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Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Tokugawa Yoshinobu
Tokugawa Yoshinobu as Shogun of Japan, c. 1867
Member of the House of Peers
In office
15th Tokugawa Shogun
In office
29 August 1866 – 19 November 1867
Monarch Emperor Kōmei
Emperor Meiji
Preceded by Tokugawa Iemochi
Succeeded by position abolished
Personal details
Born (1837-10-28)28 October 1837
Edo, Japan
Died 22 November 1913(1913-11-22) (aged 76)
Bunkyō, Tokyo, Japan
Resting place Yanaka Cemetery
Nationality Japanese

Tokugawa Yoshinobu (徳川 慶喜) (also known as Keiki; October 28, 1837 – November 22, 1913) was the 15th and last shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan. He was part of a movement which aimed to reform the aging shogunate, but was ultimately unsuccessful. After resigning in late 1867, he went into retirement, and largely avoided the public eye for the rest of his life.


  • Early life 1
  • Shogun (1866) 2
  • Boshin War (1868–69) 3
  • Later life 4
  • Honors 5
    • Order of precedence 5.1
  • Eras of Yoshinobu's bakufu 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
    • Works of fiction 10.1
  • External links 11

Early life

Tokugawa Yoshinobu was born in Edo, as the seventh son of Tokugawa Nariaki, daimyo of Mito. Mito was one of the gosanke, the three branch families of the Tokugawa clan which were eligible to be chosen as shogun. His birthname was Matsudaira Shichirōma.[1] His mother, Princess Arisugawa Yoshiko, was a member of the Arisugawa-no-miya, a cadet branch of the imperial family; through her, he was a third cousin (once removed) of the then Emperor, Ninkō. Shichirōma was brought up under strict, spartan supervision and tutelage.[2] He was taught in the literary and martial arts, as well as receiving a solid education in the principles of politics and government.[3]

At the instigation of his father, Shichirōma was adopted by the Hitotsubashi-Tokugawa family in order to have a better chance of succeeding to the shogunate.[4] He became family head in 1847, coming of age that year, receiving court rank and title, and taking the name Yoshinobu.[5] Upon the death of the 13th shogun, Shogun Iesada, in 1858, Yoshinobu was nominated as a potential successor.[6] His supporters touted his skill and efficiency in managing family affairs. However, the opposing faction, led by Ii Naosuke, won out. Their candidate, the young Tokugawa Yoshitomi, was chosen, and became the 14th shogun Iemochi.[7] Soon after, during the Ansei Purge, Yoshinobu and others who supported him were placed under house arrest.[8] Yoshinobu himself was made to retire from Hitotsubashi headship.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu organizing defenses at the Imperial Palace in 1864, together with Matsudaira Katamori, during the Kinmon Incident

The period of Ii's domination of the Tokugawa government was marked by mismanagement and political infighting. Upon Ii's assassination in 1860, Yoshinobu was reinstated as Hitotsubashi family head, and was nominated in 1862 to be the shogun's guardian (将軍後見職 shōgun atomi-shoku), receiving the position soon afterwards.[9] At the same time, his two closest allies, Matsudaira Yoshinaga and Matsudaira Katamori, were appointed to other high positions: Yoshinaga as chief of political affairs (政治総裁職 seiji sōsai shoku),[10] Katamori as Guardian of Kyoto (京都守護職 Kyoto Shugoshoku).[11] The three men then took numerous steps to quell political unrest in the Kyoto area, and gathered allies to counter the activities of the rebellious Chōshū Domain. They were instrumental figures in the kōbu-gattai political party, which sought a reconciliation between the shogunate and the imperial court.[12]

In 1864, Yoshinobu, as commander of the imperial palace's defense, defeated the Chōshū forces in their attempt to capture the imperial palace's Hamaguri Gate (蛤御門 Hamaguri-Gomon) in what is called the Kinmon Incident. This was achieved by use of the forces of the Aizu-Satsuma coalition.[13]

Shogun (1866)

The French military mission to Japan, invited by Tokugawa Yoshinobu for the modernization of his forces, in 1867

After the death of Tokugawa Iemochi in 1866, Yoshinobu was chosen to succeed him, and became the 15th shogun.[14] He was the only Tokugawa shogun to spend his entire tenure outside of Edo: he never set foot in Yokosuka arsenal under Leonce Verny, and the dispatch of a French military mission to modernize the armies of the bakufu.[16]

The national army and navy, which had already been formed under Tokugawa command, were strengthened by the assistance of the Russians, and the Tracey Mission provided by the British Royal Navy. Equipment was also purchased from the United States.[17] The outlook among many was that the Tokugawa shogunate was gaining ground towards renewed strength and power; however, it would fall in less than a year.

