When Tokugawa Ieyasu's son, Hidetada (r.1616-1623), abdicated, his nineteen-year-old son Iemitsu became the third Tokugawa shōgun (r. 1623-1651).  Iemitsu devoted all his time to the study and perfecting of government methods introduced by Ieyasu.
       In 1621 fire leveled all of Edo (old Tōkyō), including structures in the castle compound.  Within two years fortress-like city mansions were being built and more tideland area was being reclaimed.
       Iemitsu achieved dual influence in 1630 when his seven year-old niece became Empress Myosho in Kyoto.  Five years later his sankin-kōdai law decreed that all 270 daimyō (lit., "Great Name") or feudal lords build mansions in Edo, leave their families there at all times (well attended to by close to 80,000 retainers and servants), and the daimyō themselves spend every other year in Edo in attendance at the shōgun's court.  (Perhaps Iemitsu took a hint from China's Qin Huang Di, who eighteen centuries earlier had similarly decreed his nobles to stay nearby.)  The wives and children left behind were a guarantee of the daimyō's good behavior, and strict scrutiny at various check-points prevented these hostages from slipping home.  Another great burst of building took place in Edo.  The Tokaido highway was the great road which connected Kyoto and Edo.  The daimyō's processions were elaborate and very expensive affairs with a large number of retainers in attendance keeping the highway congested.
        Some of the daimyō, impressed with the landscapes travelled through and nearby on their way to their Edo residences and back every other year, contracted to have these scenes reduced in scale and reproduced along the pathways of their gardens in Edo and/or in their administrative jurisdictions.  (Perhaps they also used these "maps" to update family members upon the daimyō's return to Edo.)  As the Edo period progressed, the building of artificial miniature mountains, copies of actual mountains such as Mt. Fuji, became popular.
        Now, Ieyasu had made Edo his capital when he became shōgun in 1603.  Over 600,000 men were reported to have been brought to Edo by their daimyō to work on the walls and fortifications of the castle there, which originally dated from 1457 and which had raised Edo up from being a mere fishing village surrounded by marshes.  Ieyasu's castle, covering an area some ten miles in circumference, was not completed until 1636, during the reign of his grandson Iemitsu.  (The building would be destroyed several times by fire, but the moat and walls still remain as a fitting setting for the residence of the current Emperor of Japan as the Imperial Palace.)  The year 1636 also saw the completion of two years of construction of Ieyasu's ornate mausoleum at Nikkō, some 90 miles north of Edo and set in magnificent scenery.
        Iemitsu closed Japan entirely to most foreign commercial transactions, permitting only limited numbers of Dutch and Chinese, the former because they were not Catholics.
        In 1641 the Dutch were assigned to the six hundred by two hundred and forty foot island of Deshima.  The hardships of virtual imprisonment by the severe and strict government of Nagasaki and avoidance of all outward signs of Christianity were felt to be a small price for the continued Japanese trade.

Deshima island in Nagasaki harbor

        Deshima was a three-acre fan-shaped artificial island in Nagasaki harbor built in 1635 and connected only by a heavily guarded bridge to the city.  The Dutch, who had uncovered evidence of a traitorous plot by the Portuguese, were installed as the sole European exception.  On the island was a street of two-storey buildings whose bottom levels were for warehousing and upper levels for the living quarters.

