Meet the Great Shogun: 5 Places in Japan Connected to Tokugawa Ieyasu

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Tokugawa Ieyasu was one of the most important figures in Japanese history, and his influence on the nation can be felt even today. We invite travelers on an epic journey across Japan, visiting historical sites deeply connected to the former samurai lord.

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Walking in the Footsteps of the Former Shogun

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) is one of Japan’s most revered historical figures. His rule as Shogun (head of the military government) heralded a period of unprecedented peace within Japan, as well as elevating Edo - now the bustling metropolis Tokyo - to the status of the nation's capital. His impact in shaping the political landscape of modern Japan cannot be overstated. 

His influence lies not only in the political and historical, but echoes of it reverberate through literature and even modern media such as comics, movies, and video games. The figure of the samurai itself has become an archetype familiar to people across the world. 

We invite you to follow in the footsteps of one of Japan’s most renowned historical figures, visiting sites deeply connected to the life of this immensely influential man. Walk the historical road of perhaps Japan’s most significant samurai lord. 

Who was Tokugawa Ieyasu?

Photo by Pixta

Born in 1543, Tokugawa Ieyasu founded Japan’s last shogunate, and is famed for unifying the country after the long war-torn Sengoku Era.  

Prior to his rule, Japan was splintered into several warring states, experiencing a prolonged period of civil unrest. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s time as shogun heralded the beginning of the Edo Period (1603-1868), during which the nation saw unprecedented stability and prosperity. His rule is seen by many as marking the very beginning of Japan’s history as a single, unified state.

There are numerous sites in Japan connected to shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Below we bring you on an epic journey across Japan's main island of Honshu, visiting five important locations that are intrinsically connected to Tokugawa Ieyasu and Japanese history. 

1. Nagoya Castle

Our trip starts in central Honshu at the city of Nagoya, home to the breathtaking Nagoya Castle - a site deeply contented to the shogun. An iconic symbol of the city, the castle’s elegant and imposing form has become one of the region’s most beloved landmarks. 

The original structure was built in 1612, as per the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu himself. Nagoya Castle would serve as the seat of the Owari branch of the Tokugawa family for over two centuries. A prosperous town flourished around it, eventually becoming the city of Nagoya, currently Japan’s third largest. 

Much of the original castle was unfortunately lost to fire during World War II. However, it was faithfully reconstructed in 1959, and it is this reconstruction that still stands today.

The castle is breathtaking, and is a wonderful example of the elegant architecture that Japanese castles are famed for. It has one of the largest castle keeps in Japan, the top of which is decorated by distinctive golden shachihoko, mythical sea monsters. The Honmaru Palace is representative for the shoin-zukuri style of samurai residence architecture, and it originally served as the official residence of the Owari branch of the Tokugawa clan.    

2. Kunozan Toshogu Shrine (Shizuoka)

Photo by Pixta

The next stop on this voyage brings us to the stunning Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, located in Shizuoka, which is part of the Tokai Region just like Nagoya. 

Many Japan enthusiasts from across the globe are familiar with Nikko Toshogu - the renowned World Heritage Site where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s spirit is enshrined. However, Kunozan Toshogu Shrine is just as important and has been designated a national treasure.

Photo by Pixta

The shrine was in fact the original burial place of the former Shogun, and he is said to have personally requested to be laid to rest there. The name Toshogu itself refers to shrines which house the deified spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu, known as Tosho Daigongen. 

Kunozan Toshogu Shrine’s buildings are magnificently decorated, and its mountaintop location affords stunning views. Tokugawa Ieyasu spent much of his childhood and later life in Shizuoka, and Kunozan Toshogu is perhaps one of the sites most deeply connected to him. 

