Is Shōgun’s Lord Yoshii Toranaga Based on a Real Japanese General?

In Hulu’s ‘Shogun,’ a bitter political plot brews in Japan after the death of the King, bringing into question the leadership role and who should fill it. The king had left behind five men, dividing the power equally between them in the hopes of maintaining the peace in the country. However, not unexpectedly, things become volatile with time. Eventually, it all comes to a head, and a war breaks out.

While there are five people assigned as equal regents, Lord Yoshii Toranaga becomes the target for the other four regents. Being the most powerful of the lot, he is the elephant everyone wants to get out of the way to clear their own path to power. Toranaga, however, lives up to his name and doesn’t make the task any easier for any of them. What makes the story all the more interesting is that it has roots in reality. SPOILERS AHEAD

Lord Yoshii Toranaga is Based on a Real Shogun

‘Shogun’ is based on the book of the same name by James Clavell, who was inspired by real-life people and events to create a fictionalized version of the story. For the character of Lord Yoshii Toranaga, he looked towards Tokugawa Ieyasu as inspiration. The character of Toranaga is heavily structured around the real-life Ieyasu. The name was probably fictionalized because it allowed the writer to have some creative license when it came to depicting the way specific conversations and events took place.

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Even if the author of the book and the creators of the show added any imaginary details from their end, the primary arc of Toranaga remains quite close to his real-life counterpart. Tokugawa Ieyasu was born in Okazaki, Japan, to a minor warlord. Whatever hardships he may have faced in his childhood were left behind by his illustrious career in politics and the military, making him a highly revered and feared, if not loved, figure of his time. Following the political turmoil in the country, which ended with his win, he became the first shogun of his line, which continued for the next two and a half decades.

‘Shogun’ stays close to Ieyasu’s trajectory and even uses the exact names of the places that came under his command. Like in the show, Ieyasu was the head of the Kanto region and spent much of his time away from Osaka, which is where he finally returned to settle the power grab. His power, wealth, and influence only increased from here, which is what made other feudal lords wary of him, leading them to plot against him. However, their plans didn’t work, and after the deadly Battle of Sekigahara, Ieyasu seized power and, in 1603, became the shogun. Even though he abdicated his position in 1605, he remained the real power that worked from the shadows until his death.

How did Tokugawa Ieyasu Die?

Tokugawa Ieyasu died at the age of 73 in 1616 due to an unknown disease (though cancer or syphilis have been considered as the reason behind his declining health in the final few months of his life). He is laid to rest at the Gongens’ mausoleum at Kunōzan Tōshō-gū. Here, he also has a statue in the Nikko temple complex, which is one of the World Heritage Sites in Japan.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ieyasu had two wives and one legitimate child from his marriage. However, he also had many mistresses with whom he had several children. Apart from them, he is also said to have adopted several children or taken them under his wing during his time in power. Having become the first shogun of his time, Ieyasu ensured that the power would pass down to his descendants, allowing them complete control over Japan’s authority, thus safeguarding their future for a very long time. He was only able to do all this due to his shrewdness and ruthlessness, as well as his smart, confident decisions that changed the course of Japanese history. ‘Shogun’ brings all of that to the screen, giving the audience a glimpse into the life and works of Ieyasu.

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