Kasuga no Tsubone (春日局)

Kasuga no Tsubone (1579 - October 26, 1643), a woman who lived during the Azuchi-Momoyama period and into early Edo period, who the wet nurse of Iemitsu TOKUGAWA, the third Shogun of the Edo shogunate. Her real name was Fuku SAITO; 'Kasuga no Tsubone" ('Lady Kasuga') was a title granted to her by the imperial court. Her father, Toshimitsu SAITO, was a member of the prestigious Saito clan (who held the position of deputy military governor of Mino Province) and was a key vassal of Mitsuhide AKECHI, and indeed was referred to as Mitsuhide's nephew (but was actually his cousin); her mother, An INABA was the daughter of Yoshimichi INABA. Tsubono was the wife of Masanari INABA and the biological mother of Masakatsu INABA, Masayoshi INABA and Masatoshi INABA. She also had an adopted child, Masatoshi HOTTA. Tsubono was one of the most powerful figures in the O-oku (the quarters in Edo-jo Castle where the Shogun's wife and consorts resided). She is counted alongside Nobutsuna MATSUDAIRA and Muneyori YAGYU as one of the Three Tripod Legs, who supported and propped up Iemitsu.


Her birth family, the Saito clan, was a prestigious warrior house that had served for generations as deputy military governors of Mino province. She was born at Shimokata in Kuroi-jo Castle (Kozen-ji Temple in the city of Tanba) of Tanba province (comprising modern-day Hyogo and Kyoto Prefectures), which is where her father's territory was then located. Tanba Province was under the overlordship of Mitsuhide AKECHI, and so Toshimitsu SAITO, as his vassal, was enfeoffed on that territory by Mitsuhide.

Later, her father Toshimitsu SAITO followed his overlord Mitsuhide in the strike against Nobunaga ODA in the Honnoji Incident, but they were defeated by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI in the Battle of Yamazaki, and Toshimitsu retreated back to his castle; later he was caught at Katata in Omi province, near Sakamoto-jo Castle, and was executed. It is thought that his various brothers, having become defeated and hunted warriors, wandered from place to place trying to escape the enemy.

Because Fuku was a woman she could not be driven away by the enemy, so she was raised by her maternal relative, the aristocrat Kinkuni SANJONISHI. As a result of her aristocratic upbringing, she learned those arts considered essential to court nobles, including the arts of calligraphy, waka poetry, and incense mixing. She was later adopted by her uncle, Shigemichi INABA, and became the second wife of one of Ittetsu INABA's relatives, namely Masanari INABA, a member of the Inaba clan and a vassal of Hideaki KOBAYAKAWA. Masanari INABA had rendered distinguished service in persuading his overlord Hideaki to have his Kobayakawa army change sides and join the Eastern army, and thus helped lead the Tokugawa family to victory. Thereafter, she took the step of divorcing her husband Masanari in order to become a wet nurse to the shogunal family, and in 1604 she was formally appointed as the wet nurse to Takechiyo (the childhood name of Iemitsu), the legitimate son and heir of the second shogun, Hidetada TOKUGAWA. It is said that Fuku's excellent pedigree, her refined, aristocratic upbringing, and her ex-husband Masanari's military exploits were all positive factors in her selection as wet nurse.

According to the "Kasuga no Tsubone Ryakufu" (literally, The Abridged History of Kasuga no Tsubone), which was completed in 1686 after the death of Iemitsu, Tsubone remonstrated with Takachiyo (Iemitsu)--who had tried to commit suicide out of anguish that his parents, Hidetada and his wife, were overly fond of Takechiyo's biological younger brother, Kunimatsu (whose adult name was Tadanaga TOKUGAWA), and in 1615 she appealed directly to the 'Ogosho' (leading or influential figure) Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, who was living in retirement in Sunpu (what is today the city of Shizuoka), asking him to confirm that the Shogunal succession would pass to Takechiyo. One theory holds that Tsubone's direct petition to Ieyasu was rejected, and it was only after Ieyasu visited Edo-jo Castle and saw the way Eyo (the brothers' mother) was doting upon the younger brother that he reconsidered.

On the other hand, she was appointed to the position of Overseer of the O-oku, which gave her the right to decide all official business related to the O-oku, and as such her de facto power, backed by the Shogun's authority, exceeded that of the Shogun's Roju (Council of Elders). In 1629, when Iemitsu was stricken with smallpox, she visited Ise Jingu Shrine to pray that he would be cured, and in the tenth month of that year she went to Kyoto on her way back and tried to arrange an audience at court. But with her pedigree as a daughter of the Saito clan, a warrior house, Kasuga no Tsubone was not qualified to enter the imperial court, so she tried to arrange to be adopted by Kinkuni SANJONISHI, who was both her blood relative (Tsubone was the great-great-grandchild of Kineda SANJONISHI) and had raised her when she was younger. Kinkuni had already died, however, so she had no choice but to become a sister of Kinkuni's son Saneeda SANJONISHI instead; with this she was now qualified, as a full member of the aristocratic Sanjonishi family, to visit the palace, and succeeded in having an audience with Emperor Gomizunoo and with the Chugu (the second consort of an emperor) Kazuko TOKUGAWA, and was subsequently awarded the name 'Kasuga no Tsubone' and given the Junior Third Rank at court, and moreover was honored with tempai (sake given by the Emperor). She was later promoted to junior second rank.