3. Hakone Shrine and Hakone Checkpoint

Photo by Pixta

Located within easy access of Tokyo and offering impressive vistas of iconic Mount Fuji, Hakone is very popular amongst both domestic and overseas tourists for its scenery and sightseeing spots. However, most of those who flock to the shores of the area’s iconic Lake Ashi are relatively unfamiliar with Hakone’s storied history and importance as a gateway to the capital during Tokugawa Ieyasu’s rule. 

Photo by Pixta

Hakone Checkpoint (Hakone Sekisho) was one of the most important military checkpoints along the road to the capital of Edo. It has been meticulously reconstructed according to official records from the time, and even traditional building techniques and materials were used in its restoration. Visiting the checkpoint definitely gives the impression of taking a step back in time, and it seems far removed from the modern world. 

Photo by Pixta

Not far from the checkpoint lies the ancient Hakone Shrine, also known as Kuzuryu Shrine. Dating back as far as the eighth century, the shrine was historically popular amongst military leaders seeking victory in battle. It was destroyed during the Siege of Odawara Castle in 1591, but was later rebuilt by Tokugawa Ieyasu, perhaps due to its association with military success. The former Shogun likely visited the shrine numerous times during his life. 

4. Ninja Experience at Musashi Ichizoku (Tokyo)

Picture courtesy of Musashi Ichizoku

From Hakone we make the short trip onwards to the capital Tokyo - one of the world’s greatest megacities, and a place which may not have even existed were it not for the influence of the former Shogun.

Within Tokyo’s famed traditional Asakusa district stands a dojo headed by Musashi Ichizoku, a group who still practice martial arts associated with samurai and shinobi (ninja). These two classes of warriors historically played an important role in maintaining military control, and over time have become popular figures within literature and media.  

Picture courtesy of Musashi Ichizoku

Musashi Ichizoku has a very special connection to the Tokugawa Shogunate. The ancestors of the Musashi Clan escorted the Shogun himself in 1582, and subsequently became his vassals. They would go on to serve the Tokugawa Shogunate for the next 265 years. 

Musashi Ichizoku offers visitors a vast range of experiences, from training in ancient Japanese warrior arts to performances by its most skilled members. For those wanting to experience a truly tangible aspect of Japanese history, engaging in one of the Musashi Clan’s activities is surely not to be missed.  

5. Nikko Toshogu Shrine

Photo by Pixta

Our journey comes to its end at the brilliantly decorated Nikko Toshogu Shrine, where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s spirit was enshrined upon his death and his remains are said to have been laid to rest. 

Nikko Toshogu Shrine is a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site. The original shrine existed for centuries before the Edo period but it was rebuilt to incorporate the mausoleum for Ieyasu in 1617 at the orders of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu (1604-1651), who deeply revered his grandfather. The structures within the shrine complex stand out from other historical sites due to their particularly vibrant colors and stunningly intricate carvings.

Photo by Pixta

Every year Nikko Toshogu hosts a breathtaking event during which a procession of over 1,000 performers, fully dressed in samurai armor and attire, reenact the moment that the Shogun’s spirit was escorted to his final resting place. 

The shrine serves as a stunning memorial to one of the most important and renowned figures in Japanese history, and is a fitting way to end any trip dedicated to the former Shogun.   

Step Back in History and Walk in the Footsteps of Tokugawa Ieyasu

We encourage all those with an interest in Japanese history to visit the above sites, as well as the many others associated with Japan’s most well-know shogun. Scattered far across the nation, other sites connected to Tokugawa Ieyasu include his birthplace of Okazaki Castle, Hamamatsu Castle and the Tokugawa family temple Zozoji in Tokyo.

Tokugawa Ieyasu’s incredible influence on history can still be felt, and many would say that his legacy is the Japan we see today. 

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The Kanto area has well-developed transportation infrastructure such as railways, ports, and expressways, as well as Narita Airport and Haneda Airport, which are major gateways for both Japan and overseas, making it ideal for international tourism while taking advantage of the regional characteristics. We actively promote this and support the creation of attractive tourist destinations through co-creation with each region.

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