Japan’s history is rich in character, intriguing and full of interesting characters. But perhaps none has been as influential as the man who took a war-torn land from scattered domains.
He was the first, in centuries, to live up to the title of shogun. He eliminated his enemies, subjected the entire country to his will and inaugurated a dynasty that ruled Japan for 265 years. This man is the great warrior and shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was born on January 31, 1543, at Okazaki Castle.
Tokugawa Ieyasu was born by the name of Matsudaira Takechiyo (the Matsudaira neighborhood is in the city of Toyota), he was the son of Matsudaira Hirotada, the lord of Mikawa, and Dai-no-kata, the daughter of a samurai lord named Mizuno Tadamasa. Strangely, his father and mother were half a brother. Father was only 17 and mother was 15 when Ieyasu was born.
Two years later, Dai-no-kata was sent back to her family, and the couple never lived together again. Both remarried, and both had more children, providing Ieyasu with a large number of half brothers and sisters.
Although Tokugawa’s reign over Japan is synonymous with the capital he developed, Edo (later Tokyo), his story begins at Okazaki Castle in Aichi. Born under the name Matsudaira Takechiyo in 1542 (it was standard practice for samurai to change their names at significant times in their lives), Ieyasu was kidnapped at age five by the neighboring Oda clan (held captive in Nagoya), rival to his father, a warlord ruling Okazaki Province.
At the age of nine, he was held hostage to the Imagawa clan and kept in good condition at Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka, until he was released when he reached the age of 15, where he received an education – academic and military, suitable for a nobleman.
After the death of his father and his majority, at the age of 13, Ieyasu became head of the Matsudaira clan and, under the instructions of the Imagawa, began to fight his kidnappers Oda. However, the moment he changed his name to Tokugawa Ieyasu, which means he was founding a new clan (in doing so, claiming to be connected to the old Minamoto clan) later in 1567, he changed his loyalty and united forces with the mighty Oda Nobunaga, expanding his wealth, with Nobunaga becoming the most powerful samurai in Japan.
Although their bond was strong and mutually advantageous, the relationship between Oda and Tokugawa was put to the test in 1579, when Ieyasu’s wife and his eldest son and heir, were accused of plotting against Nobunaga’s life.
Nobunaga demanded that Ieyasu order the death of his own wife and eldest son, suspected of conspiring against his clan. He followed orders, maintained the leader’s confidence, and became one of commanders closest to him. In 1566, so much dedication was rewarded and Ieyasu was given land and became a powerful daimiô.
Although Nobuyasu’s plot was not successful, three years later Nobunaga was murdered by his closest aide, Akechi Mitsuhide.
The Battle for Japan
In 1599, Ieyasu’s army took Osaka Castle, home of the young heir Hideyori, by force. Enraged by this act of betrayal, Mitsunari planned to kill Ieyasu, but on hearing about the plot, Ieyasu’s men turned against Mitsunari. To escape, Mitsunari, with the help of Ieyasu, disguised herself as a woman and fled the castle. It is not certain why Ieyasu helped his biggest rival to escape, although it is thought that in the battle he knew would come, Ieyasu preferred to face Mitsunari rather than one of the council members, who would have had more legitimacy.
Two major forces have now formed: the Western Army, led by Mitsunari, and the Eastern Army, from Ieyasu, the two great forces met on October 21, 1600 in the Sekigahara rice fields, in present-day Gifu. With 75,000 men to his opponent’s 120,000, things initially looked bleak for Ieyasu. However, he was known to be a master of strategy and before the battle, he caused certain members of the Western Army to turn against Mitsunari and fight for the east. It was this ability to encourage betrayal in others and with the 19 cannons taken from the same Dutch ship that brought the first Western samurai, William Adams, that ensured Ieyasu’s victory.
And for the winner the title of Shogun.
The title of “shogun”, Japan’s military dictator, was reserved only for those who could prove a direct line to historical royalty. However, thanks to his vision to change his name to Tokugawa (by doing so alleging an unfounded connection with the Minamoto clan) the honor of the title was bestowed by the emperor in 1603, giving him absolute power unmatched in the country.
The title of “shogun”, Japan’s military dictator, was reserved only for those who could prove a direct line to historical royalty. However, thanks to his vision to change his name to Tokugawa (by doing so alleging an unfounded connection with the Minamoto clan) the honor of the title was bestowed by the emperor in 1603, giving him absolute power unmatched in the country
Hamamatsu Castle is located in the city of Hamamatsu, in Shizuoka Prefecture. It was the castle where Tokugawa Ieyasu lived for 17 years, from 29 to 45 years old.
The Life of the Tokugawa Family
Two years later, Ieyasu abdicated in favor of his son, in order to ensure a smooth transition and create a lasting legacy. However, this does not mean that Ieyasu has retired from public life. In fact, even though he retired as a shogun, he remained the ruler of the country and began planning massive reconstructions of the nation. In Edo, the city where he now resides, he oversaw the construction of Edo Castle (a major project that would become the largest castle in the country), as well as the construction of Nagoya Castle and the reconstruction of the Kyoto imperial court. While the nation flourished under his control in relative peace (Hideyoshi remained a thorn in Ieyasu’s side until he was killed in Osaka in 1615), Ieyasu expanded Japan’s reach of influence by increasing trade with England.
The death of Tokugawa Ieyasu and the birth of a new era
Tokugawa Ieyasu died in 1617, at the age of 73.
With the death of the previous unifiers (Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi), they saw others claiming power for themselves.
Through his advance planning, his cunning and his relentless treatment of those who opposed him, Ieyasu’s heir not only continued to rule Japan, but his past held power for more than 250 years after his death.
This time, the Tokugawa era, came to be considered not only a time of peace and prosperity for the nation, but also of consolidating the nation in the form of samurai of honor, loyalty and effort. It is a little ironic that the man who started this era, with brutal and cunning strength, used betrayal to achieve his goals.
But, as the Japanese saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
Every Japanese person knows Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan’s most famous general
And every year in April the Ieyasu Gyoretsu Festival is held in the city of Okazaki, the parade speaks of the samurai who became a shogun (Tokugawa Ieyasu), this parade is made up of cavalry, warriors with weapons and others with spears, archers with bows and arrows and so on. Actors reenact a battle, showing a ninja clan trying to take control of the castle, Ieyasu and his samurai warriors repel the attack. A festival where you will find many foreign tourists among the crowd of spectators.