Tokugawa Tsunayoshi; A Link in The Legacy of the Edo Period

The Tokugawa Period, which was also known as the Edo Period (1603-1867) in Japanese history, represented the era when Japanese society was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate along with Japan’s 300 regional daimyo - (there were many of them from different eras; such as Makino Tadakiyo, Honda Masazumi, and Mizuno Tadayuki).

After years of civil unrest, the Tokugawa family was able to unify the country. The following years were marked with unprecedented internal peace, economic growth, and political stability that resulted in intense artistic, social, and cultural development. Towns and cities grew, improving on transport and communication networks. This meant that for the first time, the most remote areas were opened to goods and products coming from different parts of the country. 

By Engelbert Kaempfer (Johann Caspar Scheuchzer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Quick Brush-Up on the Tokugawa Period

The Tokugawa Period was marked by the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who received almost unlimited power and wealth after defeating the Hideyori loyalists in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. In 1603, Ieyasu was appointed Shogun by the Emperor and his shogunate ruled Japan for the next 250 years.

Ieyasu tightly controlled the country by redistributing the land among the daimyo, giving the more loyal vassals who supported him before the Battle of Sekigahara the choice, more important domains. He promoted foreign trade and established relations with the English and the Dutch.  After defeating the Toyotomi clan and capturing Osaka Castle, peace prevailed throughout the Edo Period. Therefore, the warriors or samurai broadened their education with literature, philosophy, and the arts in addition to martial arts. 

A Loosening Grip on Freedom, and Tightening Grip on Regulations

In 1633, Shogun Iemitsu would create an article banning all foreign travel and by 1639, Japan was almost completely isolated from the world except for some very limited trade with the Netherlands and China in the port of Nagasaki. Also, all foreign books were banned.

During the Edo Period, a strict four-class system was enforced.  At the top of the social hierarchy were the samurai, followed by the peasants, artisans, and merchants. No change in social status was allowed.  A fifth class was formed for people with professions that were considered impure.

Despite the stability of the Tokugawa government for several centuries, a gradual worsening of its financial status led to higher taxes and riots among the farm population. Japan also experienced numerous natural disasters and years of famine that further exacerbated the financial problems of the central government and the daimyos. The merchant class grew increasingly powerful and some samurai started to financially depend on them. Eventually, corruption and a decline of morals within the government caused more problems.

The Modern Crack

By the end of the 18th century, foreign external pressure started to become a big issue.  The demand for the restoration of imperial power along with anti-western sentiments was felt keenly among the ultra-conservative samurai.  However, many Japanese also realized the big advantages of the western nations in the military and scientific fields, favoring a complete opening to the world.  

In 1868, heavy political pressure caused the fall of the Tokugawa government, and the power of Emperor Meiji was restored.    

By 日本語: 不明 English: Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Who Was Tokugawa Tsunayoshi? Here Are Some Facts About Him

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646 – 1709) was the son of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the grandson of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the great-grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  He was the fifth in a line of 15 Tokugawa family rulers and the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa Dynasty of Japan. 

A Dog Lover

Proclaimed shogun in 1680 and known as the Dog Shogun (“ina Kubo”) because of his obsession with dogs, Tsunayoshi reigned over one of the most peaceful and prosperous periods in Japanese history. Born in the Year of the Dog, he was told by a Buddhist monk that he had been a dog in his previous life.  He, therefore, decreed the death penalty for anyone who harmed a dog and kept an estimated 50,000 dogs at government expense, feeding them a choice diet of rice and dried fish.

Info on Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s Mother

Keishoin, the mother of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and the second daughter of a Nishijin grocer was born in 1628.  Known as Tama in her childhood, she was adopted along with her sister by a Kyoto aristocrat. She entered the Edo harem (Ooku) by becoming an attendant to the daughter of Rokujo Yujun, a member of the Ooku, 

After being singled out by Iemitsu’s nursemaid Kasuga, she later became the concubine of Tokugawa Iemitsu and gave birth to Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, who would eventually become the fifth shogun. Mother and son moved into Keishoin’s apartment in Edo Castle. After Tsunayoshi became shogun in 1680, she moved to the San-no-maru of Edo Castle where she became known as San-no-maru-dono.

Keishoin was very close to her son Tsunayoshi during his younger years.  While the fourth Shogun Ietsuna relied on regents during his reign, Tsunayoshi relied on his mother for advice until her death.  Although Keshoin is traditionally described as a superstitious, uneducated woman, there is no evidence to support this impression.  

On the contrary, reliable information shows a resolute woman with high expectations of her son and his government.  It is widely known that Tsunayoshi was greatly attached to his mother and she exercised undue influence on him and over the politics of the country. His strong attachment to and high esteem for his mother was formed from a mental bond that started at a very young age.  Thus, he not only inherited her genetic traits but also some of the cultural values of her class.

A Quick Timeline of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi: Early Life, Until Death

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi was born on February 23, 1646. Shogun Iemitsu, his father, died in 1651 when Tsunayoshi was only 5 years old.  Tsunayoshi moved in with his mother to her own private residence in Edo Castle. He had an older brother who was groomed to be the next shogun after Iemitsu’s death.  

At an early age, Tsunayoshi impressed everyone with his precociousness and liveliness.  Fearing that he might outshine and eventually usurp the position of his slower brothers, his father ordered Tsunayoshi to be trained as a scholar (there was no university yet, so it was done privately), instead of a samurai/warrior, as was what was normally expected of someone in his position. 

