Tokugawa Yoshinobu was the last shogun
, ruling from December 5, 1866
to December 9, 1867
He was born to Lord Tokugawa Nariaki of Mito, a seven-times-great grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu, in 1837, and was later adopted into the Hitotsubashi family by order of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi. When Ieyoshi died ini 1853, on the eve of the opening of Japan, Yoshinobu was pushed to succeed him, but lost out to the older Tokugawa Iesada.
Yoshinobu was married in 1856, the same year that Townsend Harris arrived in Shimoda to establish the first foreign mission in Japan. After Harris' arrival, Nariaki became one of the chief opponents of pro-Western Tairo Ii Naosuke: their battle raged through the Ansei Purge of 1858, until Mito assassins knocked off Ii in 1860. During this time, Yoshinobu was living in Kyoto as one of the bakufu's official representatives at the Imperial Palace.
In 1862, the daimyo of Satsuma, Shimazu Hisamitsu, marched into Kyoto and petitioned the Imperial court to have Yoshinobu appointed as a roju advisor to Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi. The real reason for this move was to place a sonno joi opposition leader within the bakufu, which was becoming increasingly pro-Western at the time. The Kanagawa Incident, however, sparked the wrath of several Western powers, who failed to recognize the quasi-independent status of the tozama domains: Yoshinobu sat in Kyoto as a relatively neutral party, while the shogun attempted to play Satsuma and Choshu against each other. In August of 1866, at perhaps the worst possible time, Iemochi died: Emperor Komei named Yoshinobu to succeed him.
Yoshinobu was unique among the Tokugawa shoguns in that he had his entire yearlong reign recorded in writing by an industrialist named Shibusawa Eiichi: a Japanese historian took these old records and republished them in modern Japanese as The Last Shogun, and now the life of Yoshinobu is available in English translation as well.
However, his reign was short and ignominious in comparison to his fourteen forebears. One of his first actions was to open Hyogo and Osaka to foreign trade, in an attempt to placate the Western powers threatening war with Japan. This only fueled the growing conflict between Tokugawa and the tozama domains supporting Imperial rule. Rather than face a bloody civil war with Satsuma and Choshu, Yoshinobu sent one of his advisors, Katsu Kaishu, to meet with Saigo Takamori and draw up the surrender of Edo Castle. The shogunate ended with relatively little bloodshed (the Boshin War), and Yoshinobu retired to Shizuoka, where he lived until his death in 1913.
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