Tokugawa Ieyasu: From Hostage to Unifier of Japan

Who is your favorite historical figure?

My favorite historical figure hails from my hometown: the formidable Tokugawa Ieyasu. This influential individual was held hostage in an enemy’s castle during his childhood, yet overcame adversity to unify Japan under his rule.

Born on January 31, 1543, during the mid-Sengoku period, Ieyasu grew up in Okazaki Castle in the Mikawa Province (now Aichi Prefecture). His father, Lord Hirotada of Okazaki Castle, offered Ieyasu as a hostage to the Imagawa clan to show loyalty. However, due to a retainer’s betrayal, Ieyasu was sent to the Oda clan, another enemy of the Imagawa clan.

After spending several years with the Oda clan, Ieyasu was sent back to the Imagawa clan where he spent years in docile submission. In 1560, when Imagawa Yoshimoto was slain by Oda Nobunaga, Ieyasu allied himself with Nobunaga and expanded his territories in Mikawa and Tōtōmi provinces.

Following the death of Nobunaga in the Incident at Honnō-ji in 1582, his power struggle with Toyotomi Hideyoshi escalated. Despite a tactical victory at the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute, Ieyasu politically conceded and submitted to Hideyoshi’s authority.

After the fall of the Hojo clan in the Siege of Odawara in 1590, Ieyasu was ordered by Hideyoshi to relocate to Kanto. This move, however, allowed Ieyasu to acquire the largest fiefdom under the Toyotomi administration and become the leading figure among the Five Elders.

Following Hideyoshi’s death in 1600, Ieyasu emerged victorious at the Battle of Sekigahara and was appointed as the shogun. By establishing his shogunate in Edo Castle, Ieyasu put an end to the century-long period of civil war since the Onin War. Ieyasu passed away on June 1, 1616, but his Edo shogunate would endure for 264 years until the Meiji Restoration.

A famous quote from Ieyasu resonates: “The life of a person is like carrying a heavy load on a long journey. Do not hurry. If you consider discomfort as the norm, you lack nothing. If desires stir in your heart, remember the times of hardship.”

Such profound words from a man who survived an era of constant war weigh heavily. Fortunately, the place where I live now is peaceful, devoid of war and the fear of death. I believe it’s because countless people desired and fought for peace that we enjoy such tranquility. My life is built upon these collective wishes.

War still rages in some parts of the world. My hope is for these conflicts to end as soon as possible.

Thank you for reading my article.

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