The Tokugawa (徳川) clan was a family of shogun ruling Japan from 1600 to 1867. They hail from the village and the clan of the Matsudaira (松平) in Mikawa Province (present-day Aichi Prefecture). The Matsudaira themselves claimed descendance from the powerful Minamoto (源) clan by the Nitta (新田) clan. In the 13th century, Nitta Yoshisue reportedly settled at Tokugawa in Kozuke province (上野国, Kōzuke no kuni, present-day Gunma Prefecture) and took the name of that place. In 1567, Matsudaira Ieyasu (1542–1616) obtained from the Emperor permission to revive the name Tokugawa. His dynasty of 15 shogun left such an imprint on Japan that many historians tend to name the period of their rule the “Tokugawa Era”.

In the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康) emerged as the victor of the late Warring States Era (戦国時代, Sengoku jidai) which ravaged Japan from 1467 to 1576. Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉) had pacified Japan and unified its political factions. When Hideyoshi died in 1598, his infant son was officially to become shōgun, but Ieyasu, the most powerful daimyo, seized power and established a hereditary Shogunate based in the newly founded Edo (江戸), a former fishing village and modern-day Tōkyō, far from the court intrigues of Kyōto. To ascertain his succession, Ieyasu abdicated in 1605, becoming ōgosho (大御所, “retired shogun“) and let his son Hidetada (徳川 秀忠) assume the position of the shogun, although he remained the éminence grise. His grandson Iemitsu (徳川 家光) built the magnificent Toshogu mausoleum in Nikko to immortalise Ieyasu.

The Tokugawa family was to rule Japan for over two and a half centuries, in what is one of the most peaceful, yet repressive periods of its history. The shogunate collapsed soon after US Commodore Perry forced Japan to open its ports to international trade in 1853. A rebellion of daimyō from the domains of Satsuma, in southern Kyushu, and Chōshu in western Hōnshu resulted in the restoration of imperial power and the final demise of the Shogunate in 1867. The period between 1853 and 1867 is known as bakumatsu (幕末, “Late Tokugawa Shogunate”).

The Tokugawa dynasty

  1. Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川 家康 (1543-1616)
  2. Tokugawa Hidetada 徳川 秀忠 (1579–1632)
  3. Tokugawa Iemitsu 徳川 家光 (1604–1651)
  4. Tokugawa Ietsuna 徳川 家綱 (1641–1680)
  5. Tokugawa Tsunayoshi 徳川 綱吉 (1646–1709)
  6. Tokugawa Ienobu 徳川 家宣 (1662–1712)
  7. Tokugawa Ietsugu 徳川 家継 (1709–1716)
  8. Tokugawa Yoshimune 徳川 吉宗 (1684–1751)
  9. Tokugawa Ieshige 徳川 家重 (1712–1761)
  10. Tokugawa Ieharu 徳川家治 (1737–1786)
  11. Tokugawa Ienari 徳川 家斉 (1773–1841)
  12. Tokugawa Ieyoshi 徳川 家慶 (1793–1853)
  13. Tokugawa Iesada 徳川 家定 (1824-1858)
  14. Tokugawa Iemochi 徳川 家茂 (1846–1866)
  15. Tokugawa Yoshinobu 徳川 慶喜 (1837-1913)

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Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the last shogunate (Photo credit)


Tokugawa Iemochi (徳川家茂), the 14th shogun


Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun (Photo credit)