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Tokugawa Yoshinobu: Last Shogun, Hobbyist

In which I talk about the last shogun of Japan Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913; appearing in my userpic!) and his hobbies.

It seems like everyone likes to bash the Tokugawa shogunate and the Tokugawa clan. In my opinion this is unfortunate, as there are many interesting figures in both, not least of which was Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun. After his resignation in 1867 and the chaotic events of the Boshin War (1868-69), Yoshinobu went into rather quiet retirement in Sunpu, which is now the city of Shizuoka. A lot of his retainers, the former direct vassals of the shogunate, followed him to Sunpu; most tried to start businesses to support their families, and nearly all failed. Even after the feudal system was dismantled in the early 1870s, a lot of former Tokugawa vassals remained in Shizuoka, and while barely eking out an existence, watched their former master indulge in an increasingly varied and in some cases bizarre series of hobbies.

As you can see from the picture, one of them was hunting. Another hobby he had was embroidery; still another was oil painting. He acquired a car late in life, and was said to be a lover of "new things." After touring a factory where mess kits were made for the Imperial Japanese Army, he sent a silver ingot to the factory and had a silver mess kit made; to the end of his days he would cook his own rice in it. He also liked Japanese archery. Photography was still another hobby of his; this is a hobby that is shared by one of his more prominent modern-day descendants, Tokugawa Yoshitomo, who wrote a rather interesting book on him (which I have in Japanese, but which wish was translated into English).

But the most bizarre hobby Yoshinobu had was bicycling. But not just regular bicycling, or bicycling like we think of it now. No, he rode a velocipede.

Believe me, I wish I were kidding.


*Tokugawa Yoshitomo. Tokugawa Yoshinobu-ke ni youkoso (Welcome to Tokugawa Yoshinobu's Family). Tokyo: Bungei-shunju, 2005.

See also:

*Shiba Ryotaro. The Last Shogun. Trans. by Juliet Winters Carpenter. New York: Kodansha International, 1998. (novel)


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 1st, 2008 02:26 am (UTC)
Actually a lot of them wanted to kill him because of the velocipede riding. This is why Yoshinobu slept with his 2 concubines in a Y pattern, so that if an assassin entered the room, they'd have to trip over SOMEONE first.

Glad to see another Bakumatsu aficionado....your icon is from.....Kaze Hikaru, I think?
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 1st, 2008 02:50 am (UTC)
You're in good company. :) Check out my blog for more Bakumatsu stuff, by the way....and more on the way soon.
Dec. 1st, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
I used to live in about 5 minutes from Okazaki Castle, in Aichi-ken, where Tokugawa Ieyasu was born and spent his childhood, so I was rather surprised to leave this hotbed of Tokugawa-love and find out that Tokugawa-bashing was indeed fashionable. But I don't know how anyone could know about the velocipede and still be a hater.
Dec. 1st, 2008 03:05 am (UTC)
Yeah, seriously....I mean come on, if I saw that guy coming down the street on a velocipede I'd laugh my head off. That's just me, though, and I can understand why some of his former vassals didn't like that (since he was able to live in comfort while most of them starved).

He's just one, though...there's Tokugawa Yoshimune and his complaint box, or Iesada and his crackers, or Tokugawa (Shimizu) Yoshitoshi and the first flight in an airplane by a Japanese national, and so on.

Oh, and also, the first ramen ever eaten in Japan was eaten by Tokugawa Mitsukuni (of "Mito Komon" TV fame) of Mito-han.
Dec. 1st, 2008 03:02 am (UTC)
Sorry to nitpick you...
But you've made a common mistake. The illustration you've got there is a penny-farthing bicycle, not a velocipede. The penny-farthing was actually a true bicycle, with a direct drive.
Dec. 1st, 2008 03:19 am (UTC)
Re: Sorry to nitpick you...
Ah, thank you for pointing that out, kind soul!
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 1st, 2008 03:18 am (UTC)
Atsuhime is the series, yes? I thought she was the wife of the 13th shogun, though...Yoshinobu was number 15. And yes, Yoshinobu really was eccentric. I still don't quite understand him myself.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 1st, 2008 03:21 am (UTC)
Iesada (number 13) was not just eccentric, he was also, in all probability, somehow mentally retarded. If you recall the scene where he receives Harris (the American ambassador), where he hops up and does the howling bit (actually a background "howl" of sorts from Noh), that really happened.
Dec. 4th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)
I find the embroidery-as-a-hobby most amusing, for some reason. :-D
Dec. 5th, 2008 06:58 am (UTC)
Why not? The dude's the former Supreme Awesome Guy of All Japan, and he's sitting there with a needle and thread. I'd be surprised if it weren't amusing.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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