Tokugawa Iemitsu

Tokugawa Iemitsu

Infobox Ruler Japan
name =Tokugawa Iemitsu
title =Shogun (3rd)
reign =1623 – 1651
predecessor =Tokugawa Hidetada

successor ="Shogun:"
Tokugawa Ietsuna

issue =Chiyohime
Tokugawa Ietsuna
Tokugawa Tsunashige
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
date of birth =birth date|1604|08|12|df=y
date of death =death date|1651|06|08|df=y
father =Tokugawa Hidetada
mother =Oeyo

Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川 家光 August 12, 1604June 8, 1651), sometimes romanised Iyemitsu, was the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty who reigned from 1623 to 1651. He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Early life (1604-1617)

Tokugawa Iemitsu was born around 1604 (his exact birthdate is unknown). He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Hidetada and grandson of the last great unifier of Japan, the first Tokugawa Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was the first member of the Tokugawa family born after Tokugawa Ieyasu became shogun.

Not much is known of Iemitsu's early life; his childhood name was Takechiyo (竹千代). He had two sisters, Senhime and Masako, and a brother, who would become a rival, Tadanaga. Tadanaga was his parents' favorite. However, Ieyasu made it clear that Iemitsu would be next in line as shogun after Hidetada.

The seeds of Iemitsu's potent xenophobia were perhaps sown by his grandfather and father, Hidetada.

Tokugawa heir (1617-1623)

Iemitsu came of age in 1617 and dropped his childhood name in favor of Tokugawa Iemitsu. He also was installed officially as the heir to the Tokugawa shogunate. The only person to contest this position was his younger brother Tokugawa Tadanaga. A fierce rivalry began to develop between the brothers.

From an early age Iemitsu practiced the shudo tradition. However, in 1620, he had a falling out with his lover, Sakabe Gozaemon, a childhood friend and retainer, aged twenty one, and murdered him as they shared a bathtub. (Louis Crompton, "Homosexuality" p.439)

hogunal regency (1623-1632)

In 1623, when Iemitsu was nineteen, Hidetada abdicated the post of shogun in his favor. Hidetada continued to rule as Ōgosho (retired Shogun), but Iemitsu nevertheless assumed a role as formal head of the bakufu bureaucracy. [Titsingh, J. (1834). "Annales des empereurs du Japon," p. 410.]

In 1626, Shogun Iemitsu and retired Shogun Hidetada visited Emperor Go-Mizunoo, Empress Masako (Hidetada's daughter and Iemitsu's sister), and Imperial Princess Meisho in Kyoto. Shogun Iemitsu made lavish grants of gold and money to the court nobles and the court itself. Yet relations with Go-Mizunoo deteriorated after the nihongo|Purple Clothes Incident|紫衣事件|shi-e jiken, during which the Emperor was accused of having bestowed honorific purple garments to more than ten priests despite an edict which banned them for two years (probably in order to break the bond between the Emperor and religious circles). The shogunate intervened, making the bestowing of the garments invalid. When the wet nurse of Iemitsu and Masako broke a taboo by visiting the imperial court as a commoner, Go-Mizunoo abdicated, embarrassed, and Meisho became empress. The shogun was now the uncle of the sitting monarch.

In "Kan'ei" 9, on the 24th day of the 2st month (1632), Ōgosho Hidetada died, [Titsingh, p. 411.] and Iemitsu could assume real power. Worried that his brother Tadanaga might assassinate him, however, he ruled carefully until that brother's death in 1633.

hogun Iemitsu (1632-1651)

Hidetada left his advisors, all veteran daimyo, to act as regents for Iemitsu. In 1633, after his brother's death, he dismissed these men. In place of his father's advisors, Iemitsu appointed his childhood friends. With their help Iemitsu created a strong, centralized administration. This made him unpopular with many daimyo, but Iemitsu simply removed his opponents.

In 1637 a rebellion arose against Iemitsu's anti-Christian policies in Shimabara; it is known as the Shimabara Rebellion. Thousands were killed in the shogunate's suppression of the revolt and countless more were executed afterwards. [Screech, T. (2006). "Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779-1822." p.85.]

In 1639 Iemitsu officially closed off Japan from the rest of the world, limiting trade to the Dutch and English merchants ensconced on the island of Deshima in Nagasaki and the proxy trade with China carried out by the Ryukyu Kingdom under the control of the Shimazu clan.

In 1643 Empress Meisho abdicated the throne. She was succeeded by her younger half-brother (Go-Mizunoo's son by a consort) Emperor Go-Komyo, who disliked the shogunate for its violent and barbaric ways. He repeatedly made insulting comments about Iemitsu and his eldest son and heir, Tokugawa Ietsuna.

In 1651 Shogun Iemitsu died at the age of 47, being the first Tokugawa shogun whose reign ended with death and not abdication. His posthumous name was Daiyūin. [Bodart-Bailey, Beatrice. (1999). [,M1 "Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed," p. 440.] ] He was succeeded by his eldest son and heir, Tokugawa Ietsuna.

