The Tokugawa clan (徳川氏, Tokugawa-shi) is a powerful Japanese family of daimyos.
Its members are theoretically descended from Emperor Seiwa (850-880) and form a branch of the Minamoto clan (Seiwa-Genji) through the Nitta clan. However, the ancient history of this clan remains mysterious.
Minamoto no Yoshishige (1202), grandson of Minamoto no Yoshiie (1041-1108), was the first to take the name of "Nitta". He allied with his cousin Minamoto no Yoritomo against the Taira clan (1180) and accompanied him to Kamakura.
Nitta Yoshisue, fourth son of Yoshishige, settled in Tokugawa (Kozuke province) and took the name of the place. However, their provincial historical book does not mention either the Minamoto clan or the Nitta clan.
The original founder of Matsudaira clan is said to be Matsudaira Chikauji, originally a poor Buddhist priest. He is said to be an eighth generation descendant of Nitta Yoshisue and to have witnessed the ruin of the Nitta in their war against the Ashikaga.
He settled in Matsudaira (Mikawa province) where he was adopted by his wife's family. Their family book claims that this original clan is the Ariwara clan. Because this place would have been recovered by Nobumori Ariwara, a theory says that Matsudaira clan is related to Ariwara no Narihira.
Matsudaira Nobumitsu (xve century), son of Chikauji, is in place at Okazaki castle and reinforces the authority of the family in Mikawa province. Matsudaira Kiyoyasu, the great-great grandson of Nobumitsu, strengthened the power of his clan but he was assassinated.
In 1567, his grandson Ieyasu (1542-1616) obtained permission from the emperor to revive the name "Tokugawa". By doing so, he could claim descent from the Minamoto clan.
The clan came to power during the Sengoku period and by the end of the Edo period, Japan was almost exclusively ruled by its shoguns. There were fifteen Tokugawa shoguns in all.
Their domination was so general that some history books speak of the "Tokugawa era" rather than the "Edo period".
In addition, the leaders of the Gosanke (the three branches with feudal estates in Owari, Kishū, and Mito provinces) bear the name "Tokugawa."
The additional branches are called the Gosankyō: the Tayasu, Hitotsubashi, and Tokugawa Shimizu clans. Many daimyos bearing the name Matsudaira are descended from the Tokugawa.
This is the case of the Matsudaira of Fukui and Aizu for example. Members of the Tokugawa clan intermarried with the dominant daimyos as well as with the imperial family.
The main family shrine of the Tokugawa clan is the Tōshō-gū in Nikkō, and the main temple is at Kan'ei-ji in Tokyo. The clan's legacy is managed in part by the Tokugawa Memorial Foundation.
The emblem of the Tokugawa clan, called the "triple hollyhock" is an instantly recognizable icon in Japan, symbolizing both the Tokugawa clan and the last shogunate. Although mistakenly identified with the hollyhock, the aoi is the asaret with a distinct stem.
This emblem comes from a mythical clan, the Kamo clan, which according to legend is descended from Yatagarasu. The village of Matsudaira is located in Higashikamo District, Aichi Prefecture. Although Emperor Go-Yōzei offered a new emblem, Ieyasu continues to use the mon which is unrelated to the Minamoto clan.
In Jidai-geki, the emblem is often used to set the story within the Edo period. And in works set during the Meiji Restoration, the role of the emblem is to indicate the wearer's allegiance to the shogunate as opposed to the loyalists whose cause is symbolized by the chrysanthemum of the imperial throne.
A comparison can be made with the iconography of the red and white rose of the English War of the Two Roses, as reported by Walter Scott in the early nineteenth century in Anne of Geierstein (1829).