life fending off the military advances of the Oda clan and the political ploys of the Imagawa clan, and was now lord of Okazaki castle, a relatively minor territory in Mikawa province. The question of accepting Imagawa rule had been a source of controversy among the leaders of the Matsudaira clan for many years, and had in fact contributed to the murder of Hirotada's father Matsudaira Kiyoyasu in 1536. Hirotada's own leanings towards the Imagawa, whom he saw as the lesser of two evils, had driven a number of family members into the arms of the Oda. To a great extent, Oda Nobuhide made his decision for him.

In 1547 the Oda attacked Mikawa, and Hirotada turned to Imagawa Yoshimoto for assistance. Yoshimoto was only too willing to throw the considerable weight of the Imagawa in with Hirotada but on the condition that Hirotada's young son be sent to Sunpu castle as a hostage. The decision was not an easy one, and prompted a storm of protest within the Matsudaira, but in the end Hirotada agreed. Takechiyo was duly prepared and sent off on the road east with a group of other young men (also hostages but primarily present to serve Takechiyo). However, Oda Nobuhide caught wind of the deal, and saw to it that Takechiyo's entourage was intercepted on the road to Suruga province. Takechiyo was whisked away to Owari province and confined to Kowatari castle. While he was not badly treated, Nobuhide threatened to put him to death unless Hirotada renounce his ties with the Imagawa and ally with the Oda. Hirotada wisely elected to call his Owari rival's bluff and made no response except to say that the sacrifice of his own son could only impress upon the Imagawa his dedication to their pact. Nobuhide was no doubt disappointed his scheme had not borne fruit, but still did young Takechiyo no harm. The following year, 1549, both Hirotada and Nobuhide passed away, leaving the Matsudaira leaderless and the already splintered Oda weakened. Imagawa wasted no time in capitalizing on this turn of events, and dispatched his uncle, Taigen Sessai, with an army to attack the Oda's border castles. The primary objective was Anjô, a former Matsudaira fort which presently housed Oda Nobuhiro, Nobuhide's eldest son and successor. Sessai, a renowned warrior, surrounded Anjô, and the castle's fall looked to be inevitable. Yet, rather then press home the assault, Sessai struck a bargain with Oda Nobunaga, Nobuhide's second son. Anjô - and Nobuhiro - would be spared in return for the release of Takechiyo. Nobunaga had little choice but to agree, and Sessai returned to Suruga with Takechiyo, who traded one hostage situation for another.

Takechiyo's life in the Imagawa castle was not unpleasant; despite being a "hostage," he was raised alongside Imagawa sons, and trained and educated in the ways of samurai lords. Meanwhile, Yoshimoto took advantage of the Matsudaira clan's continued weakness, and saw to it that Imagawa men received important posts and forts within Mikawa.


Takechiyo celebrated his genpuku (coming of age) in 1555, at age 13, and received the name Matsudaira Motonobu, the “Moto-” coming from Yoshimoto himself. He was allowed to return to Mikawa the following year, and his earliest extant writings relate elements of this trip, during which he was able for the first time to visit his father's grave. Despite his hostage status, he remained (following his father's death) the head of the Matsudaira clan, and retained the power to grant land to his vassals; surviving documents show he did so at this time, at age 14, reaffirming the temple Daisen-ji in its territory, and assuring that anyone who violated his stipulations would be "strictly punished."[2]

In 1557, Motonobu was married to a daughter of Sekiguchi Chikanaga (aka Sena Yoshihiro), a vassal of the Imagawa who was a hostage alongside him. She later came to be known as Tsukiyama-dono, and gave Motonobu his first son, Matsudaira Nobuyasu, in 1559/3. Motonobu also changed his name to Motoyasu around this time.

Meanwhile, Motoyasu began accompanying Imagawa Yoshimoto on military campaigns, beginning in 1558; these chiefly involved fighting against the Oda on the Imagawa's behalf. He scored a notable local victory at Terabe and made a name for himself (at Nobunaga's expense) with the provisioning of Odaka castle. In that instance, Motoyasu had brought in much-needed supplies to a beleaguered fort by tricking the bulk of the attackers into marching away to face a non-existent enemy army. With these victories, the Mikawa men began to grumble that it was time for Motoyasu to return to Okazaki, and for the Matsudaira to be allowed to set their own course. Yoshimoto, however, insisted on retaining Motoyasu as a hostage, and as a general in his armies.

