Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
In office
Preceded by Tokugawa Ietsuna
Succeeded by Tokugawa Ienobu
Personal details
Born (1646-02-23)23 February 1646
Died 19 February 1709(1709-02-19) (aged 62)
  • Tsuruhime
  • Tokugawa Tokumatsu
  • Tokugawa Chomatsu
  • Kichihime
  • Yaehime
  • Takehime
Parents Tokugawa Iemitsu

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (徳川 綱吉, February 23, 1646 – February 19, 1709) was the fifth shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty of Japan. He was the younger brother of Tokugawa Ietsuna, thus making him the son of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the grandson of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the great-grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu.[1]

Tsunayoshi is known for instituting animal protection laws, particularly for dogs. This earned him the nickname of "the dog shōgun". He had a dog named Takemaru.

Early years (1646–1680)

Keishōin, Tsunayoshi's mother

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi was born on February 23, 1646, in Edo. He was the son of Tokugawa Iemitsu by one of his concubines, named Otama, later known as Keishōin 桂昌院 (1627–1705). Tsunayoshi had an elder brother already five years old, who would become the next shogun after Iemitsu's death, Tokugawa Ietsuna. Tsunayoshi was born in Edo and after his birth moved in with his mother to her own private apartments in Edo Castle. "The younger son (Tsunayoshi) apparently distinguished himself by his precociousness and liveliness at an early age, and the father, the third shogun, Iemitsu, became fearful that he might usurp the position of his duller elder brothers [and] thus he ordered that the boy (Tsunayoshi) not to be brought up as a samurai/warrior, as was becoming for his station, but be trained as a scholar."[attribution needed][2] His childhood name was Tokumatsu (徳松).

While his father was shōgun, his mother was an adopted daughter of the Honjō family, led by Honjō Munemasa (1580–1639) in Kyoto. His mother's natural parents were merchants in Kyoto. This remarkable woman was very close with Tsunayoshi in his young years, and while his older brother Ietsuna began to rely on regents for much of his reign, Tsunayoshi did exactly the opposite, relying on his remarkable mother for advice until her death.

In 1651, shōgun Iemitsu died when Tsunayoshi was only five years old. His older brother, Tokugawa Ietsuna, became shogun. For the most part, Tsunayoshi's life during the reign of his brother shōgun Ietsuna is unknown, but he never advised his brother.


  • Father: Tokugawa Iemitsu
  • Mother: Keishōin (1627–1705)
  • Wife: Takatsukasa Nobuko (1651–1709) later Jokoin
  • Concubines:
    • Oden no Kata (1658–1738) later Zuishun-in
    • Yasuko no Kata (d. 1681) later Seichōin
    • Lady Emonosuke (d. 1705)
    • Lady Osuke (d. 1714) later Jukoin
    • Lady Shinsuke later Sheishin-in
  • Children:
    • Tsuruhime (1677–1704) by Oden, married Tokugawa Tsunanori of Kii Domain
    • Tokugawa Tokumatsu (1679–1683), Tatebayashi Domain by Oden
    • Tokugawa Chomatsu (1681–1683) by Yasuko
  • Adopted:
    • Tokugawa Ienobu
    • Kichihime (1697–1701) signed as Midaidokoro's daughter
    • Yaehime (1689–1746) daughter of Takatsukasa Sukenobu, married Tokugawa Yoshizane of Mito Family later Yousen-in had 1 daughter, Miyohime married Tokugawa Munetaka signed as Midaidokoro's daughter
    • Matsuhime daughter of Tokugawa Tsunanari married Maeda Yoshinori signed as Midaidokoro's daughter
    • Takehime (1705–1772), daughter of Hirosada Seikan'in and adopted by Tokugawa Yoshimune and married Shimazu Tsugutoyo of Satsuma Domain and known as Joganin had 1 daughter, Kikuhime (1733–1808) signed as Midaidokoro's daughter and signed as Okume no Kata's daughter when she became adopted daughter of Yoshimune

Disputed succession (1680)

In 1680, shōgun Ietsuna died at the premature age of 38.

