Ieyasu Tokugawa was the third and final unifier of Japan. He became the first shogun (leader) of Japan who came from the powerful Tokugawa family clan. Ieyasu moved Japan's capital to Edo (Tokyo) and established the rule of the Tokugawa family until in 1868 Yoshinobu was forced to resign as the last shogun of Japan.
The Edo period under the Tokugawa rule was a period of peace, but also of complete international isolation, censorship and social oppression that came along with relative prosperity and a unique cultural development not influenced by any other nations.
The shogunate was a system of military leadership in Japan. The title of shogun was originally given by Japan's emperors to the military leader of a campaign during the Heian period (794-1185),
Finally in 1192 the Minamato family had become so powerful that they could afford to make the title hereditary. The emperor had lost any power and was reduced to a purely representative role. Kyoto remained the emperor's residence until 1868 - a kind of "golden cage".
The Tokugawa family can be traced back to the 11th century. Their rise began with the Genpei wars, a period of fierce battles among the daimyos (regional leaders) for the supremacy in Japan. After the death of Oda Nobunaga, the first unifier, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second unifier, Tokugawa Ieyasu finally could keep the upper hand and was able to establish the Edo period which remained under the strict rule of the Tokugawa family until in 1868 when the last Tokugawa shogun was forced to resign.
When Yoshinobu resigned in 1868 he was the 15th shogun coming from the Tokugwa family clan.
You will hardly find any Japanese woodblock prints published during the Edo period (1603-1868) that depict a member of the Tokugawa family. We have not found one in our archive of sold Japanese prints. Why? Censorship laws strictly forbid to show members of the Tokugawa family. In 1804 even the depiction of members of the bushi, the aristocratic members of the samurai class, were forbidden as far back into the history as the sixteenth century. Thus even images of Oda Nobunaga or Toyotomi Hideyoshi were banned.
Woodblock prints with images of Tokugawa shoguns were however published in large numbers with the beginning of the Meiji period. The censorship laws were then no longer in effect in this form.
In 1863 a large woodblock series titled Tokaido meisho-no-uchi was published as a teamwork of different publishers and artists. It was released to commemorate the procession from Edo to Kyoto by Shogun Iemochi to pay his respect to the emperor. The series comprised more than 150 designs.
I assume these prints were commissioned by the shogunate as a kind of propaganda "posters" to brush up the poor image of the administration. But it was too late. The Tokugawa shogunate was already too weak and in dissolution.
Video documentary by the History Channel about the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate by Ieyasu Tokugawa. Thanks for sharing.
Author: Dieter Wanczura