Tokugawa Iemitsu

Last updated
Tokugawa Iemitsu
In office
Preceded by Tokugawa Hidetada
Succeeded by Tokugawa Ietsuna
Personal details
Born(1604-08-12)August 12, 1604
Edo, Tokugawa shogunate
(now Tokyo, Japan)
DiedJune 8, 1651(1651-06-08) (aged 46)
Edo, Tokugawa shogunate
Signature Tokugawa Iemitsu kao.jpg

Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川 家光, August 12, 1604 – June 8, 1651) was the third shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty. He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Hidetada with Oeyo, and the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Lady Kasuga was his wet nurse, who acted as his political adviser and was at the forefront of shogunate negotiations with the Imperial court. Iemitsu ruled from 1623 to 1651; during this period he crucified Christians, expelled all Europeans from Japan and closed the borders of the country, a foreign politics policy that continued for over 200 years after its institution. It is debatable whether Iemitsu can be considered a kinslayer for making his younger brother Tadanaga commit suicide by seppuku.


Early life (1604–1617)

Tokugawa Iemitsu was born on 12 August 1604. He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Hidetada and grandson of the last great unifier of Japan, the first Tokugawa shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu. [1] He was the first member of the Tokugawa family born after Tokugawa Ieyasu became shōgun. (There was some rumour said that he was not Hidetada's son but Ieyasu's son with Kasuga no Tsubone).

Not much is known of Iemitsu's early life; his childhood name was Takechiyo (竹千代). He had two sisters, Senhime and Masako, and a brother, who would become a rival, Tadanaga. Tadanaga was his parents' favorite. However, Ieyasu made it clear that Iemitsu would be next in line as shōgun after Hidetada.

An obsolete spelling of his given name is Iyemitsu.



Consorts and issue:

Adopted Daughters:

Tokugawa heir (1617–1623)

Iemitsu came of age in 1617 and dropped his childhood name in favor of Tokugawa Iemitsu. He also was installed officially as the heir to the Tokugawa shogunate. The only person to contest this position was his younger brother Tokugawa Tadanaga. A fierce rivalry began to develop between the brothers.

From an early age Iemitsu practiced the shūdō tradition. However, in 1620, he had a falling out with his homosexual lover, Sakabe Gozaemon, a childhood friend and retainer, aged twenty-one, and murdered him as they shared a bathtub. [2]

He married Takatsukasa Takako, daughter of Takatsukasa Nobufusa at 12 December 1623. His relationship with Takako was good but Takako had three miscarriages.

Shogunal regency (1623–1632)

In 1623, when Iemitsu was nineteen, Hidetada abdicated the post of shōgun in his favor. Hidetada continued to rule as Ōgosho (retired shōgun), but Iemitsu nevertheless assumed a role as formal head of the bakufu bureaucracy. [3]

In 1626, shōgun Iemitsu and retired shōgun Hidetada visited Emperor Go-Mizunoo, Empress Masako (Hidetada's daughter and Iemitsu's sister), and Imperial Princess Meishō in Kyoto. Shōgun Iemitsu made lavish grants of gold and money to the court nobles and the court itself. Yet relations with Go-Mizunoo deteriorated after the Purple Robe Incident (紫衣事件, shi-e jiken), during which the Emperor was accused of having bestowed honorific purple garments to more than ten priests despite an edict which banned them for two years (probably in order to break the bond between the Emperor and religious circles). The shogunate intervened, making the bestowing of the garments invalid. When Lady Kasuga and Masako broke a taboo by visiting the imperial court as a commoner, Go-Mizunoo abdicated, embarrassed, and Meisho became empress. The shōgun was now the uncle of the sitting monarch.

In Kan'ei 9, on the 24th day of the 2nd month (1632), Ōgosho Hidetada died, [4] and Iemitsu could assume real power. Worried that his brother Tokugawa Tadanaga might assassinate him, however, he ruled carefully until that brother's death by seppuku in 1633.

