Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (徳川綱吉)

Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA (February 23, 1646 - February 19, 1709, reigning from 1680 to 1709) was the fifth seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues barbarians") of the Edo Shogunate. Tsunayoshi, whose childhood name was Tokumatsu, was the fourth son of the third shogun, Iemitsu TOKUGAWA. His mother was Keishoin (who was also known as Otama). Tsunayoshi's lawful wife was Nobuko TAKATSUKASA, the daughter of Norihira TAKATSUKASA. His concubines were Zuishunin (who was also known as Otsuta), Jukoin and Seishinin. There are stories that Tsunayoshi had affairs with several women, including Narisada MAKINO's wife, Aguri, and daughter, Yasu. However, these are believed to be tales invented at a later date. Tsunayoshi's children were Tokumatsu TOKUGAWA and Tsuruhime. It is commonly believed that Yoshisato YANAGISAWA was Tsunayoshi's illegitimate child, but this is doubtful.


Tsunayoshi was born in Edo-jo Castle. His grandfather was Hidetada TOKUGAWA, the second shogun, who devoted himself to establishing the bakufu. Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the first shogun, was his great-grandfather. In April 1651, Tsunayoshi and his elder brother, Nagamatsu (Tsunashige TOKUGAWA), were presented with 150,000 koku (a unit of measurement for rice volume, used to asses wealth, 1 koku is 180.39 liter) from the provinces of Omi, Mino, Shinano, Suruga and Kozuke, and were also given some retainers. In the same month, Shogun Iemitsu TOKUGAWA died, and in August, Tsunayoshi's older brother, Ietsuna TOKUGAWA, was appointed shogun by the emperor. Consequently, Tsunayoshi became the brother of the shogun. In 1653, Tsunayoshi celebrated his coming-of-age and was conferred Jusanmi Chujo (Middle Captain, Junior Third Rank). He was granted the right to use a portion of the name of the shogun, Ietsuna, and changed his name to Tsunayoshi.

In 1657, after Tsunayoshi's residence in Takebashi was destroyed in the Great Fire of Meireki, he moved to Kanda in September. In August 1661, he became a "shiromochi" (literally, a castle holder) when he was made Lord of Tatebayashi Domain in Kozuke Province. Consequently his territory grew to be worth 250,000 koku (the Tatebayashi Tokugawa family). In the December after the Tatebayashi Tokugawa family was founded, Tsunayoshi was appointed Sangi (a councilor) and came to be known popularly as "the Tatebayashi Prime Minister." In 1670, he promoted Narisada MAKINO to the post of karo (chief retainer) of the Tatebayashi Clan and presented him with 3,000 koku.

In May 1680, Tsunayoshi was installed in Ninomaru (the outer citadel) of Edo-jo Castle as Ietsuna's adopted heir, since Ietsuna, the shogun, didn't have an heir. The same month, Ietsuna died at the age of 40 and Tsunayoshi was appointed Shogun by the Emperor and made Naidaijin (Minister of the Interior).

Tsunayoshi dismissed Tadakiyo SAKAI, who had been Ietsuna's tairo (chief minister). He replaced Sasaki with Masatoshi HOTTA, who had worked hard to get Tsunayoshi installed as shogun. Later on, Tadakiyo died of illness. Tsunayoshi, hoping to deprive the Sakai family of their social standing and property, obsessively requested an investigation to determine if Tadakiyo had truly died of illness by ordering, for example, the ometsuke (chief inspector) to dig up Tadakiyo's grave. However, no evidence was found, with the result that only Tadayoshi SAKAI, Tadakiyo's younger brother, lost his rank and property on trumped up charges.

Tsunayoshi, with the considerable assistance of the tairo, Masatoshi HOTTA, actively involved himself in politics, re-ruling on the matter of succession in Takada Domain in Echigo Province (known as the Echigo Quarrel) even though it had already been settled, and inspecting the politics of several domains. Tsunayoshi worked hard to increase the shogun's authority, which had been lost under Ietsuna, who had been known behind his back as "Sir Make it so." In addition, Tsunayoshi set up the post of Kanjoginmiyaku to audit the government's accounts, aiming to promote talented low-ranking hatamoto (direct retainers to the shogun). Shigehide OGIWARA was promoted from this post. Also some 'tozama daimyo' (feudal lords who were non-hereditary retainers of the Tokugawa family) were promoted to become cabinet officials.

