Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光)

Iemitsu TOKUGAWA was the third Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") from 1623 to 1651 of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). He was the second son of Shogun Hidetada TOKUGAWA, the second shogun. Iemitsu's mother was Sugen-in, the daughter of Nagamasa ASAI and the niece of Nobunaga ODA. His wet nurse was Kasuga no Tsubone (Fuku). His foster brothers were Masakatsu INABA, Masayoshi INABA and Masatoshi INABA.

There were only three children born from lawful wives of the fifteenth Tokugawa Shoguns, including Ieyasu, Iemitsu and Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA. Moreover, Iemitsu was the only child to be born from the lawful wife of shogun and then become a shogun himself.

From Birth to Inauguration as Shogun

Iemitsu was born on July 17th, 1604 in Edo Castle as the second son of Hidetada TOKUGAWA. Although Iemitsu's father and second Shogun Hidetada had his first son Chomaru in 1601, because Chomaru died young, Iemitsu was treated as the heir and was given the childhood name of "Takechiyo," the same childhood name of his grandfather, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA. Following the birth of Iemitsu, the daughter of Toshimitsu SAITO named Fuku, who was a vassal to Mitsuhide AKECHI (the wife of Masanari INABA, a vassal of the Kobayakawa clan; later given the name Kasuga no Tsubone) became the wet nurse for Iemitsu, while Masakatsu INABA and Nobutsuna MATSUDAIRA became his pages.

In 1605, Ieyasu abdicated the position of shogun to Hidetada and he became the leading figure in the bakufu. Iemitsu was weak during his childhood, was apt to stammer and it is said that he was not very attractive. In 1606, his younger brother Kunimatsu (Tadanaga TOKUGAWA) was born. It is also said that there was a struggle between Iemitsu and Tadanaga over who was to be the heir to shogun. According to "Bunoshokudan." Hidetada and others who favored Tadanaga and Fuku felt it was dangerous to disinherit Takechiyo and appealed to Ieyasu in Sunpu, but Ieyasu, who was anxious over the struggle, made the elders first rule absolute, making Iemitsu the definite heir. These stories are based on gossip after the death of Iemitsu, and from an examination of historical materials from that era, it is thought that the decision for Iemitsu to be the heir was completed in 1615.

In May, 1616, Tadatoshi SAKAI, Kiyotsugu NAITO and Tadatoshi AOYAMA were appointed as councilors to look after Iemitsu. In September, more than sixty junior vassals were designated as pages, constituting the group of assistants and vassals to look after the affairs of Iemitsu. In 1617, Iemitsu moved to Nishinomaru of Edo Castle where he received an envoy from the Imperial Court in 1618 and was seen attending an official event. Celebration of Iemitsu's coming of age was held in 1620, extended due to Ieyasu's death in 1616, where he assumed the new name "Iemitsu" from Takechiyo and was appointed to Junior Third Rank, supernumerary chief councillor of state. The name of Iemitsu was chosen by Suden. His new name was going to be "Ietada," but because this was the same name as the founder's of the Kazanin family, "Iemitsu" was chosen.

In 1623, after the death of Kiyotsugu NAITO, Tadayo SAKAI and Tadakatsu SAKAI (the lord of Obama Domain, Wakasa Province) became the successors and were appointed as councilors for Iemitsu. In June, 1623, Iemitsu went to Kyoto with his father Hidetada where he received his appointment to shogun and designated as Senior Second Rank, Inner Minister in July. There he met Emperor Gomizunoo and his younger sister Kazuko. After they returned to Edo, Hidetada moved to Nishinomaru (the secondary enclosure) of Edo Castle for retirement and Iemitsu moved to the keep of the castle. At first, the daughter of Nagamasa KURODA was reported as Iemochi's marriage partner, but in August of 1623, Takako TAKATSUKASA of the Takatsukasa family (a line of regents and advisers) came down to Edo, and in December of the same year she was married into the Tokugawa family.


Even after Hidetada transferred political power to his son, he continued to have the real power where he had the bakufu put under a dual policy by mutual consent between assistants in the keep of the castle and the secondary enclosure of the castle. When Emperor Gomizunoo visited Nijo-jo Castle in July of 1626, Iemitsu and Hidetada went up to Kyoto with Hidetada leading many feudal lords and direct retainers of the shogun, including Masamune DATE and Yoshinobu SATAKE. During their audience with Emperor Gomizunoo at Nijo-jo Castle, Hidetada was promoted to Grand Minister and Iemitsu to the Minister of the Left, respectively.

When Hidetada died in January of 1632, the diarchy was dissolved and Iemitsu began direct rule as the shogun. He began reorganizing, centering control of the army under the direct retainers of the bakufu. In May of 1632, he summoned feudal lords who were not hereditary vassals of the Tokugawa family and issued an order to deprive Tadahiro KATO, the lord of Kumamoto Domain, Higo Province, of his official status and territory. He established the system of senior councilor, junior councilor, administrator and inspector general, as well as the feudal government system headed by a shogun as the person in paramount authority.
Enactment of Laws for Warrior Households
In the revision of Laws for Warrior Houses in 1635, he added the rule requiring feudal lords to reside in Edo every other year. In foreign affairs, he strengthened the trade control and crackdown on Christians with the aim of monopolizing trade profits in Nagasaki, and through the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637, he established the national isolation policy until 1641. These series of high-handed policies taken by the Edo bakufu are called "ruling backed with military force." Iemitsu's legitimate son, Takechiyo, was born in 1641 (he later became Shogun Ietsuna).