  • June 4, 1680 (Enpō 8, 8th day of the 5th month): Shogun Ietsuna's death leads to the accession of Tsunayoshi as head of the shogunate.[3]
  • 1680–81 (Enpō 8): Gokoku-ji in Edo is founded in honor of Tsunayoshi's mother.[3]
  • 1681 (Tenna 1): Tsunayoshi's investiture as shōgun.[3]

A power struggle ensued, and for a time, the succession remained an open question. Sakai Tadakiyo, one of Ietsuna's most favored advisors, suggested that the succession not pass to someone of the Tokugawa line, but rather to the blood royal, favoring one of the sons of Emperor Go-Sai to become the next shōgun (as during the Kamakura shogunate) but Tadakiyo was dismissed soon after.

Hotta Masatoshi, one of the most brilliant advisors of shōgun Ietsuna's rule, was the first person to suggest that Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, as the brother of the former shōgun and the son of the third, become the next shōgun. Finally, in 1681 (Tenna 1), Tsunayoshi's elevation was confirmed; and he was installed as the fifth shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Shōgun (1680–1709)

Immediately after becoming shōgun, Tsunayoshi gave Hotta Masatoshi the title of Tairō, in a way thanking him for ensuring his succession. Almost immediately after he became shogun, he ordered a vassal of the Takata to commit suicide because of misgovernment, showing his strict approach to the samurai code. He then confiscated his fief of 250,000 koku. During his reign, he confiscated a total of 1,400,000 koku.

In 1682, shōgun Tsunayoshi ordered his censors and police to raise the living standard of the people. Soon, prostitution was banned, waitresses could not be employed in tea houses, and rare and expensive fabrics were banned. Most probably, smuggling began as a practice in Japan soon after Tsunayoshi's authoritarian laws came into effect. In 1684, Tsunayoshi also decreased the power of the tairō after the assassination of Masatoshi by a cousin in that same year.

Nonetheless, due again to maternal advice, Tsunayoshi became very religious, promoting the Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi. In 1682, he read to the daimyōs an exposition of the "Great Learning", which became an annual tradition at the shōgun's court. He soon began to lecture even more, and in 1690 lectured about Neo-Confucian work to Shinto and Buddhist daimyōs, and even to envoys from the court of Emperor Higashiyama in Kyoto. He also was interested in several Chinese works, namely The Great Learning (Da Xue) and The Classic of Filial Piety (Xiao Jing). Tsunayoshi also loved art and Noh theater.

In 1691, Engelbert Kaempfer visited Edo as part of the annual Dutch embassy from Dejima in Nagasaki. He journeyed from Nagasaki to Osaka, to Kyoto, and there to Edo. Kaempfer gives us information on Japan during the early reign of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. As the Dutch embassy entered Edo in 1692, they asked to have an audience with Shogun Tsunayoshi. While they were waiting for approval, a fire destroyed six hundred houses in Edo, and the audience was postponed. Tsunayoshi and several of the ladies of the court sat behind reed screens, while the Dutch embassy sat in front of them. Tsunayoshi took an interest in Western matters, and apparently asked them to talk and sing with one another for him to see how Westerners behaved. Tsunayoshi later put on a Noh drama for them.

Owing to religious fundamentalism, Tsunayoshi sought protection for living beings in the later parts of his rule. In the 1690s and first decade of the 1700s, Tsunayoshi, who was born in the Year of the Dog, thought he should take several measures concerning dogs. A collection of edicts released daily, known as the Edicts on Compassion for Living Things (生類憐みの令, Shōruiawareminorei), told the populace, among other things, to protect dogs, since in Edo there were many stray and diseased dogs walking around the city. Therefore, he earned the pejorative title Inu-Kubō (犬公方:Inu=Dog, Kubō=formal title of Shogun).[1]

In 1695, there were so many dogs that Edo began to smell horribly. An apprentice was even executed because he wounded a dog. Finally, the issue was taken to an extreme, as over 50,000 dogs were deported to kennels in the suburbs of the city where they would be housed. They were apparently fed rice and fish at the expense of the taxpaying citizens of Edo.