Furthermore, Tsunayoshi eliminated the savage atmosphere of the warring period and promoted civil government, which valued virtue. This is because Tsunayoshi's father, Iemitsu, drummed Confucianism into him.
(It is said that this was to get Tsunayoshi to learn his place as a younger brother and not to act disrespectfully to Ietsuna.)
Tsunayoshi often called Nobuatsu HAYASHI to discuss the Confucian Classics, gave lectures on The Four Books of Confucianism and the "I Ching" (The Book of Changes) to retainers in the government, and built Yushima Daiseido as the center of scholarship. He was a study-loving shogun. Of all the shoguns, Tsunayoshi is also known as the one who, due to the influence of Confucianism, revered the emperor the most. Tsunayoshi increased the "goryo" (Imperial family's estate) from 10,000 koku to 30,000 koku and presented it to the emperor. He also had Imperial mausoleums throughout Yamato and Kawachi Provinces investigated, spending a huge amount of money to restore 66 of them which were in need of repair. Most of the court nobles' territory of also doubled during Tsunayoshi's time.

Tsunayoshi also condemned the Lord of Ako Domain, Naganori ASANO, to commit seppuku and had him carry it out on the same day, which was unusual treatment for a daimyo. The main reason for this seems to be that Tsunayoshi was angry at Asano for making a mess of a ceremony with the Imperial Court. Tsunayoshi's attitude of valuing Confucianism encouraged an increase in scholars such as Hakuseki ARAI, Kyuso MURO, Sorai OGYU, Hoshu AMENOMORI and Soko YAMAGA, with Confucianism reaching the peak of its prosperity at this time.

Tsunayoshi is admired because he was basically a good ruler in the first half of his rule (known as the "Tenna Government").

However, after Masatoshi HOTTA was stabbed to death by Masayasu INABA, a junior councilor, in 1684, Tsunayoshi no longer had a tairo, instead relying on sobayonin (lord chamberlains) such as Narisada MAKINO and Yoshiyasu YANAGISAWA, and kept his distance from the roju (member of shogun's council of elders). Tsunayoshi was also influenced by the Confucian notion of filial piety and treated his mother, Keishoin, in a very special way, such as having her awarded the unprecedented high rank of Juichii (Junior First Rank) by the Imperial Court. It is also said that Tsunayoshi gave special treatment to the Honjo family and the Makino family (the lords of Komoro Domain), who had a close association with Keishoin.

Around this time, Tsunayoshi introduced successive policies which would later be labeled "maladministration," including the famous Shorui Awaremi no Rei (prohibiting the killing of animals).
(There was an opinion that Shorui Awaremi no Rei was promulgated following the advice of the sojo [a high-ranking Buddhist priest], Ryuko, who was favored by Tsunayoshi's mother.)
(However, at present the relationship between Ryuko, Keishoin and Shorui Awaremi no Rei is rejected.)
(Also, the common belief that it was an 'evil and severe law' is a reflection of the current revision of Edo period history.)
(For more details, refer to the Shorui Awaremi no Rei section.)
These policies worsened the financial condition of the government. At the suggestion of Kanjobugyo (Commissioner of Finance) Shigehide OGIWARA, the currency was re-minted. Instead it caused chaos in the economy, partly because it was slightly overdue.

The issue of a successor to the shogun arose after Tsunayoshi's legitimate son, Tokumatsu, died. It is said that Tsunanori TOKUGAWA, who was married to Tsunayoshi's daughter, Tsuruhime, was nominated as the successor but Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA objected. In 1704, it was decided that Ienobu (originally Tsunatoyo) TOKUGAWA, who was Tsunayoshi's nephew and from Kofu Domain, Kai Province, would become the sixth shogun. Tsunayoshi died in 1709, at the age of 63.

Shorui Awaremi no Rei' was abolished immediately after Ienobu became shogun. However falconry, which involved the destruction of life, was not revived until Yoshimune TOKUGAWA became the eighth shogun. Incidentally, it is said that Yoshimune respected Tsunayoshi for his "Tenna Government" and its influences can be seen in the Yoshimune's Kyoho Reforms.

Tsunayoshi was great uncle to the seventh shogun, Ietsugu TOKUGAWA, and uncle to Kiyotake MATSUDAIRA. He was second cousin to the eighth shogun, Yoshimune TOKUGAWA.

It is believed that Yoshiyasu YANAGISAWA's concubine, Someko IIZUKA, was given to him by Tsunayoshi. Even at that time there was a rumor that the father of Someko's child, Yoshisato YANAGISAWA, was Tsunayoshi. It is pointed out that this neatly explains why Tsunayoshi conferred the Matsudaira name on the Yanagisawa family and treated them as siblings. However, this view is now dismissed.