In 1642, the great famine of the Kanei era occurred, but the ruling system of the bakufu was not shaken. In 1644, the bakufu ordered feudal lords all across the country to draw up maps of their domains and castle, and issued a ban on buying and selling fields to control farmers. In 1650, Iemitsu ordered Ietsuna TOKUGAWA to act for him in ceremonies due to illness, and in April of 1651 he died in Edo-jo Castle. He was forty-eight years old. At the time of Iemitsu's death, Masamori HOTTA, Shigetsugu ABE and other followers immolated themselves.

According to his will, his body was moved to Toei Kanei-ji Temple and was buried in Rinno-ji Temple, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. In May, 1651, he was posthumously conferred the rank of Senior First Rank, Grand Minister, and was given the Buddhist name "Daikenin." The Daikenin mausoleum was built in 1653.

Record of Offices and Ranks Held

Dates are of the old lunar calendar

On January 5, 1620, Iemitsu was conferred Senior Third Rank. On September 7, 1620, he was promoted to Junior Second Rank and appointed to supernumerary chief councillor of state. He celebrated his coming of age and was given the name"Iemitsu."

On March 5, 1623, he was appointed to Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards and Inspector of the Right Division Bureau of Horses. On July 27 he was promoted to Senior Second Rank and transferred to Inner Minister. Concurrently he was proclaimed as the Seii Taishogun and Chief of the Minamoto clan.

On August 19, 1626, he was promoted to Junior First Rank and transferred to Minister of the Left. He was also appointed to Major Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards.

On July 11, 1651, he firmly refused to be transferred to Grand Minister.

Iemitsu died on April 20, 1651. He was posthumously conferred as the Grand Minister.

Political System

After the death of Hidetada, Toshikatsu DOI, Tadakatsu SAKAI and Tadayo SAKAI remained in their posts as senior councilors to the shogun. Iemitsu changed the rules of Hidetsugu's system from having a single senior councilor reporting decisions to the shogun to having the reports given after a conference between three councilors. The councilor conference system caused delays in government affairs and territorial lords were no longer able to freely send even small gifts to the bakufu. In 1634, the conference system was changed to a system where each of the three councilors would take turns on a monthly duty system and six assistants (predecessors of junior assistants system) were appointed to support the business of the councilors. This system went smoothly at first, but councilors gradually became apt to put off their decisions to the following month, causing further delays in government affairs.

Later on, the system of having six assistants was changed, Nobutsuna MATSUDAIRA and Tadaaki ABE became senior councilors and Toshikatsu DOI and Tadakatsu SAKAI assumed the posts of Chief Master, dealing only with important matters. Inspector of samurai and inspector general were established so that the shogun could receive information directly, rather than through councilors, meaning that a number of main official posts of the Tokugawa shogunate were established during Iemitsu's rule.

Iemitsu's Behavior

It is said that he was fond of walking about the city incognito. In "Quiet talks at the Hikawa mansion" by Kaishu KATSU, a gossip story is recorded that a councilor hired a strong man to provoke a quarrel with Iemitsu in order to stop such practice. It may be due to such rumors that Iemitsu is said to be the model of "Pacific Saury in Meguro," a famous rakugo (comic story telling) story.

Even after becoming shogun, he was fond of going out on long distance horse rides and visiting the residences of feudal lords in Edo. When he went on these long horse rides, he would ride alone, leaving his attendants behind.

Like Ieyasu and Hidetada, Iemitsu also liked Noh, but his hobby for Noh was a little distorted, shown by how he would first hold Noh events with elegance and then let feudal lords or retainers play on the stage. He even ordered Munenari YAGYU to dance to the famously difficult music called "Sekidera Komachi" as a secret song. Like his father Hidetada, Iemitsu favored Nagayoshi Shichidayu KITA, the leading Noh actor of the time.

He was also fond of splendid dress, and on one occasion he even ordered the feudal lords to come to the castle in dandy costumes.

Gongen (Ieyasu) the second

It is said that Iemitsu held deep respect for his grandfather Ieyasu, who was deified as Tosho Daigongen in Nikko-zan Rinno-ji Temple.

According to the "Tosho Daigongen Norito" (placed in the archives of the Nikko-zan Rinno-ji Temple), allegedly written by Kasuga no Tsubone, the following stories are recorded. Iemitsu, with his weak constitution, fell seriously ill at the age of three and recovered with Iyeyasu's medicine. Every time he became ill from that time on, he would recover by dreaming of Ieyasu's spirit. Kasuga no Tsubone would become very angry when Iemitsu's parents were unkind to him, and she would scold them saying that Iemitsu might be sent to Sunpu (Shizuoka), adopted as Ieyasu's son and appointed to shogun. In addition, due to the fact that Iemitsu's birthday was on the 17th, the same day as the anniversary of Ieyasu's death, it is thought that Iemitsu was even more conscious of a debt of gratitude for Ieyasu than either of his parents.

