Shitennō (Tokugawa clan)

The Four Heavenly Kings of the Tokugawa (徳川四天王, Tokugawa-shitennō) is a Japanese sobriquet describing four highly effective samurai generals who fought on behalf of Tokugawa Ieyasu in Sengoku period. They were famous during their lifetimes as the four most fiercely loyal vassals of the Tokugawa clan in the early Edo period.[1]

Four Heavenly Kings of the Tokugawa. Clockwise from upper left: Ii Naomasa, Honda Tadakatsu, Sakai Tadatsugu, Sakakibara Yasumasa.

Each of those four generals was the founder of a cadet branch clan:

Fudai leaders


Originally, the sobriquet did not existed during Sengoku period as it was first appeared in Arai Hakuseki work of Hankanfu in Edo period.[8] Regarding the subject figures of this grouping In 1586, according to "Sakakibara clan historical records", Ieyasu sent Honda Tadakatsu, Sakakibara Yasumasa, and Ii Naomasa as representatives to Kyoto, where three of them being regarded as "Tokugawa Sanketsu"(Three great nobles of Tokugawa).[9] Then in following month, the three of them joined by Tadatsugu Sakai to accompany Ieyasu in his personal trip to Kyoto, where the four of them "became famous".[9]

In 1894, Frederick Dickins also recorded in english language about the existence of "four Tokugawa guardians" during Sengoku period, although Dickins did not mentions those individuals name.[10]

Political aspects


After the peace negotiation between Ieasu Tokugawa with Toyotomi Hideyoshi on the aftermath of battle of Komaki and Nagakute, Tadatsugu, Naomasa, Tadakatsu, and Yasumasa gained fame in Kyoto.[9]

All of the Tokugawa Shitennō possessed more than 10,000 koku(rice unit) as Daimyo(provincial governor). Naomasa has already possess 120,000 koku, while Yasumasa and Tadakatsu respectively hold domains worth of 100,000 koku. However, Tadatsugu, who retired in 1588, had his successor Sakai Ietsugu only inherited domain which only 37,000 koku worth. There are several theories regarding this:

  • Shigeo Negishi, professor of history faculty in Kokugakuin University, viewed this clear disparities among them is due to several factors. the first reason of this disparity waa due to deliberate political strategy by Ieyasu to strengthen control over his vassals after he relocate to the Kantō region by promoting the younger generations of loyal vassals, as he viewed that Yasumasa, Tadakatsu, and Naomasa were great assets for the future. The second reason was due to Tadatsugu himself were content with his relatively low stipend, as he already held pivotal position as Fudai daimyō who has de facto control over the old loyalist clans of Tokugawa originated from Higashi-Mikawa.[11]
  • Kawada Sadao and other researchers who agreed with him instead argued it was actually Toyotomi Hideyoshi who decided the location of the territories and domains of Tadakatsu, Yasumasa, and Naomasa. The aim of Hideyoshi was because he valued military capabilities of those three, and the domains distributed to them hold significant strategic values to defend against potential threat from Uesugi Kagekatsu, who at that time still not submitted to Toyotomi's rule.[11] Kawada Sadao opined that during the restructurization of Tokugawa clan management after retirement of Tadatsugu, the memberships of the "Shitennō" were actually consisted five peoples. Sadao stated that aside from Yasumasa, Tadakatsu, and Naomasa, the two other members which replacing Tadatsugu place was Ōkubo Tadayo and Torii Mototada. This version did not include Tadatsugu, since he alteady retired from military affairs that time.[11]

Regardless the version, Yū Kawamura from Chiba University saw the step to place of most military effective Tokugawa vassals in control of those regions were to pacify the populations of newly subdued territory which formerly ruled by the Hōjō clan before the Siege of Odawara (1590), while also guard the eastern domains from any influence or threat from the Satomi clan which has not yet submit to Toyotomi rule at that time.[12][13]

Stephen Turnbull stated that prior to the inclusion of Ii Naomasa, the Tokugawa-shitennō consisted of Ishikawa Kazumasa, Sakai Tadatsugu, Sakakibara Yasumasa, and Honda Tadakatsu, as they fought in the battle of Anegawa.[14]

After Battle of Sekigahara however, Ieyasu seems to have disproportionate attitude towards the Fudai daimyo vassals, as it seems he rewarded Tozama daimyō, newcomers who just entered Ieyasu service during Sekigahara Campaign such as Ikeda Terumasa, with far bigger reward of domains increase than his hereditary Fudai vassals like Yasumasa, Tadakatsu, or Naomasa.[a] It is recorded by Arthur Lindsay Sadler that Naomasa and Honda Tadakatsu expressed dissatisfaction of their rewards to Ieyasu.[16] But this theory were contested as theory pointed records that Ieyasu originally inteded to reward his Fudai generals far bigger, such as when he offered Yasumasa with 250,000 koku of domain increase,[17] or Tadakatsu with 150,000 koku.[18] However, both of them refused and instead assign the domain rewards to their sons.[17][18] Furthermore, Harold Bolitho pointed out after the Tokugawa shogunate established, these Fudai lords refused to take part in larger government administration and rather focusing on governing their own respective military domains.[19]

