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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

That dignity falls to Tsunayoshi and to Tsunayoshi alone







IN 1680, the fourth shogun, Ietsuna, fell dangerously ill, and a council of the chief Bakufu officials was held to decide upon his successor. The Bakufu prime minister, Sakai Tadakiyo, proposed that the example of Kamakura should be followed, and that an Imperial prince should be invited to assume the office of shogun. Thereupon Hotta Masatoshi, one of the junior ministers, vehemently remonstrated. "Is the prime minister jesting?" he is reported to have asked. "There is no question whatever as to the succession. That dignity falls to Tsunayoshi and to Tsunayoshi alone. He is the legitimate son of the late shogun, Iemitsu, and the only brother of the present shogun, Ietsuna. If the minister is not jesting, his proposition is inexplicable." This bold utterance was received with profound silence, and after a few moments Sakai Tadakiyo retired from the council chamber.

It has to be remembered in connexion with this incident, that Tadakiyo exercised almost complete sway in the Bakufu Court at that time, and the fact that he yielded quietly

to Hotta Masatoshi's remonstrance goes far to acquit him of any sinister design such as securing the whole administrative power for himself by setting up an Imperial prince as a mere figurehead. The more probable explanation is that as one of the consorts of the shogun Ietsuna was enceinte at that time, the Bakufu prime minister desired to postpone any family decision until the birth of her child, since to dispense with an Imperial prince would be as easy to procure one, whereas if one of the shogun's lineage were nominated, he would be difficult to displace. There had been born to Iemitsu five sons, of whom the eldest, Ietsuna, had succeeded to the shogunate, and three others had died, the only one remaining alive being Tsunayoshi, who, having been born in 1646, was now (1680) in his thirty-fourth year.


On Tsunayoshi's accession the prime minister, Sakai Tadakiyo, was released from office, and Hotta Masatoshi became his successor. Naturally, as Masatoshi had been instrumental in obtaining the succession for Tsunayoshi, his influence with the latter was very great. But there can be no question that he deserves to rank as one of Japan's leading statesmen in any age, and that he devoted his signal abilities to the cause of progress and administrative purity. The result of his strenuous services was to check the corruption which had come to pervade every department of State in the closing years of the fourth shogun's sway, and to infuse the duties of government with an atmosphere of diligence and uprightness.


For several years prior to the accession of Tsunayoshi, the province of Echigo had been disturbed by an intrigue in the family of Matsudaira Mitsunaga. It is unnecessary to enter into further details. The incident was typical of the conditions existing in many of the barons' households, and the history of Japan furnishes numerous parallel cases. But connected with this particular example is the remarkable fact that the shogun himself finally undertook in the hall of justice to decide the issue, and that the rendering of justice by the chief of the Bakufu became thenceforth a not infrequently practised habit. Instructed by his prime minister, the shogun swept aside all the obstacles placed in the path of justice by corruption and prejudice; sentenced the principal intriguer to death; confiscated the Mitsunaga family's estate of 250,000 koku on the ground of its chief's incompetence, and severely punished all the Bakufu officials who had been parties to the plot.

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