Tokugawa Ietsuna (徳川家綱)

Ietsuna TOKUGAWA was the fourth Seitaishogun (commander-in-chief of the expeditionary force against the barbarians) of the Edo Bakufu (Japanese feudal government) and held office from 1651 – 1680.

Family line

His father was the third Shogun, Iemitsu TOKUGAWA. His mother was the concubine, Oraku no kata (Hojuin), and he was given a childhood name of Takechiyo and regarded as the heir.

His wet nurse was Yajima no tsubone. His legal wife was Asanomiya Akiko, a daughter of the Imperial Prince Fushiminomiya Sadakiyo. His concubines included Yoshunin (Oshin) and Enmeiin (Omaru no kata). Both Yoshunin and Enmeiin became pregnant with Ietsuna's children, but had a stillbirth and miscarriage.

Inauguration as Shogun

He was born on September 7, 1641 in the keep of Edo-jo Castle as the eldest son of Iemitsu TOKUGAWA, the third Shogun.

It is said his father Iemitsu decided to make Ietsuna his successor at birth. This decision is said to be prompted by a dispute over succession between Iemitsu and his younger brother Tadanaga TOKUGAWA, and the fact that the child was a long-awaited male heir.

His name was changed to 'Ietsuna' in January 1645 and he celebrated his coming of age in April the same year. He moved to Nishi no maru (a compound to the west of the main castle) in September 1650.

After Iemitsu's death age 48 on June 8, 1651, Ietsuna assumed office as Seii taishogun at Edo-jo Castle on October 2, 1651 and was assigned as Naidaijin (the Minister of the Interior). The fact that he assumed office as Shogun in his childhood demonstrated to the whole nation the rock-solid foundation of the Shogunal hereditary system.

He moved to Honmaru (the castle's keep) in January 1652. With Ietsuna's as a precedent, all subsequent appointments (except for Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA) were conducted in Edo rather than Kyoto.

First half of his reign

When Ietsuna succeeded his father as the head of the Tokugwa Shogun family, he was only 11 years old. As a result, the political situation after Iemitsu's death became unstable, with an attempt by Ronin (lordless samurai), Shosetsu YUI and Chuya MARUBASHI to topple the bakufu (the Keian Incident).

However, he escaped harm with the assistance of his uncle Masayuki HOSHINA, the former Tairo (chief minister) and Lord of Obama Domain in Wakasa Province (from the time of Iemitsu) Tadakatsu SAKAI and Roju (member of shogun's council of elders) Nobutsuna MATSUDAIRA, Tadaaki ABE and Tadakiyo SAKAI who were able retainers called Iro (old retainer) of the Kanei era. Thanks to their help, the administration remained stable for the next 29 years.

In the Ietsuna's era, the structure of the bakufu was further improved. In particular, under the leadership of Masayuki HOSHINA, the bakufu changed its existing policy of military backing to a civilian government by relaxing the Matsugo yoshi no kin (ban on adoption of an heir on one's deathbed) and issuing orders to forbid following one's master to the grave, partly to combat the influence of the many daimyo who were not hereditary retainers of the Tokugawa family.

In May 1659, Ietsuna refused to appoint a Sadaijin (the Minister of the Left). In 1664, the bakufu issued trading licenses to Daimyo with 10,000 or more koku of crop yields and the next year issued the same to court nobles, temples and shrines.

Latter half of his reign

From the start of the Kanbun era, the Iro (old retainers) of the Kanei era began to die and retire from the front stage on after another. As a result, in the last half of Ietsuna's reign (the Kanbun and the Enpo eras), Tadakiyo SAKAI assumed the position of Tairo in 1666 to replace the Iro retainers and the bakufu came to be administered by the orders of Ietsuna himself with a Roju council system under the leadership of Tadakiyo. In the last half of his reign, the bakufu focused on agriculture as a countermeasure against famine, learning from the great famine of Kanei which had occurred in Iemitsu's time. Further, economic and distribution policies were developed nationwide, and cultural projects such as the compilation of "Honchotsugan" (a chronological account of Japanese history in Chinese characters completed in 1670) were also carried out. Furthermore, during Ietsuna's time, organization of the bakufu administration was completed, the relationship between the bakufu and the Imperial Court became stable, and externally, Saksaynu (head of the Ainu) rose up in rebellion in Ezochi, however the seclusion policy dating back to the time of Iemitsu was strongly maintained. In addition, in that period, troubles occurred in Daimyo families such as the Date and Echigo families.

