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Tokugawa Iesada

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Tokugawa Iesada
In office
Preceded byTokugawa Ieyoshi
Succeeded byTokugawa Iemochi
Personal details
Born(1824-05-06)6 May 1824
Edo, Tokugawa shogunate
(now Tokyo, Japan)
Died14 August 1858(1858-08-14) (aged 34)
Tokugawa shogunate
Spouse(s)Princess Takatsukasa Atsuko
Princess Ichijō Hideko
Princess Atsu
Parent(s)Tokugawa Ieyoshi

Tokugawa Iesada (徳川 家定, May 6, 1824 – August 14, 1858) was the 13th shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan. He held office for five years from 1853 to 1858. He was physically weak and was therefore considered by later historians to have been unfit to be shōgun.[1] His reign marks the beginning of the Bakumatsu period.

Early years[edit]

Iesada was born in Edo Castle as Masanosuke (政之助)—the fourth son of the 12th shōgun Tokugawa Ieyoshi with his concubine, known as Honjuin. As most of Ieyoshi's children died in infancy or before coming of age, Iesada was appointed heir at a very early age, but his interaction with people was very restricted in an effort to prevent contracting any illnesses. Some[who?] historians have theorized that he may have suffered from cerebral palsy. He had suffered from smallpox in early childhood, which left his face pockmarked. On the death of Tokugawa Ienari in 1841, concerns were raised on the fitness of Iesada as heir, with Tokugawa Yoshinobu named as a potential successor. However, this was strongly opposed by the rōjū Abe Masahiro, and Iesada remained heir.

Shōgun (1853–1858)[edit]

Iesada became shōgun on the sudden death of his father, Tokugawa Ieyoshi at the height of the Black Ships episode. Already in poor health, he took no active role in political affairs, leaving negotiations with the Americans in the hand of Abe Masahiro. The Convention of Kanagawa was signed on March 31, 1854. Abe resigned his post shortly afterwards, and was replaced as leader of the rōjū by Hotta Masayoshi.

On November 4–7, 1854, the Great Nankaidō earthquakes and tsunamis killed 80,000 people. This was followed by the 1854 Tōkai earthquake on December 23, 1854. The earthquake struck primarily in the Tōkai region but destroyed houses as far away as in Edo. The accompanying tsunami caused damage along the entire coast from the Bōsō Peninsula in modern-day Chiba Prefecture to Tosa Province (modern-day Kōchi Prefecture).[2] The earthquake and tsunami also struck Shimoda on Izu peninsula; and because the port had just been designated as the prospective location for a U.S. consulate, some construed the natural disasters as demonstration of the displeasure of the kami.[3]

The 1854 Nankai earthquake followed on December 24, 1854, killing over 10,000 people from the Tōkai region down to Kyushu,[2] and the 1855 earthquake in Edo, one of the Ansei great earthquakes, with resulting fire damage and loss of life.[4][5]

On December 18, 1856, he married Princess Atsu, adopted daughter of Shimazu Nariakira and Konoe Tadahiro. She was known as Midaidokoro Atsuko (first-wife Atsuko).

On October 21, 1857, Iesada received the newly arrived American Consul Townsend Harris in an audience at Edo Castle.

Under Hotta Masayoshi's advice, Iesada ultimately signed the Harris Treaty of 1858 (the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between Japan and the United States),[6] and subsequently other Unequal Treaties (including the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty, and Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce) which broke the sakoku (isolation) policy and opened Japan to foreign influences.

Kōmei, the reigning emperor at the time, was a major opponent of his policies. This strengthened the sonnō jōi movement.

Ii Naosuke was appointed tairō from April 23, 1858.

A widespread cholera outbreak from 1858 to 1860 is believed to have killed between 100,000 and 200,000 people in Edo alone.[7] Iesada died childless in 1858, possibly from the cholera outbreak. His grave is at the Tokugawa clan temple of Kan'ei-ji in Ueno. His buddhist name was Onkyoin.

Political factions within the bakufu clashed over the succession.[8] Tokugawa Nariaki of Mito, Satsuma and others wanted to see Tokugawa Yoshinobu as his successor, while the Ōoku and shogunate officials including Ii Naosuke supported Tokugawa Iemochi, and succeeded. These quarrels ended in the Ansei Purge.

Health Problem[edit]

In the difficult situation at the end of the Edo period, the problem of the shogunate before Iesada took office immediately after he took office, and Iesada's constitution was very weak when he succeeded him, and he was even said to be a "wasted person". The abolition refers to the possibility that he may suffer from traumatic cerebral palsy, as well as the performance of the general.


Iesada was initially married to Princess Takatsukasa Atsuko (1823–1848), the daughter of kampaku Takatsukasa Masahiro in 1842. However, she died of smallpox without having given birth to an heir. His second official wife was Princess Ichijō Hideko (1825–1850), daughter of Ichijō Tadayoshi in 1849. She died of illness less than a year later. His third marriage was to Princess Atsu (1836–1883), the adopted daughter of the daimyō of Satsuma, Shimazu Nariakira. However, none of these marriages produced any children. Before he died, he adopted his cousin as his son, Tokugawa Yoshitomi (later Tokugawa Iemochi).

  • Father: Tokugawa Ieyoshi
  • Mother: Honjuin (1807–1885)
  • Wives:
    • Takaatsukasa Atsuko (1823–1848) later Tenryuin
    • Ichijo Hideko (1825–1850) later Sunjoin
    • Shimazu Atsuko or Konoe Sumiko, later Tenshō-in
  • Concubine: Oshiga no Kata (d. 1857) later Hoken'in
  • Adopted son: Tokugawa Iemochi

Eras of Iesada's bakufu[edit]

The years in which Iesada was shōgun are more specifically identified by more than one era name, or nengō.



In fiction[edit]

Tokugawa Iesada is featured in the 2008 NHK taiga drama Atsuhime, which chronicles the life of his wife Tenshō-in. He is portrayed by Masato Sakai. Iesada's portrayal in this series (unlike most other characterizations of him as an imbecile),[10] presents a romanticized (and largely-fictionalized) image him as a reasonable, if weak-willed individual, whose interactions with his wife Atsuhime pushed him to exert effort into his work as shōgun.


  1. ^ Ravina, Mark. (2004). The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori, pp. 62–63.
  2. ^ a b _____. (2007). "Great Earthquakes of Ansei" (安政大地震, Ansei Daijishin) in Historical Encyclopedia of Great Edo (大江戸歴史百科, Ō-Edo Rekishi Hyakka), p. 253.
  3. ^ Hammer, Joshua. (2006). Yokohama Burning: the Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire that Helped Forge the Path to World War II, p.65.
  4. ^ Smitts, Gregory. "Shaking up Japan: Edo Society and the 1855 Catfish Picture Prints" Archived 2007-12-30 at the Wayback Machine, Journal of Social History, No 39, No. 4, Summer 2006.
  5. ^ "Significant Earthquake Database" U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC)
  6. ^ Beasley, William G. (1955). Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853–1868, p. 322.
  7. ^ "Local agrarian societies in colonial India: Japanese perspectives.". Kaoru Sugihara, Peter Robb, Haruka Yanagisawa (1996). p 313.
  8. ^ Jansen, Marius B. and John Whitney Hall, eds. (1989). The Cambridge History of Japan, p. 316.
  9. ^ "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv (in Japanese). 6 May 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  10. ^ See, for example, other contemporary taiga dramas such as Shinsengumi!, Ryōmaden and Yae no Sakura which exaggerates his oddities and the apocryphal story of him chasing a duck within the Edo Castle compound.


External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by Shōgun:
Tokugawa Iesada

Succeeded by