Shogun whose policies brought centuries of suffering upon Japanby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
After the Sengoku (warring kingdoms) era, Japan was in a state of war and turmoil. Several small kingdoms lay scattered throughout Japan, each with its ruling daimyo (a powerful land-owner and warlord) and a feudal system. Daimyos often waged war against each other, and the loser would become a vassal of the stronger daimyo. Tokugawa Ieyasu was born in such a time. Although he started out with several disadvantages, he grew to be one of the three most powerful shoguns in Japan, uniting all of Japan under his control.
Tokugawa’s early days were anything but glorious. Tokugawa Ieyasu, given the name of Matsudaira Takechiyo at birth, was born in 1542 to Matsudaira Hirotada. He lived in Okazaki until, at the age of six, he was sent as a hostage to a daimyo named Oda Nobuhide, who lived in Suruga. Three years later, Nobuhide sent him to another daimyo, Imagawa. It was during this time of captivity that Ieyasu learned patience, a quality he would be well-known for. At his coming of age, Takechiyo received a new name-- Matsudaira Motoyasu. Motoyasu finally regained his freedom when his captor Imagawa died in the battle of Okehazama. He became an independent daimyo in Mikawa, successfully cutting off all his ties with the Imagawa family.
In 1562, Motoyasu’s lust for power brought him to ally with another powerful daimyo, Oda Nobunaga. About this time, he changed his name to Tokugawa Ieyasu and began rapidly conquering the kingdoms around him. He first attacked the Imagawa family and gained control of eastern Mikawa. By 1566, he had captured the entire kingdom of Mikawa. In 1570, he built a new castle in the newly conquered land of Totomi. But Ieyasu was not unchallenged. In 1572, Takeda Shingen, followed by a vast army, invaded Totomi and Mikawa. Ieyasu marched to meet him in battle, but his army suffered a grievous defeat, and the battle nearly cost Ieyasu his life. Ieyasu, however, did not give up. With aid from Nobunaga, he fought Shingen again at Nagashino and this time came out as the victor. Ieyasu gained the kingdom of Suruga after Shingen’s complete defeat in 1982. Ieyasu also took control of Kai and Shinano after Nobunaga’s untimely death. He was now one of the strongest daimyos in Japan, controlling five kingdoms.
In 1584, Ieyasu fought one of the strongest opponents he ever fought- Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Although Ieyasu won key battles at first, he was eventually defeated by Hideyoshi and pledged his allegiance to him. Ieyasu prospered despite the fact that he worked under Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi quickly found Ieyasu to be a useful subject and chose him as one of the five regents that ruled while he was still young.
It may have been during this time that Ieyasu acquired the belief that Christianity was a dangerous threat to power. Seven years after his birth, the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier began his work on Japan’s southern tip. As Christianity spread to perhaps 100,000 converts, Hideyoshi tried to put an end to it by crucifying 26 Franciscans at Nagasaki in 1597. When Hideyoshi died only one year later, Ieyasu angered the other regents by conquering more land and breaking the rules Hideyoshi had set in place before his death. This escalated into the Battle of Sekigahara, which took place in 1600. Only one of the regents fought on Ieyasu’s side. Ieyasu won this battle, and with this victory, the entire Japan was virtually his. In 1603, Ieyasu received the honorable title of “Shogun” and built his castle at Edo (which grew into Tokyo)
He allowed Christian missionaries as they accompanied commerce. However, Christians preached the equality of all men before God. This doctrine violated Ieyasu’s promotion of a feudal caste system meant to control his subjects under the Bushi, or Samurai. After a decade of toleration, he deported foreign missionaries and began a brutal persecution which resulted in about 3,000 martyrs among the 300,000 or so Christian nationals. With this attitude, Ieyasu closed Japan’s ports to international trade to prevent Christianity from entering the country. In order control the population, he had everyone register at a Buddhist temple. This continued throughout the Edo period until Shinto grew as a popular backlash to Buddhism in the period of Emperor Meiji. Shinto, in turn, was used by the state to control the population by tracing a mythical imperial linage to the sun goddess. This myth was not put to rest until the Emperor Hirohito himself went on the radio in 1945. Still, Kamikaze suicide bombers were honored for their dedication to the Emperor.
Even though Tokugawa Ieyasu died of a disease in 1616, his obstinacy led to three centuries of isolation and suffering for Japan. Ieyasu’s Tokugawa Regime would persecute Christianity until Admiral Matthew Perry forced open Japan’s ports in 1853. During this time, Christianity retained a foothold in Japan so that when they were finally allowed to hold meetings in 1873, some 30,000 Christians came out of hiding. Unfortunately, the backwardness of Japan was the force which catapulted the military expansionism of the late 19th century as Japan sought to be an Imperial power equal to those in Europe. This reactionary military machine was not conquered until Douglas MacArthur’s occupation and his call for a thousand Christian missionaries.
Although Ieyasu started out as the son of a weak daimyo, he skillfully worked his way up until he had control over the whole country of Japan. He was a cruel and powerful leader whose decision to persecute Christianity led to centuries of suffering for the Japanese people. The resulting state-designed false religions were used to enforce uniform compliance subject to the domed Japanese military who held a man up as a god to the duped and obedient populace.
1. Reischauer, Edwin O. JAPAN The Story of a Nation. Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle company, 1974.