Yoshimoto then assembled an army of as many as 20,000 men in 1560 and prepared to march on Kyoto. No other daimyô had attempted such a move since Ôuchi Yoshioki had restored Ashikaga Yoshitane in 1508, and this was possible only after a decade of political dealing with the Takeda and Hôjô clans. To this end, the Matsudaira would be in the vanguard of the army, though when the campaign began in June, Motoyasu was dispatched from the main army to bring down Marune castle. After a bit of tough fighting, the fort was brought down and the Mikawa men were allowed to linger there for a time and rest. For this reason, Motoyasu and his clan avoided the Battle of Okehazama, in which Imagawa Yoshimoto was killed. Hearing of Yoshimoto's death, Motoyasu retreated back across the border into Mikawa, and afterwards worked to free himself of Imagawa influence. Pragmatic despite his youth, Motoyasu proceeded to strike up an alliance with Nobunaga; this was done initially in secret, however, as a number of his close family (including his infant son) were still being held hostage in Sunpu by Yoshimoto's successor, Imagawa Ujizane. In 1561, Motoyasu ordered the capture of Kaminogô castle, an endeavor that served a number of purposes. Firstly, it sent a clear message to Nobunaga that the Matsudaira had cut their ties to the Imagawa. Secondly, Motoyasu got his hands on two sons of the slain castle commander, Udono Nagamochi, who he then used to barter with Ujizane. Perhaps due to the fact that the Udono were a important Imagawa retainer clan, Ujizane agreed to release Motoyasu's family members in return for the Udono children. As soon as he was reunited with his wife and son, Motoyasu was free to make any moves he wished without hindrance. The next few years were thus spent rebuilding a Matsudaira clan badly fragmented by years of strife and a province weakened by war. To this end he carefully nurtured and strengthened his retainer band by giving them lands and positions within the administration of Mikawa. Chief among his followers at this time were Ishikawa Kazumasa, Sakai Tadatsugu, Sakikabara Yasumasa, Koriki Kiyonaga, and Honda Tadakatsu. Luckily, there were castles to be had within Mikawa's borders, manned by Imagawa men, which he could take and redistribute, doing so to a large extent by 1566.

In 1563, meanwhile, Motoyasu strengthened his ties with the Oda by betrothing his four-year-old son Nobuyasu to Nobunaga's daughter Oda Tokuhime.

Motoyasu defeated the militant Mikawa montô in March 1564 in a sharp encounter that saw him actually struck by a bullet that failed to penetrate his armor. Soon afterwards he began testing the Imagawa defenses in Tôtômi province. Having thus begun to make a name for himself, in 1566 he petitioned the court to allow him to change his name to Tokugawa, a request that was granted and so from this point he became known as Tokugawa Ieyasu. He claimed descent from the Nitta clan, and through them, the Minamoto clan (heads of the Kamakura shogunate, and descendants of the Imperial line), as a means of asserting or defending his legitimacy, and had genealogies drawn up to support these claims. In fact, little at all is known of the Matsudaira/Tokugawa prior to the 15th century, and Ieyasu's claims seem a tad unsupportable. Some indication of the genealogical spin-doctoring Ieyasu freely engaged in can be gleaned from the fact that he also had an alternate family tree drawn up that claimed descent from the noble Fujiwara clan.

Though the Tokugawa could now claim some modicum of freedom, they were very much subject to the requests of Oda Nobunaga. When Oda marched on Kyoto in 1568, Tokugawa troops were present, the first of many joint Oda-Tokugawa ventures. At the same time, Ieyasu was eager to expand eastward. He entered into a brief pact with Takeda Shingen of Kai and Shinano provinces, aimed at absorbing the remaining Imagawa territory and by 1570 Ieyasu had added Tôtômi to his domains. The Takeda occupied Suruga and it may be that Ieyasu regretted his dealings with Shingen, for even before Shingen had taken Sunpu, Ieyasu was sheltering Imagawa Ujizane and promising to restore his lands to him.[3] Needless to say, Takeda-Tokugawa relations began to sink, made all the worse by an attempt on Ieyasu's part to secure an alliance with Shingen's great enemy Uesugi Kenshin. Further inflaming the situation, Ieyasu then moved his headquarters to Hamamatsu castle in Tôtômi (closer to Shingen), an action even Nobunaga called needlessly provocative. Soon the Takeda and Tokugawa would be at war. In June of 1570, Ieyasu led 5,000 men to help Nobunaga win the Battle of Anegawa against the Asai and Asakura clans, a victory owed largely to the efforts of the Tokugawa men. This would be the last opportunity Ieyasu would have to send troops west for two years, as the Tokugawa were increasingly pressured by the advances of the Takeda. In 1572 Ieyasu lost Futamata castle, then suffered a defeat at the Battle of Mikatagahara, where he was enticed to march out of Hamamatsu and face Shingen in open battle - and barely escaped with his life. Luckily for the Tokugawa, Takeda Shingen died later in the spring of 1573, although his heir, Takeda Katsuyori, managed to capture the important Tokugawa fort of Takatenjin in 1574. In 1575 Katsuyori surrounded Nagashino castle in Mikawa, and when word reached Ieyasu, he called on Nobunaga for help. When the latter dragged his feet on the matter, Ieyasu went as far as to threaten to join the Takeda and spearhead an attack on Owari and Mino provinces. This was the sort of talk that Nobunaga respected, and he immediately led an army into Mikawa. The combined Oda-Tokugawa force of some 38,000 crushed the Takeda army on 28 June but did not vanquish them. Katsuyori continued to bother the Tokugawa afterwards, and the Takeda and Tokugawa raided one another's lands frequently.

