Born to a minor warlord in Okazaki, Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) began his military training with the Imagawa family. He later allied himself with the powerful forces of Oda Nobunaga and then Toyotomi Hideyoshi, expanding his land holdings via a successful attack on the Hojo family to the east. After Hideyoshi’s death resulted in a power struggle among the daimyo, Ieyasu triumphed in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and became shogun to Japan’s imperial court in 1603. Even after retiring, Ieyasu worked to neutralize his enemies and establish a family dynasty that would endure for centuries.

At birth the son of a minor daimyo (warlord), in death canonized by imperial decree as Toshodai-gongen, a Buddhist avatar, this one-time subordinate ally of first Oda Nobunaga and then Toyotomi Hideyoshi accomplished what neither of his senior partners had achieved: institutionalizing his power in inheritable form and founding a dynastic military government that endured for nearly three centuries.

Ieyasu capped a military career that spanned six decades with a victory in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 that left him in effective control of the nationwide political confederation that Hideyoshi had forged. Nevertheless, although undeniably a shrewd politician, an exceptional general, and an insightful administrator, he owed his lasting success not to superior ability in any of these areas over Nobunaga or Hideyoshi, but to personal longevity and judicious institutional borrowing. Born within a decade of his erstwhile overlords, he outlived Nobunaga by thirty-four years and Hideyoshi by eighteen. He modeled his army and administration largely on those of his most dangerous enemy, Takeda Shingen (whom he also outlived), and further shaped his national regime around policies introduced by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi.

The Reader’s Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.