Tokugawa Ieyasu, the inaugural Tokugawa Shogun and the third of Japan's Three Great Unifiers, was born on January 31, 1543, at Okazaki Castle in Aichi Prefecture. In his youth, Ieyasu was entrusted as a hostage to the Imagawa clan by his father, Matsudaira Hidetada, who sought their aid in the struggle against the Oda. The Matsudaira clan found themselves sandwiched between the Oda to the west and the Imagawa to the northeast, sparking debate among their leaders regarding which rival warlord to align with. Ultimately, Hidetada opted to support the larger and stronger Imagawa faction.

During the journey to the Imagawa stronghold at Suruga, the convoy was misled by a renegade retainer of the Matsudaira clan to the camp of their adversary, Oda Nobuhide. Despite Nobuhide offering terms of peace under challenging conditions, Hidetada refused, even at the peril of his son's life. Consequently, Ieyasu was confined to Nobuhide's castle, where he possibly encountered Nobuhide's son, Nobunaga, and endured hardships at a temple in Nagoya. Subsequently, when the Imagawa attacked Anjo Castle and seized Oda Nobuhide's son three years later, Ieyasu was handed over to the Imagawa as part of the exchange.

Ieyasu participated in the pivotal 1560 clash between the Imagawa Yoshimoto and the Oda Nobunaga at Okehazama, where a mere 2,500 Oda samurai routed the massive army of 25,000 Imagawa soldiers. During this battle, Ieyasu, tasked with delivering supplies to Odaka Castle, found himself liberated from the grasp of the Imagawa clan following the demise of Imagawa Yoshimoto. Upon his return to Okazaki Castle, Ieyasu formed an alliance with Oda Nobunaga, who indirectly facilitated his newfound freedom.

In 1573, Ieyasu faced a dire situation when the Takeda clan launched an assault on his northern Totomi provinces during the Battle of Mikatagahara. However, four years later, with the support of Oda Nobunaga, he exacted vengeance by crushing the Takeda forces at the Battle of Nagashino. Subsequently, following Nobunaga's demise, Ieyasu clashed with Hideyoshi at the Battle of Komaki Nagakute in 1584, though their relationship would later ameliorate.

As Hideyoshi lay on his deathbed in 1598 after governing a unified nation for nearly 15 years, he summoned the 56-year-old Ieyasu and entrusted him with leading the council of regents responsible for overseeing his five-year-old son and designated heir, Toyotomi Hideyori.

Ieyasu willingly accepted the responsibility and, following the demise of the Taiko, or 'Great Chancellor' Hideyoshi, he assumed control from the opulent Fushimi Castle. Without delay, he initiated maneuvers to consolidate his authority over the nation. His assertive actions drew the criticism of many of his peers, leading to a division of the nation into two opposing factions: the east and the west. The confrontation between these formidable armies occurred on October 21, 1600, at the modest plain of Sekigahara, a crucial juncture where the Tokaido and Nakasendo highways intersected, marking the gateway between the country's dividing mountains. The outcome of this monumental battle favored Ieyasu, solidifying his position as the victor in what would be remembered as the largest, most intense, and decisive conflict in samurai history.

Three years following the Battle of Sekigahara, Ieyasu ascended to the esteemed title of Shogun, initiating a dynasty that would govern Japan for the subsequent 260 years.

Later records from Ieyasu's life indicate that he stood approximately 156.5cm tall. While he was slender in his youth, he gradually grew in size as he aged, with a waist circumference ranging from 100 to 120cm. Records of order forms for split toe tabi socks reveal his foot size to be 22.7cm. His inner leg measured about 80cm, with the length from knee to foot being 35cm. Hand prints suggest his hands spanned 18cm from the base of the palm to the fingertips. (Interestingly, his left hand displayed a single straight line across the palm, a trait palm readers often associate with greatness.) In times of stress, he was known to bite his nails, particularly those of his left little finger, sometimes causing them to bleed.

Ieyasu enjoyed outdoor activities such as hawking and swimming, maintaining an active lifestyle. He frequently swam in the moats of Edo Castle and later in Sumpu's moat. Despite his high rank, he preferred modest meals over lavish ones and showed a keen interest in health and fitness, studying medicinal practices. He often provided medical advice to his retainers and fellow daimyo.

Ieyasu passed away at the age of 73, a notable longevity in an era when the average lifespan was around 50 years. Legend has it that he died after eating tempura while falconing at Tanaka Castle in Shizuoka. However, modern researchers speculate that the oils from the tempura may have aggravated Ieyasu's stomach cancer, contributing to his demise.

His body rests atop Kunouzan near the Kunouzan Toshogu in Shizuoka, while his spirit is honored at the splendid Toshogu shrine in Nikko.


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