In 1579, Ieyasu's wife Tsukiyama-dono and their eldest son, Nobuyasu, were accused of conspiring with Takeda Katsuyori, against the Oda. Ieyasu arrived at Azuchi castle in 1579/7 unsuspecting, and bearing gifts for Nobunaga, only to find the latter ordering him to have his son kill himself. After much consideration and debate, Ieyasu succumbed to pressure from Nobunaga, and from the political circumstances, and on 9/15 ordered his son to commit suicide. He then also had his wife executed, in order to make sure Nobunaga was satisfied.[4] At this time Ieyasu had two more sons, Matsudaira Hideyasu (b. 1574), and the newborn Tokugawa Hidetada (b. 1579/4), as well as two daughters (by concubines), Tokuhime and Kamehime. Historian Morgan Pitelka argues that while losing a loved one is surely emotionally painful for any person, regardless of historical period or cultural background, samurai lords at this time had such a surplus of mates and children that they were able, and willing, to make such political sacrifices when necessary, and that this should not be taken to mean that Ieyasu was particularly cold or brutal.

In spring 1582, the Tokugawa joined Nobunaga in finally invading and destroying the Takeda. For his efforts, Ieyasu received Suruga province, an acquisition which must have brought him no small private satisfaction. He now bordered the Hôjô, and cautiously sounded them out, his efforts helped in part by a personal friendship from his hostage days in Sumpu, Hôjô Ujinori, brother of the lord, Hôjô Ujimasa.

Ieyasu was staying in Sakai (Settsu province) when Nobunaga was killed by Akechi Mitsuhide in June 1582 and narrowly escaped with his own life back to Mikawa. The Tokugawa were not in a position to challenge Mitsuhide, but did take advantage of the uncertainty following the Battle of Yamazaki to take Kai and Shinano, a move that prompted the Hojo to send troops into Kai; no real fighting occurred, and the Tokugawa and Hojo made peace. Ieyasu gave some of his lands in Kai and Shinano to the Hojo, though found himself embarrassed in this respect by Sanada Masayuki the following year. In the meantime, Ieyasu readily availed himself of the example of government left behind by Takeda Shingen and was quick to employ surviving Takeda men within his own retainer band. He avoided becoming involved in the conflict between Shibata Katsuie and Toyotomi Hideyoshi that culminated in the Battle of Shizugatake (1583), but became aware that sooner or later Hideyoshi would come to test his own resolve.

Rise to Power

Tokugawa Ieyasu at Nagakute (1584). Note his gold fan standard.

In 1584, Ieyasu chose to take up the cause of Oda Nobukatsu, one of the late Nobunaga's sons and a claimant to succeed him. This appears to have been a calculated move intended to draw Hideyoshi into the field. Certainly, no better time for a showdown was likely to present itself, and Ieyasu made the most of the opportunity. To this end he led an army into Owari and took up a position at Komaki. Hideyoshi responded to the Tokugawa insolence by leading an army into Owari and starting what would come to be known as the Komaki Campaign. Ieyasu won the single notable battle of this campaign, at Nagakute, and by the end of the year a truce was in effect. In fact, Oda Nobukatsu himself had undermined Tokugawa's stance by making a separate peace with Hideyoshi. Now quite without a cause for further fighting, Ieyasu went to Osaka the following spring and gave a promise of good will towards Hideyoshi. Nonetheless, the Komaki Campaign had made Hideyoshi wary of Ieyasu, and with the exception of the Odawara Campaign (1590), the Tokugawa were exempted from participating in any of Hideyoshi's further campaigns. In an interesting postscript, long time Tokugawa retainer Ishikawa Kazumasa abandoned Ieyasu for Hideyoshi in 1585. As Ishikawa had been privvy to all of the Tokugawa military secrets and organization, Ieyasu was compelled to completly over-haul the Tokugawa military structure, and is believed to have done so following a system devised by Takeda Shingen.

While the Tokugawa were allowed to sit out Hideyoshi's invasions of Shikoku and Kyushu, their position on the Tokai Coast did place them in a central role when tensions between Hideyoshi and the Hojo spiked in the late 1580's. To a greater or lesser extent, Ieyasu did what he could politically for Ujimasa, but in the end was unable to overcome that daimyo's own stubbornness. In 1589 Hideyoshi ordered preparations for an invasion of the Kanto, and the Tokugawa were to act as a vanguard.