For the latter part of Tsunayoshi's reign, he was advised by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu.[1] It was a golden era of classic Japanese art, known as the Genroku era.

In 1701, Asano Naganori, the daimyō of Akō han, having been allegedly insulted by Kira Yoshinaka in Edo Castle, attempted to kill him. Asano was executed, but Kira went unpunished. Asano's forty-seven rōnin avenged his death by killing Kira and became a legend that influenced many plays and stories of the era. The most successful of them was a bunraku play called Kanadehon Chūshingura (now simply called Chūshingura, or "Treasury of Loyal Retainers"), written in 1748 by Takeda Izumo and two associates; it was later adapted into a kabuki play, which is still one of Japan's most popular. The earliest known account of the Akō incident in the West was published in 1822 in Isaac Titsingh's book, Illustrations of Japan.[4]

In 1704, Tsunayoshi's only surviving child, Tsuruhime died following a miscarriage and at few month his son-in-law Tokugawa Tsunanori of Kii Domain follow Tsuruhime.

In 1706, Edo was hit by a typhoon, and Mount Fuji erupted the following year.

Tsunayoshi's first son Tokugawa Tokumatsu (1679–1683) died at the age of 4 due to illness. Therefore, Tsunayoshi was succeeded by his nephew, Tokugawa Ienobu, who was the son of his other brother, Tokugawa Tsunashige, the former Lord of Kōfu, which was a title Ienobu held himself before becoming shōgun.

Tsunayoshi's official wife, Takatsukasa Nobuko, poisoned Tsunayoshi's second son Chomatsu, who was his son with his favorite concubine, Yasuko. Chosomaru died at 3 years of age. This gave rise to suspicions that she may have poisoned Tokugawa Tokumatsu as well.


It was insinuated that Tsunayoshi was stabbed by his consort after he tried to proclaim an illegitimate child as his heir; this concept, stemming from the Sanno Gaiki, is refuted in contemporary records which explain that Tsunayoshi had the measles at the end of his life and died on February 19, 1709, in the presence of his entourage.[5] His death was just four days short of his 63rd birthday. He was given the Buddhist name Joken'in (常憲院) and buried in Kan'ei-ji.

Eras of Tsunayoshi's bakufu

The years in which Tsunayoshi was shogun are more specifically identified by more than one era name or nengō.[6]

In popular culture

Tsunayoshi's court is the subject of the popular 2005 FujiTV drama Ōoku: Hana no Ran, in which Tsunayoshi is played by Tanihara Shosuke.

Tsunayoshi appears as a character in a series of mystery novels by American writer Laura Joh Rowland. The protagonist, Sano Ichiro, begins his career as a police officer in the capital city of Edo. The first novel, 1994's Shinjū, is set in January 1689, the first year of the Genroku period. During the course of investigating a double murder disguised as a lovers' suicide, Sano uncovers and foils a plot to assassinate Tsunayoshi and is rewarded by a promotion to be the shōgun's special investigator. Appearing in all of the novels, Tsunayoshi is portrayed as a homosexual, and as a weak-willed and inept leader unaware that he is a puppet to the manipulations of first his lover Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, and then his cousin Lord Matsudaira.

Tsunayoshi is also featured in an episode of Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z in which his ghost is awakened and possesses the Mayor, using his authority to invoke a "monster compassion law" akin to his dog protection laws.

Tsunayoshi Sawada (沢田 綱吉, Sawada Tsunayoshi), a character in Katekyo Hitman Reborn, is named after this shogun.

He shows up in Vanillaware's Muramasa: The Demon Blade as the primary antagonist.

In the 2018 anime series Yuru Camp, Nadeshiko signs a series of text messages in which she encounters a dog, "by Tsunayoshi".