After facing great opposition and a contentious civil war that threatened to tear Japan apart, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the 15th and last Tokugawa Shogun, resigned on this day in 1867, bringing an end to the Tokugawa Shogunate’s 268-year rule in Japan.
Born Matsudaira Shichiroma in the Hitachi Province as the seventh son of Tokugawa Nariaki, Yoshinobu was educated as a scholar in the literary arts and politics, and was trained under strict supervision in the martial arts. Hoping to place his son in line for shogunal succession, his father arranged to have Yoshinobu adopted into a branch of the Tokugawa family for a better chance at the shogunate. Though he was nominated as a potential successor upon the death of the 13th Shogun Iesada in 1858, an opposing faction won out and their young candidate, Tokugawa Yoshitomi, became the 14th shogun, known as Tokugawa Iemochi. Iemochi placed Yoshinobu and his supporters under house arrest and his tenure was marked by turmoil and political infighting.
Just eight years later, in 1866, young Iemochi died at age 20 of heart failure and Yoshinobu was named 15th Tokugawa Shogun. Immediately upon his ascension, Yoshinobu initiated widespread reforms to overhaul and strengthen the Tokugawa government. He sought assistance from the Second French Empire and military equipment from the United States to bolster the national army and navy. It seemed that the Tokugawa shogunate was resurging.
In fact, it would fall in less than one year. During Yoshinobu’s tenure, civil war was brewing between a faction that wanted the Tokugawa family to remain in power and those who favoured the emperor. These struggles led to the Boshin War in 1867, which threatened to tear Japan apart and brought Yoshinobu to the brink of downfall. Sustaining serious losses and desiring to reunite Japan, Tokugawa Yoshinobu resigned on 14 October 1867.
His resignation marked an end to the Tokugawa Shogunate’s 268-year rule and a return to the emperor as Japan’s supreme leader. This eventually paved the way to the Meiji Revolution, the opening of Japan to the West, and the nation’s emergence into the modern era.
As for Yoshinobu, he passed his life in quiet retirement as an amateur photographer, oil painter, and archer. Japan’s 15th and last Tokugawa shogun died on 21 November 1913 and is buried in Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo.
Caption: Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan, poses with a rifle.