Ieyasu led some 30,000 men into the Hojo's lands as part of Hideyoshi's massive 1590 effort to force the capitulation of Odawara. During the siege of Odawara, Hideyoshi offered him the provinces of the Kanto, which he felt compelled to accept (and legend has it they peed together to seal the agreement). On paper, the deal was an exceedingly good one: Ieyasu would trade the five provinces he presently held for the eight that constituted the Kanto. In truth, the trade would be about even in that three of these provinces were already occupied (Satomi in Awa, Satake in Hitachi, and Utsunomiya in Shimotsuke) although the remaining provinces were still very rich. When the Hojo surrendered in August 1590, Ieyasu began a rapid move from his provinces of Mikawa, Totomi, Suruga, Shinano, and Kai into the Kanto region, establishing his headquarters at Edo. He was now a great lord with an income of as much as 1,000,000 koku, though one who now had quite a bit of reorganizing to do. This may well have been what Hideyoshi had had in mind when he offered the Kanto. Ieyasu was richer now, but further from the center of Japanese politics and easily containable beyond the Hakone Mountains should he betray their alliance.

Ieyasu served in Hideyoshi's Kyushu headquarters during the Korean Expeditions (1592-93, 1597-98) but was not required to provide any troops for the actual campaign and was most likely present so that Hideyoshi could keep an eye on him. Luckily, Ieyasu's retainer band contained a number of skilled administrators, and these continued the work of consolidating the new Tokugawa domain even as their lord was away on Kyushu. His stay in Hizen during the invasions was to be Ieyasu's only journey outside of Honshû in his life.[5]


in 1598 Ieyasu was named one of the five regents responsible for ruling while young Toyotomi Hideyori came of age (Hideyoshi had intended there to be six, but one of the chosen, Kobayakawa Takakage, predeceased him). Ieyasu was probably the most powerful of these men, but Hideyoshi had chosen the others carefully. Ieyasu's four colleagues (Maeda Toshiie, Uesugi Kagekatsu, Mori Terumoto, and Ukita Hideie) were men whose loyalty to the Toyotomi name could be counted on after Hideyoshi died. Yet after Hideyoshi died in September 1598, Tokugawa almost immediately began making provocative alliances with families such as the Date and proceeded to alienate the other regents. Historian Morgan Pitelka suggests there is little indication that Ieyasu had planned to betray Hideyoshi's plans from the beginning, but rather that, though initially loyal to these plans, he began to chafe under the restrictions included in the oaths the regents had sworn, e.g. that none of them could arrange marriages without committee discussion and agreement among all five of them. Indeed, Ieyasu was hardly the only one who began mustering troops and otherwise preparing for war following Hideyoshi's death - most warlords across the realm were doing the same.[6]

Ieyasu occupied first Fushimi, then Osaka Castle (following the death of Maeda Toshiie in 1599), actions that prompted suspicion on the part of the of the regents. Resistance to Ieyasu's moves was centered around Ishida Mitsunari, who unsuccessfully attempted to have Ieyasu assassinated in 1599. When that plan failed, Ishida himself was marked for death by a number of Tokugawa generals, and found refuge, oddly enough, with Ieyasu himself. Whatever Ieyasu's motives may have been in saving his rivals' life, by 1600 two camps had formed, one (the 'eastern') around Ieyasu, and the other (the 'western') around Ishida. The latter was determined to make the first move, and depended on Uesugi Kagekatsu, who held a vast fief northeast of Ieyasu. Ishida counted on Uesugi tying down Ieyasu long enough for the capital region to be firmly brought under Western control, at which point any move by Ieyasu could be countered from a footing of at least equal power. The Uesugi and Tokugawa began feuding in June and actual war came in August 1600. Ishida's grand strategy (such as it was) began to come apart almost immediately. Ieyasu left Uesugi to be contained by the Date and Mogami, and led an army westward in October. At the same time, Ishida did manage to take Fushimi and a number of other important points in the Kinai, but not with the timeliness required. Fate seemed to de dealing cards to both sides in equal measure, for on the eve of the final confrontation, both sides were without their full complements. Ieyasu's heir Hidetada (with 36,000 men) had unwisely chosen to dally about in Shinano attempting bring down Ueda while around the same number of 'western' samurai were too far away to aid in the fight. Ieyasu's ace in the hole, however, was knowledge that Kobayakawa Hideaki intended to betray Ishida during the battle, and the knowledge (provided by Kikkawa Tsunie) that the Mori (who had been insulted by Ishida) were none too eager to fight.

The Battle of Sekigahara opened on the misty morning of 21 October1600 with as many as 160,000 warriors prepared to fight the greatest battle in Japanese history. The irony was that there had been no rhyme or reason to the choice of this particular battlefield. While Saito Dosan had once said that he who controls Sekigahara controls Japan, this was simply where the two sides had the most room to maneuver. At the same time, the terrain favored Ishida. Tokugawa was largely staggered out in a valley, with his forward units dangerously exposed to encirclement. The key was Kobayakawa Hideaki. His 16,000 men, positioned on Mt. Matsuo and looking down at the forward Ishida and Tokugawa lines, would likely decide the issue one way or the other.

