Tokugawa seasonal observances

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Under the Tokugawa shogunate, daimyô, hatamoto, other retainers, and others in service to the shogunate[1] were obliged to appear at Edo castle to pay obeisances, and/or to offer gifts, on certain occasions of every year.

These included the New Year, five occasions (gosekku) marking the turn of seasons, and a number of days marking events related to Tokugawa clan history. The shogun also held audiences with certain categories of individuals on the 1st, 15th, and 28th days of each month.[2]

Annual ritual events in which the shogun himself participated also included visits to the shogunal mausolea at Zôjô-ji, Kan'ei-ji, and Momijiyama, on the anniversaries of the deaths of his predecessors.[3]

New Year

A model of the Ôhiroma, Edo castle's largest audience hall, on display at the Edo-Tokyo Museum

New Year's observances at Edo castle included the shogun's reception of daimyô and other retainers, among others, on the first three days of the new year. All daimyô resident in Edo at the time were obliged to appear at the castle on each of these first three days. These practices were first put into place by Tokugawa Hidetada, and were continued by his successor, becoming standard practice by the time of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune (r. 1716-1751).[4]

On the first day of the new year, the shogun would first receive the lord of the Tayasu Tokugawa clan and other close relatives in the goza-no-ma, where they formally presented swords (actually, just a document indicating the presentation of a sword)[5] to the shogun, and bowed at the threshold at the entrance of the room. They then shared with the shogun a ceremonial cup of saké, and some small plates of food. The shogun then granted audiences to the remainder of his direct relatives, the lords of the Maeda clan, and the chief fudai daimyô (including the rôjû), who were received in the castle's kuroshoin and shiroshoin, respectively the innermost (and thus most private/elite) and middle-ranking of the castle's three chief audience halls. These daimyô presented swords as gifts to the shogun and bowed in designated ways, at designated places within (or just outside of) the room, in accordance with their rank, shared a cup of saké with the shogun, and received gifts from him, including "seasonal clothing" (jifuku.[3] The shogun was often accompanied by his heir in most or all ceremonial audiences over the course of these three days.[6]

Following a banquet, these daimyô would then arrange themselves on the lowest of the three levels (dan) in the Ôhiroma, the outermost, least private/elite, but largest and most formal of the audience halls, which was used for receptions of those lower in rank, or with less strong relationships with the shogunate; the remaining daimyô, both fudai and tozama, were arranged in the "second" and "third" rooms attached to the audience hall (ni-no-ma and san-no-ma), along with a multitude of hatamoto, priests and doctors (bearing the honorary monastic rank of hôin or hôgan), court painters, and the like. They all lay prostrate as the sliding screens (fusuma) separating these secondary rooms from the main audience hall were opened, and the shogun silently surveyed the gathering. A member of the rôjû then declared, on behalf of the shogun, an expression of good wishes for the new year; the screens were closed, and the shogun took his place in the upper level (jôdan) of the Ôhiroma. After a reception in which saké was drunk, the shogun returned to the shiroshoin, where he received New Year's greetings from staff members of his court, including Noh performers, painters, and pages. Meanwhile, those who had received audience in the ni- and san-no-ma were now given seasonal clothing and other "bestowals" from the shogunate. Sôshaban (castle officials overseeing ceremonial matters) received an audience in the Great Hall (Ôrôka), presenting swords to the shogun and bowing before him.[6]

Later that same day, shogunal pages (koshô) received audience in the tsugi-no-ma (lit. "adjacent room") of the shiroshoin. Court artists including Kanô school painters, Gotô school metalworkers, and members of the Hon'ami school received audience on the veranda. Scribes, kitchen officials, and kôke (castle officials overseeing ceremonial matters) received audiences in the kuroshoin kitchens (katte) or by the Yazu cedar door. The shogun then returned to the shiroshoin, where some sixteen daimyô lined up on the veranda bowed to him and presented swords; then, finally, he returned to the Ôhiroma, where proxies for daimyô not currently present in Edo offered swords in their lords' stead.[6]

Various daimyô who did not enjoy audiences on the first day instead received audiences with the shogun on the second day of the New Year. The day began with the shogun sitting in the upper level (jôdan) of the Ôhiroma and receiving the gosanke in audience. Another nine or so high-ranking daimyô came next, each approaching the shogun individually to present a sword, bow at the threshold of the lower level, and then withdraw back to their seat. When this was completed, they all shared a ceremonial cup of saké with the shogun, received bestowals of seasonal clothing, and then withdrew. How far up a daimyô approached, and whether they presented the sword themselves, or had their documents presented for them by a sôshaban, differed depending on rank. The shogun (and his heir) then moved to the lower level, as they had the previous day, and faced east into the ni- and san-no-ma, granting an audience to various lower-ranking daimyô and other officials gathered there. He then took a seat in the upper level to exchange a ceremonial cup of saké with a gathered group of Dayû (an official title), and then returned to the lower level, to once again grant audience to figures gathered in the san-no-ma: this time, rusuiyaku or other retainers serving as representatives (proxies) for daimyô not currently present in Edo.[6]

While most daimyô and officials received seasonal clothing and other bestowals in the audience hall immediately after the audience ceremony (after the shogun withdrew from the hall), the lord of the Kitsuregawa clan, among others, received these things afterward in the tsugi-no-ma. A number of renga poets, physicians, and others lacking any official rank or title shared a ceremonial cup of saké with the shogun in the Great Hall (Ôrôka).[6]

The third day of audiences began in the shiroshoin, where officials in charge of public works (fushin), among others, as well as various figures lacking official title or rank, received audience. Edo machi toshiyori and others of similar position sat in the adjoining room (tsugi-no-ma) and received audience there.

