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Feel The Power of the Tokugawa at Nagoya!



Nagoya has a reputation as being the City of the Samurai. It is the site of one of the greatest of samurai castles, the birthplace of Japan’s Three Great Unifiers and many samurai heroes and the seat of power of the Owari Tokugawa clan. A visit to Nagoya is an opportunity to see and experience the authority of the Tokugawa.

Owari is the old provincial name of western Aichi Prefecture. The Tokugawa clan, the warlord dynasty that ruled Japan for over 260 years from late 1600 until the end of the feudal period in 1868, originated in Aichi and ruled the local Owari area from Nagoya throughout the peaceful Edo period (1603-1868) as a branch of the Shogunate.

Born in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, Tokugawa Ieyasu became the first of the 15 hereditary Tokugawa shogun, the military rulers of Japan who would preside over 260 years of peace following victory in the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.

He also formed the Tokugawa Gosanke, three separate branches of the Tokugawa clan led by three of his sons to administer political stability and security, and to ensure the clan’s survival, providing a shogun should the main line ever become extinct.

The three branches were the Mito Tokugawa clan, based in Mito, modern-day Ibaragi Prefecture, the Kii Tokugawa clan, of Wakayama Prefecture, and the politically and financially strongest of the three, the Owari Tokugawa clan, stationed in the imposing and symbolic must-see Nagoya Castle and its gorgeous Honmaru Goten Palace.

Nagoya Castle and the Owari Tokugawa Clan Lords


Nagoya Castle was home to seventeen generations of the Owari clan. Constructed in 1610 to protect eastern Japan and Edo (Tokyo) from potential attack from the warlords of western Japan, it was completed in around two years. Nagoya Castle was the launch pad for the 1614 and 1615 attacks on Osaka Castle that cemented Tokugawa power over the nation.


Nagoya is one of Japan’s best designed castles and features the largest keep of any samurai castle. The Honmaru Goten Palace has been authentically reconstructed, and remains the pinnacle of palace design and construction. Gorgeously decorated with gold leaf walls and panels, it conveys the artistic side of the Tokugawa clan, while simultaneously displaying its power.

In the palace’s private residential section, the first lord, (Tokugawa Ieyasu’s ninth son) Yoshinao’s personality can be seen in his wife, Princess Haru’s room. Princess Haru was from Wakayama Prefecture. Concerned that his wife may feel homesick, he had his artists paint detailed, colorful scenes of Wakayama on the walls and screens.

Tokugawa Yoshinao was a skilled swordsman, and master of the Owari Yagyu Shinkage sword fighting style. Having heard of the famed swordsman Miyamoto Musashi’s skills using two swords at once, Lord Yoshinao wished to test them for himself. Using leather sheathed bamboo swords for safety, the friendly bouts took place in Nagoya Castle’s Ni-no-Maru gardens. Musashi defeated Lord Yoshinao and his men time and again. Greatly impressed, Lord Yoshinao then invited Musashi to set up a dojo in Owari where over 3,000 of Nagoya Castle’s samurai trained in Musashi’s two-sword style. The dojo remained in operation until the Meiji period (1868-1912).


The second lord, Mitsutomo, was also a highly skilled swordsman of the Owari Yagyu Shinkage-Ryu school, and was equally skilled in the arts of calligraphy and the Tea Ceremony. Lord Mitsutomo’s wife was a daughter of the third Shogun, Iemitsu, and he is responsible for having built many cultural assets around Nagoya.

The seventh lord was the flamboyant Tokugawa Muneharu, who encouraged public works, entertainments and spending to revitalize the domain. In 1731, Muneharu caused controversy by publishing the book, “Onchiseyo”, seemingly criticizing Shogun Yoshimune’s excessive national financial prudence campaign, while promoting his own. The dispute ended eight years later when the offended Shogun fired Muneharu and confined him to the grounds of Nagoya Castle. The story goes that when the disgraced Muneharu died, his grave was covered with a chain mesh net for 75 years to re-enforce his grounding. The current 22nd leader of the Owari Tokugawa clan is Mr. Tokugawa Yoshitaka, head the magnificent Tokugawa Art Museum, another must-see Nagoya attraction.

  • 名古屋
  • 名古屋

The Tokugawa Art Museum


This museum houses over 13,000 items of the clan’s vast collection of family treasures and heirlooms. Alongside armor and weapons are the prized make-up and bridal possessions of the lord’s wives, tea ceremony implements, historical art items, Noh masks, costumes, ceramics, calligraphy, furniture and daily use items.

The fascinating collection features nine National Treasure designated items, including three Heian period (794-1185) hand-illustrated “Tale of Genji” scrolls, produced in the 1130s. Another 59 items are designated Important Cultural Properties, and 46 Nationally Important Art Objects are on rotational display, along with specially themed exhibitions. These culturally important treasures represent the highest quality of Japanese artistry and craftsmanship, and express the dignity, elegance and power of the Owari Tokugawa clan.


Nagoya’s second lord, Mitsutomo, had built a sumptuous retirement villa, including an expansive traditional Japanese garden here, which was opened to the public in 1932 as the Tokugawa Art Museum. Only the main pavilion survived the WWII air raids. Inside, visitors can relax in the café, or browse the extensive Museum Shop, with a range of books, souvenirs and items of interest.