The battle at 0800 began with a spirited Tokugawa attack and developed into a general melee conducted under a driving rain. Ieyasu moved his headquarters forward at 1000 and anxiously eyed Kobayakawa, whose ranks had not moved since the start of the action. No real advantage was being enjoyed by either side, and Hidetada was still mnay hours away. The bright spot was that just as Kikawa Tsunie had promised, the Mori, largely positioned on the eastern slopes of Mt. Nangu, had yet to make any moves. Finally, at noon, Ieyasu ordered rifle fire directed at Kobayakawa's position and this did the trick - Hideaki ordered a general advance against Ishida's forces, and the battle turned in Ieyasu's favor. By that late afternoon, the Battle of Sekigahara was decided and Ieyasu was able to view the many heads taken and also to greet his son Hidetada very icily when he finally arrived. Over the next few days Ishida Mitsunari and a number of other chief 'western' commanders were caught and executed in Kyoto.

With the defeat of the Western cause, Ieyasu was the undisputed master of Japan. While he had never declared his intention to rule the country, this was the abiding effect of Sekigahara. In the aftermath of the battle, he used his power to redistribute lands to those who had supported him, and reduced the lands of those who had not. For instance, he reduced the Môri clan's holdings from 1,200,000 koku to just under 370,000 while granting Maeda Toshinaga an additional 360,000 koku, making the Maeda clan the wealthiest daimyô in Japan behind Ieyasu himself. Some of the 'western' daimyô he left untouched (such as the Shimazu), while others he stripped of all lands (Ukita, Chôsokabe, and Miyabe, for instance). Meanwhile, those daimyô who were killed in battle, or who committed suicide shortly after their defeat, such as Ôtani Yoshitsugu and Uda Yoritada, had their lands confiscated entirely (rather than being left in the hands of their heirs).[7]

Meanwhile, Katô Kiyomasa and Date Masamune, among others, led Tokugawa-loyal forces in wiping out the last vestiges of opposition, in various corners of the archipelago.[7]

Though Toyotomi Hideyori and his supporters remained alive, and would a decade later become (or, remain) the chief remaining threat to Tokugawa hegemony, at this early stage, Ieyasu was still in a position to operate out of Osaka castle, and to claim some degree of authority as one of Hideyoshi's named and sworn regents for the young Hideyori. Residing not at Edo but at Osaka for some five months in late 1600 until 1601/3/23, Ieyasu employed this source of authority as he ordered various daimyô to accede to having their fiefs reduced or confiscated. His presence in Osaka also gave him proximity to the Imperial Court.[7]

Ieyasu then relocated from Osaka to Fushimi castle at the end of the third month of 1601. Though for obvious reasons strongly associated with Edo, Ieyasu in fact spent four out of the first five years of his hegemony, this crucial time of securing his control, organizing fief transfers, and so forth, in Osaka and Kyoto. He only spent one year in Edo before naming his son Shogun in 1605 and retiring to Sunpu.[8] This is perhaps an interesting but ultimately trivial aspect of Ieyasu's biography, but taken in consideration of the nature or character of the shogunate, it has some profound meaning; even if Edo was already destined at this point to later become the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate, in these early years power remained seated in Kyoto and Osaka, where connections to Imperial and Oda/Toyotomi claims of legitimacy remained strong.

Shogun & Retirement

In 1603 the emperor granted Ieyasu the title of shôgun, an honor helped along by his 'Minamoto' genealogy. He held this post for only two years before officially retiring in favor of his third son, Hidetada.[9] This was done chiefly in order to further cement the pattern of succession, as well as to increase Tokugawa power by doubling the number of ruling figures in similar fashion to the insei (Retired Emperor) system of centuries earlier. Further, Ieyasu was at this time already older than Imagawa Yoshimoto, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Maeda Toshiie or half a dozen other similarly prominent Sengoku warlords had been at the times of their respective deaths. At age 63, there were no guarantees he would last much longer, and so it was logical to put his successor in place.[10]

In 1605/4, Hidetada processed to Fushimi castle with an entourage of some 100,000 men, where he was formally received by Ieyasu. The two enjoyed an audience with Emperor Go-Yôzei and then received numerous samurai, court, and religious leaders before Ieyasu formally submitted his resignation to the emperor; Hidetada was formally named shogun immediately afterwards.[11]

Ieyasu then spent the next several years alternating between Kyoto and Edo, supervising the expansion of Chiyoda (Edo) Castle and of the surrounding city, and conducting diplomatic business with the Dutch (1609) and Spanish, from whom he distanced Japan. Ieyasu also sent diplomatic communications to a number of Southeast Asian polities; forty-eight letters from Ieyasu and 28 from the rôjû in 1601-1614 alone constituted a greater diplomatic engagement with the world beyond Japan's closest neighbors (i.e. China, Korea, Ryûkyû) than ever before in history. Forty-one of Ieyasu's 48 letters were directed to Southeast Asian polities, including Tonkin, Quang Nam, Ayutthaya, Cambodia, Patani, and the Philippines, while the few remaining letters including missives to China, Korea, Ryûkyû, England, and the Dutch Republic.[12]

Before long, however, Ieyasu retired to Sunpu, which would remain his chief residence and base of operations for the remainder of his life.

