Although my original intention in studying Tokugawa Ieyasu was to research the history of collecting among warrior elites, it was easy to choose to switch focus to a history of Ieyasu and his age that would be informed by material culture, a project that seemed to be vitally necessary for our broader understanding of Japanese history. The scope of the project was daunting as the documentary record for Ieyasu is voluminous. Fortunately, his correspondence has been systematically catalogued and published in five volumes by the scholar Nakamura Kôya, with two additional volumes published by Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the former director of the Tokugawa Art Museum. These letters, of course, went through an early modern filtering process like most evidence from the sixteenth century, in which the world view whereby Ieyasu was worshipped as a god surely impacted decisions about which texts to preserve and which to overlook. Likewise, Nakamura and Tokugawa Yoshinobu both had much to lose and little to gain by upending conventional wisdom regarding Ieyasu. Still, the professionalism of their approach to the documentary evidence is praiseworthy, and the organization and publication of so many sources is to the benefit of all historians of the long sixteenth century.1
In addition to Ieyasu’s letters and the published correspondence of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, contemporaneous accounts by first-hand observers of the era are useful, such as the accounts of Ieyasu’s vassal Matsudaira Ietada and the various diaries of Kyoto courtiers and other sixteenth-century elites. Accounts of the era that were written after its resolution are also helpful but can be problematic, since some engage in mythologization—seen particularly clearly in volumes such as The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga [Shinchô kôki] and Tales of Mikawa [Mikawa monogatari]. Also key were the remarkable assemblages of documents on various themes that Japanese historians have been prodigiously producing for more than a century, ranging from the volume Collected Sources from the Battle of Sekigahara [Sekigahara kassen shiryôshû] to the comprehensive but incomplete Chronological Source Books of Japanese History [Dai Nihon shiryô].
What distinguishes this account from other studies of the period is its attempt to triangulate between these documentary sources and the material record, which in the case of Tokugawa Ieyasu is largely extant in museums, shrines, and in some cases, private collections. Ieyasu’s acquisition of these objects—swords, Chinese tea caddies, books, and other precious things—informs the chronological narrative of his life. Tracing the social lives of these pieces of material culture after Ieyasu’s death, as they were divided among the branch families of the Tokugawa house and also donated to Tôshôgû shrines, draws our attention to the hagiography of Ieyasu and the early modern reconstruction of the medieval in the new familial, institutional, and consumer contexts of late seventeenth-century Japan. Although it stretches thin my abilities as a historian to extend this narrative into the twentieth century by including the founding of the Tokugawa Art Museum and the new, modern deployments of Ieyasu’s material heritage in the story of his life and afterlife, it is crucial for our understanding of not just Ieyasu but of the long sixteenth century itself. The Momoyama Mythohistory—the discourse of great heroes, individualist artists, and cultural and political rupture leading to early modern and modern eminence—is a product of seventeenth century historicism and classicism, to be sure, but also of nationalist articulations of the history of Japanese civilization by intellectuals in the service of the empire in the 1930s. The discursive and representational conventions of that wartime articulation of history are still with us, and should be of great concern to all scholars and students of Japan. In short, the goal of this book is to use the case of Tokugawa Ieyasu and his material culture to offer a provisional analysis of the long sixteenth century that encourages not just a reevaluation of the age of unification, but of the process by which our understanding of Japanese history has been, and continues to be, produced.
1. Tokugawa Yoshinobu was almost as prolific as Nakamura Kôya, though much of his work on Tokugawa Ieyasu and his legacy was published in Kinko sôsho, the bulletin of the Tokugawa Reimeikai Foundation that Yoshichika had established. One example of Yoshinobu’s willingness to probe the reliability of certain sources attributed to Ieyasu focuses on ostensibly handwritten aphorisms long claimed to be written by the Tokugawa lord’s own hand: “Ichiren no Tokugawa Ieyasu no gihitsu to nikka nenbutsu,” Kinko sôsho 8 (March, 1981): 627-797.