One of the three individuals who unified Japan, Ieyasu Tokugawa was an enigma. He was born with a low social status. His father was a minor warlord. He became the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
As ruler and founder of the Shogunate, he was an efficient ruler from the Battle of Sekigahara, even until the Meiji Restoration. He had to snatch his power before being appointed as Shogun in 1603.
However, he stepped down into office a few years after being appointed as Shogun. Despite that, he did not stop exerting power to rule over Japan until his death.
Tokugawa Ieyasu – The Birth of a Warrior
He was given the name Ieyasu and was later on enshrined and honored by being given the name Tosho Daigongen. As a local warlord, his father was only given a portion of the Tokaido Highway that links Kyoto with the eastern provinces.
His father ruled over stronger neighbors that included the Imagawa clan which ruled Suruga Province in the east. Other neighboring clans included the Oda in the west. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s father had an arch enemy; this was Oda Nobuhide, the father of Oda Nobunaga.
Tokugawa Ieyasu Early Life
Ieyasu Tokugawa was born at Okazaki Castle. He was born as Takechiyo Matsudaira and his parents were Hirotada Matsudaira and Lady Odai. His mother was the daughter of Tadamasa Mizuno, the lord of a neighboring Samurai clan.
In fact, his parents were step-siblings. They were still young when Ieyasu was born. On the year when Ieyasu was born, the Matsudaira clan was divided.
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Ieyasu’s Mark in Japanese History
Despite being the son of a minor warlord from Okazaki, this did not become a hindrance for Ieyasu in moving forward with his life.
He began his military career with the Imagawa family. Eventually, he became an ally of the powerful forces of Nobunaga Oda and Hideyoshi Toyotomi.
After the death of Hideyoshi, he was victorious in the Battle of Sekigahara. He was able to establish himself in the position of Shogun to Japan’s imperial court. When he was about to retire from his position, he continued to plan on how he could neutralize his enemies.
He was responsible for the establishment of a family dynasty that lasted for centuries even after his death. This is his legacy not only in Japan, but also in other parts of the world.
Tokugawa Ieyasu Building Political Career
When Ieyasu claimed his new name, he also proclaimed that he was a descendant of the Minamoto Clan. There is no proof of him coming from the lineage of Emperor Seiwa, however, the Imperial Court granted his request to change his name.
Ieyasu was good at controlling his political aspirations. He gained the support of the Samurai from the Totomi Province. He captured the Yoshida Castle which allowed him to become the ruler of the entire Mikawa Province.
At this stage of his life, he remained an ally of Nobunaga and his Mikawa soldiers who were part of his own territory. He also allied with Shingen Takeda, the head of his clan in the province of Kai, with the intention to conquer Imagawa.
This alliance was temporary; later on, he ended his army’s affiliation with the Takeda. Eventually, he sided with Kenshin Uesugi, the head of the Uesugi clan and the enemy of the Takeda.
He assigned his son to be in charge of Okazaki and built the Hamamatsu capital under him. In 1570, Ieyasu supported Nobunaga and fought against the Azai and Asakura armies.
Clash with Takeda
A year later, Shingen Takeda allies himself with the Hojo Clan which was led by Odawara Hojo. He attacked the lands under the power of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Nobunaga helped Tokugawa and sent him 3,000 troops.
In early 1572, the two armies met during the Battle of Mikatagahara. For this battle, the Takeda army outnumbered Ieyasu’s troops.
This resulted to heavy casualties. It was the best time for Ieyasu to retreat but instead, he ordered his men to return to the castle to maintain his honor. He ordered torches to be lighted and sound the drums.
This commotion was effective since the enemy troops thought that Ieyasu was plotting a trap. Instead, it was Shingen who called off the attack. Shortly after this, Shingen passed away a year after the Siege of Noda Castle took place.
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Effects of Nobunaga’s Assassination
Nobunaga was assassinated by Mitsuhide Akechi. Eventually, Ieyasu knew about this while he was on a dangerous journey to Mikawa. The assassination caused Nobunaga’s vassals to weaken, which opponents took advantage of.