Tsunayoshi's grave is in Kanei-ji Temple in Sakuragi 1-chome, Ueno, Taito Ward, Tokyo.

Record of Offices and Ranks Held

August 12, 1653, celebrated coming-of-age. On the same day, appointed Ukone no Gon no Chujo (Provisional Middle Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards) with the rank of Jushiinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade) and also Umanokami (Captain of the Right Division of Bureau of Horses). Furthermore, on the 17th of the month, promoted to Shosanmi (Senior Third Rank).

December 28, 1661, appointed Sangi (Councilor).

May 7, 1680, made successor to the shogun and on the same day, appointed Gon Dainagon (Provisional Chief Councilor of State) with the rank of Junii Gon Dainagon (Junior Second Rank, Provisional Chief Councilor of State). Subsequently, on August 21, appointed Shonii Naidaijin (Senior Second Rank, Inner Minister) and Ukone no Daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards) with the rank of Shonii (Senior Second Rank).
Tsunayoshi's appointment as seii taishogun and Genji no Choja (Chief of the Minamoto Clan) proclaimed by the Imperial Court

May 5, 1705, appointed Udaijin (Minister of the Right).

January 10, 1709, Tsunayoshi died. Subsequently, on January 23, posthumously made Zo Shoichii Daijo Daijin (Senior First Rank posthumously conferred, Grand minister of state) and Daijo Daijin (Grand Minister).

Evaluation of Tsunayoshi

Although there are some exaggerated reports about Tsunayoshi's behavior in documents with little value, in recent years, Tsunayoshi's politics have undergone a reevaluation.

On one hand, there is the negative assessment that Tsunayoshi "ignored the opinions of anyone except his close advisors and favorite retainers and burdened the people with evil laws." On the other hand, Engelbert KAEMPFER, a German doctor who had an audience with Tsunayoshi in 1691 and in 1692, rated him highly in his book "The History of Japan," saying, "I had the impression that he was a great monarch." Kaempfer's view of Tsunayoshi and the interaction between them are described in detail in "Kenperu to Tokugawa Tsunayoshi" (Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey, 1994, ISBN 4-12-101168-6) published by Chuko Shinsho.

Tsunayoshi's rule covered the Genroku period, which saw the appearance of men of culture such as Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU, Saikaku IHARA and Basho MATSUO and a booming economy. Thus some evaluate Tsunayoshi as having conducted sound economic policy. Also some say that the first and second halves of Tsunayoshi's reign must be evaluated separately. Tsunayoshi's attempt to reform the military government during the first half of his reign was successful to some degree. The eighth shogun, Yoshimune TOKUGAWA, who carried out the Kyoho Reforms, directly adopted Tsunayoshi's version of the Buke Shohatto (Laws for the Military Houses). It has been pointed out that many of Yoshimune's policies were modeled after the first half of Tsunayoshi's reign.

Several unlucky coincidences are often given as the reason for the low evaluation of Tsunayoshi's rule. In particular, there was the Great Chokugaku Fire of 1698, which started outside the Sukiyabashi-mon Gate, and continued through Ueno to Senju, burning down about three square kilometers and causing more than 3,000 deaths and, in addition, in 1710 there was the Hoei Eruption of Mt. Fuji. In this modern age it is hard to believe that these events influenced the evaluation of his reign, but at the time, people naturally presumed he was being punished by Heaven.

Also, the current low evaluation of Tsunayoshi's rule is mainly attributable to dramas. This is because the dramas in which Tsunayoshi appears are mostly related to either "Chushingura" or "Mito Komon."
(Therefore, Tsunayoshi is one of the best known of all the shoguns.)

Most versions of Chushingura (The treasury of Loyal Retainers, also known as Genroku Ako Incident) depict Kira Kozuke no Suke, the master of ceremonies, bullying Asano Takumi no Kami.
As a result, Tsunayoshi, who sentenced only Asano to death by seppuku without accusing Kira, is often associated with the negative image of him supporting a 'bully.'
This is one of the reasons for the low opinion of Tsunayoshi.

Another piece of bad luck for Tsunayoshi is the existence of Mito Komon (Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA). There are records, including an anecdote about Mitsukuni sending dogs' fur to Tsunayoshi to protest against the Shorui Awaremi no Rei, showing that Mitsukuni spoke frankly to Tsunayoshi. Consequently, Tsunayoshi plays an evil role in "Mito Komon," the story about Mitsukuni. Additionally, they had similar tastes, for example Mitsukuni compiled "Dainihonshi" (Great History of Japan) and Tsunayoshi gave lectures on the "I Ching." Therefore, some fans of Mito Komon have a tendency to unnecessarily disparage Tsunayoshi in order to flatter Komon.

