The Three Great Unifiers of Japan : Tokugawa Ieyasu 

The Third Great Unifier Tokugawa Ieyasu (January 31, 1543 – June 1, 1616) 

The Matsudaira House was positioning for power amongst several other daimyo who were also seeking to control the province of Mikawa because it had some of the best areas for farming rice.  Matsudaira Hirotada, the daimyo of a large portion of Mikawa, welcomed a son Matsudaira Takechiyo, in 1543.  The elder Matsudaira did not live to see his son grow up as he died when Takechiyo was only six years old. Takechiyo experienced a turbulent childhood such as being kidnapped and ransomed by rival daimyo and lived with the constant threat of diminishing fortunes of the Matsudaira house.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan.

Takechiyo exhibited leadership qualities by inspiring the sinking spirits of the samurai of the Matsudaira clan. Takechiyo’s military victories across Mikawa were so awe-inspiring that the emperor himself awarded the young Takechiyo the title of Mikawa no Kami or lord of Mikawa in 1566. The following year Takechiyo changed his surname and given name to Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Tokugawa Ieyasu served as an ally to Nobunaga and then Hideyoshi. He became the dominant daimyo in Japan’s Kanto area in eastern Honshu. Ieyasu was later given the village town of Edo which eventually served as the Tokugawa house headquarters. Following the death of Hideyoshi, Ieyasu moved to Osaka and claimed that he was taking the lead in protecting Hideyoshi’s widow and heir, Hideyori. Ieyasu also began sending letters to various daimyo seeking their allegiance, which brought deep resentment among the other generals loyal to Hideyoshi. Loyalists of the Toyotomi family began to doubt Ieyasu’s true intentions, that perhaps he was actually positioning himself to become shogun and yet again rumblings of war threatened united Japan.

The battle of Sekigahara on October 21, 1600 was the culmination for the fight for leadership of the troubled realm. Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged victorious and used his military success to implement his rule in Japan. The country was divided into hans (domains), with each one having to produce at least 10,000 koku annually.

Tokugawa Ieyasu’s military career spanned six decades that left him in effective control of the nationwide political confederation forged by Hideyoshi. Ieyasu was a shrewd politician, notable general, and an astute administrator. His career and life’s achievement were a success due to his personal longevity and judicious institutional borrowing.

Kabuto (helmets) of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

He outlived Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, enabling him to continue to pursue his ideals and further his national regime around policies shaped by the men he outlived. Ieyasu modeled his army and administration from his experience with his most dangerous enemies.

Following the chaos of the Sengoku period, Japan’s reunification was a process that lasted almost half a century, beginning with a ruthless Oda Nobunaga who spared no one who stood in his way, including the Buddhist church and the shogun. Hideyoshi continued Nobunaga’s work and used diplomatic means more than military might to unite Japan. He also implemented land reforms that became the foundation for Tokugawa Ieyasu to build upon. Finally, Ieyasu combined both the harsh governance and political acuity of Hideyoshi to establish the Tokugawa bafuku which ultimately led to almost three centuries of economic stability in Japan.

Related posts:

The Three Great Unifiers of Japan
The Three Great Unifiers of Japan: Oda Nobunaga
The Three Great Unifiers of Japan: Toyotomi Hideyoshi