In May 1611 Ieyasu returned to Kyoto at the head of 50,000 men, his trip ostensibly to attend the retirement of Emperor Go-Yôzei and the succession of Go-Mizunoo. During his stay in the Capital, Ieyasu ordered the expansion of the Imperial Court's buildings and grounds and asked the western daimyo to sign a three-part document vowing their fealty.[13] Perhaps based on his experiences on this trip, he composed the Kuge shohatto in 1613, a document that placed restrictions on the activities of the nobility, essentially limiting that class to ceremonial and aesthetic pursuits. In 1615 he would order the preparation of the Buke Shohatto, a document which contained the injunctions contained within the 1611 order and was initially a 13-article code (amended in 1635). Drawing on previous house codes and earlier ideas, Ieyasu, possibly concerned for the future of his house, formalized what was essentially a 'house code' for the nation's daimyo. In a further move to secure the stability of the Tokugawa regime, he issued the final and most sweeping Christian Expulsion Edict in 1614.

The final threat to Tokugawa hegemony was Hideyori. Ironically, Hideyori does not appear to have harbored any particular desire to face Ieyasu. Ieyasu, though, was unwilling to take any chances, especially given his own advanced age. He engineered a pretext for war in 1614 over a convoluted and supposed slight that involved the casting of a great bell. At this point Hideyori had felt compelled to open the gates of Osaka to thousands of ronin for self-defense, and now found himself under attack. The initial Tokugawa assault (called the Osaka Winter Campaign) was repulsed bloodily, and despite the protests of Hidetada Ieyasu sought an indirect resolution of the situation. Guessing that the matron of the castle, Hideyori's mother Yodo-gimi, was a weak link that could be exploited, Ieyasu ordered that her location be determined and cannon fire directed in that area. This had the desired effect and to the shock of the defending generals, Yodo-gimi convinced Hideyori to negotiate. Ieyasu was seemingly magnanimous. He promised the defenders that he would honor a peaceful solution to the crisis, and that Hideyori would be allowed to retain his holdings in the Settsu-Kwatchi area. Moreover, no action would be taken against any member of the defending army. Hideyori, who had probably never wanted a war with a man he had grown up considering an uncle in the first place, agreed and ordered his followers to stand down. Ieyasu made a show of arranging for his army to withdraw, then promptly arranged for Osaka's outer moat to be filled in, the actual deed being done by Honda Masazumi. Hideyori protested, and Ieyasu ultimately revoked his peace offer. The Osaka Summer Campaign essentially revolved around the climactic Battle of Tennoji in June 1615, the last great samurai battle and a Tokugawa victory. With the defeat of his army and the Tokugawa pouring through Osaka's gates, Hideyori and his mother committed suicide. In the aftermath Ieyasu personally ordered that Hideyori's infant son be executed and Osaka Castle largely dismantled.

Following the fall of Osaka, Ieyasu ordered his retainers to comb through the wreckage and salvage, as much as possible, famous tea utensils, swords, or other heirloom treasures. These objects, many of which had previously been owned by Ashikaga shoguns, Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and/or other similarly notable leaders of the past, were now the property of the Tokugawa, a symbol of Ieyasu's power and hegemony. In total, over the course of his life, Ieyasu amassed a collection of over one thousand heirloom swords, perhaps the greatest such collection in Japanese history,[14] as well as a similarly impressive and significant collection of ceramics, tea utensils, and so forth. Though he seems to have had less of an interest in tea ceremony than almost any of the most prominent of his contemporaries, Ieyasu is known to have had a great passion for falconry, and over the course of his life had some one thousand falcons obtained from all over East Asia.[14]


The famous Yômeimon gate at Nikkô Tôshôgû

In 1616, the year after his final victory over the Toyotomi, Ieyasu fell ill and died in bed. Unlike Hideyoshi, he could pass away secure in the future of his house. Over the course of his life, he had had 11 sons and four daughters.[4]

The dynasty Ieyasu had created was exceedingly solid, with three sub-branches (the Kii, Owari, and Mito) maintained for the sole purpose of providing an heir should the main branch fail to produce one. The daimyo were weary of war, and more or less content to enjoy the fruits of their labors. There would be disputes and grievances, but with the exception of the short and bloody Shimabara Rebellion, Japan would enjoy peace for over two hundred years. At the same time, Tokugawa Ieyasu had another legacy - never before had Japan been as socially rigid, nor had the common man and woman had so little control over their own lives. The daimyo - especially those tagged as tozama - would also suffer the brunt of the fledgling Tokugawa's heavy-handedness, with relief coming only after the death of the third shogun Iemitsu in 1651.