Tsunayoshi, or Tokumatsu as he was called when he was a child, was energetic and possessed above average intelligence. He was unusually close to his mother, to whom he relied on for advice even to the smallest detail, in contrast to previous shoguns who consulted their regents for decisions.

In 1680, Ietsuna – Tsunayoshi’s older brother - died at the age of 38. A power struggle ensued. 

By Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japan, 1839-1892) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the wisest advisors of Iemitsu (Hotta Masatoshi) suggested Tsunayoshi, as a brother of the last shogun, and being the son of the third, should be the next Shogun. Sakai Tadakiyo suggested that the next ruler should come from the imperial family.

Tsunayoshi was installed as the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate when he was 35 years of age.  In 1682, following the advice of his mother, Tsunayoshi became religious and promoted the neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi.  He ordered his censors and the police to ban prostitution, keep waitresses from being employed in tea houses and disallowed rare and expensive fabrics.  

Almost immediately after becoming shogun, Tsunayoshi displayed his strict adherence to the samurai code by ordering the suicide of a vassal of the Takata for misgovernment. He also confiscated his fief of 250,000 kokus. He would later confiscate a total of 1,400,000 kokus during his reign.  

Post-death, he was succeeded by his nephew, Tokugawa Ienobu, the son of another brother, Tokugawa Tsunashige.  

What was Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s Significance and Achievements During the Edo Period?

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi began his regime in 1680 as the fifth Tokugawa shogun. Formally educated as a scholar, he was the first shogun who wasn’t trained to be a warrior.  Ruling over a very peaceful and prosperous time in Japan, he reigned with compassion, valuing culture and scholarship while condemning violence.  Tsunayoshi was strict in enforcing his religious beliefs and protected the people who belonged to the bottom class of society.  

He was the first and only shogun who introduced laws against infanticide, ensuring that all children had to be properly cared for.  He imposed a death sentence for anyone caught harming a dog.  As a result, the number of dogs grew to about 50,000 during his shogunate.  This earned him the title of Dog Shogun, a designation that persists to this day.

Not One of The Best? The Argument

Looking back, Tsunayoshi is regarded as one of the least competent shoguns, inconsistent by being strict sometimes but also arbitrary. He was always manipulated by people like Lord Matsudaira, his cousin, and Inaba Masayasu, who thought to kill him. However, under his reign, Japan saw several decades of incredible prosperity. 

He presided over a period of unprecedented cultural growth and material abundance not to be experienced in Japan until the mid-twentieth century.  Many people were able to receive an education and enjoy life previously reserved for the ruling elite.  

On the other hand, he was viewed by many as a tyrant, and his policies were extreme, eccentric, and unorthodox.  His laws of compassion, as earlier mentioned, made the maltreatment of dogs an offense punishable by death, earning him the nickname Dog Shogun by which he is still popularly known today.  

By 日本語: 土佐光起 English: Tosa Mitsuoki ("歴代徳川将軍の肖像") [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Upon careful examination of Tsunayoshi’s rule, though, it seems that this fifth shogun’s impression of notoriety results from the work of samurai historians and the elite (Makino Narisada, for example, or Doi Toshikatsu, son of Mizuno), who saw their privileges endangered by a ruler who was sympathetic to commoners.  Left largely under the care and influence of his mother who was the daughter of a greengrocer, the future shogun opposed the values of his class.  An overlooked fact is that apart from ordering the registration of dogs, Tsunayoshi also decreed the registration of pregnant women and young children to prevent infanticide.  

Moreover, he also decreed that officials find homes for abandoned children and care for sick travelers.  The shogun also effectively prevented the famines and riots that would have surely occurred after the worst earthquake and tsunami and also the most violent eruption of Mt. Fuji in history—which all happened during the last years of Tsunayoshi’s reign. Tsunayoshi died of smallpox on February 19, 1709, four days short of his 63rd birthday, although there were rumors that he was killed by his wife, the daughter of the Emperor, for fear that he would adopt a male love interest as an heir. 

What was/were the Religion and/or Beliefs of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi?

Tsunayoshi was known to be a great patron of Chinese studies such as kangaku and Obaku Zen which were introduced to Japan during his rule.  He invited Chinese and Japanese scholars of the Chinese classics, along with Chinese Zen monks to audiences and discussions.  

At age 44, he began to lecture to Shinto and Buddhist daimyo about Neo-Confucian work and showed great interest in several Chinese works, such as The Great Learning (Da Xue) and the Classic of Filial Piety (Xiao Jing).  In the 1690s and during the first decade of the 18th century, he issued a collection of edicts released daily to protect dogs, since there were many stray and diseased dogs roaming the city.  This earned him the pejorative title Dog Shogun. 

He saw himself as a devout Buddhist and followed the Confucianist ideal of the sage-king.  He supported the kangaku scholars Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu and Ogyu Sorai and funded the publication of numerous texts of Confucian and other learnings including the Six Courses in Morals.  Tsunayoshi believed that educating the masses would bring the realm into greater harmony and order. 

Statistics of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi in Monster Strike, the Mobile Game

For inspiration and reference, video games sometimes use a name of a historic figure as their characters, as Monster Strike does. The character of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi in Monster Strike is -interestingly - portrayed as a young girl who loves dogs, and has an HP of 15,900, an attack of 17,469, and speed of 250.43.