Tokugawa Iemochi (徳川家茂)

Iemochi TOKUGAWA was the 14th Seii Taishogun (great general who subdues the barbarians) of the Edo Shogunate.

His natural father was a younger brother of Ieyoshi TOKUGAWA, the 12th shogun, and a cousin of Iesada TOKUGAWA, the 13th shogun. Before becoming a shogun, he was the 13th lord of the Kishu Domain, one of the Tokugawa gosanke (three privileged branches of Tokugawa family). His original name was Yoshitomi.

Iemochi was the first son of Nariyuki TOKUGAWA (a family head of the Shimizu Tokugawa Family and the Kishu Tokugawa Family), but his father died before he was born. His grandfather was Ienari TOKUGAWA and his grandmother was Myosoin. His seishitsu (legal wife) was Imperial Princess Kazunomiya Chikako (Seikan ingu [imperial lady]), a younger sister of Emperor Komei. As the closest relative to Iesada TOKUGAWA, the 13th shogun who did not have an heir, Iemochi became the 14th shogun at the age of thirteen, supported by Naosuke II, Fudai Hitto and others in the Nanki group (the group that supported Yoshitomi from the Kishu-Tokugawa family). Not only did he have the genealogy, but a discerning attitude as well, and it is said that he held great prestige among the shogunal retainers, such as Kaishu KATSU, who gave their loyalty to him.


Iemochi was born on May 24, 1846 as the first son of Nariyuki TOKUGAWA, the 11th lord of the Kishu Domain in Kishu edohantei (residence maintained by a daimyo in Edo) in Edo (current Minato Ward, Tokyo). His childhood name was Kikuchiyo. Due to the passing of his uncle, the 12th lord of the domain named Narikatsu TOKUGAWA, Iemochi was adopted to take over the family estate when he was four years old and became the 13th lord of the domain in 1849.

He defeated the Hitotsubashi family in a struggle in 1858, then became the 14th shogun due to the death of the 13th shogun, Iesada TOKUGAWA, soon after the struggle. Although Iemochi was only thirteen at the time he became shogun, since he was a cousin of the 13th shogun Iesada TOKUGAWA and more closely related to the former shogun, he was chosen even over Yoshinobu whose blood relationship ran back to Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the first shogun of Tokugawa family. Iemochi's authority was inhibited, however, due to Yoshiyori TOKUGAWA serving as Shogun-kokenshoku until 1862, followed by Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA.

In 1862, Iemochi was married to Imperial Princess Kazunomiya Chikako as a part of a union of the Imperial Court and the Shogunate. Although their marriage was political, they had a good relationship with him showing many kindnesses to her such as presenting her with gifts on many occasions. It was said that out of successive husbands and wives in the Tokugawa family, Iemochi and Kazunomiya were the most happily married.

In 1863, Iemochi went to the capital (Kyoto) as Shogun, something which had not occurred for 229 years, and made a pledge to Emperor Komei, his brother-in-law, to expel foreigners from Japan. In 1865, when a roju (a member of the shogun's council of elders) named Masato ABE and a group his supporters were punished by the Chotei (Imperial Court) for making the decision to open the port in Hyogo, Iemochi offered his resignation from the shogunate to the Chotei on his own. Purportedly, Emperor Komei was very surprised by this, making Iemochi withdraw from his intention to resign and promised from then on not to intervene in the affairs of the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun).

In 1866, Iemochi suffered from a disease in Osaka Castle during the second conquest of Choshu. When Emperor Komei was informed of this, he dispatched two doctors from the Tenyakuryo (Bureau of Medicine) named Tsuneyoshi TAKASHINA and Sadanori FUKUI to Osaka to give Iemochi medical treatment. Among others, Daizen no suke (title of the person in charge of meals in the court) Kogen-in, Taki Yoshun-in (Antaku TAKI), Choan TODA, Yuan TAKASHIMA and Sohaku ASADA, all who served the Tenshoin and Imperial Princess Kazunomiya Chikako as court physicians who normally stayed in the castle at all times, were urgently dispatched to Osaka from Edo Castle. Despite the efforts, Iemochi died on July 20 of the same year in Osaka Castle. He died at the age of twenty-one (death after his twentieth birthday).
Shogun Iemochi was loved by his retainers for his discerning and serious attitude, and it is said that in his grief, Kaishu KATSU said 'The Tokugawa shogunate is ruined because of his death.'