Cultural & Religious aspects


The sobriquet evolved from the "Four Heavenly Kings" of Buddhist iconography. These are said to be the guardians of the four horizons.[20]

"Tokugawa 16 divine generals" (Tokugawa jūrokushinshōjin); Another cultural depiction about Tokugawa Fudai lords group has the original Shitenno Ii Naomasa, Sakai Tadatsugu, Honda Tadakatsu, and Sakakibara Yasumasa included in the more expanded version of collectives. The name of those 16 generals were enshrined in Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine.[21] It is thought that the numbers of the Four Heavenly Kings and Twelve Divine Generals of Buddhism were added together to form the "16 Divine Generals" has religious and cultural aspect to associate Ieyasu Tokugawa as central figure of personality cult, just like Buddha is guarded by sixteen divines or celestial deities in Buddhism.[22] This list has additional 12 figures:[23][22][24]

  1. Ōkubo Tadayo (1532 – 1594)
  2. Torii Mototada (1539 – 1600)
  3. Hattori Hanzō (1542 - 1596)[25]
  4. Watanabe Moritsuna(1542 - 1620)
  5. Ōkubo Tadasuke (1537-1613)
  6. Yonegizu Tsuneharu (1524 - 1612)
  7. Takagi Kiyohide (1526 - 1610)
  8. Naitō Masanari (1528 - 1602)
  9. Hachiya Sadatsugu (1539-1564) / Uemura Iemasa (1541-1577)
  10. Torii Tadahiro (? - 1573)
  11. Hiraiwa Chikayoshi (1542 - 1611)
  12. Matsudaira Yasutada (1545-1618) / Matsudaira Ietada (1555-1600)

"Tokugawa 24 generals" (Tokugawa Nijūshi-shōjin); Another cultural depiction also expand the names above into more expanded version of the 16 Tokugawa generals with 8 more addition members. This list include another 8 Tokugawa generals:[26]

  1. Osuga Yasutaka (1527-1589)
  2. Itakura Katsushige (1545 - 1624)
  3. Toda Tadatsugu (1531 - 1597)
  4. Mizuno Tadashige (1541 - 1600)
  5. Atsumi Katsukichi (1557 - 1616)
  6. Andō Naotsugu(1555 - 1635)
  7. Sakai Shigetada (1549 - 1617)
  8. Matsudaira Sadakatsu(1560 - 1624)
  9. Honda Toshimasa (? - ?)

"Tokugawa 28 generals" (Tokugawa nijūhachishinshōjin); A bigger version of the groupings which depicted in the painting made by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892). This group were consisted of the original 16 Tokugawa generals plus another addition Tokugawa generals. It consisted of 12 different figures from the "Tokugawa 24 generals" version. The 12 additional members consisted:[27]

  1. Okudaira Nobumasa (1555 – 1615)
  2. Sakai Masachika (1521 - 1576)
  3. Ina Tadatsugu(1550 – 1610)
  4. Honda Tadatoshi (? - 1564)
  5. Okabe Nakamori (1568 - 1632)
  6. Ōkubo Tadataka (1560 – 1639)
  7. Suganuma Sadamitsu (1542–1604)
  8. Naitō Ienaga (1546 – 1600)
  9. Naitō Nobunari (1545 – 1612)
  10. Honda Yasutaka (? - ?)
  11. Matsudaira Koretada (1537 - 1575)
  12. Mizuno Katsunari (1564–1651)

