Tokugawa Ieyasu Biography

(Military Leader)

Birthday: January 31, 1543 (Aquarius)

Born In: Okazaki Castle, Mikawa (now Okazaki, Japan)

Tokugawa Ieyasu was the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled over Japan from 1603 till 1868. He is remembered as one of the three great unifiers of Japan. Born to a minor daimyō, he spent the major part of his childhood and adolescence as a hostage, detained first by Oda Nobuhide and then by Imagawa Yoshimoto, being trained as a future ally by the latter. But after Yoshimoto’s death, Ieyasu decided to align first with Oda Nobuhide’s son, Oda Nobunaga and after his death with Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Concurrently, he started improving his army’s command structure and administrative set up, which include taxation procedure and food and water supply, eventually becoming the undisputed master of Japan.  At the age of sixty, he was appointed shōgun by the imperial court, a position he held for two years before abdicating for his son, thereafter continuing to work until his death, not only consolidating the position of Tokugawa shogunate, but also for the good of his country.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 73


Spouse/Ex-: Asahi no kata (m.1586 - 1590), Lady Tsukiyama (m. 1557- 1579)

father: Matsudaira Hirotada

mother: Odai no kata

siblings: Ichiba-hime, Matsudaira Sadakatsu, Matsudaira Yasumoto, Matsudaira Yasutoshi, Take-hime

children: Furi hime, Furi-hime, Ichi hime, Ichi-hime, Kame-hime, Kamehime, Mate-hime, Matsu hime, Matsudaira Matsuchiyo, Matsudaira Nobuyasu, Matsudaira Senchiyo, Matsudaira Tadateru, Matsudaira Tadayoshi, Senchiyo, Takeda Nobuyoshi, Tobai-in, Toku-hime, Tokugawa Hidetada, Tokugawa Yorifusa, Tokugawa Yorinobu, Tokugawa Yoshinao, Tokuhime (Tokugawa), Yūki Hideyasu

Born Country: Japan

Military Leaders Japanese Men

Died on: June 1, 1616

place of death: Sunpu, Tokugawa shogunate (now Shizuoka, Japan)

Cause of Death: Cancer

Childhood & Early Life

Tokugawa Ieyasu was born as Matsudaira Takechiyo on January 31, 1543 at Okazaki Castle, located in the Japanese province of Mikawa. His father, Matsudaira Hirotada, was the daimyō (lord) of Mikawa, while his mother, Odai no kata, was the daughter of a neighboring lord, Mizuno Tadamasa.

When Takechiyo was two years old Hirotada divorced Odai no kata and sent her away because her brother had joined his rival, Oda Nobuhide. Later, Hirotada married few more times and from these unions Takechiyo had eleven half-siblings.

In 1547, on being frequently attacked by Nobuhide, Hirotada made an alliance with Imagawa Yoshimoto and as per agreement Takechiyo was sent as a hostage to Sumpu. But on the way, he was abducted by Nobuhide, who threatened to kill him unless his father severed ties with Imagawa.

Although Hirotada refused to do so, Nobuhide did not kill him, but kept him as a hostage at the Honshōji temple, Nagoya. Finally in 1551, on Nobuhide’s death, Takechiyo was released in Yoshimoto’s custody, whereupon he was taken to Sumpu. By then, his father was also dead.

At Sumpu, he led a more comfortable life and received training in the governmental and military art. Finally in 1556, on coming of age, Takechiyo’s name was changed to Matsudaira Jirōsaburō Motonobu in a ceremony presided over by Yoshimoto.

In 1557, he married Yoshimoto’s relative, Lady Tsukiyama and his eldest son was born in the following year. He was allowed to return to Mikawa only after that.

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Early Military Career

In 1558, Tokugawa Ieyasu, then called Motonobu, successfully fought his first battle at the Siege of Terabe. But it was not until Yoshimoto’s death in 1560 that he could assert independence and reclaim his ancestral seat at the Okazaki Castle. However, his wife and son remained in Sumpu, being held hostage by Yoshimoto's heir.