Anti-Europeanization of Japan and the “Closed Country Edict of 1635”

During the 16th century, Japan was among the countries in Asia that appealed most to European traders and missionaries. Around the 1540s it saw the arrival of numerous ships from Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and England. At first, the Japanese people welcomed them delightfully and were quite fascinated by the never-before-seen goods those people brought to the local market. From style of dressing to firearms and artillery, the Japanese revered everything the Europeans had introduced to their country. What is more, on the island of Kyūshū, in order to preserve the European trade in their lands, the feudal rulers known as Daimyo agreed to be converted to Christianity. A similar action was undertaken by military leader Oda Nobunaga in the capital city Kyoto. Thus, by the beginning of the 17th century half-a-million Japanese people had devoted themselves to Christianity.

However, during this period of Europeanization, negative feelings towards the foreigners started spreading across Japan. Moreover, after Spain’s conquest of the Philippines, the then ruler Hideyoshi lost faith in Europeans’ good intentions and started doubting the loyalty of the freshly-converted daimyo. The first step to the expulsion of the foreign traders and missionaries was made by him when he ordered the crucifixion of the main Catholic spreaders and converts. But it was not until the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu that more drastic measures were taken.

Europeans’ century-long presence in Japan in the 1630s ended when Iemitsu ordered the expulsion of every European from the country. What is more, he gave the permission to only one Dutch ship to trade with Japan during the year. His orders were considerably reinforced after the execution of two Portuguese men who came to plead for the re-establishment of Japan’s earlier foreign trade policy. In the 1630s, Tokugawa Iemitsu issued several edicts with which he practically put Japan in isolation and did not permit anything and anyone, with a few exceptions, to enter or leave the country. The most famous of those edicts was the Closed Country Edict of 1635. It contained the main restrictions introduced by Iemitsu. With it, he forbade every Japanese ship and person to go to another country. The punishments imposed if this happened showed the seriousness and strictness of the shogun. He commanded that anyone who does not obey this order of his should be brought to death. The same thing referred to those who came from overseas. They too were risking death if they decided to enter Japan. The edict also showed Iemitsu’s growing abhorrence for Catholicism and everyone who preached it. He offered lavish gifts and awards for anyone who could provide information about priests and their followers who secretly practiced and spread their religion across the country. What is more, every newly-arrived ship was required to be thoroughly examined for Catholic priests and followers.

Tokugawa Iemitsu’s desire to limit the western access to Japan must have been pretty strong, given the fact that in the document he calls westerners “Southern Barbarians,” and pays extremely close attention to every detail regarding incoming foreign ships. For example, the merchants coming from abroad had to submit a list of the goods they were bringing with them before being granted permission to trade them. Also, they were not allowed to sell their merchandise to just one of the trading cities of Japan. In this way, the better distribution of goods was ensured.

A sense of pedantry wafts from the edict because at certain points it deals with exact dates and time in which the foreign ships should arrive or leave the country. For example, the “date of departure homeward for foreign ships shall not be later than the twentieth day of the ninth month.” This speaks perfectly about the care and attention that were given to everything surrounding the trade with westerners. In addition to this, Tokugawa Iemitsu forbade the changing of the originally-set price for raw silk and thus made sure that competition between trading cities was brought to a minimum.

The measures Tokugawa Iemitsu took to protect his country seem, at first sight, quite extreme. However, having in mind the speed at which Europeans were occupying the east, his actions appear to be reasonable and accounted for. What is more, Iemitsu’s reforms were so powerful that it was not until the reign of Tokugawa Ienobu, more than half-a-century later, that the seclusion of Japan began to fade.

Eras of Iemitsu's "bakufu"

The years in which Iemitsu was shogun are more specifically identified by more than one era name or "nengō". [ Titsingh, pp. 410-412.]
* "Genna" (1615-1624)
* "Kan'ei" (1624-1644)
* "Shōhō" (1644-1648)
* "Keian" (1648-1652)



* Bodart-Bailey, Beatrice M. (1999). [ "Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed."] Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 10-ISBN 0-824-82066-5
* Screech, Timon. (2006). "Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779-1822." London: RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0-700-71720-X
* Titsingh, Isaac. (1822). "Illustrations of Japan." London: Ackerman.
* Titsingh, Isaac, ed. (1834). [Siyun-sai Rin-siyo/Hayashi Gahō, 1652] , "Nipon o daï itsi ran; ou, Annales des empereurs du Japon." Paris: Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. [ --"Two copies of this rare book have now been made available online: (1) from the library of the University of Michigan, digitized January 30, 2007; and (2) from the library of Stanford University, digitized June 23, 2006." Click here to read the original text in French.]
*Totman, Conrad. (1967). "Politics in the Tokugawa bakufu, 1600-1843". Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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