Japan: Memoirs of a Secret EmpireEnter EdoTravel TokaidoTimelineResourcesThe Program
Battle of Sekigahara


1600—William Adams Arrives in Japan
Japan's first visitor from England, William Adams was a pilot on the Liefde, a Dutch vessel that shipwrecked off southern Japan. The only one of 24 survivors coherent enough to greet the Japanese boarding party, Adams was taken to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the country's strongest daimyo. Luckily for Adams, Ieyasu was interested in his knowledge of shipbuilding and navigation, and Adams became the daimyo's trusted interpreter and commercial agent. He was awarded the samurai privilege of wearing two swords.

1600—Battle of Sekigahara
Over 160,000 warriors participated in the battle that would unify Japan under the rule of the Tokugawa shoguns. In fewer than six hours, Tokugawa Ieyasu achieved victory over Ishida Misunari and took control of Japan.

1603—Ieyasu Moves Capital to Edo
In 1603, the emperor awarded Tokugawa Ieyasu the title of Shogun, the "barbarian-subduing generalissimo." Ieyasu now had the authority to rule Japan in all military matters. Under his rule, Edo (modern-day Tokyo) became the seat of government and the most important city in Japan. Ieyasu ordered Japan's daimyo warlords to supply labor and materials to build his new castle and to expand the city.

1605—Hidetada Becomes Second Shogun
Japan's second shogun was Ieyasu's third son, Hidetada, a military general who fought in the sieges of Osaka Castle and skirmishes leading up to the Battle of Sekigahara. Hidetada was officially appointed as shogun in 1605, guaranteeing shogunal succession in the Tokugawa family at a time when Japan's emperor had not fully recognized dynastic claims. Despite Hidetada's promotion, Ieyasu continued to rule under the title Ogoshosama (his retired majesty) until 1616. Following his father's death, Hidetada assumed power, and by arranging the marriage of his daughter to the emperor, further strengthened the power of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

1606—Anti-Christian Decrees Proclaimed

1610—Missionaries Expelled From Japan
Apprehensive about the spread of Christianity, Ieyasu expelled all Portuguese and Spanish missionaries, among them Joao Rodrigues.

1611—Dutch Set Up Factory at Hirado
Established in 1602, the Dutch East India Company sent two merchant ships to Japan in 1611. After obtaining a license from the Shogunate allowing them to trade in Japan, they set up the first Dutch trading house in Hirado.

1614—Ieyasu Prohibits Christian Activity
To maintain political stability, Ieyasu issued the Christian Expulsion Edict prohibiting all Christian activity among Japanese. The shogun also limited foreign trade to Hirado and Nagasaki.

1614—Siege of Osaka Castle
After rumors circulated that Hideyoshi's heir, Hideyori, intended to rebel against Ieyasu, a clash became imminent. Ieyasu insisted the Shogunate had been insulted by an inscription on a bell at temple constructed by Hideyori. With war looming, Hideyori appealed to the daimyos for help; when no one responded, he opened his doors to thousands of ronin. Ieyasu's troops were initially unable to penetrate the outer defenses of Osaka Castle, Japan's strongest fortress. However, after Tokugawa's troops fired their cannons near the quarters of Hideyori's mother, she convinced her son to negotiate. Ieyasu offered a peaceful solution that allowed Hideyori to maintain his holdings and forces. Hideyori agreed, ordering his followers to lay down their arms. After a great show of withdrawing his armies, Ieyasu treacherously ordered Osaka Castle's outer moats be filled in, thereby weakening the fortress's defenses.

1615—Fall of Osaka Castle
After declaring peace with Ieyasu, Hideyori's commanders attempted to clear out Osaka Castle's moats, filled in by Tokugawa's forces. They built stockades, recruited ronin, and raised money from the provinces. But Ieyasu soon put his armies back in motion. In June 1615, with Ieyasu's son Hidetada in supreme command, the Tokugawa armies poured through the gates of Osaka Castle and burned it to the ground. As their forces were slaughtered, Hideyori and his mother committed suicide. Ieyasu completed his victory by ordering the execution of Hideyori's infant son, ending the threat of Toyotomi rule in Japan once and for all.

1616—Death of Ieyasu
After Osaka Castle's fall, Ieyasu returned home to Suruga and embarked on a hawking tour. Falling ill, he summoned his family and advised them to prepare for his death. Ieyesu was determined that the Tokugawa line should remain in power, and his dynasty seemed secure. Hidetada had been shogun for 12 years and his son, Iemitsu, was a spirited boy of twelve. If another heir became necessary, there were three other branches of the Tokugawa family—the Owari Tokugawa, Kii Tokugawa and the Mito Tokugawa. With the daimyo war-weary and ready to enjoy a life of peace, Tokugawa hegemony seemed assured.

1620—William Adams Dies
Adams, the first Englishman to set foot on Japanese soil, fell ill and died May 16, 1620 at the age of 56. He had been the Shogunate's revered trade advisor.

1623—Tokugawa Iemitsu Becomes 3rd Shogun
Ieyasu solidified the unification of Japan, but it was his grandson, Iemitsu, who laid the governing foundation for the Shogunate's 250-year rule. Iemitsu was the eldest, legitimate son of Hidetada, the second shogun. Hidetada had wanted his second son to become shogun, but thanks to the intervention of a wet nurse, Ieyasu designated Iemitsu as the preferred heir (after Hidetada's death, Iemitsu forced his younger brother to commit suicide).

1633—Shogunate Forbids Overseas Travel
In 1633, Iemitsu cracked down on overseas travel. Foreign ships were only permitted to enter Nagasaki Harbor, and Japanese ships had to be certified to travel abroad. Two years later certification was revoked, and all of Japan's ships were forbidden to leave the country. Japanese seamen could no longer work on foreign ships; those who disobeyed were executed.