With that, one of the leaders of the Kai province defeated one of Ieyasu’s aides. To take revenge, Ieyasu attacked Kai and conquered the province.
Surprisingly, there was no bloodshed in this attack since the battles were fought between the armies of the Tokugawa and Hojo.
There were agreements regarding settlement and Ieyasu took control of the provinces of Kai and Shinano. Hojo ruled the Kazusa province which was composed of small portions of Shinano and Kain.
Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Relationship with Hideyoshi
Tokugawa Ieyasu decided not to take sides over Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Katsuie Shibata. With that, he was reputed for being cautious yet wise. In other words, he remained neutral.
However, in 1584, Ieyasu show his support for Nobunaga’s eldest son and went against Hideyoshi. This was not a good decision as it almost wiped out the Tokugawa clan.
During the Komaki Campaign, the three great unifiers of Japan ” Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu ” fought against each other. This battle was won by acknowledging a truce. One of the terms was that Hideyoshi adopts Ieyasu’s second son, Ogimaru.
After a series of battles were launched against his enemies, Tokugawa Ieyasu and his forces marched towards Tokaido together with his son Hidetada.
They had more than 30,000 soldiers with them. Hidetada was battling against Sanada Masayuki in Shinano Province. This delayed Hidetada which caused his forces his forces to fail to engage in the main battle.
The Battle of Sekigahara is the biggest conflict fought in Japanese feudal history. This battle ended with Tokugawa Ieyasu being triumphant. After this, Ieyasu obliterated the threats to and officially became the ruler of Japan.
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Rewards to the Loyalists
After the Battle of Sekigahara, Ieyasu rewarded his vassals with lands. He did not obliterate all of the daimyo from the west, but left them as is. He did not spare the lives of his other opponents.
Some western Daimyo including Hideyoshi’s son, Hideyori Toyotomi, was demoted to an ordinary Daimyo under his power. He took power under Ieyasu.
The Daimyo who were loyal to Ieyasu prior to the Battle of Sekigahara were promoted as Fudai Daimyo or hereditary vassals of the Shogunate. Those who vowed loyalty after the said battle became a Tozama Daimyo and ruled vast private lands in Japan.
There is a difference between these two classes of Daimyo in the country’s feudal society; the tozama were considered as second class after the Fudai Daimyo.
Tokugawa Ieyasu: Esteemed Shogun
It was Emperor Go-Yozei who gave Tokugawa Ieyasu the Shogun title. During this time, Ieyasu was 60 years old when he was given this recognition.
He had exceeded other great men who lived in the same period. He was able to live longer compared to Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, Shingen and Kenshin.
In the later years of his life, he managed to build and solidify the Tokugawa Shogunate. As a Shogun, he decided to defeat the remaining threat in the Toyotomi clan that ruled Osaka Castle.
He was victorious in this endeavor. He was able to defeat the threats to his rule. A few years later, he stepped down as Shogun and entrusted the position to his son and heir Hidetada Tokugawa.
Ieyasu made this decision to avoid ceremonial duties, as well as to pass the rule without any questions to his successor and heir.
Even if Ieyasu retired to give his son the title of the Daimyo, he continued to rule with power. His son assumed the role of formal head of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Tokugawa Ieyasu: Towards the End of His Life
Despite his retirement as a Shogun, Ieyasu remained as an effective ruler of Japan until he passed away. He retired at Sunpu Castle where he continued to supervise the building of Edo Castle.
This was a big project that took a lot of time. The Daimyo shouldered the costs of building this massive castle while Tokugawa Ieyasu enjoyed the benefits. Later on, the central donjon burned down.
Today, the Imperial Castle stands where the castle once was. Ieyasu died at the age of 73. His cause of death was not on the battlefield but, was said to be either cancer or syphilis. Ieyasu Tokugawa was given the title Great Gongen, the Light of the East.
Image Source: Kanō Tan’yū [Public domain]