Upon his death, Ieyasu left a massive collection of heirlooms, including more than 1,000 swords, and numerous ceramics, paintings, works of calligraphy, and tea instruments. The collection was divided between the Kii, Mito, Owari, and shogunal houses, with some objects being interned with Ieyasu in his grave.[15]

In accordance with his own instructions, Ieyasu was originally buried at Sunpu Castle, and enshrined as a Shinto deity, Tôshô Daigongen, at a Yoshida Shinto shrine established nearby and called Kunôzan Tôshôgû. His image was installed there as well, facing west, so as to pacify and protect the western provinces. He also ordered that a small hall be built at Nikkô (in the mountains near Edo) a year later, so that he could act as protector deity of the eight provinces of Kantô.[16]

However, within the same year of his death, the Buddhist priest and shogunal advisor Tenkai managed to push Bonshun (head Buddhist priest associated with Kunôzan Tôshôgû) and Ishin Sûden (another prominent Buddhist monk & shogunal advisor) aside as he arranged for himself to oversee mourning ceremonies at the Tokugawa clan temple of Zôjô-ji in Edo. Tenkai then also arranged for Ieyasu to be deified not as a myôjin ("bright deity") in the Yoshida Shinto tradition as Ishin Sûden had supported, but rather as a daigongen ("great avatar") in the Tendai Buddhism-associated Sannô Ichijitsu school of Shinto. An envoy from the Imperial court visited Kunôzan and formally bestowed the title of daigongen upon Ieyasu in 1617, in conjunction with the first anniversary of his death.[16]

Ieyasu's body was then moved to Nikkô, and his spirit was then installed as the chief deity at a new shrine there on 1617/4/17, the anniversary of his death.[17][16] This deification of Ieyasu followed a pattern, or precedent, set by Toyotomi Hideyoshi before him, and emulated, or repeated, by both Tokugawa Hidetada and Tokugawa Iemitsu after him. The shogunate then began in the 1630s-1660s to take efforts to discourage, prevent, or even outlaw others from being deified similarly, something the shogunate perceived as a threat to Tokugawa power and supremacy. At least fifteen daimyô nevertheless received Shinto burials and kami names/titles from priests of the Yoshida Shinto sect, despite the shogunate's efforts to maintain Tokugawa deification as unique.[18]

Construction continued at Nikkô, and shoguns paid formal visits in 1619 and 1622,[17] but it was under Tokugawa Iemitsu, Ieyasu's grandson, that Nikkô Tôshôgû is said to have been formally established in 1636. This then became the chief shrine dedicated to the deified Ieyasu. The shrine was officially elevated from a jinja to a jingû (a higher level of shrine) in 1645.[19]


Few leaders in Japanese history are as difficult to gauge as Tokugawa Ieyasu. At once fair and heartless, Ieyasu was a veteran of countless battles and a life fraught with vicissitudes that included the forced suicide of his eldest son and the execution of his first wife. He was moved to express compassion at the head of his defeated enemy Takeda Katsuyori and protected many former Takeda retainers from Nobunaga's wrath. His worries for the health of his granddaughter (Hideyori's widow) when she fell after the fall of Osaka Castle is touching in that one can see no real motive other then grandfatherly concern. At the same time, he rarely forgot a grudge, and once, as an adult, executed a prisoner who had insulted him in childhood. Yet he never forgot a friend either, and rarely left a loyal retainer unrewarded. He was at heart a rustic Mikawa samurai, and had little time for poetry or theater, spending most of his free time hawking or swimming, two of his favorite hobbies.

Occasionally foolhardy in his youth and at times exceedingly cautious in his later years, Ieyasu did not win all of his battles, but he won those that counted. He was also a calculating political gambler, and as much a schemer it would seem as his rival Ishida Mitsunari. More then anything else, though, Tokugawa Ieyasu was a man who seemed to have a sweeping vision and the ability to live his life as a master of Go might win a game-slowly but steadily, and with no doubt in the outcome.

Ieyasu's second son Matsudaira Hideyasu, 7th son Tokugawa Yoshinao, 8th son Tokugawa Yorinobu, and 9th son Tokugawa Yorifusa became the founders, respectively, of the Matsudaira clan of Echizen, and the three Tokugawa branch families of Owari, Kii, and Mito, known as the Gosanke.[20]

Ieyasu in Fiction


  • Aoi: Tokugawa Sandai (葵・徳川三代) 39th NHK Taiga Drama 2000
  • Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) 21st NHK Taiga Drama 1983