"Tokugawa Tsunayoshi" (Manabu TSUKAMOTO, 1998, published by Yoshikawa Kobunkan) and "Komon-sama to Inu-Kubo" (Kyoko YAMAMURO, 1998, published by Bunshun Shinsho, ISBN 4-16-660010-9) are easy to obtain examples of works on Tsunayoshi's re-evaluation. Also, a TV drama aired on the Fuji TV network on December 28, 2004, 'Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA - a man called dog' is in line with this movement of the re-evaluation of Tsunayoshi. Motohiko IZAWA also rates him very highly in his book 'Gyakusetsu no Nihonshi' (Paradoxical Japanese History).

Tsunayoshi and Noh (traditional masked dance-drama)

From Ieyasu onwards, the shoguns appreciated Noh, especially Tsunayoshi, who had such a deep attachment to it that he was called 'Noh crazy.'
Akira OMOTE, a researcher of Nogaku (the art of Noh), cites the following five characteristics of Tsunayoshi's affection for Noh.

Performing Noh plays himself and being happy to show his performance to others.

Forcing his close advisors and the daimyo to perform Noh plays.

Repeatedly ousting and appointing Noh performers, and moving them from school to school.

Promoting Noh performers to the class of samurai.

A fondness for rare and unusual plays and even reviving many abandoned plays.

Regarding the first point, this was a tendency that can be seen early on in his reign, for example, in March 1681, not long after his inauguration as shogun, Tsunayoshi performed 'Funabenkei' and 'Shojo' in the Noh held for Keishoin. It became more frequent year by year and Tsunayoshi always performed Noh plays following his lectures on Confucianism not only in Edo-jo Castle, but also when he visited his favorite retainers' residences, temples and shrines. In 1697, he performed 71 Noh plays and danced more than 150 Maibayashi (abbreviated Noh dances). Consequently, daimyo and kuge (court nobles) had to request his inept Noh performances to flatter him.

Regarding the second point, Tsunayoshi had forced his pages to perform he was inaugurated as shogun. Later, he even forced not only his close advisors but also the more powerful daimyo to perform. One good example of this is a Noh performance held by members of Gosanke (the three branches of the Tokugawa Clan) and the Maeda Clan such as Tsunanori TOKUGAWA, Tsunanori MAEDA, Mitsutomo TOKUGAWA, Tsunatoyo TOKUGAWA, Mitsusada TOKUGAWA, Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA, Tsunanari TOKUGAWA, and Tsunaeda TOKUGAWA in May 1686. In this case, as with the others, they had to rush through practice following Tsunayoshi's last minute order. Tsunayoshi preferred the Hosho school, and consequently daimyo also favored this school, which is one of the reasons why the Hosho school has thrived up to the present day in the Kaga region and elsewhere.

Exemplifying the third point, Tsunayoshi ordered Shinkuro KANZE, who was the head of the family in charge of the small hand drum of the Kanze school, to play the drum in 'Dojo-ji Temple,' performed by the leading actors of the Hosho school, but Shinkuro refused because he belonged to a different school. Consequently, in February 1683, Tsunayoshi banished Shinkuro and his son and, the following March, forced them to transfer to Hosho-za company and even to change their family name to Hosho before summoning them back. Additionally, Tsunayoshi promoted performers from his Kofu days and, in 1686, he caused a big incident by banishing Shichidayu KITA III of the Kita school and dissolving the Kita-za company, an act which 'shook the Noh world' (he was pardoned the following year).

Regarding the fourth point, the section criticizing it is in "Tokugawa Jikki" (The True Tokugawa Records). Performers promoted to samurai were, especially in and after the Jokyo era, conferred the newly-created post of rokaban (a kind of officer in Edo-jo Castle) and officially retired from the stage but were made to perform Noh plays privately held by Tsunayoshi in the castle. At the beginning, the performers promoted were those who didn't belong to the main Noh schools, but gradually leading actors and the heads of each company were targeted. Of course, turning down the offer resulted in punishment and several families who lost their head or successor were hugely disrupted. Especially in the Kita-za company, where two leading actors were promoted, one of its branch families, the Gonzaemon family, was forced to disband. Some of the promoted performers, such as Naokage NAKAJO whose stage name was Shichidayu Muneyoshi KITA III, received 900 koku. However, many of them suffered a harsher fate, such as Shichidayu Kono KITA IV, who refused to play a homosexual partner for Tsunayoshi and was forced to commit suicide by disembowelment.

