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The Dog Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
The Dog Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (February 23, 1646 – February 19, 1709)
The fifth Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, was brought up as a scholar instead of a warrior,
as it was feared his lively spirit might lead to him usurping his elder brothers. Eventually, his brother
Ietsuna became shogun, but died aged 39. A power struggle ensued before Tsunayoshi was chosen
to take command. Rather than rely on the advice of generals and regents as other shogun had,
Tsunayoshi relied on the advice of his mother.
Edo period life under Tsunayoshi’s rule was difficult and constrained. Tsunayoshi’s fervent religious
and Confucious beliefs led to many unpopular laws. He banned the red light districts, outlawed the use
of fine and expensive fabrics from everyday use, and stopped women from working in the many
tea-houses across the nation. Showing a strict, authoritarian control, he would suddenly confiscate lands
and titles from the nobility.
A number of natural disasters, such as deadly typhoons, the eruption of Mt. Fuji, and incidences such as
the Chushingura, or 47 Ronin Incident, (the attack of Lord Kira by Lord Asano in Edo Castle, and the
subsequent attack by the loyal 47 on Kira’s mansion 2 years later) all took place during his reign.
Having been born in the year of the dog, he issued a decree to protect dogs, and as such it became
illegal to mistreat the animals. People were executed for doing so. The number of stray dogs in
Edo swelled to such numbers that the city began to smell. The problem led to Tsunayoshi being called
the Inu-Kubo (Dog Shogun). Further, he commenced lecturing the daimyo on Confucian ethics on an
annual basis from 1682.
Tsunayoshi was a patron of the arts, in particular, of Noh. In 1692, Tsunayoshi and a number of
court ladies sat hidden behind reed screens, and requested the members of a visiting Dutch embassy
“sing and talk amongst themselves” to see how foreigners behaved. For their troubles, he rewarded
them with a Noh performance.
Tsunayoshi was killed on February 19, 1709, just four days short of his 63rd birthday by his wife,
a daughter of the Emperor. Fearing his plans to adopt his male love interest as heir would cause
civil war, and unable to persuade him otherwise, she killed Tsunayoshi and then herself.
He was succeeded by his nephew, Tokugawa Ienobu.
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