Shōgun (1632–1651)

Hidetada left his advisors, all veteran daimyōs , to act as regents for Iemitsu. In 1633, after his brother's death, Iemitsu dismissed these men. In place of his father's advisors, Iemitsu appointed his childhood friends. With their help Iemitsu created a strong, centralized administration. This made him unpopular with many daimyōs, but Iemitsu simply removed his opponents.

His sankin-kōtai system forced daimyōs to reside in Edo in alternating sequence, spending a certain amount of time in Edo, and a certain amount of time in their home provinces. It is often said that one of the key goals of this policy was to prevent the daimyōs from amassing too much wealth or power by separating them from their home provinces, and by forcing them to regularly devote a sizable sum to funding the immense travel expenses associated with the journey (along with a large entourage) to and from Edo. The system also involved the daimyōs' wives and heirs remaining in Edo, disconnected from their lord and from their home province, serving essentially as hostages who might be harmed or killed if the daimyōs were to plot rebellion against the shogunate. [5]

In 1637, an armed revolt arose against Iemitsu's anti-Christian policies in Shimabara, but there were other reasons involved, such as overly-high taxation and cruel treatment of peasants by the local lord. The period domestic unrest is known as the Shimabara Rebellion. [1] Thousands were killed in the shogunate's suppression of the revolt and countless more were executed afterwards. [6] The fact that many of the rebels were Christians was used by the Bakufu as a convenient pretext for expelling the Portuguese and restricting the Dutch East India Company to Dejima in Nagasaki.

Over the course of the 1630s, Iemitsu issued a series of edicts restricting Japan's dealings with the outside world. Japanese, who had since the 1590s traveled extensively in East and Southeast Asia (and, in rare instances, much farther afield), were now forbidden from leaving the country or returning, under pain of death. Europeans were expelled from the country, with the exception of those associated with the Dutch East India Company, who were restricted to the manmade island of Dejima, in Nagasaki harbor. Japan remained very much connected to international commerce, information, and cultural exchange, though only through four avenues. Nagasaki was the center of trade and other dealings with the Dutch East India Company, and with independent Chinese merchants. Satsuma Domain controlled relations with the Ryūkyū Kingdom (and through Ryūkyū, had access to Chinese goods and information, as well as products from further afield through alternative trade routes that passed through Ryūkyū), while Tsushima Domain handled diplomatic and trade relations with Joseon-dynasty Korea, and Matsumae Domain managed communications with the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, as well as limited communication with related peoples on the mainland close to Sakhalin. Japan in this period has often been described as "closed", or under sakoku (鎖国, "chained country"), but since the 1980s, if not earlier, scholars have argued for the use of terms such as 'kaikin" (海禁, "maritime restrictions"), emphasizing the fact that Japan was not "closed" to the outside world, but was in fact very actively engaged with the outside world, albeit through a limited set of avenues. [7]

In 1643 Empress Meisho abdicated the throne. She was succeeded by her younger half-brother (Go-Mizunoo's son by a consort) Emperor Go-Kōmyō, who disliked the shogunate for its violent and barbaric ways. He repeatedly made insulting comments about Iemitsu and his eldest son and heir, Tokugawa Ietsuna.

In 1651 shōgun Iemitsu died at the age of 47, being the first Tokugawa shōgun whose reign ended with death and not abdication. He was accorded a posthumous name of Taiyūin, [1] also known as Daiyūin (大猷院) and buried in Taiyu-in Temple, Nikko. [8] Iemitsu had expanded Nikkō Tōshō-gū prior to his death, but was careful to avoid iconography for his mausoleum that could be seen as surpassing that of his grandfather. [9] He was succeeded by his eldest son and heir, Tokugawa Ietsuna.

