A-Z of Japan: T is for…

When thinking about what to write about for T in this week’s A-Z of Japan, a lot of topics came to mind. Naturally, I thought of my favourite food: takoyaki (たこ焼き). I also thought of the wonderful music which comes from taiko (太鼓) drums. Of course, I could have simply written about Tokyo (東京). However, I’ve decided to write about something else…

T is for… Tokugawa!


(Statue at Nagoya Castle)

Ieyasu Tokugawa, 1543 – 1616, was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shogun in 1603, abdicated from office in 1605, but remained in power until his death in 1616. Ieyasu was posthumously enshrined at Nikkō Tōshō-gū with the name Tōshō Daigongen. (Source: Wikipedia)

Anyone who knows me will know that I am not exactly a history buff, so why have I decided to dedicate a whole post to Ieyasu Tokugawa? Well, while living in Japan, it seemed to me that this guy was pretty important. Everywhere I went I saw statues of him and found mentions of him.

Living in Nagoya, I visited Nagoya Castle a number of times. In 1609, Nagoya Castle was rebuilt by Ieyasu Tokugawa (who was originally from the Nagoya area). Later, I lived in Hamamatsu, in Shizuoka Prefecture, and discovered that Ieyasu Tokugawa had also renovated and expanded Hamamatsu Castle.

Ieyasu Tokugawa

Ieyasu Tokugawa

(Statues at Hamamatsu Castle)

In 1616, Ieyasu died at age 73. The cause of death is thought to have been cancer or syphilis. The first Tokugawa shogun was posthumously deified with the name Tōshō Daigongen, the “Great Gongen, Light of the East”. (A Gongen (the prefix Dai- meaning great) is believed to be a buddha who has appeared on Earth in the shape of a kami to save sentient beings). In life, Ieyasu had expressed the wish to be deified after his death in order to protect his descendants from evil. His remains were buried at the Gongens’ mausoleum at Kunōzan, Kunōzan Tōshō-gū. After the first anniversary of his death, his remains were reburied at Nikkō Shrine, Nikkō Tōshō-gū. His remains are still there. The mausoleum’s architectural style became known as gongen-zukuri, that is gongen-style. (Source: Wikipedia)

Ieyasu's graveyard

(Ieyasu Tokugawa’s grave at Nikko Tosho-gu)

For the last few months I have been reading an amazing samurai novel called Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa. Ieyasu Tokugawa and the Battle of Sekigahara feature in the book, and I’ve been totally hooked on the story. I’ve also recently discovered that James Clavell’s Shogun is based the story of Ieyasu Tokugawa’s rise – I’ll have to add that to my reading list!

Even for someone like myself who has no particular interest in history, Japanese history can still be enticing. Personally, I find these stories of shoguns and battles very exciting, and want to read more books about that particular period. If anyone has any recommendations, do let me know!

10 thoughts on “A-Z of Japan: T is for…

  1. >If anyone has any recommendations, do let me know!

    Eji Yoshikawa wrote about Ieyasu, and more particularly about his predecessor, Hideyoshi in his book “Taiko”. Hideyoshi was responsible for many of the reforms that were characteristic of the Edo period. It’s not as easy a read as Musashi however.

    It has a famous story about the 3 big figures of the period.

    What if the bird will not sing?
    Nobunga answers: Kill It!
    Hideyoshi answers: Make it *want* to sing.
    Ieyasu answers: Wait.

    Not about the Edo period but Taisho, I thoroughly recommend Eji Yoshikawa’s autobiography of his early life in Yokohama, “Fragments of A Past”.

    I really enjoyed “Shogun” when I first read it (back in the 80s!!) but coming back to it with more knowledge I was a bit disappointed.

    Not history, but a Young Adult series based very closely on the period, I recommend Lean Hearne’s “Across the Nightingale Floor” series. It’s very atmospheric.

    No battles, but an interesting book about the woman who founded Kabuki in the same period as Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. “Kabuki Dancer” by Sawako Ariyoshi. (Who also wrote a novel about the worlds first use of general anaesthesia in “The Doctor’s Wife”)

    All these books are published by Kodansha, so can be hard to find and expensive. (. .);

    For a good free book if you have an e-reader try Shike by Robert J. Shea.
    Based in the era of the Mongol (attempted) invasion of Japan.


  2. Thanks for the great suggestions! Of all of these, the only ones I have read are the Across the Nightingale Floor series – which I thought was absolutely AMAZING!

    I’ll check out some of the others you have mentioned! (^_^)v


  3. Great post!!! I’ve been trying to find a First Edition hardback copy of “James Clavell’s Shogun” for some time. I can get a copy from ebay, but it’s pretty expensive. I’m hoping I may come across a copy in a charity shop at a fraction of the price 🙂 I absolutely love the mini-series from 1980 (aired in the UK in 1983) – it was one of the reasons I became facinated with all things Japan related. The DVD box set is well worth getting!


    • Ooops, should have posted my reply here:

      Wow, that was impulsive I’m sure you’re going to love it for its entertainment value – Toshiro Mifune is in it, so that can’t be bad. I first saw it almost 30 years ago, and I still love it. I’d be interested to hear what you think after watching it for the first time – it’s still considered by many to be the best mini-series ever! I can make you a copy of the soundtrack if you like – it’s a blend of East and West composed by Maurice Jarre (“Lawrance of Arabia”).


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