Tosho Daigongen engi

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The Tôshô Daigongen engi, or Origin of the Great Avatar that Illuminates the East, was a set of scrolls commissioned by Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, to convey a hagiography of Tokugawa Ieyasu's life and accomplishments, as part of efforts to further expand upon discourses of Tokugawa legitimacy.

Its production came on the heels of Iemitsu's commissioning in 1636 of another set of scrolls, the Tôshôsha engi ("Origin of the Shrine that Illuminates the East"). In kanbun (Classical Chinese) text composed by the monk Tenkai and hand-written by Retired Emperor Go-Mizunoo, the Tôshôsha engi described Ieyasu's biography, with particular focus on his dedication to Tendai Buddhism. This was not well-received, however, by members of the Imperial and Tokugawa courts, leading to Iemitsu's commissioning of this second set, the Tôshô Daigongen engi.

The latter, beautifully illustrated by Kanô Tan'yû (where the previous set had been text alone, lacking images) and written in a more accessible Japanese, told a more engaging tale of Ieyasu's skill on the battlefield and his rise to greatness, in a context of divinely-endowed destiny, and through comparison to great heroes of classical Chinese legend. These were donated in 1640 to the Nikkô Tôshôgû dedicated four years prior.


  • Morgan Pitelka, Spectacular Accumulation, University of Hawaii Press (2016), 157-158.