Tokugawa Ienobu: One of the Best Rulers in the Tokugawa Shogunate

Out of all the shogunates that governed of Japan back in the day, many would argue that the best one was the Tokugawa shogunate. It was the last military government that ruled Japan in history. The Tokugawa clan produced numerous shoguns throughout its rule over the country. These shoguns set about changing the course of history of the country. Probably one of the best shoguns that reigned over the country during the Tokugawa shogunate was none other than Tokugawa Ienobu.

The Early Life and Family of Tokugawa Ienobu

By 日本語: 不明(狩野派の絵師)English: Unknown (A painter of the Kanō school) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Born on the 11th of June in the year 1662, Tokugawa Ienobu served as the 6th shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. He was born as the oldest son of Tokugawa Tsunashige. The previous shoguns Tokugawa Ietsuna and Tokugawa Tsunayoshi were Ienobu’s uncles. He was the grandson of Tokugawa Iemitsu as well as the great-grandson of Tokugawa Hidetada. His great-great-grandfather was Tokugawa Ieyasu, who served as the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Ienobu’s father served as the daimyo of Kofu. On the other hand, his mother was a concubine of Tsunashige. Tsunashige was born the second son of Iemitsu with his concubine. When Ienobu was born, Tokugawa Ietsuna was serving as the shogun of the land. His father Tsunashige governed over Kofu, which was considered an essential piece of property of the Tokugawa family.

His previous name was Tokugawa Tsunatoyo prior to becoming a shogun. He was the 4th daimyo of Kofu Domain from the Tokugawa family. His name during his childhood years was Toramatsu.

There were not many details available regarding the early life of Tokugawa Ienobu. However, it was certain that there expectations of him succeeding his father’s position as daimyo of Kofu after his father passed away. On the other hand, Ietsuna passed away in the year 1680. This led to Tsunayoshi succeeding the throne. However, Tsunayoshi was not able to produce an heir to the throne, which created the possibility of Ienobu succeeding the throne one day.

However, at the time, Ienobu was not exactly being trained to become shogun. Instead, he was expected to succeed his father as lord of Kofu. Tsunashige passed away in the year 1678, which led to the succession of daimyo to Ienobu. Having an uncle as shogun, Ienobu grew powerful and influential as daimyo of Kofu.

Arai Hakuseki, a ronin, was designated as the personal tutor, as well as the advisor, of Ienobu in the year 1694. Hakuseki previously served as a professor in Edo. However, he was highly recommended by the philosopher Kinoshita Jun’an who saw the importance of Hakuseki’s teachings to Ienobu’s learning.

Hence, Hakuseki was sent to the Edo residence of Ienobu to begin his lessons. It was said that Ienobu received 2,000 lectures from Hakuseki regarding Chinese classics as well as Confucianism. This was before Ienobu became shogun in the year 1709.

The teachings of Hakuseki proved to be beneficial to Ienobu. This was because Tsunayoshi, who was shogun at the time, supported the Chinese classics as well as Neo-Confucianism. Following Ienobu’s ascension to the throne, Hakuseki spent the remainder of his life as the advisor of Ienobu. He even wrote a book dedicated to Ienobu called the Hankanpu. The book covered the history of a wide range of fiefs starting from the year 1600 to the year

Ienobu’s mother was known as Ohara no Kata. While Tsunashige was Ienobu’s biological father, his adoptive father was Tsunayoshi. Ienobu was married to his wife Konoe Hiroko. However, he also had several concubines including Okiyo no Kata, Ukon no Kata, Osume no Kata, Oshino no Kata, and Itsuki no Miya.

With his wife Hiroko, Ienobu had two children, namely, Toyo-hime and Tokugawa Mugetsuin. He also had children with some of his concubines. These include Tokugawa Iechiyo with Ukon no Kata, Tokugawa Daigoro and Tokugawa Torakichi with Osume no Kata, and Tokugawa Ietsugu with Okiyo no Kata. He also adopted Masahime, who was the daughter of Konoe Iehiro. Unfortunately, all of Ienobu’s children passed away at a young age.

Tokugawa Ienobu’s Rule as Shogun from 1709 to 1712

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi passed away in the year 1709 without leaving a male heir. Genealogically, it made sense to name Ienobu as the next shogun in the line of succession. This was because he was the only remaining descendant from the direct line of blood of Tokugawa Ieyasu. However, it was not the primary reason why Ienobu was chosen to become the next shogun after Tsunayoshi passed away.

Intra-bafuku politics were applied during the last remaining days of the late Tsunayoshi. There were several questions that surrounded the shogunal succession at the time. However, the succession was primarily influenced by the wife of the late Tsunayoshi, who expressed her preference for Ienobu to be the next shogun of Japan.

When Ienobu finally acceded the throne, specific elements of Japanese society started to be reformed right away. Many said that Ienobu continued and accomplished the wishes of the late Ietsuna and Tsunayoshi of transforming the government from a military institution to a civilian one. A step taken to achieve this goal was the removal of the controversial laws and edicts undertaken during the rule of Tsunayoshi. The chamberlains who were previously granted power by Tsunayoshi were stripped of their influence.

The Buke-Sho-Hatto was also revised by Ienobu in the year 1710, which made improvements on the language used. Ienobu also saw the importance of the thoughts and feelings of his people. Hence, he ordered the discontinuance of censorship. He believed that the ideas and opinions of the population should be able to reach even the highest levels of his government.

