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Kumazawa Banzan (1619–1691)

Nojiri Kazutoshi (1590-1680), a rônin who served two different daimyo but found himself masterless at the time of Banzan’s birth, three years after the passing of Tokugawa Ieyasu, was the father of Banzan when he was born in Kyoto (1543–1616). The daimyos Sakuma Jinkurô and Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582) were served by Banzan’s grandfather (1556–1631). His …

Kido Takayoshi (Kido Koin) (1833–1877)

During the Tenpô era (1830–1843), a period of famine and political upheaval that many historians believe to represent the start of the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate, Kido Kôin, a samurai from Chôshû, was born. He was a staunch supporter of the imperial dynasty who made a significant contribution to overthrowing the Tokugawa regime. He …

Itô Hirobumi (1841–1909)

Itô Hirobumi (then known as Hayashi Risuke) was raised as a samurai after being adopted from a farming family in the village of Tsukari in the Chôshû domain (modern-day Yamaguchi prefecture). He studied under the late Tokugawa loyalist scholar Yoshida Shôin and was a key figure in the Meiji Restoration and the early development of …

Isoda Koryûsai (1735–1790)

Koryûsai, one of the few samurai who also created ukiyoe (woodblock prints), was active from 1769 until his death in 1790. Suzuki Harunobu and Torii Kiyonaga had a better reputation as artists than him, although art historians have recently given his innovative contributions a more favorable evaluation. Koryûsai was a talented artist who created more …

Martial Arts (bugei)

During the Tokugawa era, samurai were expected to balance their study of martial techniques and literary (civil) subjects. This idea was known as bunbu. Early in the seventeenth century, maintaining a state of readiness for battle was essential because, under the Tokugawa shogun’s new leadership, the nation faced political instability and, in 1614–1615, conflict broke …

Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves) a type of manual for Samurai

Around 1716, Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659–1719), a ward of the Saga domain in Kyushu, finished writing Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves). With 1,300 brief anecdotes and reflections on life, it was designed as a sort of samurai guidebook. It is incorrectly regarded as one of the essential writings that define the “way of the samurai” …

Fukuzawa Yûkichi (1835–1901)

Fukuzawa Yûkichi was the son of a low-ranking samurai from the Nakatsu domain, a sizable fief in northern Kyushu, and his life spanned both the Tokugawa and the Meiji eras. Following the arrival of Commodore Matthew C. Perry and the U.S. naval expedition that forced open Japan in 1853, Yûkichi was hired by the Tokugawa …

Daimyo Graveyards

In Tokugawa Japan, the majority of domains created a graveyard just for their daimyo and their spouses. Chôshû was unique in that it had two, each separated from the other but situated on the fringes of Hagi, the castle town. The first to be built was on the grounds of the Zen Temple Daishôin, which …

Daimyo katagi (Portrait of a Daimyo) – Matsudaira Sadanobu (1759–1829)

Matsudaira Sadanobu (1759–1829) was the grandson of Tokugawa Yoshimune and the great-great-great grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first and eighth shoguns of the Tokugawa dynasty. He was a descendant of the Tayasu branch of the Tokugawa house, one of the cadet branches of the shogun’s family, or gosankyô, and was born in Edo Castle. His …

Osaka – Japan

Osaka, which is usually pronounced just “Osaka,” is a designated city in Japan’s Kansai prefecture on the island of Honshu. The third most populous city in Japan, after Special wards of Tokyo and Yokohama, it serves as the capital and largest city of Osaka Prefecture. It is also the largest part of the Keihanshin Metropolitan …