  • Hideyoshi (秀吉) 35th NHK Taiga Drama 1996 (TV)
  • Sengoku Jieitai: Sekigahara 2006 (TV)
  • Taiko, Yoshikawa Eiji (太閤) (Book)
  • Taiko-ki (太閤記) 3rd NHK Taiga Drama 1965 (TV)
  • Spring Hill (春の坂道) 9th NHK Taiga Drama 1971 (TV)
  • Kunitori Monogatari (国盗り物語) 11th NHK Taiga Drama 1973 (TV)
  • Onna Taikoki (おんな太閤記) 19th NHK Taiga Drama 1981 (TV)
  • Dokuganryu Masamune (独眼竜政宗) 25th NHK Taiga Drama 1987 (TV)
  • Takeda Shingen (武田信玄) 26th NHK Taiga Drama 1988 (TV)
  • Kasuga no Tsubone (春日局) 27th NHK Taiga Drama 1989 (TV)
  • King of Zipangu (信長) 30th NHK Taiga Drama 1992 (TV)
  • Toshiie and Matsu (利家とまつ) 41st NHK Taiga Drama 2002 (TV)
  • Musashi (武蔵) 42nd NHK Taiga Drama 2003 (TV)
  • Komyo ga Tsuji (功名が辻) 45th NHK Taiga Drama 2006 (TV)


  • Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) Yamaoka Sohachi
  • Kagemusha Tokugawa Ieyasu (影武者徳川家康) Ryu Keiichiro
Preceded by:
Tokugawa Shogun
Succeeded by:
Tokugawa Hidetada

Notes & References

  • Mary Elizabeth Berry, Hideyoshi, Harvard University Press, 1982.
  • Anthony Bryant, Sekigahara 1600, Osprey Publishing, 1995.
  • John Whitney Hall and Marius Jansen (eds.), Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan, Princeton University Press, 1968.
  • Marius Jansen (ed.), Warrior Rule in Japan, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • David John Lu, Sources of Japanese History, McGraw-Hill, 1974.
  • Morgan Pitelka, Spectacular Accumulation, University of Hawaii Press (2016), 34-39.
  • A.L. Sadler, The Maker of Modern Japan, Tuttle, 1978.
  • George Sansom, A History of Japan 1334-1615, Standford University Press, 1961.
  • Conrad Totman, Tokugawa Ieyasu: Shôgun, Heian, 1983.
  1. This last, Daifu 内府, being his title at the time of Sekigahara, short for 内大臣、Naidaijin.
  2. Pitelka, 35.
  3. Ieyasu was not particularly well-known for his sentimentality, but he did attempt to make good on his promise to Ujizane, suggesting to Oda in 1582 (after the defeat of the Takeda) that the former Imagawa daimyô be given back Sunpu. Nobunaga, however, flatly refused to give his approval, and so Ujizane whiled away the rest of his life in easy retirement. Under the Tokugawa bakufu, the Imagawa would become Kôke, a clan with low official rank, and no landed domains, but of significant status within the shogunate, serving as masters of ceremonies within Edo castle and elsewhere.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Arai Hakuseki, Joyce Ackroyd (trans.), Told Round a Brushwood Fire, University of Tokyo Press (1979), 303n110.; Pitelka, 39.
  5. Pitelka, 75.
  6. Pitelka, 120.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Pitelka, 80.
  8. Pitelka, 83.
  9. Ieyasu's two older sons were Matsudaira Nobuyasu and Yûki Hideyasu.
  10. Pitelka, 92.
  11. Morgan Pitelka, "Name and Fame: Material Objects as Authority, Security, and Legacy," Mary Elizabeth Berry, Marcia Yonemoto (eds.), What Is a Family?: Answers from Early Modern Japan, University of California Press (2019), 110.
  12. Adam Clulow, “Like Lambs in Japan and Devils outside Their Land: Diplomacy, Violence, and Japanese Merchants in Southeast Asia,” Journal of World History 24:2 (2013), 339.
  13. This document was as follows:
    1. We will respect the laws and formularies established by the bakufu for generations since the time of the General of the Right (Yoritomo); out of concern for our own interest, we will strictly obey any regulations which may be issed by Edo hereafter.
    2. If there will be someone who violates the laws and regulations or goes contrary to the instructions given from above (Edo), we will not harbor any such person in our respective domains.
    3. If any samurai or subordinate officer in oour employ is found guilty of rebellion or homicide, and that fact is reported to us, we pledge to each other that we will not take the offender into our employ.
    In case any of the foregoing articles is violated, upon investigation conducted by Edo, we shall be immediatly liable to be severely dealt in accordance with the laws and regulations.
    Sixteenth Year of Keichô [1611] fourth month, 16th day.

    Ieyasu would impose a similar document on the daimyô of northern Japan the following year.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Morgan Pitelka, “Famous Objects: Agency and Materiality in the Collection of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616),” talk given at Sophia University, Tokyo, 25 May 2017.
  15. Morgan Pitelka. "Art, Agency, and Networks in the Career of Tokugawa Ieyasu." in A Companion to Asian Art and Architecture. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, 460-461.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Kate Wildman Nakai, Shogunal Politics, Harvard University Press (1988), 177.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Pitelka, Spectacular Accumulation, 147.
  18. Evelyn Rawski, Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross-Border Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2015), 121.
  19. Nakai, 178.
  20. Arai Hakuseki, 288n10.