Boshin War (1868–69)

Fearing the renewed strengthening of the Tokugawa shogunate under a strong and wise ruler, samurai from Satsuma, Chōshū and Tosa formed an alliance to counter it. Under the banner of sonnō jōi ("revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians!") coupled with a fear of the new Shogun as the "Rebirth of Ieyasu" who would continue to usurp the power of the Emperor, they worked to bring about an end to the shogunate, though they varied in their approaches. In particular, Tosa was more moderate; it proposed a compromise whereby Yoshinobu would resign as shogun, but preside over a new national governing council composed of various daimyo. To this end, Yamanouchi Toyonori, the lord of Tosa, together with his advisor, Gotō Shōjirō, petitioned Yoshinobu to resign[18] in order to make this possible.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu with rifle
Tokugawa Yoshinobu in later life

On November 9, 1867, Yoshinobu tendered his resignation to the Emperor and formally stepped down ten days later, returning governing power to the Emperor.[19] He then withdrew from Kyoto to

Military offices
Preceded by
Tokugawa Iemochi
15th Tokugawa shogunate:
Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Succeeded by
Shogunate ended
Japanese royalty
Preceded by
Tokugawa Shōmaru
Hitotsubashi-Tokugawa family head
Succeeded by
Tokugawa Mochiharu
Preceded by
Tokugawa Iemochi
Tokugawa family head
Succeeded by
Tokugawa Iesato
Preceded by
Tokugawa Yoshinobu-ke Head
Succeeded by
Tokugawa Yoshihisa

External links

  • Shiba, Ryōtarō (1998). The Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, trans. Juliet Winters Carpenter. (New York: Kodansha International). ISBN 1-56836-246-3

Works of fiction

  • Matsuura Rei 松浦玲 (1975). Tokugawa Yoshinobu: shōgun-ke no Meiji-ishin 德川慶喜 : 将軍家の明治維新. (Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha 中央公論社).
  • Satow, Ernest Mason, trans. (1905). Japan 1853–1864, Or, Genji Yume Monogatari. (Tokyo: Naigai Shuppan Kyokai).
  • Shibusawa Eiichi 渋沢栄一, ed. (1967–1968) Tokugawa Yoshinobu-kō den 德川慶喜公伝. (Tokyo: Heibonsha 平凡社).

Further reading

  • Beasley, William G. (1963). The modern history of Japan. (New York: Praeger).
  • Borton, Hugh (1955). Japan's Modern Century. (New York: The Ronald Press Company).
  • Griffis, William Elliot. (1915). The Mikado: Institution and Person. (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
  • Kobiyama Rokurō (2003). Matsudaira Katamori no shōgai. (Tokyo: Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha).
  • Murray, David (1905). Japan. (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons).
  • Sasaki Suguru (1977). Boshin sensō. (Tokyo: Chūōkōron-shinsha).
  • Sims, Richard L. (1998). French Policy Towards the Bakufu and Meiji Japan, 1854–95. (London: Routledge).
  • Takano Kiyoshi 高野澄 (1997). Tokugawa Yoshinobu: kindai Nihon no enshutsusha 德川慶喜 : 近代日本の演出者. (Tokyo: Nihon Hōsō Shuppan Kyōkai 日本放送出版協会).
  • Tokugawa Munefusa 徳川宗英 (2004). Tokugawa Yonhyaku-nen no naisho-banashi 徳川四百年の内緒話 Vol. 1. (Tokyo: Bungei-shunju).
  • Tokugawa Munefusa 徳川宗英 (2004). Tokugawa Yonhyaku-nen no naisho-banashi 徳川四百年の内緒話 Vol. 2: Raibaru tekishō hen. (Tokyo: Bungei-shunju).
  • Tokugawa Yoshitomo 徳川慶朝 (2003). Tokugawa Yoshinobu-ke ni Yōkoso: Wagaya ni tsutawaru aisubeki "Saigo no Shogun" no Yokogao 徳川慶喜家にようこそ わが家に伝わる愛すべき「最後の将軍」の横顔. (Tokyo: Bungei-shunju). ISBN 4-16-765680-9
  • Totman, Conrad (1980). The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu, 1862–1868. (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press)
  • Treat, Payson J. (1921). Japan and the United States: 1853–1921. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company).
  • Yamakawa Kenjirō (1933). Aizu Boshin Senshi. (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai).


