The Tokugawa Bakufu

The Battle of Sekigahara: October 21, 1600

Although the civil wars of the Ashikaga period and the Onin War (1467-1477) in particular were bloody and wasteful, there were also factors leading to positive growth and development which were, as so often in history, operative at the same time. A notable increase in domestic and foreign trade, the rise of commercial towns, and improvements in agriculture began to cause far-reaching changes in the framework of society. Class lines between aristocratic warriors on the one hand and the common people, merchants, and peasants on the other were becoming much less distinct. All this led to the decline of feudalism, with its self-sufficient and mutually hostile enclaves, and rendered both possible and desirable a move toward unification of the country....The country was in a sense ripe for unification, but the task was not easily accomplished. Three strong men—Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1534-1616)—accomplished it, the last two building upon foundations laid by their respective predecessors. [Japan: Its History and Culture, 101-4]
Oda Nobunaga’s family was minor in rank and importance but began a rise to power by becoming deputy constables for the lords of Shiba in the province of Owari. Nobunaga’s father increased the family estates, and on his death the youthful Nobunaga gathered a force of fighting men to secure a strong position in the province. At this point a powerful neighbor, Imagawa, began a drive on Kyoto with some 25,000 men and had to pass through Nobunaga’s province. One of Imagawa’s lieutenants, later to take the name of Tokugawa Ieyasu, captured the fortress of Marune, and Nobunaga’s advisers became despondent. But Nobunage himself resolved on a bold attack, even though he could command a force of only 3,000 men. The Imagawa forces were relaxing and drinking in an ill-chosen campsite situated in a narrow defile. After a heavy rainstorm Nobunaga executed a brilliant surprise attack, routed the enemy, and killed Imagawa himself. This battle of Okehazama in 1560 proved decisive. Nobunaga felt the time was ripe for him to begin a gradual and calculated move on the capital....Nobunaga had Yoshiaki appointed the fifteenth Ashikaga Shogun, but when he proved intractable, drove him out in 1573 and did not trouble to choose a successor, thus bringing to an end the Ashikaga line. Neither Nobunaga nor Hideyoshi after him attempted to acquire the title of shogun for themselves but preferred to support and protect the imperial line and use such court titles as seemed suitable for themselves, knowing that their real power lay in military control. They did, however, restore moderate incomes to the court and relieve emperor and nobles from the abject poverty they had suffered under the Ashikaga....In 1582 one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, turned on him and took him completely by surprise in a temple in Kyoto when Nobunaga was passing through on his way to take a short holiday. Nobunaga committed suicide to avoid capture, and his body was destroyed in the flames of the burning temple. On hearing the news, Hideyoshi brought compromise negotiations with the powerful Mori in the west to a quick conclusion, rode for the capital at breakneck speed, and utterly defeated the rebellious Akechi. [Japan: Its History and Culture, 105-6]
Hideyoshi acted with his customay decisiveness immediately upon the death of Oda Nobunaga. The provinces which Nobunaga had held were divided up among a few loyal generals, Hideyoshi retaining a goodly share for himself....Hideyoshi now had control, directly or indirectly, of thirty provinces out of a total of some sixty in the country, including the twenty it had taken Nobunaga so long to dominate....Tokugawa Ieyasu, his powerful ally in the east, however, was something of a problem. Ieyasu had not been present at the first council of four commanders, and was now sufficiently jealous and alarmed at the extent of Hideyoshi’s power to take up arms against him. Ieyasu in fact gained a small advantage in two battles; but both were men of sense and decided they could profit more by cooperation than by rivalry, a pregnant decision by which neither lost and the country gained immensely....By the end of 1590 Hideyoshi was supreme in all Japan. The eight rich Kanto and surrounding provinces were offered to and accepted by Tokugawa Ieyasu in exchange for his own family territory and subsequent acquisitions. This was an advantage for Hideyoshi in that it moved powerful Tokugawa further away from the capital and detached them from the old family ground where they could count on traditional loyalties if they should attempt revolt. On the other hand the Kanto was of great value to Ieyasu because it had been well developed both agriculturally and industrially....Measured by standards of achievement, power, and wisdom, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was probably the greatest individual in the history of Japan....His origins among the common people gave him an understanding of character and a certain sympathy which tempered his ruthlessness....His combination of thoughtful planning and abounding self-confidence carried him to the summit of affairs. At the end, when he attacked Korea and suffered from the delusion that he could take on China as well, this confidence turned into megalomania. He loved pomp and display, was overly fond of women, and was suject to fits of rage; but by any count he was a great man. [Japan: Its History and Culture, 107-11]