Aside from listening to the people of Japan, Ienobu also saw his people as not just citizens but also human beings. He ordered the discontinuance of cruel punishments as well as persecutions. It was under his orders that the judicial system of the Tokugawa shogunate was reformed to become humane.

Ienobu also served as one of the first shoguns in history to make attempts in improving the relationship between the military government and the emperor and his court in Kyoto. Konoe Motohiro, the Fujiwara regent, served as the mediator between Ienobu and Emperor Nakamikado during their talks in the year 1711. While Ienobu tried to lead the conversation, Motohiro remained assertive as the mediator.

It was concluded that the younger sons of emperors were no longer required to enter priesthood. Rather, these sons were allowed to create new branches of the imperial throne. Furthermore, the daughters of emperors were also allowed to get married. This agreement was put to good use when one of the younger sisters of the emperor actually ended up marrying Ienobu’s heir Ietsugu.

Tokugawa Ienobu passed away on the 12th of November in the year 1712 at the age of 51. Buried in Zojoji, Ienobu’s Buddhist name was Bunshoin. His son Tokugawa Ietsugu, who was still in infancy at the time, succeeded Ienobu as the next shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. Hakuseki continued to teach and advise Ietsugu even after he became the 7th Tokugawa shogun. 

Tokugawa Ietsugu: Ienobu’s Heir to the Throne

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Born on the 8th of August in the year 1709, Tokugawa Ietsugu became the 7th shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate after his father passed away. His reign began in the year 1713 and ended in the year 1716. His mother was Gekkoin, who was his father’s concubine. Ienobu was already 48 years old when Ietsugu was born.

Ietsugu’s childhood name was Nabematsu. Hakuseki took it upon himself to trace back the bloodline of the Tokugawa clan. As a result, it was found that the origins of the Tokugawa family date back to the Minamoto clan, which served as the founder of the first shogunate. Hence, Ietsugu was also known as Minamoto no Ietsugu.

Ietsugu was only but a toddler at age 3 when Ienobu passed away. In the year 1715, he got married to Yoshiko no Miya who was the daughter of Emperor Reigen. At the time of their marriage, Ietsugu was only 4 years old while Yoshiko no Miya was only a year old.

Even though Ietsugu already had the position of shogun at age 3, he was but a child. He was definitely not yet old enough to know anything about ruling a state. As he was not able enough to continue his father’s rule, he was put under the guidance and protection of his father’s adviser Hakuseki.

Instead of making decisions himself, Hakuseki served as his working mind while Ietsugu was still developing and growing. Two problems were resolved under the rule of Ietsugu. These were currency reforms and foreign trade in Kyushu.

Prices were inevitably rising during the rule of Ietsugu. There were several proposals sent to Ietsugu and Hakuseki, most of which were following the passing of Ienobu. It was concluded that a new currency must be made. Hence, the people were introduced to the new metallic currency in the year 1714, which lowered the prices of rice.

Sadly, at a young age of just 6, Ietsugu passed away. On the 19th of June in the year 1716, complications of a cold took away Ietsugu’s life. He was not able to fully grow into an adult and rule like his father did.

Mostly, Ietsugu left the impression of a playful and mischievous child. The direct line of Tokugawa Iemitsu also ended with Ietsugu. Tokugawa Yoshimune proceeded on to succeed the throne as the next shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Arai Hakuseki: The Adviser of Both Father and Son

By 有朋堂書店 (Japanese Book 『先哲像伝 近世畸人傳 百家琦行傳』) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Born on the 24th of March in the year 1657, Arai Hakuseki served as the adviser of Tokugawa Ienobu and his son. Hakuseki was a Confucianist, academic, writer, scholar, administrator, bureaucrat, and politician. While his real name was Kinmi or Kimiyoshi, he went by his pen name Hakuseki. Arai Masazumi, a Kururi han samurai, was his father.

Growing up in Edo, many used to say that Hakuseki actually showed signs of genius from an early age. One story suggested that he was able to copy a Confucian book word for word at the age of three. It was considered a feat, as the book as written in Kanji.

It was in the year 1693 that Hakuseki was summoned to become the personal tutor and adviser of Tokugawa Ienobu. Because of his wisdom among other factors, he was able to replace the official Hayashi advisers. He went on to become the leading Confucianist not just for Ienobu but for his son as well.

Even after the death of Ienobu, several policies that were forged by Hakuseki were still being carried out. This continued even after the death of Ietsugu and the beginning of Yoshimune’s rule as shogun. However, Hakuseki decided to leave his post after Ietsugu passed away.

He started his career as a writer of the history of Japan as well as of Occidental studies. After Hakuseki passed away, he was buried in Hoonji Temple located in Asakusa, which is now known as Taito in Tokyo. however, his remains were later on moved to Kotokuji Temple located in Nakano, Tokyo.

One of the accomplishments of Hakuseki as the adviser of Ienobu was the launch of Shotoku no chi. A series of economic policies, Shotoku no chi was designed by Hakuseki in order to enhance the standing of the Tokugawa shogunate. Control over inflation was achieved by the means of minting currency that was new and better in quality.

He also recognized the imminent risk that the national resources of the country were about to face. In order to lower this risk, he designed a new trade policy called the Kaihaku Goshi Shinrei. It was implemented in order to gain control over payments made to Dutch and Chinese merchants. The policy demanded that they trade products like silk, dried seafood, and porcelain instead of precious metals.

Hakuseki stayed true to his beliefs and his faith throughout his life. He also applied his beliefs and concerns with the policies that he implemented. He was a great adviser to both Tokugawa Ienobu and Tokugawa Ietsugu, to say the least.