Fourth shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, eldest son of the third shogun Iemitsu, great-grandson of Ieyasu.

The eldest son of Iemitsu, Tokugawa Ietsuna (徳川家綱, 1641-1680) succeeded his father at the age of 10. He was assisted by regents, all leading members of his father’s entourage, including his half-brother Hoshina Masayuki (保科正之, 1611-1673), the founding father of the Aizu Matsudaira, Matsudaira Nobutsuna, Sakai Tadakatsu (酒井忠勝, 1587-1662), Sakai Tadakiyo (酒井忠清, 1624-1681), both daimyo of the Obama and Kōzuke provinces, Inaba Masanori (稲葉正則, 1623-1696), the daimyō of the Odawara domain, and others.

Even after reaching adulthood in 1663, Ietsuna continued to rely on his advisers, as he suffered from ill health for all his life. Shogunal affairs were overseen by the rōjū (老中, senior councillor) Sakai Tadakiyo, whose sobriquet was Geba shōgun, referring to the location of his residence in close proximity to the main gate of Edo Castle, where a notice asked all visitors to dismount from their horses (下馬 geba).

In 1651, the year of his accession to the shogunate, Ietsuna brutally repressed the Keian Rebellion of Yui Shōsetsu (由井正雪) and Marubashi Chūya (丸橋忠弥), ronin who staged a fruitless coup against the bakufu. In 1663, he forbade the custom to commit suicide at the death of one’s master (殉死 junshi). He also prohibited any translations of foreign works along with writings on the government, Edo morals, and related topics, resulting in significant numbers of writers being incarcerated or banished during his rule. Under Ietsuna, the shogunate actively encouraged Confucian studies.

His reign saw the Great Fire of Meireki, a conflagration that destroyed almost three-quarters of the city of Edo on 2 March 1657, killing over 100,000 people. The fire devastated most of Edo Castle, with only the donjon spared from destruction, and the adjoining homes of retainers and servants. The reconstruction of Edo took more than two years.

Ietsuna died in 1680 at the age of 39 without children. He was succeeded by his brother, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, and buried in the Kan’ei-ji Temple (寛永寺) of Ueno, receiving the posthumous name of Gen’yūin (厳有院). Ietsuna’s rule has been described as a “transitional period between the martial formative years of the early shogunate and the peaceful, settled, middle years”. 1​

Related links:


  • Mason, R. H. P., Caiger J. G.; A History of Japan, Tuttle rev. edition 1997
  • Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric; Japan Encyclopedia, Harvard University Press 2005
  • Papinot, Edmonde; Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan, Tuttle 1972
  • Sansom, George; A History of Japan, 1615-1867, Stanford University Press 1963


  1. Nakai, Yoshiyuki; Tokugawa Ietsuna, Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, 1983

Next article in the series 'Historical Biographies': Hasekura Tsunenaga
Previous article in the series 'Historical Biographies': Matsudaira Nobutsuna