Anti-Europeanization of Japan and the "Maritime Restrictions Edict of 1639"

During the 16th century, Japan was among the countries in Asia that appealed most to European traders and missionaries. A group of Portuguese arrived on the island of Tanegashima, becoming the first Europeans to enter Japan. This began the so-called Nanban trade (南蛮貿易 Nanban bōeki) period. From 1545 onwards, Japan saw the arrival of numerous European ships, first from Portugal, and later from Spain, the Netherlands and England. Starting in 1549, with the arrival of Francis Xavier at Kagoshima, a large missionary campaign, led by the Society of Jesus, began to shake Japan's social structures. Furthermore, on the island of Kyūshū, in order to preserve the European trade in their lands, some daimyōs agreed to be converted to Christianity. By the beginning of the 17th century a half million Japanese people had converted to Christianity (out of population of 11 million).

However, during this period of Europeanization, adverse feelings towards the foreigners started spreading across Japan. Following Spain's conquest of the Philippines between 1565 and 1597, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the supreme military/political authority in Japan at the time, began to more strongly doubt the Europeans' good intentions, and questioned the loyalty of the Christian daimyōs. Seeing the threat that Christianity potentially posed to political stability, and to the daimyōs' loyalty to him over the Church, he issued Anti-Christian Edicts, expelling foreign missionaries, and ordering the crucifixion of a number of prominent Catholic proselytizers and converts. However, it was not until the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu that anti-Christian policies were more fully expanded and more permanently put into effect.

The century-long presence of Catholic traders and missionaries in Japan ended in the 1630s when Iemitsu ordered the expulsion of nearly every European from the country. European access to trade relations with Japan was restricted to one Dutch ship each year. Iemitsu's policies on this matter were reinforced after the execution of two Portuguese men who came to plead for the re-establishment of Japan's earlier foreign trade policy. By the end of the 1630s, Iemitsu had issued a series of edicts more extensively detailing a system of restrictions on the flow of people, goods, and information in and out of the country.

The most famous of those edicts was the so-called Sakoku Edict of 1635. It contained the main restrictions introduced by Iemitsu. With it, he forbade every Japanese ship and person to travel to another country, or to return to Japanese shores. The punishment for violation was death. The edict offered lavish gifts and awards for anyone who could provide information about priests and their followers who secretly practiced and spread their religion across the country. Furthermore, every newly arrived ship was required to be thoroughly examined for Catholic priests and followers. The document pays extremely close attention to every detail regarding incoming foreign ships. For example, merchants coming from abroad had to submit a list of the goods they were bringing with them before being granted permission to trade. Additional provisions specified details of the timing and logistics of trade. For example, one clause declares that the "date of departure homeward for foreign ships shall not be later than the twentieth day of the ninth month". In addition to this, Iemitsu forbade alterations of the set price for raw silk and thus made sure that competition between trading cities was brought to a minimum.

The measures Iemitsu enacted were so powerful that it was not until the 1850s that Japanese ports opened to a wider range of trading partners, Westerners were free to settle and travel within Japan, and Japanese were once more free to travel overseas. This period of "maritime restrictions", from the 1630s until the 1850s, is, as described above, very commonly referred to as sakoku, or as "the Closed Country", but many scholars[ who? ] today argue against the notion that Japan was "closed". They argue that Japan's international relations policies during this period should be understood, rather, as simply being aimed at keeping international interactions under tight control; furthermore, they emphasize that Japan was not alone in seeking to control, and limit, international interactions, and that in fact nearly every major power at the time had policies in place dictating who could trade, at which ports, at which times, and in what manner. [7]


Eras of Iemitsu's bakufu

The years in which Iemitsu was shōgun are more specifically identified by more than one era name or nengō . [10]



