Shogunal investiture

Though the shogun held unparalleled de facto political power, his legitimacy always rested on his being appointed, or invested, by the Emperor. Even during the Edo period, when de facto Imperial power was at a minimum, the Imperial Court sent official messengers to formally recognize each new shogun, acknowledging the legitimacy of his succession, and formally investing him with the powers of the position. Such rituals can be said to have been merely symbolic, but their political symbolism was of great importance.


The investiture of Shogun Tokugawa Ienobu, which took place on 1709/5/1, can serve as an example of the typical format of shogunal investiture rituals of the "mature" Edo period. The process consisted of three sets of audiences or meetings.

Representatives of the two sekke[1] met directly with the shogun, sitting alongside him on the upper-most dais, or dan, within the ôhiroma of Edo castle. The middle dais, or level, within the audience hall seated a number of nobles of the fifth rank or above, who, one by one, presented the shogun with swords, gold coins, or other gifts. Those below the fifth rank were restricted to the third, lowest, dan, while those who typically would not be able to enter the ceremonial hall at the Imperial Palace were not permitted entry into the shogun's audience hall either, and were seated on the veranda.

The new shogun began meeting with the daimyô ten days later. The fudai daimyô and those of familial relation to the Tokugawa enjoyed audiences in the castle's shiroshoin (lit. "white study / writing room"), while the shogun held his audiences with the tozama daimyô in the ôhiroma. All were seated in the middle dan, or further down; not even the highest-ranking daimyô sat on an equal level with the shogun, on the upper dan.

Towards the end of the month, the new shogun would then hold audiences for a variety of abbots, monks, and priests from important temples and shrines. The abbot of Rinnô-ji in Nikkô, being a member of the Imperial family, was permitted to meet with the shogun face-to-face (taigan), sitting on the upper dan in the shiroshoin; however, all other monks and priests offered their gifts and words of congratulation from the lowest dan.

An episode from the investiture of Tokugawa Yoshimune, seven years later, helps indicate further the flavor and order of these formal audiences. After meeting with a number of daimyô individually in the shiroshoin, Yoshimune walked to the ôhiroma, stepping down to the lower dan, where a set of doors separated the anterooms from the audience hall proper (the three dais, or dan). Before these doors were opened, the assembled masses of priests, daimyô, hatamoto, and shogunate officials in the ni-no-ma (first anteroom), along with a number of court nobles, monks, physicians and scholars, Noh masters, and court craftsmen in service to the shogunate, prostrated themselves, their heads to the floor. None would see more than a glimpse of the shogun, nor hear a word from his mouth, as the shogun silently surveyed the collected masses paying their respects and offering their congratulations to him; many had placed coins or wooden swords before themselves, as gifts. An official declared, on behalf of this unspeaking group, that they had all come to offer their congratulations; the congratulations were accepted, silently, by the shogun, who withdrew, and the doors were closed. Only the highest-ranking officials saw much of the shogun's person at all (or heard his voice), let alone seeing his face.


  • 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), 336-338.
  1. High-ranking court noble houses from which Imperial regents were chosen.