Ieyasu Raises a City

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Ieyasu Raises a City
Author: Yoshinobu Kadoi
Specifications: ISBN  978-4396634865
400 pages
13.4 x 19.5 cm / 5.3 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shodensha Inc.
Tokyo, 2016
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This historical novel tells the story of how Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616) built the city of Edo—today’s Tokyo—as the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate. Through it, his heirs maintained a “Pax Tokugawa” over a unified Japan for the more than two and a half centuries known as the Edo period (1603–1867). Ieyasu’s farsighted vision is spotlighted, as are the many innovative solutions conceived by the engineers and specialists charged with putting in place the infrastructure necessary to support the activities of a big city, such as water supply and coinage.

The story begins in 1590 when Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598), then the hegemon of Japan, in effect orders his vassal Ieyasu to give up his territory in central Japan in exchange for being awarded control of the eight provinces of Kantō farther to the east. Ieyasu fixes on Edo Castle, located at the center of his new domain, as the place to build his base, but when he actually arrives to look it over, he discovers the once storied castle to be badly run-down with little else in its vicinity. To the east and south are the ocean and a small cluster of fishermen’s huts, and to the north are scattered perhaps 70 to 80 farmhouses. But he boldly tells the retainers who accompany him that he wants to transform this forgotten place into a city rivaling Osaka, where Hideyoshi has his seat of power. Those familiar with history may also surmise that by this time Ieyasu already aims to ultimately take over the reins of power for himself and unite the nation under his own control.

Starting from scratch, Ieyasu moves swiftly to turn his grand design into reality. The narrative focuses in particular on the discerning eye with which he picks the right men for the right jobs, granting each of them almost complete discretion in carrying out his charge, yet knowing when he needs to step in and call the shots himself. Rivers are tamed through massive civil engineering projects, swamplands are filled in, and a water system is put in place. Ieyasu poaches coin-minting technology from Kyoto in order to foster commerce, and wrests control of the local economy from Hideyoshi. He makes the warlords who have newly pledged their fealty to him vie with each other to build his new castle, thus holding his own costs to a minimum. Foreseeing a day when there will be no more wars, he bets on the possibility of unlimited growth and aggressively builds the city out.

Much of the interest of the narrative lies in the remarkably engaging descriptions of technical details that even Ieyasu could not have known. The characterization of the city as a monument to the countless lives—both kin and enemy—sacrificed in the battle for supremacy will also stir readers’ hearts.