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Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Tokugawa Yoshinobu

He was given the title Prince and this fit Tokugawa Yoshinobu perfectly. He was also known as Tokugawa Keiki. Yoshinobu was considered as the 15th, as well as the last shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. There was a movement to reform the old aging Shogunate that was the ruling government; however, this attempt at change was unsuccessful. In the late 1867, he went into retirement and was known to avoid the public eye for the rest of his life.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu Early Years

Tokugawa Yoshinobu was born in Edo province as one of the sons of Tokugawa Nariaki, a Daimyo of Mito. The Mito Province is one of the Gosanke. This term refers to the Three Houses of the Tokugawa clan which was also known as Noble, Three Houses or even Sanke. This House where Tokugawa Yoshinobu was born, was descended from the clan’s founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had three sons. His three sons were: Yoshinao, Yorinobu, and Yorifusa.

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Royal Family Lineage

Tokugawa Yoshinobu was given the birth name of Matsudaira Shichiromaro. He came from a family of royalty: his mother was Princess Arisugawa Yoshiko. Their family was a cadet branch of the Imperial family, and one of his family members has a third cousin, Emperor Ninko. Yoshinobu’s birthname was Matsudaira Shichiromaro, and he was only seven months old when he arrived in Mito in 1838. Tokugawa Yoshinobu was brought up under a strict upbringing and supervision.

Educational Upbringing

  • He was taught in the literary and martial arts.
  • Received solid education on the principles that govern government and politics at Kodokan
  • Good at managing family clan affairs

To have a better chance at landing the Shogunate position, he was tasked to change his first name to Akimune. The positions that he acquired include:

  • Being the family head in the year 1847
  • Given the court rank and title of Yoshinobu
  • Potential successor when the 13th shogun died in 1858. However, he lost his position to another candidate, Tokugawa Yoshitomi.

After losing his position to the Shogunate, Tokugawa Yoshinobu was placed under house arrest. Because of this, he was prompted to retire as Hitotsubashi head.

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Under Li’s Domination

The Tokugawa government was mismanaged and political conflicts existed. These were due to the leadership of Li. When Li was assassinated in 1860, this created an opportunity to reinstate Tokugawa Yoshinobu as Hitotsubashi head of his clan. He was specifically chosen for the position of the Shogun’s guardian.

Allies Unite

Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s position was better known as Shogun Koken-shoku. His two closest allies were from the Matsudaira clans, Matsudara Yoshinaga and Katamori. Yoshinaga was placed in the position of head of political affairs, while Katamori became the Guardian of Kyoto. These three men took several steps to stop the political unrest in Kyoto. These allies gathered other supporters to fight the activities led by the Choshu Domain. They rebelled against the Shogunate. These allies were instrumental to fight against the Kobu Gattai political party. It sought to mend the gap between the Shogunate and Imperial Court.

Kinmon Incident

Tokugawa Yoshinobu was commander of the Imperial palace’s defense. This was the same defense troops that defeated the Choshu forces to capture the imperial palace. Tokugawa Yoshinobu was able to defeat the Choshu forces who attempted to capture the Imperial Palace’s Hamaguri Gate. He was able to achieve this by utilizing the Aiza-Satsuma coalition.

Shogunate Succession

After the death of Tokugawa Iemochi, it was Yoshinobu’s turn to succeed the 14th Shogun. He spent his entire tenure outside of Edo. His rule as Shogun was different in a sense. This was because he never set foot on Edo Castle with a position such as this. He immediately initiated major changes.

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Strengthening the Forces

Under his command, Yoshinobu initiated a plan to strengthen the national army and navy. Equipment was purchased from the United States, despite the assistance received from the Russians and British Royal Navy. However, these plans to strengthen the Japanese National Defense fell in less than a year.

Boshin War

Under the banner of Sonno Joi – which means revere the Emperor and Expel the Barbarians – along with the dread of this new Shogun, they worked to bring an end to the Shogunate, yet differed in their approaches. Here, a compromise was proposed where Yoshinobu would step down as a Shogun, yet would govern over a new national council that would be comprised of various Daimyo.

Acceptance of Fate

Tokugawa Yoshinobu submitted his resignation to the Emperor. He stepped down after 10 days, returning the power back to the Emperor then retreated from Kyoto to Osaka. Nevertheless, Choshu and Satsuma were against the fact that Yoshinobu was leading the governing council of Daimyo. With that, they secretly acquired the imperial edict that called for the utilization of power against Yoshinobu, then moved a big number of Choshu and Satsuma troops in Kyoto.

With that, a meeting was started at the Imperial Court. Here, Yoshinobu was removed of all land and titles despite having no movement that could be considered criminal or aggressive. He opposed this and created a message of protest, and even dispatched a number of his men to deliver the message to the Imperial Court.

When his forces arrived, they were prevented from entering and were attacked by the Choshu and Satsuma troops. This started the first clash of the Boshin War. Although the Tokugawa forces had the upper hand, Yoshinobu left his army amidst the battle when he realized that the opposing forces lifted the Imperial banner, eventually fleeing to Edo. Tokugawa Yoshinobu was placed in voluntary confinement when a peace agreement was reached. Eventually, Edo Castle was handed over the Imperial Army which prevented an all-out war.

At some point, there was a large number of attempts on his life. Yoshinobu even had to change his usual sleeping arrangements just to confuse anyone who plotted to assassinate him.

Honors Received Throughout His Life

  • Prince (Koshaku) as title in 1902
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun in 1908
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers in 1913

Hobbies in Later Life

Tokugawa Yoshinobu lived a quiet life when he retired. He engaged in different kinds of hobbies which included archery, photography, cycling, hunting, and even oil painting.

Towards the End of His Life

Some of the photographs that he took were published in recent years by his great grandson, Yoshitomo. He was given the chance to re-establish his own Tokugawa house. After all, he occupied the highest rank in the peerage as prince for his loyal service to his country. He took a seat in the House of Peers but eventually resigned.

His confinement was lifted and was given the chance to live a quiet life in Sunpu. After living a rich life as a member of the Tokugawa shogunate, Yoshinobu died and was buried in Yanaka Cemetery, Tokyo. He was entombed and enshrine unlike his predecessors. His burial was still grand but compared to other shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu had an ordinary burial.