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Onkyoin

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 14, 2013 at 4:49 am

温恭院
Onkyōin
 (Divine Prince of Warm Respect)
十三代将軍徳川家定公
13th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Iesada
Kan’ei-ji

Tokugawa Iesada. He was the wrong guy for the job at the most critical time.

Tokugawa Iesada. He was the wrong guy for the job at the most critical time. These days, his wife is more famous than he was.

I have a little confession to make. I’ve been treating the 院号 ingō “-in names” as translatable words, but in fact, they aren’t. Just like if your name is Peter, it would be impossible to translate the meaning into another language. There might be a history of the name in your family or you might be named after another person or someone might know the Biblical allusion of the word. Someone might even know that the root of the word is the Greek word for “stone.”

Names are complicated things. Posthumous names are basically foreign names to the Japanese. They look like magical words and religious words. They have a recognizable form (ie; the kanji are familiar). If you understand the kanji, you can get a feeling from the ideography, but that’s about it.

In each installment of this series, I’ve been translating these in the headings of each article. Some translate well. Some don’t. But remember, no Japanese ever looked at those names as a sentence or phrase. But there may be a meaning. Your grandfather was John, so you’re a John, too. Your mom loves tacos, so you’re Jesus. Your parents thought Death Note was the coolest story ever, so now you’re forever known as Light.

The difference is here: Your parents chose a name before you were born. When they chose the name, they didn’t know shit about the you that’s reading this blog. But the imperial courtiers or Buddhist monks who chose the posthumous names of shōguns usually chose these names based on the characteristics of their rule[i].

Then we get to Iesada. Like many of the final shōguns, he fell into the historically unenviable position of being an out of touch, spoiled aristocrat in the midst of a cultural revolution he couldn’t possibly recognize. And so we get this bizarre funerary name. One can’t help wonder if it was a joke or an honest to Buddha posthumous name. I get the feeling, the imperial court who granted the name were taking the piss. Iesada welcomed the foreigners into the country as if he/Japan were a hot bath.

Or who knows? Maybe they were being sincere and thought Iesada welcomed Buddist enlightenment into his heart warmly…

Commodore Perry asked a lot of the Japan.

Commodore Perry asked a lot of the Japan.
But from the foreign point of view it wasn’t so much.
A decent port for trade helps everyone, right?

Either way, the imperial court in Kyoto was now headed by the Emperor Kōmei, who was rabidly xenophobic and was basically begging the shōgun to expel the foreigners from Japan. After all, that’s the job of the shōgun – at least etymologically speaking[ii].

Doesn’t matter anyways… Iesada was only shōgun for 5 years. He died at the age of 34 without an heir. His shōgunate had been overseen by the fully capable and somewhat forward thinking Ii Naosuke who understood well that Japan had fallen behind other countries technologically and couldn’t exist in a vacuum. Naosuke was a brilliant man who oversaw Iesada’s reign until he was famously attacked and murdered in front of Edo Castle in 1860[iii].

Wait a minute!

You just said Iesada was 34 when he died.

Why was there a regent when we have a shōgun in his early 30’s?

check out the confidence of this guy. He's all like, bitch, i AM the shogun! -- my man, Ii Naosuke

Check out the confidence of this guy. He’s all like, bitch, i AM the shogun!
— my man, Ii Naosuke

There are loads of book you can read about the succession disputes of the late shōgunate, but in Iesada’s case it all comes down to the fact that despite being the worst candidate for shōgun, he was made shōgun[iv].  He was most likely mentally retarded or so incapable of doing the job[v] that another daimyō[vi] had to step in steer the ship in the right direction.

His last wife was an arranged marriage to Princess Atsu.

Apparently she was his mental superior many times over and she lived well into the Meiji Era raising the 16th head of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family. There’s an NHK Taiga Drama about her, called Atsu-hime.

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Iesada's Grave at Kan'ei-ji. Hist wife, Atsu-hime's grave is more popular! (But you'll probably never see either....

Iesada’s Grave at Kan’ei-ji. Hist wife, Atsu-hime’s grave is more popular! (But you’ll probably never see either….)

a worthless picture of a worthless shogun...

a worthless picture of a worthless shogun…

Years apart, they were both interred 合祀 gōshistyle at 常憲院  Eikyūin, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s funerary complex. Iesada died in 1858. Atsu-hime dies in 1883. Iesada didn’t have a clue what the fuck was going on. Atsu-hime witnessed, the fall of the shōgunate, the Boshin War, the surrender of Edo Castle to the Emperor, Edo changing to Tōkyō, and that weird e-mail your mom drunk texted last night.

If you want to read about Eikyūin, please read here.

 

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[i] In an autocratic society, take that with a grain few spoonfuls of salt.

[ii] 将軍 shōgun shōgun is short for 征夷大将軍 sei-i tai-shōgun, lead general against the foreign barbarians. It was a title that was hard to take seriously when the invading forces were technologically superior, more international and in many ways considered the shōgunate mediaeval and, quite frankly “barbaric.” Up until now, it had been good to be the shōgun. Now it sucked to be the shōgun.

[iii] The other day, I said the beginning of the Bakumatsu was the arrival of the Black Ships in 1853. Other historians say it began with the assassination of Ii Naosuke. The assumption is that had Naosuke not been murdered and had Tokugawa Yoshinobu been selected as the next shōgun, Japan would have been strong enough to deal with the foreign issue on Edo’s terms with the support of the domains.

[iv] Cadet branches of the Tokugawa were vying for power….

[v] Imagine if a Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann or a George Bush had been elected office… oh, wait a minute….

[vi] ie; Ii Naosuke.

  1. […] popular TV show, is not buried here – she’s buried at Kan’ei-ji with her husband, Shogun Tokugawa Iesada. But, just about every Shimazu lord from the 14th century onwards is buried here, from Shimazu […]

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