Deshima Island

        There were over a hundred Interpreters assigned to Deshima, so that it would be unnecessary for the Dutch to learn Japanese, and by this means the Dutch could be kept ignorant of local conditions, commerce, history, and so forth.  Any Dutchman who showed progress in learning the language would, under some pretext or other, be put on board the next outbound ship.  In the best years there were perhaps seven trading ships annually dropping anchor at Nagasaki, and each was searched upon arrival and before departure.
        The Japanese officers were solemnly bound neither to talk to the Europeans except as trade required, nor to make any disclosures regarding domestic affairs of Japan, its religion, or its politics.  These stringent regulations were somewhat relaxed in such matters as the Dutch language, astronomy, natural history, and medicine, especially if orders came from high official circles to make specific enquiries of the Western Barbarians.
        Three Chinese temples with monks were founded in Nagasaki after the Catholics were expelled.
        In the seventeenth century, monks of Japanese Zen Buddhist temples visited China and brought back paintings -- including some actual Chinese literati ones -- and many books.  Some of these monks even painted in Chinese-derived styles.  Also, a few relatively minor Chinese painters visited Japan during this time -- were they allowed past Nagasaki?
        It should be remembered that even after 1639, when the Dutch were the only Europeans permitted to remain in Japan, the Chinese continued trading there on far more advantageous terms, supplying the bulk of Japanese lacquerware to the rest of Asia and Europe.
        Japan cut back trade with China when it was discovered that the Jesuits were favorably treated at the Chinese Court, by whom the missionaries had liberty granted them to preach and propagate the Gospels through all the vast dominions.
        When Iemitsu died in 1651, five daimyō performed junshi.  This was originally the practice of burying retainers alive after the death of their master, but it later had become the custom of committing suicide on the death of one's leige lord.  The custom was supressed by Iemitsu's son, shōgun Ietsuna, in 1668. 1

        Iemitsu, the fiercely nationalistic third Tokugawa shōgun was -- possibly surprisingly -- an enthusiast of hachi-no-ki, horticulture in general, painting, and the tea ceremony.  He planted seedling trees in tiny pots, lined up the trees on shelves he had set up in the flower garden of his castle, and toyed with their well-ordered, delicate leaves.
        Occasionally, Iemitsu's enthusiasm and love for the art caused him to neglect his governmental duties.  Thus comes the story during the Kanei era (1630-1644) of Okubo Hikozemon (1560-1639), councillor to the shōgun, who threw one of Iemitsu's favorite trees away in the garden -- right in front of the shōgun in order to dissuade him from spending so much time and attention on the trees.  In spite of this servant's efforts, Iemitsu never gave up the artform he continued to love.
        Sandai-Shōgun-no-matsu ("Third generation Tokugawa's pine"), a five-needle white pine (Pinus parviflora, goyo-no-matsu), was still living in the twenty-first century.  Iemitsu cared for this and it has been passed down into the care of emperors.  The tree was already close to 200 years old when Iemitsu first took possession of it.  Especially fond of this celebrated pine, he assigned three attendants to its protection and care.  The shōgun's special steward who took care of it was said to have been paid three to five times the normal stipend for his services. 2

        The tree was presented to the Meiji Emperor by Ito Miyoji, a politician of the Meiji and Taishō Eras into whose hands it came by chance. 3

        During the mid-twentieth century Pacific War, the shortage of fertilizers and even of water affected the Imperial Palace's Collection, as well as those almost everywhere else.  Some trees outside of that Collection perished, and many others inside and outside were almost killed off.
        A photo taken after the war shows the Collection's Tokugawa Iemitsu white pine in neglected condition with much of its growth close and untrimmed.  Its shape and that of many trees throughout the country had become very poor.  A concerted effort to save and restore the Collection was then made by officials and bonsai lovers.  Many a postwar fancier tried a hand at restoring or restyling some of the non-masterpiece trees.  Sometimes it would take a decade or more of careful tending and re-training to make up for the neglect of those few angry years.  But the tree survived and thrived.

Sandai-Shō gun-no-matsu ("Third generation Tokugawa's pine"), c.1980s

        "Although the center of [this famous tree's] trunk is now totally hollow, it has been carefully nurtured for generations, and gazing at its gnarled form today, a sense of awe is felt at the forceful destiny that has allowed such a small piece of life to survive for so many centuries." 4

        More recently, the tree was one of four bonsai in the "Exhibits of the Special Exhibition, commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor" Akihito in 2009. 5

Sandai-Shō gun-no-matsu, c.2009

        There is also the story that a samurai's gardener killed himself when his master insulted a hachi-no-ki of which the artisan was especially proud. 6

        (And tradition holds that Iemitsu planted a certain gingko tree on the grounds of the Toshio-gu Shinto shrine in Shiba Park, south of the Imperial Palace.  The large landscape tree was still standing in 1941.) 7


