Graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns

Tokugawa Shōgun-ke no Haka

(graves of the Tokugawa Shōgun family)

Aoi no Go-mon – family crest of the Tokugawa

In May of 2013, I decided to write a series on the quest that sparked my passion for Japanese history: my quest to visit the graves of each Tokugawa shōgun[i]. I set out to describe the locations of the funerary temples of each but soon discovered that I knew a lot less than I thought I did about the scope of each monument. If you have ever been to Nikkō, you have seen the apex of Edo Period mortuary architecture – at least in terms of scale and perennial maintenance. However, these religious complexes – in particular the graves of the 1st and 3rd shōguns, Ieyasu and Iemitsu, were completed at the dawn of the Edo Period before the shōgunal funerary temple had developed a standardized style.

The 2nd shōgun and his wife, Hidetada and Sūgen’in[ii], were interred at Edo in sprawling funerary temple next to a shrine dedicated to the first shōgun at Zōjō-ji. In Edo, a unique style of funerary architecture for the shōgun family arose. Hidetada’s grave, which was built before things had standardized, was said to have rivaled Nikkō in color and use of space. The subsequent temples, which came to be reused for group enshrinements, made up for lack of space with ostentatious gilded carvings and an attention to detail that was rare outside of the shōgun’s capital. From the time Japan opened her boarders until WWII, foreigners and Japanese alike were enamored by stunning beauty of the funerary temples of the shōgun’s at Kan’ei-ji, Zōjō-ji, and Nikkō.

Ruins of the shogun graves at Kan'ei-ji as they were in the 1960's
Ruins of the shogun graves at Kan’ei-ji as they were in the 1960’s. This area is closed to the public today.

As I said earlier, this series was done back in 2013. JapanThis! has changed a lot since then. I’ve changed a lot since then. At that time, I was trying to stick to an everyday or every other day publishing schedule, if I remember correctly[iii]. The grueling schedule took its toll on me. There may be misspellings, funky grammar mistakes, and errors of all stripes and colors. But at least it’s there for now. I’m planning to revisit this topic, but for now it’s there and it’s not bad.

Also, all of the recent posts have active footnote links. However, in 2013, MS Word and Word Press didn’t play well together like they do today. The footnotes, of which there are many, are not clickable in this series[iv]. If you’re interested in a footnote, you probably have to scroll down manually the old fashioned way. Sorry.


Oh, one more thing. Except for the 2 temples at Nikkō, all of the Edo-Tōkyō structures were destroyed in WWII. Bits and pieces remain, but you’ll have to go through my introductory article and the individual articles to sort out most of the details. The Kan’ei-ji graves seem to be in the original configurations, but off limits to the public. The Zōjō-ji graves were combined in a small plot and are occasionally opened to the public, but to understand the scope of the mausolea, you probably need me or another guide to walk you through the ruins in Shiba Park. Lastly, the final shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, had a Shintō burial in Yanaka near the graves at shōgun cemeteries at Kan’ei-ji. This was most likely an act of submission to the emperor – living embodiment of the new spirit of Japan.

Without Further Ado,
Graves of the muthafuckin’ Tokugawa Shōguns

 NameBurial SiteModern Location
Introduction Article
1IeyasuTōshō-gū (Kunōzan→Nikkō)[v]Nikkō Tōshō-gū
2HidetadaDaitoku-in[vi]Tokugawa Cemetery at Zōjō-ji
3IemitsuTaiyū-inNikkō Rinnō-ji[vii]
4IetsunaGenyū-inTokugawa Cemetery at Kan’ei-ji
5TsunayoshiJōken-inTokugawa Cemetery at Kan’ei-ji
6IenobuBunshō-inTokugawa Cemetery at Zōjō-ji
7IetsuguYūshō-inTokugawa Cemetery at Zōjō-ji
  From here on no new mausolea were built; future shōguns were enshrined in existing funerary complexes 
8YoshimuneJōken-inTokugawa Cemetery at Kan’ei-ji
9IeshigeYūshō-inTokugawa Cemetery at Zōjō-ji
10IeharuGenyū-inTokugawa Cemetery at Kan’ei-ji
11Ienari[viii]Genyū-inTokugawa Cemetery at Kan’ei-ji
12IeyoshiBunshō-inTokugawa Cemetery at Zōjō-ji
13IesadaJōken-inTokugawa Cemetery at Kan’ei-ji
14IemochiBunshō-inTokugawa Cemetery at Zōjō-ji
15YoshinobuTokugawa Yoshinobu Family GraveYanaka Cemetery

Visit These Graves with Me!

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[i] A quest, that is sadly so in reach, and yet even after 10 years of living here hasn’t completely materialized yet due to the privacy requested by the Tokugawa family about the cemetery in Ueno. But one day the prize will be mine!
[ii] She had quite a few names throughout her life, but because of a recent Taiga Drama about her life, the average person on the street today knows her as 江 Gō – or more politely, Gō-hime Princess Gō. Sūgen’in is her Buddhist name that she donned in retirement.
[iii] Or maybe, I had switched to once a week. I don’t remember.
[iv] Or if they are, it’s not consistent throughout the series.
[v] There is actually quite a bit of controversy as to whether Ieyasu’s physical remains are at Kunō-zan or Nikkō. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter according to Shintō or Japanese Buddhism. A person can be enshrined anywhere and no physical remains are necessary.
[vi] Also called Taitoku-in. Recently, Zōjō-ji has been pushing Taitoku-in.
[vii] There is evidence of a temporary grave at Kan’ei-ji, but this may have been a shrine without physical remains – similar to the proliferation of Tōshō-gū (shrines to Ieyasu) all over the country. It’s not clear to me at this point.
[viii] The Party Shōgun #TeamIenari

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