The first Noh performance of the year generally took place on the third day of the year. The shogun and his heir sat in the center of the middle level of the Ôhiroma, alongside roughly eight daimyô, facing south. The Noh stage was visible through the lower level of the Ôhiroma, directly to the south across the garden. After the performance, there was a ceremonial sharing of cups of saké, and then the performers received new robes, as formal gifts, on behalf of the shogun. The third day of the month also included audiences with prominent merchant officials from Edo, Kyoto, Nara, Fushimi and Osaka, as well as elders from some of the chief cities and fudai domains.

Lower-ranking samurai retainers who would not normally be entitled to a shogunal audience were permitted to prostrate themselves and offer New Year's greetings on the sixth day of the new year; the abbot of Rinnô-ji in Nikkô enjoyed a private face-to-face meeting with the shogun on the first day of the second month each year.


The five seasonal observances observed both in the Imperial court, and by the Tokugawa shogunate, were:[7]

  • Jinjitsu no sekku - 1st month, 7th day. Seven herbs were eaten. Also known as Nanakusa no sekku, Wakana no sekku.
  • Jômi no sekku or Jôshi - 3/3, Girls' Festival, Dolls Festival, aka Hina matsuri.
  • Tango no sekku - 5/5, Boys' Festival.
  • Tanabata - 7/7, the festival of the Weaver Star.
  • Chôyô no sekku - 9/9, Chrysanthemum Festival. A festival in connection with the rice harvest, and related to one in China which involved the drinking of chrysanthemum wine.

Tokugawa Festivals

Festival days specifically associated with commemorating or celebrating events related to the shogunate included:

  • Kashô 嘉祥, celebrated on 6/16. A celebration of Tokugawa Ieyasu's victory in the 1573 battle of Mikatagahara. After the battle, his retainer Ôkubo Fujigorô supposedly gifted Ieyasu with an amount of sweets, as a gift in celebration of the victory; Ieyasu then distributed the sweets among some number of his other retainers, and in commemoration or reenactment of this event, every year on kashô, the shogun would receive retainers in audience in the Ôhiroma (Grand Audience Hall) of Edo castle, and would distribute sixteen types of sweets, including manju and yôkan, to his retainers.[6]
  • Hassaku 八朔, celebrated on 8/1. This date was a harvest festival traditionally, but in the Tokugawa period was simultaneously observed as a celebration of Tokugawa Ieyasu's first victorious entry into Edo in 1590.[6] A celebration of the autumn harvest, and of the first fruits of the agricultural year, hassaku was also a traditional occasion for samurai (as well as Imperial Court nobles, and others) to give gifts to their lords or superiors, as a show of gratitude for their favor. This was one of two annual festivals during which daimyô presented swords, as a show of fealty, to the shogun.


  • Anne Walthall, "Hiding the shoguns: Secrecy and the nature of political authority in Tokugawa Japan," in Bernard Scheid and Mark Teeuwen (eds.) The Culture of Secrecy in Japanese Religion, Routledge (2006), 338-340.
  1. Including court painters, Noh performers, priests and monks of certain temples and shrines, and artisans & merchants who were official providers of goods to the shogunate.
  2. At some point in the early 19th century, this third monthly audience, held on the 28th, was reduced from taking place every month, to instead taking place only in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th, and 12th months of the year. Asao Naohiro (ed.), Fudai daimyô Ii ke no girei, Hikone Castle Museum (2004), 57.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Asao, 59. In the late Edo period, shoguns visited such sites quite frequently; as many as ten days every month might involved trips to one of these mortuary sites. And each trip required considerable purification practices, including periods of sexual abstinence. Walthall, 334.
  4. Walthall, 353n13.
  5. This was standard practice in samurai audience ritual; gifts were rarely if ever presented directly, but rather were presented merely as a formal document listing the gifts. The actual objects were sometimes displayed on the veranda or garden adjoining the audience hall, but were transported by castle staff, and were not directly handled during the ceremony by either the figures formally giving or receiving the gifts.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Edojô 江戸城, Tokyo: Gakushu Kenkyusha (1995), 120-123. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "edojo" defined multiple times with different content
  7. Arai Hakuseki, Joyce Ackroyd (trans.), Told Round a Brushwood Fire, University of Tokyo Press (1979), 286n122.; Gallery label, Freer Gallery of Art, "Gosekku: The Five Ancient Festivals of the Imperial Court," Ikeda Koson, set of five hanging scrolls, c. 1830, F1999.5.1a-f.