Regarding the fifth point, Tsunayoshi liked to see rare pieces which were not usually performed, and willingly revived and performed old plays which had been abandoned. As many as 41 plays that hadn't been performed for a long time were revived during Tsunayoshi's time. However, since the performers received sudden orders about six days before the performance, most of the plays were revived in a hurry. 20 of these revived plays have been performed by each school until the present day, including 'Ugetsu' (Rain and the Moon), 'Ohara Goko' (Visiting Ohara) and 'Semimaru' (Prince Semimaru), which are highly regarded even to this day. Together with the pieces revived by Ienobu, who was similarly inclined, these Noh plays are considered to be great lasting achievements, notwithstanding the fact they were "something good coming from something bad."


Tsunayoshi is notorious for burdening the public with the Shorui Awaremi no Rei. However, it is said that Tsunayoshi was already warning local governors in shogunal fiefs even before being proclaimed shogun by the Emperor.
If a ruler treats his people leniently they will indulge in luxury and neglect their primary role.'
Do not allow them luxury.'
Try and communicate well with your people to avoid a situation where the public don't trust statesmen and statesmen are doubtful about the public.'
It is important for local governors to be the first to abstain from extravagance, to clearly understand their own duty, to make an effort to collect and pay land tax, not to leave their duties completely to subordinates, and to take the lead in working hard on their duties.'

Tsunayoshi's prominent achievements are the Shorui Awaremi no Rei and welfare policies.

There is a belief that the height of the shoguns' mortuary tablets, which are kept in Daiju-ji Temple, is based on how tall they were. Based on this opinion, there is a theory that Tsunayoshi was only a little more than 130 centimeters tall because of a hormone disorder. The height of Tsunayoshi's mortuary tablet is 124 centimeters. The remains of five shoguns who were buried in Zojo-ji Temple were measured when they were reburied. The differences in the length between their remains and the mortuary tables were all within five centimeters. This fact has led to the opinion that Tsunayoshi was of short stature (achondrogenesis).

One opinion about the origin of 'Shichi-go-san' (a day of prayer for the healthy growth of young children) is that it was started to pray for the health of Tsunayoshi's child, Tokumatsu. However, ironically enough, Tokumatsu himself died young.

Tsunayoshi was a big fan of sarugaku Noh (a form of theatre popular during the 11th to 14th centuries). For example, Tsunayoshi himself performed five sarugaku plays when he first visited Yoshiyasu YANAGISAWA's residence at the Kandabashi-mon Gate on April 20, 1691. After that, Tsunayoshi enjoyed Noh performances in Yanagisawa's residence a total of 58 times until November 16, 1708.

In "Sanno Gaiki" (The Secret History of the Three Rulers) it is written that Narisada MAKINO, whose daughter Yasu was raped by Tsunayoshi, said he would wipe out the Makino family in his lifetime. Furthermore, Engyo MITAMURA elaborated on this to say even Narisada MAKINO's wife, Aguri, was given to Tsunayoshi and vilified him for this. This became widely known due to Shotaro IKENAMI's novel based on the story, but currently the value of "Sanno Gaiki" itself as a historical material is questionable.

It is popularly believed that Tsunayoshi, while having intercourse with a woman sent by Yoshiyasu YANAGISAWA, promised to give Yoshiyasu the whole province of Kai (although this was voided by Tsunayoshi's death). It is believed that because of this incident, two people were stationed behind a screen to listen carefully when the shogun was having intercourse with a woman and thorough discussions held until the Otoshiyori (the most powerful person in the shogun's harem) acknowledged that their testimonies agreed.
(It is believed that hearing witnesses were not used for a legitimate wife of a shogun.)
There is also an opinion that Tsunayoshi, like many men of his time, practiced pederasty and ordered Yoshiyasu to bring young boys to him for his pleasure.
(In the historical drama 'The Eighth Shogun, Yoshimune,' there were many scenes suggesting Tsunayoshi's homosexuality.)

Soon after Tsunayoshi was inaugurated as shogun, he summoned the parties involved in the Echizen Matsudaira family feud, Mimasaka OGURI and Okura NAGAMI, and although the dispute had already been settled during the rule of the fourth shogun, Ietsuna, and Tsunayoshi reversed Ietsuna's verdict. That is, he decided to confiscate Mitsunaga MATSUDAIRA's land, ordered Mimasaka OGURI and his son to commit seppuku, and banished Okura NAGAMI to an island. After the roju Masatoshi HOTTA had announced the sentences, Tsunayoshi said in a thunderous voice, "Now the case is closed. Get out right now."

[Original Japanese]