In 1561, he openly severed ties with the Imagawa clan and aligned with his erstwhile enemy, Oda Nobunaga, shortly freeing his wife and child in an exchange of hostages. Two years later, in February 1563, he finally changed his name to Ieyasu.

Freed from all shackles, he now concentrated on strengthening his position, not only improving his army’s command structure, but also the administrative set up. Concurrently, he had to deal with the Buddhist sectarian groups, crushing the rebels in the Battle of Azukizaka in 1564.

Rise to Power

By 1565, Matsudaira Ieyasu became the master of the whole of Mikawa Province. Two years later in 1567, he changed his family name to "Tokugawa" and became known as Tokugawa Ieyasu.

By late 1560s, the realm of the Imagawa began to disintegrate due to weak leadership. Tokugawa Ieyasu seized this opportunity to push his boundaries eastward, eventually setting up his headquarters in the coastal town of Hamamatsu in 1570, developing it as a commercial and strategic center.

Helped by his alliance with Oda Nobunaga, who had by then rose to importance, Ieyasu further expanded his territory, eventually becoming an important daimyō by early 1580s. At this time, his domain stretched from Okazaki to the mountain barrier at Hakone.

In early 1580s, on the death of Oda Nobunaga, Ieyasu shifted his allegiance to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who had assumed Nobunaga’s preeminent political position. Quickly, he began to enlarge his vassal force and increase the productivity of his domain.

In 1586, he moved his headquarters to Sumpu, where he had once lived as a hostage. Three years later in 1589, he collaborated with Hideyoshi to force the Hojos into submission, later surrendering his coastal provinces west of Hakone to Hideyoshi in exchange of the Hōjō domain to the east.

Soon after moving to Hōjō domain, he established his headquarters at Edo, located a month’s march away from Hideyoshi’s headquarters. To further eliminate threats, he placed the stronger vassals near the periphery of his domain and weaker ones near his headquarters. He also disarmed the villagers to avoid peasant rebellion.

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He ensured that his subjects had easy access to food and water and took measures to attract skilled artisans. He also regularized taxes and facilitated urban growth. Therefore, when Hideyoshi died in 1598, Ieyasu not only had the strongest army, but also the most productive and organized domain.

As Shōgun

Hideyoshi’s death led to another power struggle among the daimyos. Eventually in 1600, Ieyasu triumphed over his enemies in the Battle of Sekigahara and with that he became the undisputed master of Japan. Quickly he began to redistribute the lands, further consolidating his position.

On March 24, 1603, the imperial court appointed him the shōgun, thereby authorizing him to keep peace in the name of Emperor Go-Yōzei. He was then sixty years old.

Tokugawa Ieyasu served as shōgun for two years, utilizing the time to solidify the Tokugawa shogunate. Thereafter, in 1605, he abdicated in favor of his son and moved to Sumpu.

In spite of abdication, he remained active, especially in foreign affairs, dealing with requests for trade and right to proselytize. Although initially he allowed Spanish and Portuguese missionaries to promote Christianity, he soon became concerned about their secular activities and in 1614 signed a Christian Expulsion Edict.

In December 1614, he set out on his last campaign, leading a siege around Osaka Castle, in order to destroy his last rival, the son and heir to Hideyoshi. Finally by late 1615, he eliminated the entire clan, thus securing the fate of Tokugawa shogunate.

Personal Life & Legacy

In January 1557, Tokugawa Ieyasu married his first wife, Lady Tsukiyama. From this union, he had two children, a son named Matsudaira Nobuyasu (born 1559) and a daughter named Kamehime (born 1560).

In May 1586, he formally married his second wife, Asahi no kata, half-sister of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It was a political marriage and did not produce any issue.

Apart from his two wives, he had at least twenty concubines, with whom he had around the same number of children. Most significant among these concubines was Lady Saigō, who became Ieyasu’s first consort and trusted confidante. It was her son, Tokugawa Hidetada, who was later made the second Tokugawa shōgun.

Tokugawa Ieyasu passed away on April 17, 1616 and his remains were buried at the Gongens' mausoleum at Kunōzan, Kunōzan Tōshō-gū. According to his wish, he was posthumously deified with the name Tōshō Daigongen, the "Great Gongen, Light of the East".

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