See also





  1. ^ This theory is often used in popular historical novels such as Ryu Keiichiro.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Nussbaum, Louis Frédéric et al. (2005). "Sakakibara Yasumasa" in Japan Encyclopedia, pp. 811., p. 811, at Google Books; n.b., Louis-Frédéric is pseudonym of Louis-Frédéric Nussbaum, see Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Authority File Archived 24 May 2012 at
  2. ^ Nussbaum, "Honda Tadakatsu" at p. 347., p. 347, at Google Books
  3. ^ Appert, Georges. (1888). "Honda" in Ancien Japon, pp. 65., p. 65, at Google Books
  4. ^ Nussbaum, "Ii Naomasa" at p. 374., p. 374, at Google Books
  5. ^ Appert, "Ii" at Ancien Japon, p. 67., p. 67, at Google Books
  6. ^ Appert, "Sakakiwara" at Ancien Japon, p. 77., p. 77, at Google Books
  7. ^ Appert, "Sakai" at Ancien Japon, p. 76., p. 76, at Google Books
  8. ^ Kazuto Hongō (本郷和人) (2023). "だから江戸幕府は260年も続いた…東大教授が考える「徳川家康にあって、織田信長になかったもの」" [That's why the Edo Shogunate lasted for 260 years... What a professor from Tokyo University thinks "Tokugawa Ieyasu had, and Oda Nobunaga didn't"]. PRESIDENT Online(プレジデントオンライン) (in Japanese). PRESIDENT Inc. pp. 1–4. Retrieved 5 June 2024.
  9. ^ a b c Tetsuo Nakamura; Kazuo Murayama (1991). 徳川四天王: 精強家康軍団奮闘譜 歴史群像シリーズ22号. 学研プラス. pp. 111, 125. ISBN 4051053679.
  10. ^ Dickins, Frederick Victor (1894), The Life of Sir Harry Parkes, vol. 2: Minister Plenipotentiary to Japan, London, Macmillian and co., p. 9
  11. ^ a b c Hirano Akio; Iwata shoin (2007). "関東領有期徳川氏家臣と豊臣政権". In Sato, Hironobu (ed.). 中世東国の政治構造 中世東国論:上 [Political structure of medieval Eastern countries: Theory of medieval Eastern countries: Vol. 1] (in Japanese). Kamakura Prefecture: iwata-shoin. ISBN 978-4-87294-472-3. Retrieved 9 May 2024.
  12. ^ Yuu Kawamura. "徳川家康の新領国に対する家臣団配置―小田原落城直後の上総の一動向―" [Deployment of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s vassals in his new territory: Movements in Kazusa immediately after the fall of Odawara Castle]. 『歴史手帳』6巻2号)(History Notebook, Vol. 6, No. 2) (in Japanese).
  13. ^ Otaki Town History Editorial Committee (1991). 大多喜町史 [Otaki Town History]. Otaki, Chiba Prefecture. pp. 310–311. Retrieved 22 May 2024.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  14. ^ Stephen Turnbull (2013). The Samurai A Military History. Taylor & Francis. p. 140. ISBN 9781134243693. Retrieved 6 May 2024.
  15. ^ 山鹿高興 (1918). "15. Sakakibara Yasumasa". 武家事紀 [military history]. Tokyo: 山鹿素行先生全集刊行会. Retrieved 23 May 2024.
  16. ^ Arthur Lindsay Sadler (2011). Japanese Tea Ceremony Cha-No-Yu. Tuttle Publishing. p. ISBN 9781462903597. Retrieved 29 April 2024.
  17. ^ a b 館林市史編さん委員会 (2016). 館林市史 通史編2 近世館林の歴史 [Tatebayashi City History General History Part 2 Early Modern Tatebayashi History]. 館林市.
  18. ^ a b Ōtaki-cho, (Chiba-ken) (1991). Ōtaki-cho shi (大多喜町史). Ōtaki-cho. p. 479.
  19. ^ Harold Bolitho (1968). "Reviewed Work: Politics in The Tokugawa Bakufu, 1600-1843 by Conrad D. Totman". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 28. Harvard-Yenching Institute: 216–7. JSTOR 2718602. Retrieved 7 May 2024.
  20. ^ Nussbaum, Louis Frédéric et al. (2005). "Shi-tennō" in Japan Encyclopedia, pp. 875., p. 875, at Google Books; n.b., Louis-Frédéric is pseudonym of Louis-Frédéric Nussbaum, see Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Authority File Archived 24 May 2012 at
  21. ^ Kenji Yanai (1975). Edo no kaibaku (in Japanese). Shûeisha. p. 256. Retrieved 20 May 2024.
  22. ^ a b 奥出 賢治 (2002). 徳川十六将図再考 [Reconsideration of the Sixteen Tokugawa Generals] (in Japanese). Nagoya City Museum Research Bulletin. pp. 1–21. Retrieved 6 May 2024.
  23. ^ Harada Kazutoshi (2009, p. 300)
  24. ^ Kanō Ryūsetsu (1556-1618). "Sixteen Tokugawa Generals Tokugawa Jurokushozu" [Sixteen Tokugawa Generals Tokugawa Jurokushozu]. (in Japanese). Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture Chido Museum: NII Powered by GETA (C) The Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 20 May 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ Kacem Zoughari, Ph.D. (2013). Ninja Ancient Shadow Warriors of Japan (The Secret History of Ninjutsu). Tuttle Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 9781462902873. Retrieved 9 May 2024.
  26. ^ Nitta Jun (1980). 戦国武将100列伝 [100 Sengoku military commanders] (in Japanese). 展望社. p. 120. ISBN 978-4-7993-8596-8. Retrieved 20 May 2024.
  27. ^ Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1875); Sidney A. Tannenbaum (1978). "The Twenty-eight Deified Generals of the Tokugawa Clan (Tokugawa nijūhasshōjin)". Philadelphia, USA: Philadelphia Museum of Art. Retrieved 20 May 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  28. ^ "Nanban (Western style) Armor". emuseum.nich.go. the Tokyo National Museum, Kyoto National Museum, Nara National Museum, Kyushu National Museum and the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. Retrieved 9 May 2024.