As Ietsuna had bean physically weak since birth and even in his mid-thirties had no son, there was great concern over the issue of a Shogunal heir. When Ietsuna was taken ill his condition became critical around the end of May 1680, he adopted his youngest brother Tsunayoshi MATSUDAIRA, the lord of Tatebayashi Domain and made him the Shogunal successor on the advice of Masatoshi HOTTA, dying shortly after on June 4. He died at the age of 40.

At the time when Ietsuna's condition became critical, Tadakiyo SAKAI was grooming the Imperial Prince Arisugawanomiya Yukihito for Shogun, as he was descended from Hideyasu YUKI, elder brother of Ietsuna's grandfather Hidetada TOKUGAWA, following a precedent from the Kamakura period when a Miyashogun (Shogun from the Imperial Court) was introduced after the death of Shogun MINAMOTO no Sanetomo. However, there is a theory about this 'back-up Miyashogun' that suggests this plan was never realized due to opposition from Masatoshi HOTTA.

Personal Profile and anecdotes

According to "Bunbu Taiheiki" (Record of literary and military arts), Ietsuna had of gentle disposition and enjoyed painting and fishing, and even became known as 'Lord do so' due to his tendency to leave government affairs to Roju such as Tadakiyo SAKAI, himself merely giving approval by saying, 'Do so.'
While this anecdote indicate the Tadakiyo SAKAI's autocracy and Ietsuna's inability to display leadership as head of the bakufu, Tatsuya TUJI and Chizuru FUKUDA point out the importance of the Shogun's wishes in decision making in the bakufu administration.

He contracted meningitis four months after his birth, and is understood to have possibly suffered a brain injury as a result.

That stability was maintained until Ietsuna's Genpuku (coming of age), was due to the fact the bakufu was blessed with excellent members such as Masayuki HOSHINA who were a true legacy of the Iemitsu era.
There is a passage in the 'Memoirs of Tokugawa rulers and retainers' stating, 'Although I am young, I have succeeded to the achievements of my predecessors and have acquired this grand position.'

According to 'Hakuseki Shukan' written by Hakuseki ARAI, Ietsuna took pleasure in reading the 'Joganseiyo,' a political book written about Taiso, the second Emperor of Tang Dynasty in China, and consulted it for administration of the bakufu.

According to the "Buyashokudan," during Ietsuna's childhood, when he went up to the keep of Edo-jo Castle shortly after his assuming the position of Shogun, an attendant invited him to look through a telescope, but Ietsuna refused, saying, 'Even though I am young, I am still a Shogun.
If people knew that the Shogun looks down from the keep on everything around through a telescope, they would surely be upset.'

Once, Ietsuna was told about exiles to an island and asked his aides what the exiles ate, but as nobody was able to answer Ietsuna retorted, 'If you are going to save them from death by condemning them to exile, why do you not provide them with food?'
On hearing this his father Iemitsu was delighted and ordered his retainers to 'Make this Takechiyo's (Ietsuna's) first ruling,' after which exiles are said to have started to receive food.

One mealtime, Ietsuna found a hair in his soup just before he was about to drink it. Ietsuna calmly removed it by picking it out with his chopsticks, just as a page made to prepare a replacement.
However, Ietsuna said to the page, 'Empty the soup out of the bowl on your way back and return it to the kitchen.'
In other words, he ordered the page to handle it as a regular refill by emptying the bowl, demonstrating Ietsuna's desire not to cause any remonstration.

He is said to have lent his support after the Great Fire of Meireki by providing capital to rebuild samurai residences, shrines and temples destroyed by fire in Edo City.

Record of offices and ranks held
Dates according to old lunar calendar

On April 23, 1645, he celebrated his coming of age (Genpuku). His name was announced as Ietsuna, he was granted Junii (Junior Second Rank) and appointed Gon Dainagon (a provisional chief councilor of state).

On August 18, 1651, he was promoted to Shonii (Senior Second Rank) and transferred to the role of Naidaijin (the Minister of the Interior). He simultaneously filled the position of Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards). At the same time, he assumed the position of Seii Taishogun and Genji no choja (chief of the Minamoto clan).

On July 10, 1653 (or August 12 according to the "Record of Heirs to the Bakufu"), he was transferred to Udaijin (Minister of the Right). At the same time he was retrained his position as Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards).

On May 8, 1680, he died. On May 21, he was posthumously conferred as Shoichii Daijo-daijin (Senior First Rank, Grand Minister).