Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Auspiciously Awesome Virtuous River[†])
15th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Yoshinobu
It is with a very bittersweet feeling that I write this blog.
My interest in Japanese history was started by a desire to visit all the graves of the 15 Tokugawa shōguns. I’ve been in Japan for about 8 years and I’ve visited all the graves but the private ones at Kan’ei-ji. I thought writing this blog would be cathartic. I thought it would bring me full circle, but it hasn’t. Although I know much more now than I did a month or so ago when I started this series, I have even more questions now.
To make things worse, halfway through the series, the shōgunate imposed austerity measures which cut back on the building of new temple-like mausolea. This brought the series to a grinding halt in terms of new funerary content[i]. If you go back through the series you will see a noticeable development in burial types which culminated in Ienobu and Ietsugu’s magnificent mausolea at Zōjō-ji.
Sadly, little remains of the structures at Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji. This definitely makes me appreciate the beauty and majesty of Tōshō-gū and Taiyūin at Nikkō all the more. I hope you can appreciate them in a new light as well. And if you visit Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji here in Tōkyō, I hope you walk around all of the former temple precinct with smartphone in hand so you can check my pictures and maps. A few readers have said they’ve done this and… well… if you don’t think that’s exciting, then I don’t know why you’re reading my blog. lol
So yeah… We’re at the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The Meiji Era historians started a tradition which pictured him as a puppet of a failed regime. The man himself actually lived a full life outside of the public square. Yes, he was the last shōgun. Yes, he gave power (back?) to the emperor. Yes, he represented the losing side of this epoch. But, he wasn’t a pawn. He wasn’t a puppet. He wasn’t a loser.
It’s fun to speculate. What if Yoshinobu had been made shōgun instead of the 12 year old ass hat, Iemochi? How would things have gone down in the final days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate?
We’ll never know.
The last shōgun, handed the reins of government to the imperial court in November of 1867 at Nijō Castle in Kyōto. The dude was asked to take the worst job in the country and he did it. He totally rose to the occasion. In my estimation, Yoshinobu took the shit job, took the shame that came with it, wasn’t executed and lived the rest of his life in privacy and humility. He didn’t do interviews or write books. He never exerted himself into politics.
Yoshinobu was originally born into the Mito Tokugawa family, which held a particular view of Japanese history that was uniquely Emperor-centric. It held that the shōgun’s powers over the state (天下 tenka the realm – “heaven and earth”) had been granted by the Emperor and as such, the shōgun was an agent of the emperor. To oppose the emperor was treason. Yoshinobu tried to avoid directly confronting the imperial court (and the de facto imperial army – itself a revolutionary force).
In quiet submission to the emperor, Yoshinobu lived well into the Meiji Period. One of the sources I’ve looked at for this series was a Tōkyō guide book written in 1913 which mentioned that Yoshinobu was still alive and well in the ancestral lands of the Tokugawa, Shizuoka. Unfortunately for the authors for the authors of the book or for Yoshinobu himself, the former shōgun died in November of that same year[ii].
But keep in mind, Yoshinobu intentionally humbled himself in submission to the emperor. Any honors that were bestowed upon him and his family were quietly and humbly received[iii]. He lived out most of his life fucking elite bitches and pursuing his hobby of photography. His lawful wife was a court noblewoman named Mikako. And although Yoshinobu stayed out of politics, he was very close to the imperial court. The emperor gave his family rank in the peerage system and granted him his own branch family, separate from the shamed 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Shōgunal Tokugawa Family[ii.1], his new branch was the 徳川慶喜家 Tokugawa Yoshinobu-ke the Yoshinobu Branch of the Tokugawa Family.
Then he died.
What to do, what to do?
They could have enshrined him with the other shōguns at Zōjō-ji or Kan’ei-ji. But that might have been presumptuous. So in humility, he was buried in what is now Yanaka Cemetery, where many Tokugawa relatives were buried from the Edo Period until present – but it is quite a distance from the shōgunal funerary temples. He was buried in accordance to Shintō practice, which showed respect for the emperor who was a Shintō kami. It was also in keeping with his Mito upbringing which showed deference to the lead Shintō kami, ie; the emperor. Therefore, Yoshinobu doesn’t have a kaimyō or ingō. His “conversion” to Shintō from Buddhism may have been for show, but his funerary rites were carried out in the Shintō fashion. Of all the shōguns, Yoshinobu’s is the only grave of this type.
So now that we’ve seen the most elegant Buddhist and Shintō mixed graves, what does a pure “shintō grave” look like? Well, let’s look what the graves of the Meiji emperor, the Taishō emperor and the Shōwa emperor looked like.
Now let’s take a look at Yoshinobu’s grave.
[†] Since I’ve been “translating” the posthumous names of the shōguns, for consistency’s sake I had to give Yoshinobu’s name a shot. It just so happens that his name is particularly cool.
[i] New Funerary Content is copyrighted, btw. It will also go on a t-shirt.
[ii] Ironically on the day I got married
[ii.1] Remember, the shogun family line had ended, this is what brought about the succession crisis that resulted in Yoshinobu’s elevation to shōgun. As shōgun, he was also head of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family. As head of his own cadet branch of the family, he and his descendants would be free from any shame attached to the old regime. (But in reality, there was no stigma attached to the family whose glorious family temples were among the finest sites in the city of Edo and Tōkyō).
[iii] And to be sure, honors were conferred upon him. Under the stupid Meiji system of peerage, he was granted the highest level rank of duke.