  1. ^ Takano, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, p. 26. Sons of the lord of Mito did not bear the name Tokugawa unless they themselves became the next lord.
  2. ^ Tokugawa, Tokugawa yonbyakunen no naishobanashi, pp. 138–140.
  3. ^ Takano, p. 28.
  4. ^ Takano, p. 38.
  5. ^ Takano, p. 48.
  6. ^ Borton, Japan's Modern Century, p. 40.
  7. ^ Borton, pp. 39–40.
  8. ^ Takano, pp. 12–13.
  9. ^ Murray, Japan, p. 362; Kobiyama, Matsudaira Katamori no shōgai, p. 75; Bolitho, Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu, p. 9.
  10. ^ Kobiyama, p. 75.
  11. ^ Takano, pp. 132–133.
  12. ^ Kobiyama, pp. 84–87; Totman, p. 45; Takano, p. 20.
  13. ^ See Japan 1853–1864, Or, Genji Yume Monogatari, trans. by Ernest Mason Satow. (Tokyo: Naigai Shuppan Kyokai), for more.
  14. ^ Borton, p. 63.
  15. ^ Tokugawa, Tokugawa yonbyakunen no naishobanashi, vol. 2, p. 162.
  16. ^ Sims, French Policy Towards the Bakufu and Meiji Japan, 1854–95, p. 236.
  17. ^ Treat, Japan and the United States: 1853–1921, p. 89
  18. ^ a b c Beasley, The History of Modern Japan, p. 96.
  19. ^ Takano, p. 256.
  20. ^ Yamakawa, Aizu Boshin Senshi, pp. 7–9.
  21. ^ a b Beasley, p. 97.
  22. ^ Beasley, p. 97; Yamakawa, Aizu Boshin Senshi, p. 148-151.
  23. ^ Totman, p. 416. For a copy of the original text of the message, see Yamakawa, pp. 89–90.
  24. ^ Totman, p. 417.
  25. ^ Sasaki, pp. 23–24; Bolitho, pp. 420–422.
  26. ^ Kobiyama, p. 124.
  27. ^ Griffis, The Mikado: Institution and Person, p. 141.
  28. ^ Takano, p. 267.
  29. ^
  30. ^ Tokugawa Munefusa, Tokugawa yonbyakunen no naisho banashi, vol. 1, p. 131
  31. ^ Tokugawa, pp. 131–133
  32. ^ Tokugawa, p. 136-138.
  33. ^ For an example of Yoshinobu's photography, see: Tokugawa Yoshitomo, Tokugawa Yoshinobu-ke e yōkoso, p. 73.
  34. ^ Takano, p. 273.
  35. ^ Ibaraki Prefecture e-newsletter


See also

The years in which Yoshinobu was Shōgun are more specifically identified by more than one era name or nengō.

Eras of Yoshinobu's bakufu

  • Third rank (First day, 12th month of the fourth year of Koka (1847))
  • Second rank (10th day, 12th month of the first year of Keio (1865))
  • Senior second rank (Fifth day, 12th month of the second year of Keio (1866); degraded 28th day, ninth month of the second year of Meiji (1869))
  • Fourth rank (appointed 6 January 1872, following degradation in 1869)
  • Senior second rank (18 May 1880, restored)
  • First rank (20 June 1888)

Order of precedence

  • Prince (3 June 1902)
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (30 April 1908)[35]
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers (22 November 1913; posthumous)

With information from the corresponding article in the Japanese WorldHeritage


On 26 December 1911 his granddaughter Tokugawa Kikuko, later Princess Takamatsu was born, who married Prince Takamatsu, the brother of Emperor Shōwa.

On 9 January 1896 his ninth daughter Tokugawa Tsuneko (1882–1939) married Prince Fushimi Hiroyasu, a second cousin to both Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako and nephew of Prince Kan'in Kotohito.

In 1902, the Meiji Emperor allowed him to reestablish his own house as a Tokugawa branch (bekke) with the highest rank in the peerage, that of prince (kōshaku), for his loyal service to Japan.[34] He took a seat in the House of Peers, resigning in 1910. Tokugawa Yoshinobu died on November 21, 1913 at 4:10 pm and he is buried in Yanaka Cemetery, Tokyo.

Living a life in quiet retirement, Yoshinobu indulged in many hobbies, including oil-painting, archery, hunting, photography, and cycling.[32] Some of Yoshinobu's photographs have been published in recent years by his great-grandson, Yoshitomo.[33]

Later life

Many of the hatamoto also relocated to Shizuoka; a large proportion of them did not find adequate means to support themselves. As a result, many of them resented Yoshinobu, some of them to the point of wanting him dead.[30] Yoshinobu was aware of this, and was so afraid of assassination that he redesigned his sleeping arrangement to confuse a potential assassin.[31]

Together with Kamenosuke (who took the name Tokugawa Iesato), Yoshinobu moved to Shizuoka, the place to which Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of Tokugawa shogunate, had also retired, centuries earlier. Iesato was made the daimyō of the new Shizuoka Domain, but lost this title a few years later, when the domains were abolished.

When the Tokugawa forces arrived outside Kyoto, they were refused entry, and were attacked by Satsuma and Choshu troops, starting the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, the first clash of the Boshin War.[25] Though the Tokugawa forces had a distinct advantage in numbers, Yoshinobu abandoned his army in the midst of the fight once he realized the Satsuma and Choshu forces raised the Imperial banner, and escaped to Edo.[26] He placed himself under voluntary confinement, and indicated his submission to the imperial court. However, a peace agreement was reached wherein Tayasu Kamenosuke, the young head of a branch of the Tokugawa family, was adopted and made Tokugawa family head;[27] On April 11, Edo Castle was handed over to the imperial army,[28][29] and the city spared from all-out war.

[24] at the urging of men of Aizu, Kuwana, and other domains, and in light of the immense number of Satsuma and Chōshū troops in Kyoto, he dispatched a large body of troops to convey this message to the court.[23] Yoshinobu opposed this action, and composed a message of protest, to be delivered to the imperial court;[21] despite having taken no action that could be construed as aggressive or criminal. Any who would have opposed this were not included in the meeting.[22] There was a meeting called at the imperial court, where Yoshinobu was stripped of all titles and land,[21] and moved a massive number of Satsuma and Chōshū troops into Kyoto.[20]

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