Tokugawa Ieyasu

Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康

Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Tokugawa Ieyasu is the third of the trio of great Japanese warlords along with Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) who are known as the great unifiers of Japanese history.

Ieyasu was born as Matsudaira Takechiyo in Okazaki Castle in 1543 and the hardship of his early years helped shape the man and supreme political operator he was to become. Ieyasu's mother and father were only 17 and 15 respectively when he was born and later separated, remarried and had further children, providing Ieyasu with a large number of half-brothers and sisters.

At age only six, Ieyasu was kidnapped by the Oda clan and held captive in Nagoya. Three years later Ieyasu was surrendered as a hostage to the Imagawa clan and held under good conditions at Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka until he was released when he reached the age of 15.

After the defeat of the Imagawa clan by Nobunaga at the decisive Battle of Okehazuma, Ieyasu, at this time named Matsudaira Kurandonosuke Motoyasu, shifted his allegiance to the Oda family.

By 1567, Ieyasu had consolidated his power in Mikawa and changed his name for a final time to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the name he has gone down in history with. In the 1570s Ieyasu was at war again this time with the powerful Takeda Shingen, who had his power base in Kofu.

Okazaki Castle, Okazaki, Japan.
Ieyasu Tokugawa, was born at Okazaki Castle in 1543, died in Sunpu Castle in 1616 with his spirit enshrined at Toshogu, Nikko
Okazaki Castle.
Memorials and statues commemorating Ieyasu Tokugawa, who was born at Okazaki Castle, abound in the castle grounds
The first Tokugawa shogun Ieyasu.
The first Tokugawa shogun Ieyasu (1543-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Rise To Power of Tokugawa Ieyasu

Following the death of Oda Nobunaga at Honnoji Temple in Kyoto and the defeat of his murderer, Akechi Mitsuhide by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ieyasu and Hideyoshi eyed each other nervously.

The two powerful daimyo fought inconclusive skirmishes at Nagakute and Komaki in present-day Nagoya before agreeing a truce. Following a joint attack on the Hojo clan the two men settled on a plan to carve up the defeated domains. Ieyasu gave up his home base of Mikawa plus Suruga, Shinano, Totomi and Kai and moved east to the provinces around Edo (present-day Tokyo).

This put some distance between the two warlords as Hideyoshi established his base in Osaka Castle, a huge fortress on the site of the previous Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple, which had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga.

Sekigahara War Land.
Heads being collected at Sekigahara War Land - a reconstruction of the Battle of Sekigahara, 1600
Sekigahara War Land, Sekigahara, Gifu.
Musket men firing their weapons at Sekigahara War Land, Sekigahara, Gifu

Sekigahara & the Establishment of the Tokugawa Bakufu

Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tokugawa Art Museum
A portrait of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founding father of the Tokugawa shogunate that ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867

While Toyotomi Hideyoshi, now regent or kampaku, was waging his unsuccessful campaigns in Korea, Ieyasu was in Kyushu acting as a military strategist but his men took no part in the actual fighting.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi died in 1598 while his young son, Hideyori (from his concubine Yodo-dono) was still an infant, setting the scene for yet more civil war in Japan until the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, won by Ieyasu Tokugawa against one of Hideyoshi's chief administrators, Ishida Mitsunari.

The famous battle in central Japan saw over 60,000 samurai levied on each side as The Western Army (commanded by Ishida) faced The Eastern Army (commanded by Ieyasu).

Sekigahara was a complete victory for Ieyasu who managed to bribe some of Ishida's erstwhile allies not to take the field or change sides.

Later Hideyori and other male members of the Toyotomi clan were wiped out at a siege of Osaka Castle in 1615 by Ieyasu's armies. Ieyasu died a year later in 1616, aged 73. A huge mausoleum was built for the great man north of Edo in Nikko.

Tokugawa Bakufu

After the Battle of Sekigahara Ieyasu's dominance was unquestioned and he was proclaimed shogun by the Emperor in Kyoto in 1603. This was the start of the Tokugawa shogunate which was to rule Japan for over 250 years until 1867. Ieyasu was shogun for just two years before stepping aside in 1605 to allow his son Hidetada to take nominal control.

However, Ieyasu continued to pull the political strings behind the scenes from his residence at Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka. It was at this time that he ordered Edo Castle in Tokyo to be built on a massive and impressive scale - a castle that was to become the power base for future Tokugawa rulers. It was in the early 17th century that Ieyasu met the English navigator William Adams and took him under his patronage.

Ieyasu's Legacy

A Japanese saying goes that "Ieyasu ate the pie that Nobunaga made and Hideyoshi baked." Luck, longevity and above all patience led him to outlive his adversaries and establish his dynasty.

The ensuing Edo Period shaped Japan and its culture: socially, politically, economically and culturally. The institutions put in place by Ieyasu over 400 years ago can be said to retain an influence over contemporary Japan.

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