Nomination of the Successor

At the time of his death, Iemochi left a will designating Iesato TOKUGAWA (the Tayasu family) as the next family head and shogun of the Tokugawa family. Iemochi allegedly thought that although Yoshinobu was smart, this made it highly possible that he would end up outsmarting himself, while Kamenosuke on the other hand, was young having him as shogun would create the best management of the bakufu possible through agreement of the cabinet officials of the Shogunate. It seems that Iemochi thought that more loyalty could be generated from the bakufu hatamoto (direct retainers of the shogun) and fudai daimyo (daimyo and hereditary vassals to the Tokugawa family) with Kamenosuke, who was related to himself and his father-in-law Iesada TOKUGAWA, than Yoshinobu, whose blood relationship did not seem to be closely tied to successive shoguns aside from his relation to the first Shogun, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA.

Public Account

Although Iemochi only lived for twenty years, he was highly valued for coping with the tumultuous time during the end of Edo Period.
Kaishu KATSU praised Iemochi saying, 'Though he was at the mercy of the period because of his youth, if he had lived a little bit longer, he might have earned his place in history as a great monarch in addition to his excellent military prowess.'

It is also said that he held great prestige among the shogunal retainers, and various anecdotes told by former retainers from the late Meiji Period tell that he had fortitude and firmness of character, yet he was very kind to everyone, from vassals and women to animals.


Iemochi liked sweets, such as yokan (a bar of sweetened and jellied bean paste), rock candy, compeito (confetti), castella sponge cake, monaka (a wafer cake filled with bean jam) and three-color sweets. It is believed that the cause of his tooth decay and beriberi (deficiency of vitamin B1) was due to a overconsumption of these sweets.

He is estimated to have been 156.6 cm tall, judging by the length of the bones of his extremities.

His remains tell that he had a narrow face, a very long nose and warped teeth. His portrait expresses these characteristics very well.

It is said that he spoke in a normal manner when Yoshinobu visited him.

According to "The Tokugawa Shogun family's tombs in Zojo-ji Temple and the remains and articles left by the deceased," Iemochi's blood type was A.

Iemochi's tomb and remains

According to "Bones Talk: The Tokugawa Shogun Family/The Daimyo Family" by Hisashi SUZUKI, who carried out research on the remains at the reburial of the Tokugawa Shogun family grave in Zojo-ji Temple between 1958 and 1960, when Iemochi died, he had not shaved his head and put his hair in a topknot, and he looked young with thick hair. His teeth were so badly rotten that thirty of his thirty-one teeth had cavities. By piecing together records, Iemochi's teeth enamel was found to be naturally extremely thin, made worse by his love for sweets. It is suggested that what claimed his life, along with his bad teeth that weakened his stamina and heart failure from beriberi, were the conflicts in diagnosis between doctors (traditional Chinese medicine doctors, such as Takashina, diagnosed him with beriberi but western medical doctors, such as those from the bakufu, insisted he had rheumatism).

According to the book, although the long hair of a woman completely different from Iemochi's hair was included in the casket, since the hair type was different from that of Kazunomiya, it is assumed that the casket was sealed in Osaka. Due to the fact that it was impossible for Kazunomiya to have put her hair in the casket since she had been living in Edo at the time, it is assumed that the hair belonged to a woman, perhaps a concubine, who accompanied Iemochi and was close to him.

During the reburial of the Tokugawa Shogun family, a photograph of a man who seems to be Iemochi was found in Kazunomiya's grave. Until that time, it was believed that Iemochi followed Emperor Komei, his brother in law, in not having his photo taken. The photo seems to have been taken in Osaka Castle right before his death and then sent to Kazunomiya in Edo. When an attempt was made to examine the photo the day after the discovery, the image was lost, likely due to getting hit by sunlight, and there was nothing but a glass plate.


