Shintokuin (Divine Prince of Humility & Virtue)
12th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Ieyoshi
The 12th shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyoshi, was another one of those boring late Edo Period shōguns. Dude had the pedigree. Dude had the name. Dude had 15 concubines. He would have gone down in history as a dude born at the right time and right place, though totally unworthy of holding the reins of government. He was shōgun from 1837 to 1853. From 1837 to July, 1853 his reign can be described as business as usual. But by the end of that fateful month, he would be dead.
Through no doing of his own, an event happened that threatened to plunge Japan into chaos for centuries or perhaps result in Japan’s subjugation by the same foreign influences that turned “Asia’s Rome[i]” upside down and brought her to her knees.
On July 8th, 1853 an American naval fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry rolled in to Uraga Bay and demanded that Japan “open up” to trade.
Ieyoshi was 60 at the time, ie; he was a fucking living fossil[ii]. And summer in Kantō is hot and ridiculously humid. It’s said that he collapsed from the heat and died.
The Americans returned in spring of the next year (1854) to sign a “treaty” and set up a delegation on foreign soil (predecessor to the American Embassy). But Townsend Harris, first American Ambassador to Japan (1856-1861) who witnessed first-hand the unprecedented xenophobia and violence that marked the beginning of the bakumatsu had supposedly heard rumors that the geriatric shōgun had been cut to death or poisoned by factions within Edo Castle that felt he was unprepared to deal with the “problem of the foreigners.”
Both stories are plausible, the first being a cover up of the latter. The latter being a possible conspiracy theory that sounded all too real during Harris’ stay in Edo. Nobody knows which one is true. My gut instinct goes with the heat stroke theory because old people die all the time in Japan when it gets too hot – but I could totally be wrong.
Anyways, the summer of the last year of Ieyoshi’s reign marks the beginning of the bakumatsu. To me it’s the most interesting era of Japanese history. Although no one knew it at the time, it marked the beginning of the end of the Tokugawa shōgunate. If the bakufu had wanted to build new mortuary temples again or not, we don’t know. If they didn’t have money in the coffers at this point, there’d never have enough later. And in 10 years, it wouldn’t matter[iii].
When he died he enshrined gōshi style at 文昭院 Bunshōin in Zōjō-ji. Hopefully you remember that Bunshōin was Tokugawa Ienobu’s mausoleum. Except for the metal gate leading to Ienobu’s funerary urn, nothing is left of the site after WWII.
[i] I’m refering to China, btw. See what I did there? That’s called Eurocentrism.
[ii] For the time, I mean. lol
[iii] Hindsight? Yes.