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Born in 1542, Ieyasu's life as a statesman began when he was given, as a young samurai, by his father as a hostage in 1547. In transit, Ieyashu was taken prisoner by his father's enemy and kept in a temple until 1559 when he was released.

Ieyashu return to his father's estate (his father had since died), embraced the intrigue of samurai life. On one occasion, to reassure his ally, he killed his own wife.

Eventually, he became so powerful that he was able to amass an army to challenge for national seat of government. His forces won the battle of Sekigahara of October 21, 1600. Ieyasu became national political leader, shogun, on March 28, 1603.

He sought retirement after serving for two years but he fooled no-one; though his son Hitetada replaced him, Ieyasu secretly directed all important decisions of state.

Ieyasu had many foreign pen-pals including the kings of Portugal and England and Williams Adams.

As a seemingly retired statesman, he did some of his greatest work in the advancement of Japanese law. He is credited with the authorship of Rules for the Imperial Court and Court Nobles, explained in greater detail in Japan: A Legal History.

But in 1614, he again had to lead a great army against the castle at Osaka. Unable to penetrate the great walls, Ieyasu bid his time and eventually tricked his way inside. The old samurai showed no mercy even ordering the beheading of a 6-year old boy.

In September of 1615, the aftermath of the Osaka castle victory, he summoned all the nobles and demanded that they abide by a law he handed them: the Law of the Military Houses (Buke Shohatto).

Both laws entrenched the military lifestyle of the samurai firmly into Japanese law.

His laws were a paradox of sorts. For example, the ruthless samurai's Rules stated:

”Learning is the most essential of all accomplishments. Not to study is to be ignorant ... and an ignorant ruler has never governed a nation peacefully.”

Ieyasu died in April of 1616 at the age of 75 and he left Japan with a strong central government and decades of peace.


  • Brinkley, F., A History of the Japanese People (London: Encyclopedia Britannica Co., 1915)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Japan: A Legal History
  • Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, Volume 8, "Tokugawa Ieyasu" (Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd., 1983)