Shōmyōin (Divine Prince of Shining Wisdom)
14th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Iemochi
I’ve been making jokes about all of the shōguns just because I like to have a good time with history. It’s hilarious to look back in time with a certain smarminess and condescension only granted by hindsight and the ridiculous technological supremacy of our age[i].
However, no one in Japan, least of not the shōgunate, thought these were hilarious times. There was not just the crisis of these “foreign menaces” demanding that Japan open up. There were insidious forces within Japan herself sensing blood and ready to go in for the kill to establish a new shōgunate. Most unexpectedly, the imperial court in Kyōto was starting to flex its muscles and trying to reassert its ancient power. Hell, those people didn’t even do anything. They just wrote poetry and blew smoke up each other’s overly cultured Kyōtoite asses. Blackened teeth, son. Where’d you think that fashion came from? Think about it.
Anyhoo, in the midst of this crisis, the 13th shōgun – inept, incapable, and quite possibly mentally retarded[ii] – Tokugawa Iesada died. I don’t blame the guy for dying, but the people who allowed someone that Ieyasu himself would have drowned in a river sealed the shōgunate’s fate. As you can imagine, Iesada died without an heir… and every student of history knows that succession crises rarely end peacefully.
Of course, the obvious choice for the next shōgun in this time of great crisis was a 12 year old boy named Yoshitomo.
A 12 fucking year old boy.
They married him to the emperor’s daughter in an attempt to unify the shōgunate and the imperial court because marrying a young boy from the shōgun’s family to one of the emperor’s daughters[iii] was the best way to quell the civil unrest of the time. The idea being that the imperial court and the shōgunate could rise up against the foreign menace under the banner of a 12 year old general.
Yeah… that’s the ticket!
So little Yoshitomo became shōgun at age 12 and donned the name Iemochi.
He died less than 10 years later. In his term as shōgun, a lot happened. The teenage Iemochi led a ridiculous military offensive against Chōshū domain at the request of the imperial court which resulted in a few executions and nothing more. The shōgunate and the bakuhan[iv] system had become so dysfunctional that 4 years into his reign the sankin-kōtai system was suspended (a de facto abolishment). The suspension of this system didn’t stop daimyō from coming to and from Edo to meet with shōgunate officials, but with our “smarmy hindsight” we can look back at this and say – without a doubt – shit was broken beyond repair.
Isn’t This Series About the Graves of the Shōguns?
Sorry for wasting 700 words on what shits Iesada and Iemochi were. Their utter inappropriateness on the government stage is just so frustrating to me. After the 8th shōgun, Yoshimune, we just got clowns and puppets[v]. Also, this is my favorite era of Japanese history so I tend to get long winded. Forgive me, please, because I don’t want to commit seppuku.
The other frustrating thing is that there was a perfectly qualified adult candidate for shōgun[vi].
Oh, I’m glad you asked. None other than the absolutely capable, exceptionally well-educated, creative yet patient, brought up in conditions that noble Spartans might appreciate – a veritable second Ieyasu; the one and only, Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
They made a 12 year old kid shōgun and they made him marry the kid daughter of the emperor[vii]. He died from eating too much white rice[viii]. And that’s history, folks.
They buried him in a 2-story pagoda style urn at Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji.
If you want to see either of their worthless graves, the Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery still seems to be open at Zōjō-ji.
A Final Note
Princess Kazunomiya died in the 10th year of the Meiji Era. The Shōgunate had fallen, but the Tokugawa Funerary Temples were still closely tied to the Tokugawa family. The family hadn’t been bankrupted yet[x]. The story goes that Kazunomiya wanted to be buried at Zōjō-ji with her husband. Take this request with a grain of salt. A woman of her day was chattel. She was a chess piece in a failed political game. As such, her choices were probably (1) get a shit grave back in Kyōto, or (2) get a grave fitting of the wife of a shōgun in Edo (now called Tōkyō). I don’t blame her. If you come to Japan to look at graves, you probably can’t see any of the emperors during the Edo Period. You probably wouldn’t want to either. The shōgunate had the monopoly on bad ass graves. Kazunomiya chose well[xi]. Her grave is still preserved at Zōjō-ji today.
I feel like I’ve babbled a lot and run way off course on these last few entries about the Tokugawa Funerary Temples, but that’s OK. It was a time where everything was running off in all sorts of directions.
Tomorrow, the shōgunate will end. And the last shōgun’s grave will be something to really talk about.
[i] Don’t worry, I’m humble. I know that in a mere 50-100 years my generation (the last to grow up before the internet) is going to look like a bunch of australopithecines using sharpened bones and antlers digging holes to dump stillborn babies in – not so much out of respect as a need to keep predators from smelling the cadaver and hunting our asses down for dinner.
[ii] No matter what his actual condition, at least he looks competent in his portrait. Take another look at Iemochi. WTF, right?
[iii] Who, quite frankly, sounds like a complete bitch.
[iv] Westerners tend to describe Japanese system as “feudal,” but I prefer the term “bakuhan.” It describes the relationship between the shōgunate bakufu and the domains han).
[v] And not to hate on a kid, but maybe we could say that Yoshimune’s predecessor, the 6 fucking year old Ietsugu, was the beginning of the end. Once you start installing kids as heads of state, you know things are probably going to go downhill.
[vi] Actually, there were two.
[vii] Who, did I mention, sounds like a complete bitch.
[viii] 18th century Asian nobility problems
[ix] 18th century Asian nobility problems
[x] And the major branches never were to be completely bankrupted. Most were offered new aristocratic ranks in the Meiji government.
[xi] Also there’s good reason to believe that in her widowhood, she was banging Katsu Kaishū, a hatamoto of the Tokugawa. I don’t slut shame her for this. I love Katsu Kaishū and whatever makes a person happy is good enough for me. But the imperial court of the time definitely would have looked down on her for anything she did after marrying into the shōgunal family. So whether she was a bitch or not, I feel kinda sad for her. But not too much… fuck aristocrats.