  1. 1 2 3 Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Tokugawa, Iemitsu" in Japan Encyclopedia, pp. 976-977 , p. 976, at Google Books; n.b., Louis-Frédéric is pseudonym of Louis-Frédéric Nussbaum, see Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Authority File Archived 2012-05-24 at .
  2. Louis Crompton, Homosexuality p. 439
  3. Titsingh, J. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, p. 410.
  4. Titsingh, p. 411.
  5. Vaporis, Constantine. Tour of Duty. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.
  6. Screech, T. (2006). Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779–1822. p. 85.
  7. 1 2 Arano, Yasunori. "The Entrenchment of the Concept of "National Seclusion". Acta Asiatica 67 (1994). pp. 83–103.
    Arano, Yasunori. Sakoku wo minaosu 「鎖国」を見直す. Kawasaki: Kawasaki Shimin Academy, 2003.
    Kato, Eiichi. "Research Trends in the Study of the History of Japanese Foreign Relations at the Start of the Early Modern Period: On the Reexamination of 'National Seclusion' – From the 1970's to 1990's." Acta Asiatica 67 (1994). pp. 1–29.
    Tashiro, Kazui and Susan D. Videen. "Foreign Relations during the Edo Period: Sakoku Reexamined". Journal of Japanese Studies 8:2 (1982). pp. 283–306.
    Toby, Ronald. "Reopening the Question of Sakoku: Diplomacy in the Legitimation of the Tokugawa Bakufu", Journal of Japanese Studies 3:2 (1977). pp. 323–363.
  8. Bodart-Bailey, Beatrice. (1999). Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed, p. 440.
  9. Mausoleum of Tokugawa Iemitsu (Historical marker). Nikkō Tōshō-gū: Nikkō Tōshō-gū. 2023.
  10. Titsingh, pp. 410–412.
  11. "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv (in Japanese). Retrieved 4 July 2018.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emperor Go-Mizunoo</span> Emperor of Japan from 1611 to 1629

Kotohito, posthumously honored as Emperor Go-Mizunoo, was the 108th Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Go-Mizunoo's reign spanned the years from 1611 through 1629, and he was the first emperor to reign entirely during the Edo period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emperor Go-Yōzei</span> Emperor of Japan from 1586 to 1611

Emperor Go-Yōzei was the 107th Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Go-Yōzei's reign spanned the years 1586 through to his abdication in 1611, corresponding to the transition between the Azuchi–Momoyama period and the Edo period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Hidetada</span> Japanese shogun (1579–1632)

Tokugawa Hidetada was the second shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty, who ruled from 1605 until his abdication in 1623. He was the third son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Yoshimune</span> Japanese Tokugawa shogun

Tokugawa Yoshimune was the eighth shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, ruling from 1716 until his abdication in 1745. He was the son of Tokugawa Mitsusada, the grandson of Tokugawa Yorinobu, and the great-grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Tsunayoshi</span> Japanese shogun

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi was the fifth shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty of Japan. He was the younger brother of Tokugawa Ietsuna, as well as the son of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the grandson of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the great-grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Ienobu</span> Sixth shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty

Tokugawa Ienobu was the sixth shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty of Japan. He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Tsunashige, thus making him the nephew of Tokugawa Ietsuna and Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the grandson of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the great-grandson of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the great-great-grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. All of Ienobu's children died young.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Ietsugu</span> Seventh shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty

Tokugawa Ietsugu; 徳川 家継 was the seventh shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty, who ruled from 1713 until his death in 1716. He was the son of Tokugawa Ienobu, thus making him the grandson of Tokugawa Tsunashige, daimyō of Kofu, great-grandson of Tokugawa Iemitsu, great-great grandson of Tokugawa Hidetada, and finally the great-great-great grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Ieharu</span> Japanese shogun

Tokugawa Ieharu (徳川家治) was the tenth shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, who held office from 1760 to 1786.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Iemochi</span> 14th shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan

Tokugawa Iemochi was the 14th shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, who held office from 1858 to 1866. During his reign there was much internal turmoil as a result of the "re-opening" of Japan to western nations. Iemochi's reign also saw a weakening of the shogunate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Ieshige</span> Japanese shōgun (1712–1761)

Tokugawa Ieshige; 徳川 家重 was the ninth shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Ietsuna</span> Fourth shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty

