Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu

Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu

Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu (柳沢 吉保, December 31, 1658-December 8, 1714) was a samurai of the Edo period. He was a dignitary of the Tokugawa shogunate and a favorite of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the fifth shogun.

Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu Career

From a young age, Yoshiyasu served Tsunayoshi and then became his wakashu and finally attained the position of soba yōnin. he was daimyo of the Kawagoe estate and later of the Kōfu estate. He retired in 1709. Having already been named Yasuakira, he received a kanji of the shogun's name and then called himself Yoshiyasu. He built the traditional Japanese garden Rikugi-en in 1695.

In general, Yanagisawa is infamous for having helped, supported and encouraged Tokugawa Tsunayoshi in his governmental deviances and having often received the visit of the shogun.

If at the beginning, Tsunayoshi - whose abilities as a scholar are inversely proportional to his warrior abilities - is a relatively enlightened despot under the aegis of Hotta Masatoshi, he quickly turns into a despot altogether, soon after Yanagisawa takes over as the main advisor.

Thus the law on the protection of dogs, which soon extended to other animals: livestock, birds, insects and even fish (one of the main and traditional sources of food in Japan at the time, along with rice) many people were imprisoned or exiled, considered at the time as a severe sentence of a lower degree than death penalty.

It was even forbidden to defend oneself against stray dogs and it was possible to be punished for picking at a fly. The Tokugawa shoguns also had the unfortunate tendency to abolish the han of anyone who pretended to resist them... in a broad sense.

But Tsunayoshi largely broke all records: more than forty daimyos condemned to suicide and tens of thousands of people, samurai and peasants, losing their jobs.

At the same time, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu became very rich from all these abuses, from which he drew money to build the garden of Rikugi-en. Thus he came to play a central role in the history of the 47 rōnin.

Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu Cultural reference

Yanagisawa appears in most of the novels of American writer Laura Joh Rowland (en) set during the Genroku era as the antagonist of Sano Ichiro, the main character in the stories. Rowland's chronology differs from the true story by having Yanagisawa exiled in disgrace in 1694 and then replaced by Sano as Tsunayoshi's chief advisor. Then she makes him return from exile later in the series. Other details of Yanagisawa's life, however, are depicted quite accurately, including his relationship with the shogun.