In his childhood, Iemochi enjoyed taking care of fish in a pond and caged birds. However, when he reached manhood as the shogun at the age of thirteen, he gave up these pleasures and made an effort to acquire both the literary and military arts. Even though he had a weak constitution, he gave up trivial pleasures and set his heart on being a good shogun, and it is said that the shogunal retainers were impressed with his attitude before and even after his death.

Yasukiyo TOGAWA, a shogunal retainer and known master of calligraphy, was an old man over seventy years old but served Iemochi as a recommended teacher of calligraphy.
One time while he was giving a lesson, Iemochi suddenly poured water used for Chinese ink over Yasukiyo's head, laughed while he clapped his hands and left the lesson saying, 'Let's do the rest tomorrow.'
While the close associates present at the time were lamenting over Iemochi's unusual behavior, Yasukiyo cried. When they asked him if he was crying over Iemochi's bad behavior, he answered that he had a sudden bout of incontinence due to his age.
Since it was a custom of those days to invariably and severely punish someone having incontinence while teaching a shogun, Iemochi realized this and hid the accident by mischievously pouring water on Yasukiyo, expressing that he would overlook the incident by saying, 'You have to attend at the court tomorrow as well.'
It is said that he answered that he was crying because he was impressed by Iemochi's scrupulous attention (Zanka TOGAWA, a relative of Yasukiyo, wrote in 'Bakumatsu Shoshi' (Small History in the end of Edo Period).

In April, 1863, Iemochi traveled to Osaka by a Jundo Maru Warship in preparation for carrying out an order of the Imperial Court to expel foreigners. During this time, the commander named Kaishu KATSU explained to Iemochi the functions of the warship and Iemochi showed excellent understanding. On this occasion, Katsu directly asked him to train personnel who could operate warships and Iemochi immediately ordered the establishment of Kobe Navy Training Center. Additionally, Iemochi incorporated Katsu's advice for the procession to the capital in December of the same year, deciding to use Jundo Maru (the reason being that the previous procession to the capital by land took twenty-two days, but took only three days when they went back to Edo by Jundo Maru. It is said that this contributed to a feeling of trust for Katsu). Furthermore, although people were continuing to get seasick due to rough seas during the voyage and close associates recommended changing the plan to go by land, Iemochi strictly ordered to 'leave it to the gunkan bugyo (the government's naval magistrate) for issues on the sea' and expressed unchanged trust for Katsu. It is said that Katsu was greatly impressed with the confidences bestowed upon him and gave his loyalty to Iemochi from the bottom of his heart for the rest of his life.
In his disappointment after Iemochi's death, Katsu was so upset that he wrote in his diary, 'Today, the Tokugawa family fell into ruin.'
Even after Iemochi passed away, Katsu continuously made efforts toward the continuance and rehabilitation of the Tokugawa family until his later years by struggling to save the life of Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA, whom with he did not get along well, to protect the Tokugawa family and make it last. It is said that in his later years, tears would fall from his face upon hearing the mention of Iemochi, and he would say 'My heart bleeds for him,' thinking of his life with such a burden in a turbulent age with poor physical health.

In France and Italy, known production areas of silk in Europe, silkworm infectious disease caused by the protist called Nosema broke out during the 1850's, devastating the sericultural industry in both countries. When Iemochi heard of this news, he collected silkworm eggs from farmers and donated them to Louis NAPOLEON. In France, Louis PASTEUR studied Japanese silkworms based on advice from Jean-Henri FABRE, figured out the cause of the disease and made improvements by breeding the surviving silkworms. In 1867, Louis NAPOLEON presented twenty-six Arabian horses to the bakufu for breeding improvements of their military horses as a gift. Although training for taking care of the horses was also done at the same time, with plans to raise them carefully in Koganemaki (Matsudo City, Chiba Prefecture), the horses became scattered during the Boshin War.

[Original Japanese]