Tokugawa Ieyasu had been born in 1543 into a small daimyo family, Matsudaira, situated between the more powerful families of Imagawa and Oda. He had spent no less than thirteen years of his youth as a hostage with one or the other of these houses, and it may not be fanciful to suppose this was a source of his caution and close attention in later life to political methods of control of his daimyo rivals. He had benefited from his association with both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi and gained an immense amount of battle experience. On several occasions he lay low instead of rising to challenge Hideyoshi; but all the while he was consolidating and adding to his own domains in the east. At the death of Hideyoshi he was by far the most powerful of the Council of Regency, holding estates worth 2,500,000 koku in revenue, or more than double the wealth of any of the other four members....Ieyasu had as his main object to preserve the unity of Japan. From this unity he naturally stood to benefit; but also his outstanding position made him the object of envy and intrigue. His most dangerous enemy was Ishida Mitsunari, who did everything possible to cause bad blood between Ieyasu and his colleagues, and even made two attempts on Ieyasu’s life. In 1600 another opponent, Uesugi, raised a rebellion in the north, and Ieyasu marched against him. But Uesugi was held in check by two daimyo loyal to Ieyasu, and Ieyasu’s own advance was in the nature of a feint. He was watching Mitsunari, who now gathered allies and made an advance from the west. Battle was joined on October 21, 1600, at the pass of Sekigahara, a strange defile between the plain east of Lake Biwa and the plain surrounding Nagoya. Each side had mustered approximately 80,000 men, but Mitsunari did not succeed in bringing all his forces into action, and the loyalty of some was doubtful....There was considerable slaughter and Ieyasu emerged with an overwhelming victory. This was the final battle in the long and exhausting series of civil wars, and the last major engagement fought on Japanese soil to the present day. [Japan: Its History and Culture, 112]
The Tokugawa social order was based on the hierarchical classification of the traditional Confucian order:
  • Scholar-official (Samurai)
  • Peasant
  • Artisan/Craftsman (Townsman)
  • Merchant
At the administrative level, the shogunate developed the bakuhan system, so called because it combined the central authority of the military government (bakufu ) with the regional authority of the daimyo (lords) over their own domains (han). The loyalty of the daimyo was ensured by requiring each to divide his time between two official residences (usually spending a year in each location), one in his own domain and the other in Edo, where his wife and heir remained as virtual hostages. This system of “alternate attendance” (sankin kotai) resulted in a constant stream of travelers between Edo and the various feudal domains, which in turn led to the growth of urban centers and the development of a bustling economy.
Tokugawa Art and Culture
Basho is most famous for a travel-journal called The Narrow Road of Oku in which he attempts to resolve the difficulties associated with living in the dusty world of samsara (i.e. the Buddhist notion of rebirth that is contrasted with the enlightenment of nirvana). According to one biographer:
Through the journey he wanted, among other things, to face death and thereby to help temper his mind and his poetry. He called it “the journey of a weather-beaten skeleton,” meaning that he was prepared to perish alone and leave his corpse to the mercies of the wilderness if that was his destiny.” [Matsuo Basho, 25-6]
This gave him a unique perspective on the aesthetic principle of sabi, which he reinterprets as:
…the concept that one attains perfect spiritual serenity by immersing oneself in the egoless, impersonal life of nature. The complete absorption of one’s petty ego into the vast, powerful, magnificent universe…” [Matsuo Basho, 30]
This approach to sabi is well-expressed in the following passage, which uses a prose description of a particular portion of his journey to set up the haiku poem that appears at the end:
On a pilgrimage along the Northern Road I stayed over at a place called Izumo Point. Sado Island is off across the blue waves some eighteen leagues, lying sideways thirty-five leagues east to west. From the precipices of the peak to every corner of the valleys, it all appeared so vividly I thought I could reach out and touch it. The island has yielded great quantities of gold and has been known widely as a jewel of the world, an auspicious island, yet all types of criminals and traitors have been exiled there and now it is a shudderingly fearful place, so unfortunate. I push open my window, hoping to soothe for a time the sorrows of the road. Already the sun has sunk into the sea, the moon is dim, and the Silver River [i.e. the Milky Way] hangs across the heavens, stars glistening in cold clarity. As the sound of waves is carried in from out at sea, my spirit seems slashed, my bowels torn apart, leaving utter desolation. I can take no ease on my pillow, and my ink-black sleeves are wringing wet with tears.
stormy sea--
stretching out over Sado,
Heaven’s River
arumi ya / sado ni yokotau / ama no gawa
Seventh Month, 1689
The same theme is explored in the following excerpt from Basho’s masterpiece, The Narrow Road to the Deep North:
The three generations of glory of the Fujiwara of Hiraizumi vanished in the space of a dream. The ruins of their Great Gate are two miles this side of the castle; where once Hidehira’s mansion stood are now fields, and only the golden cockerel Mountain remains as in former days.
       We first climbed up to Castle-on-the-Heights, from where we could see the Kitagami, a large river that flows down from the north. Here Yoshitsune once fortified himself with some picked retainers, but his great glory turned in a moment into this wilderness of grass. “Countries may fall, but their rivers and mountains remain.  When spring comes to the ruined castle, the grass is green again.” These lines went through my head as I sat on the ground, my bamboo hat spread under me. There I sat weeping, unaware of the passage of time.
Natsugusa ya
Tsuwamono domo ga
Yume no ato

The summer grasses—
Of brave soldiers’ dreams
The aftermath.

  [Anthology of Japanese Literature, 369]

Composing Haiku
Haiku are non-rhyming poems written in three lines with 5-7-5 syllables. The only other rules are that there should be one word which somehow evokes a season, as well as a “cutting word” that provides a break in the poem like the hyphen in the above examples from Basho. Further composition hints can be found at:

More on Haiku

Season Words (Kigo)

Humor in Haiku

Debate on Linguistic Terms
in Contemporary Haiku

susuki kara / ka no deru yado ni / tomarikeri
from the pampas grass
mosquitoes came into the inn
where I stayed

Takebe Socho