1.    Japan, The Official Guide (Tokyo: Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways; 1933, 1941), pp. 28, 126, 136, 152, 161, 166, 251, 259, 266, 271, 281, 282, 590, 609, 725;

Kaempfer, Engelbert, M.D. The History of Japan (Glasgow: James MacKehose and Sons; second full reprint March 1906.  Three volumes.  Originally published in two folio volumes from the author's five books, April 27, 1727 in London), Vol. II, pp. 147, 158-163, 172, 184, 203, 215, 250, Vol. III, pp. 23-24;

Bartlett, Harley Harris and Hide Shohara Japanese Botany During the Period of Wood-Block Printing (Los Angeles: Dawson's Book Shop; 1961.  Reprinted from ASA GRAY BULLETIN, N.S. 3: 289-561, Spring 1961), pp. 23, 26, 29;

Kikuchi, Sadao A Treasury of Japanese Wood Block Prints, Ukiyo-e (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.; Translation ©1969 by Tokyo International Publishers, Illustrations ©1963 Kawadeshobo, Tokyo.  Translated by Don Kenny), pp. 29, 34;

Bretschneider, Emil, M.D.  History of European Botanical Discoveries in China (Leipzig: Zentral-Antiquariat; 1981, reprint of the original 1898 edition), pg. 23;

Papinot, E. Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc.; 1972.  Reprint of original 1910 work.), pp. 669-670;

Cahill, James Scholar Painters of Japan: The Nanga School (New York: Asia House Gallery; 1972) pg. 11;

Jackson, Anna and Amin Jaffer (ed.)  Encounters, The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800 (London: V&A Publications; 2004), pg. 240;

Yi, O-nyoung  Smaller Is Better, Japan's Mastery of the Miniature (Tokyo: Kodansha International, Ltd.; 1982.  First English edition 1984), pp. 79, 80;

Koreshoff, Deborah R.  Bonsai: Its Art, Science, History and Philosophy (Brisbane, Australia: Boolarong Publications; 1984), pg. 7;

Cooper, Michael, S.J. (ed.) They Came to Japan, An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543-1640 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 1965), pp. 68, 88-89 (which states that the sankin-kōdai was introduced in 1634), 147, 293 note);

Editors of American Heritage  Commodore Perry in Japan (NY: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc.), illustration of part of 17th-century map of Nagasaki harbor from pg. 37, close-up of Deshima from pg. 38.

2.    Yi, pg. 88; Naka, John Yoshio Bonsai Techniques II (Bonsai Institute of California; 1982), pg. 258;

Nippon Bonsai Association  Classic Bonsai of Japan (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International; 1989), pg. 169, color plate 1;

Hull, George F.  Bonsai For Americans (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.; 1964), pg, 23;

Editors of Shufunotomo  The Essentials of Bonsai (Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1982), pg. 9;

Kobayashi, Norio  Bonsai -- Miniature Potted Trees (Tokyo: Japan Travel Bureau, Inc.; 1951, 1962, 1966), pp. 73, 75.

3.    The Imperial Bonsai of Japan (1976), pg. 287.

4.    Japan Bonsai Society Nippon Bonsai Taikan (Grand View of Japanese Bonsai and Nature in Four Seasons) (Tokyo: Seibundo Shinkosha Publishing Co., Ltd.; 1972), English book, translated by Yuji Yoshimura and Samuel H. Beach, August 1972, pg. 70;

Classic, pg. 169, Color Plate 1 (shown above);

Naka, BTII, pp. 258-260, with six b&w photos;

Although the center quote from Itoh, Teiji and Gregory Clark (ed.)  The Dawns of Tradition (Japan: Published by Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.; 1983), pg. 107.

5.   "The Exhibits of the Special Exhibition, commemorating the 20th nniversary of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor,", accessed 05/25/2011.

6.   Mayer, Phil  "Bonsai in Hawaii," Bonsai Magazine, BCI, May 1971, pg. 18.

7.    Japan, The Official Guide, pg. 261.

Home  >  Bonsai History  >  Big Picture  >  Iemitsu's Pine