1635—Daimyo Lords Required to Reside Alternate Years in Edo
Shogun Iemitsu instituted Sankin Kotai or Alternate Attendance, which forced Japan's daimyo lords to reside in Edo during part of every other year. When not in Edo, the daimyo were required to leave their wives and family behind as hostages. Consequently, the daimyo spent considerable sums of money maintaining elaborate residences in Edo which housed their families and hundreds of samurai retainers. The processions from their domains to Edo were grand affairs of pomp and circumstance with hundreds or even thousands of guards, aides, advisors and servants. The policy effectively curtailed the power of the daimyo, depleting their treasuries and leaving little money for armies.

1637—Shimabara Uprising
Taxed near to starvation, peasants on the Shimabara Peninsula near Nagasaki revolted against the local daimyo, swarming into the abandoned Hara Castle. The uprising soon transformed into a Christian revolt. More than 40,000 rebels barricaded themselves along with their wives and children, holding off advancing government troops for over four months. Running out of provisions and weapons, the peasants finally surrendered only to be slaughtered by Iemitsu's troops.

1639—Shogunate Bans Portuguese Ships
After the Shimabara Rebellion, Iemitsu increasingly viewed Chritianity as a threat to the stability of Japan. He banned Portugese ships from Japan's shores and expelled all foreigners. The only exceptions were made for Dutch and Chinese traders.

1641—Dutch Confined to Dejima Island
Because the Dutch had never attempted to spread Christianity, the shogun exempted them from the ban on foreigners. But they were ordered to move from Hirado to Dejima, an artificial island in Nagasaki harbor which had been originally planned for the Portuguese. Together with the Chinese, the Dutch dominated foreign trade with Japan; they also became the main source of information about Europe.

1651—Tokugawa Ietsuna Becomes 4th Shogun
Ietsuna, the eldest son of Iemitsu, became shogun at the age of ten following his father's death. Frequently ill, Ietsuna relied on members of his father's entourage, and ultimately was little more than a figurehead shogun. Still, Ietsuna's 30-year reign was a transitional period that solidified the Tokugawa family's rule of Japan.

1657—Great Edo Fire
Edo's many wooden buildings and narrow alleys made it prone to fire, and the city's many blazes were called the "flowers of Edo." The most destructive was the Meirike fire of 1657. Beginning in a small temple in Edo's northern section, the blaze was carried by flying sparks across moats and canals, demolishing dozens of daimyo estates near Edo castle. As winds shifted, the flames spread to the merchant quarters along the Sumida River; elsewhere, a cooking fire from a samurai residence fed the inferno. Before the blaze was contained, most of Edo Castle had burned and 100,000 souls perished.

1680—Tokugawa Tsunayoshi Cecomes 5th Shogun
The fourth son of Tokugawa Iemitsu, Tsunayoshi was initially not in line for succession. However, Tsunayoshi served ably as daimyo of Tatebayashi, and Ietsuna, on his deathbed, adopted Tsunayoshi so that he could legally become shogun. Characterized by lavish spending and spiraling prices, Tsunayoshi's reign coincided with the Genroku Era, Edo's cultural renaissance. Tsunayoshi made his court a center of Chinese and Buddhist studies, and issued various edicts on "Compassion for Living." Among them was the death penalty for killing a dog. This earned Tsunayoshi much ridicule, and he became known as the "dog shogun."

1682—Saikaku Publishes First Books
Merchant turned writer Ihara Saikaku captured the imagination of the Edo society that emerged with its expanding and wealthy merchant class. One of the first to write about ordinary people, Saikaku's writings appealed to commoners as well as the idle samurai. Ironic and irreverent, Saikaku wrote in the vernacular of the day. His first novel, A Man Who Loved Love, was published in 1682, illustrated with Saikaku's own prints. A bawdy tale of a male traveler's amorous experiences with both sexes, it sold more than 1,000 copies in the first printing. The book was the first of a new genre known as ukiyo-zoshi (meaning "a tale of the floating world") that combined images with the written word.

1688—Start of Japanese Edo Renaissance
During the Genroku period, a cultural renaissance in Japan, both aristocratic and common arts flourished. Although ostentatious displays of wealth had been prohibited, vast amounts of time and money were spent at theaters, brothels and teahouses in Edo's pleasure districts. As a new urban culture developed in Edo, various art forms flourished including Kabuki theater, Ukiyo e and Bunraku puppet theater.

1690—Englebert Kaempfer Arrives in Japan
Sent by the Dutch East India Company to provide medical care on Dejima Island, German-born Englebert Kaempfer (1651 1716) spent two years in Japan, much of it gathering information about the isolated kingdom. During one of two trips to Edo, Kaempfer met with Shogun Tsunayoshi, and through the help of a young interpreter, unearthed many details of Japanese life. Published posthumously in 1727, Kaempfer's History of Japan provided vivid descriptions of Japanese life, and the book became an immediate best-seller, available in English, Dutch, French and Russian. It remained the Western world's principal reference on Japan for over two hundred years.

1500s | 1600s | 1700s | 1800s


Top: Battle of Sekigahara/Gifu Museum


Jesuits banished from England

Dutch transport first African slaves to North America

Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock

Spanish Inquisition

Taj Mahal completed in India

Descartes publishes Principles of Philosophy

Great Fire of London

Peter the Great attempts to westernize Russia

John Locke publishes Human Understanding

Home | Enter Edo | Travel Tokaido | Timeline | Resources | The Program | Credits | Privacy Policy

©2003 Devillier Donegan Enterprises. All rights reserved.