After the death of Sugen-in (another name for Iemitsu's mother Eyo), Kasuga no Tsubone exerted herself to the utmost to find consorts for him, convincing a succession of women including Eikoin, the abbess of Keiko-in Temple in Ise Province, as well as Hojuin and Junshoin, to enter the O-oku.

She died in October 1643 at the age of 64.

The poem she wrote upon her death reads, "As it sinks into the West, the moon beckons me to transcend the law; today at last, I shall surely escape the Burning House (a Buddhist metaphor for the current world of passions and agony)."

Her posthumous Buddhist title was Rinsho-in dennin-ryogini-daishi.
Where she is buried
Rinsho-in Temple (Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo)
A tomb dedicated to her also exists at Shotai-ji Temple (Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture)
Her portrait: it was painted by Tanyu KANO, and is currently in the possession of Rinsho-in Temple.

Conflicting theories about her

One tradition about her selection as wet nurse to the Tokugawa family holds that the governor-general of Kyoto, Katsushige ITAKURA, posted a general public advertisement about the open position, and it was in response to this that she was selected. It is also said that she became a wet nurse through the mediation of Minbukyo no Tsubone (a court lady who waited on the Minister of Popular Affairs) who served Eyo, the legal wife of Hidetada. Another assessment is that Ieyasu had become intimate with her. A different theory argues that she must have been one of Ieyasu's favorite concubines, or it would be inconceivable that she, a mere wet nurse, could have petitioned him directly about the Shogunal succession. However, it is not certain. The movie 'The Empress Kasuga no tsubone' (1990) depicted this divergent view. In recent years, a new theory has arisen that Kasuga no Tsubone was actually the biological mother of Iemitsu; this viewpoint has since been expressed by a variety of groups, including by history programs on television.

There was a peculiar custom that a wet nurse would put on a mask such as a kuroko (stage assistants dressed in black for concealment) when breast-feeding a baby in O-oku. One theory argues that this custom was conceived by shogunal officials who had learned by bitter experience with Kasuga no Tsubone what can happen when the bond between the Shogun and his wet nurse becomes too strong, and thus was designed to prevent any future incidents of wet nurses using their close relationships with the Shogun to intervene in politics.

One school of thought holds that after the Battle of Yamazaki, she had relied on Motochika CHOSOKABE, her uncle by marriage, for help, and had spent some time at Oko-jo Castle in Tosa province (modern-day Kochi Pref.).

The people whose careers she helped out of nepotism

Saneeda SANJONISHI, who had created a plan by which Kasuga no Tsubone could visit the Imperial Palace, was appointed to the position of Buke tenso (the official in charge of communications between the shogunate and the Imperial Court) by the Court, and in the end rose to the position of Minister of the Right. Tsubone's descendant Harunaga MAEDA was welcomed by the shogunate as a member of an elite family (a 'Koke'). From then on, he referred to himself as a member of the Maeda clan, with whom they had a connection.

Eikoin, whom Kasuga no Tsubone had fervently wanted to join the O-oku, was a daugher of the Rokujo family, a family of waka poets who were associated with the Sanjonishi family. In later years, Tsubone's younger brother was also welcomed by the shogunate as a member of an elite family, so he began referring to himself as a member of the Toda clan, with whom they had a connection.

She also endeavored to revive the fortunes of the Inaba family, even arranging for her ex-husband Masanari INABA, who had become a ronin (masterless samurai), to be adopted as a Karo (chief retainers) of Tadamasa MATSUDAIRA; subsequently, he was promoted to the status of daimyo (feudal lord). Many of Iemitsu's pageboys managed to rise in rank as far as the rank of Roju (member of the Shogun's council of elders), and among this group many were relatives of Kasuga no Tsubone. Particularly famous is the case of her biological son Masakatsu INABA and the case of Masamori HOTTA, her grandson by marriage.

When her niece Soshinni and her husband, Yukikazu MACHINO, became ronin as a result of the Kaieki (demotion) of his overlords, the GAMO clan, Kasuga no Tsubone employed Soshinni as her aide and arranged to have Soshinni's granddaughter (from a daughter who had married into another family) Jishoin enter the O-oku. Ofuri became a concubine of Iemitsu and gave birth to Chiyohime. Yukikazu was also able to serve as a direct retainer of the shogun.

[Original Japanese]