In 1636, Iemitsu constructed the Tosho-gu Shrine, which he visited ten times during his lifetime. In his later years, Iemitsu often dreamed about the figure of Ieyasu and made the famous painter Tanyu KANO draw the form of Ieyasu many times. Iemitsu always had the amulet with the words, "Gongen (posthumous name of Ieyasu) the second" or "Live or die, all things depend on the great Gongen," which were words thought to show his strong conscious tie and respect for Ieyasu.

Relations with Women

Since Iemitsu was on very bad terms with his legitimate wife Takako TAKATSUKASA, and he indulged in homosexuality rather than associating with women during his youth, he did not have an heir even after middle age. Anxious of his heir, Kasuga no Tsubone allegedly invited women fitting his tastes from various places. In his later years, after a concubine named Jishoin bore his eldest daughter, Chiyohime, he loved many concubines.

He had virtually no married life with his legitimate wife Takako TAKATSUKASA, and they were on bad terms with each other from the day they were married to the day of his death. Soon after their marriage, Iemitsu made Takako move from the inner rooms of the shogun's palace to a residence constructed in the Fukiage Hiroshiba garden (a de facto divorce), and continued to confine her until the time of his death where he gave her a mere fifty Ryo and a number of tea utensils. He did not allow his sons, including Ietsuna TOKUGAWA who was to be the fourth shogun, become adopted children of Takako and continued to dislike her and treat her coldly throughout his life.

Iemitsu's health condition

Iemitsu had a weak constitution since childhood and often spent his time sick in bed. When he got ill, he would bury himself under five or six quilts wearing many layers of clothes, sometimes making himself sicker by doing so. When doctors warned him against this behavior, he would get very angry, sometimes even to the point where they would be punished. Hirofumi YAMAMOTO conjectures that the heavy pressure on his spirit might have brought on neurosis anxiety.


Iemitsu was fond of inviting military commanders to talk with him, such as Masamune DATE, Hidemoto MORI and Muneshige TACHIBANA who lived through the age of civil war, and hearing their tales of battle.

There is a theory that Iemitsu's decision to call himself a "shogun by nature" was based on advice from Masamune.

Public Assessment

During the same period in which Iemitsu was shogun, Tadataka OKUBO gave a favorable assessment of Iemitsu in "Tales from Mikawa," describing how Iemitsu was shy during boyhood but followed in the footsteps of Kiyoyasu MATSUDAIRA, Ieyasu's grandfather.

Although Iemitsu is highly esteemed as the person to complete the feudal system characteristic of the shogunate, others hold the opinion that its completion was due to the efforts of chief vassals of the shogunate, such as Toshikatsu DOI, Tadakatsu SAKAI, Nobutsuna MATSUDAIRA, Tadaaki ABE, Masamori HOTTA and Masamori NAKANE, and not the efforts of Iemitsu. Chogoro KAIONJI denies Iemitsu's abilities, claiming that his reputation of being a wise ruler was based on the propaganda of bakufu cabinet officials. KAIONJI argues, "Ieyasu decided everything by himself." "While Hidetada did not have the abilities of Ieyasu, he made half of his decisions on his own." "Iemitsu, however, entrusted all matters to his chief vassals."

Engyo MITAMURA recorded Iemitsu's eccentricities and criticized him. He has been quoted as saying, "According to my opinion, Iemitsu seems to have been a fool, freakish and trivial person."

Financial Affairs

Iemitsu also allegedly wasted the fortune that had been saved since the age of Ieyasu, creating the start of financial difficulties for the bakufu.

National Isolation Policy and International Relations
Iemitsu's national isolation policy has been highly valued for maintaining Japanese independence and sovereignty by preventing interference in Japanese domestic affairs and colonization by European countries by missionaries acting covertly. On the other hand, there is another theory that Iemitsu simply disliked foreigners.

If European countries originally had the intention of colonizing Japan, they would have engaged in armed conflict, and it would not have mattered whether or not Japan stood by its isolation policy.

However, it has recently been argued that the isolation policy was not to prevent colonization by Europe, but to wipe out the spirit of admiration for the west and resentment for the east. The results of the policy are thought to be more than enough when viewed in this light.

Different Views

The novelist Tomeo YAKIRI put out the theory that Kasuga no Tsubone might have been Iemitsu's real mother. The historical material entitled "Prosperity of the Pine Tree" was published as a printed book by a sovereign message publishing association in 1911. YAKIRI's theory is based on an article within the book entitled, "Posthumous Writings of Ieyasu" (from March 25, 1614), where it is written that "Hidetada's eldest son was Takechiyo, born from Kasaga no Tsubone, and was the 3rd Shogun Iemitsu, Minister of the Left."

Expanding on YAKIRI's theory, there is yet another theory that Ieyasu might have been the father of Iemitsu. This theory is based on how much Iemitsu respected Ieyasu and how he wrote his title as "Second Gongen, Second Shogun."

[Original Japanese]