Tokugawa Ietsuna was the fourth shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty of Japan who was in office from 1651 to 1680. He is considered the eldest son of Tokugawa Iemitsu, which makes him the grandson of Tokugawa Hidetada and the great-grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Genna</span> Period of Japanese history (1615–1624)

Genna (元和) was a Japanese era name coming after Keichō and before Kan'ei. This period spanned the years from July 1615 to February 1624. The reigning emperor was Go-Mizunoo-tennō (後水尾天皇). It is also known as Genwa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oeyo</span> Historical Japanese figure (1573–1626)

Oeyo (於江与), (江), Ogō (小督) or Satoko (達子) : 1573 – September 15, 1626) was a prominently-placed female figure in the Azuchi–Momoyama period and early Edo period. She was a daughter of Oichi and the sister of Yodo-dono and Ohatsu. When she rose to higher political status during the Tokugawa shogunate, she took the title of "Ōmidaidokoro". Following the fall of the Council of Five Elders, Oeyo and her sisters were key figures in maintaining a diplomatic relationship between the two most powerful clans of their time, Toyotomi and Tokugawa. Due to her great contributions to politics at the beginning of the Edo period she was posthumously inducted into the Junior First Rank of the Imperial Court, the second highest honor that could be conferred by the Emperor of Japan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tokugawa Masako</span> Empress consort of Japan

Tokugawa Masako, also known as Kazu-ko, was the Empress consort of Japan as wife of Emperor Go-Mizunoo. She was a prominent and influential figure the Imperial-shogunate ties and relations, because of her collaboration with her parents Oeyo and Tokugawa Hidetada, the second shōgun of the Edo period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ishin Sūden</span>

Ishin Sūden, also known as Konchi'in Sūden, was a Japanese Rinzai Zen monk who was an advisor to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and later to shoguns Tokugawa Hidetada and Iemitsu on religious matters and foreign affairs. He was the 270th abbot of Nanzen-ji. He played a significant role in the initial development of the Tokugawa shogunate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hoshina Masayuki</span>

Hoshina Masayuki was a Japanese daimyō of the early Edo period, who was the founder of what became the Matsudaira house of Aizu. He was an important figure in the politics and philosophy of the early Tokugawa shogunate.

<i>Ōoku</i> Former womens quarters of Edo Castle

The Ōoku was historically the women's quarters of Edo Castle, the section where the women connected to the reigning shōgun resided. Similar areas in the castles of powerful daimyō, such as the Satsuma Domain, were also referred to by this term.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lady Kasuga</span> Japanese politician

Lady Kasuga was a Japanese noble lady and politician from a prominent Japanese samurai family of the Azuchi–Momoyama and Edo periods. Born Saitō Fuku (斉藤福), she was a daughter of Saitō Toshimitsu. She was the wet nurse of the third Tokugawa shōgun Iemitsu. Lady Kasuga was one of the best politicians in the Edo period. She stood in front of negotiations with the Imperial Court and contributed to the stabilization of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Tamahime (珠姫) or Tama (1599-1622) was a Japanese noble lady, member of the aristocrat Tokugawa family during the Edo period. She was the second daughter of the shogun Tokugawa Hidetada, and her mother was Oeyo, both important figures who stabilized and ruled the Tokugawa shogunate. She was also the wife of Maeda Toshitsune, the 2nd daimyō of Kaga Domain.

<i>Aoi</i> (TV series) 2000 taiga drama about the first three Tokugawa shōguns

Aoi is a 2000 Japanese historical drama television series and the 39th NHK taiga drama. The series respectively stars Masahiko Tsugawa, Toshiyuki Nishida, and Onoe Tatsunosuke II as the first three Tokugawa shōguns. It aired from January 9 to December 17, 2000, and ran for a total of 49 episodes.


Military offices
Preceded by Shōgun :
Tokugawa Iemitsu

Succeeded by