Monday, March 25, 2013

Hikone Castle Part 2:
From Bogwood Samurai to Tokugawa's Great Elder

The last stop of our castle tour was the "Bogwood House", where Naosuke Ii spent his youth and adulthood as a single man as the 14th son of Ienaka, 11th generation but not in line of succession as a child by Ienaka's concubine. Most of his elder brothers left Ii as adopted children and Naosuke too was called to Edo together with his younger brother for such an arrangement. His brother was chosen to stay and Naosuke returned to Hikone crestfallen. As a child, he was taken by his father, already retired, to teachers of both literary and military arts and he yearned to study local Japanese classics, tea ceremony, poems, and develop swordsmanship like archery and the way of quick draw. However, after his father passed away, he saw his destiny as a bogwood tree, so naming his residence, and lamented his ill fortune. The knowledge needed to administer as Tokugawa's Great Elder was nurtured during this limelight period. At the time, he was not well off financially at all.

His career suddenly took a turn when his other brother who was supposed to succeed Naoaki Ii, 12th generation, passed away. And when Naoaki passed, Naosuke inherited Ii Clan's 350,000 Koku (see Notes l) as 13th Hikone lord. Naosuke was reported to have distributed 50,000 Ryos (see Notes 2) among his clan samurais, merchants and farmers according to the bequeathed will of Naoaki, his foster father. The generous 50,000 Ryos were comparable to a year’s income in the Ii Clan. He also financially assisted temples and the like, reinvigorated Kodokan, school for children, banned the red light district, and the people hailed him as benevolent lord.

Naosuke's performance as Tokugawa's protocol officer, which included foreign affairs, steadily pushed him up the ranks. He headed the coast guard along Tokyo Bay and circumvented the black ship threat and proposed his own defense plans which were highly praised. He declined to accept Chief Minister (Great Elder) position at first, in view of the impending downfall of Tokugawa. He had to deal with not only black ships but confrontations among clans as to who to select as the next heir to Tokugawa, relations with emperor and courtiers in Kyoto and the rising movement to "Restore the Emperor and Repulse Foreigners." He probably anticipated what could happen once he had taken the reigns. I wrote in detail why he was assassinated in Part 1. Naosuke antagonized Mito Clan Samurais when his Ansei Purge involved harsh punishments against Mito. Naosuke, despite the attack warning, didn't reinforce security more than the number stipulated by Tokugawa.

As mentioned earlier, Naosuke studied Japanese Classics and revered the emperor but remained as Tokugawa's caretaker. It is a tragic tale of a bogwood-to-be-samurai who grabbed prestige and power second only to the Shogun. After Naosuke’s death the Ii family was disgraced for many years. Recently, however, Ii’s actions have been looked at in a more favorable light and Ii Naosuke has taken his place as one of the most important political figures in Japanese history.


1) "Koku" was a unit of fief wealth. Originally one Koku was the volume of rice a person can eat in one year
2) "Ryo" was an Edo period currency, available as Oban (large size coin of higher denominations) and Koban (small size coin of lower denominations).
3) Hikone Museum exhibits artworks of both Sekigahara Battle and Sakurada Gate Incident

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