April 16, 2015

The three families


In order to avoid the Henry VIII problem--the ruling family running out of male successors--at the birth of the Edo period in 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu created the Sanke ("three families"). If the main line failed, three related families (the Owari House, the Kii House, and the Mito House) could supply the shogun.

The Tokugawa (and founder Matsudaira) clans are still respected as a kind of unofficial royalty in Japan (in Fox & Wolf, Yuki's father is a Matsudaira, which makes him the equivalent of a blue blood).

But not even this much redundancy can survive a fertility rate of 1.4. The Owari House and Mito House are still going concerns, but the Kii House is headed by an unmarried woman who has no children. The Kii House has divested itself of its non-commercial holdings and will fade away in a few decades.

The Mito House remains well-known for both fictional and historical reasons. First, the crime-fighting adventures (based loosely on the actual person) of its second clan head, Mitsukuni, were turned into the long-running Mito Komon television series.

Mitsukuni (not Colonel Sanders in disguise) holding his "badge" of office:
ne'er-do-wells cower before the insignia of the Tokugawa clan.

Second, during the early 19th century, the "Mito School" of political philosophy (which also traces back to Mitsukuni) tacked far to the right. In reaction to the "Unequal Treaties" opening up Japan, it promulgated a nationalistic, imperialist ideology that was embraced by the Meiji revolutionaries.

Efforts to suppress the Mito School (culminating in the Ansei Purge) triggered a full-blown insurrection and the assassination of Ii Naosuke, who held the equivalent office of prime minister (the purge was his idea). In response, the shogunate adopted several of the reforms demanded by the Mito School.

The last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, was from the Mito House. Being the most sensible shogun in years, he abdicated after a year in office and passed the reins of government to the emperor. As a result, unlike many of his contemporaries, he went on to live a long, largely uneventful life.

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