  • 徳川美術館
  • 徳川美術館
  • 徳川美術館

Tokugawa-en Gardens


Adjoining the Art Museum is the picturesque Tokugawa-En Garden, developed in 1695 as part of Lord Mitsutomo’s retirement home. The grounds were among the greatest gardens of its day. The famed gardens and elegant living quarters were destroyed by WWII bombing, but have been beautifully and faithfully restored.

Entry is via the original residences’ Kuro-Mon, Black Gate. A two storied restaurant and store overlook the massive central lake, providing visitors with a spot to relax, enjoy a meal and enjoy some of the best views of the gardens. The Sozanso restaurant alongside looks out into a separate, secluded garden, and offers an even more traditional experience.

A central focal point of the main garden is the wide Ryusen Lake, filled with huge, colorful carp, and surrounded by a lush green forest of black pine and maple, plum and peach, oaks and cherry, various seasonal plants, stone lanterns and bridges connecting the many walkways.


Of special interest is the Ryumon no Taki Waterfall, located just below the garden’s entrance way. A special mechanism was triggered upon crossing the stepping stones causing the elegant waterfall to suddenly surge, flooding the path the guests had just crossed. Feudal lords attending the garden parties of the time found this feat of engineering both surprising and enjoyable.

Another beautiful waterfall within the forest area is the Ozone-no-Taki, a six-meter high, three tiered waterfall after which the local area, Ozone, was named.

The elegantly designed Zuiryutei Tea House overlooking the central Ryusen Lake is available to the public to enjoy a traditional Tea Ceremony. The Tokugawa-en gardens are beautiful year-round and provide a temporary but relaxing escape from the world around you.

Kenchu-ji Temple


Constructed in 1650 on the death of Lord Yoshinao by his son and successor, Lord Mitsutomo, the Kenchu-ji became the official Owari Tokugawa clan temple enshrining the various lords of Nagoya and their ancestral memorial tablets. The Kenchu-ji was destroyed in a great fire in 1785 but rebuilt by the Owari Tokugawa clan in 1787.

Being 27m wide, 25.2m deep and boasting a 700 square meter traditional tiled roof surface, it remains Nagoya’s biggest wooden building, and along with the mausoleum, is designated an Aichi Prefectural Tanjible Cultural Property. Keep an eye open inside as some of the pillars have small reliefs of bats, bunches of grapes, leaves, Japanese chess pieces etcetera carved into them. The great Sanmon, the huge original gate in the park opposite, dates back to the mid 1600’s.

Kosho-ji Temple


One of Nagoya City’s hidden, historical treasures is the picturesque Kosho-ji Temple. Established in 1688 by Lord Mitsutomo, the impressive Kosho-ji is a pleasant, tranquil site, ideal for cultural sightseeing, easily accessible from the Meijo or Tsurumai Subway Lines’ Yagoto Station.

The temple’s 26-meter-high, five-storied pagoda, a Cultural Asset, dates from 1808, making it Aichi Prefecture’s oldest remaining five-story pagoda. The striking Higashiyama Gate, also known as the Kuromon, came to the temple in the early1700’s from within Nagoya Castle. At the highest point within the grounds is the Dainichi-Do Hall containing a 3.3-meter-high, two-ton bronze Buddhist statue created in 1697 by Lord Mitsutomo in memory of his mother. The Kosho-ji remained a place of devotion for the Owari Tokugawa clan, and to this day has a number of Tokugawa relics.

The temple regularly hosts small flea markets with antiques, local produce, fruit vegetables, beads cakes and sweets, crafts and bric-a-brac, old clothing including kimono, fabrics, ceramics and more.

Enjoy strolling the temples’ inner grounds and beautifully manicured gardens, particularly enjoyable in the spring and autumn months. Every autumn, the Kosho-ji draws thousands to its annual Harvest Moon, or “Thousand Lantern Festival”. Thousands of folding paper lanterns are lit around the precincts creating a fascinating late night scene.


With a little more time to spare, Nagoya offers Tokugawa related restaurants, such as the 400 year old Kawabun that long catered to the Owari domain, or walks along the Horikawa River, constructed to ferry construction materials to Nagoya Castle, and later goods and provisions for the merchants, as well as being a moat to protect the city from attack.

There are places such as the Toshogu Shrine where Lord Ieyasu is deified, the great Atsuta Shrine where Ieyasu prayed for victory prior to the Battle of Sekigahara, and the nearby Shichiri no Watashi docks on the old Tokaido, where the Tokugawa moored their warships, and kept a watchful eye on the major Tokaido Highway.


Nearby Arimatsu along the old Tokaido was also established at the encouragement of the Owari Tokugawa lords, and retains its old Edo period atmosphere and traditional cloth dying techniques.

  • 熱田神宮
  • 名古屋東照宮
  • 堀川

Nagoya is indeed the city of the samurai, and the home of the Owari Tokugawa clan. Come and feel the power of the Tokugawa in Nagoya.

Chris Glenn

Chris Glenn

Chris Glenn is a bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, producer, narrator, MC, copywriter, author and columnist, and Japanese historian, specializing in samurai castles, battles, armor and weapons. He is an inbound tourism advisor, and is often called upon as a lecturer and speaker on Japanese history and topics. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1968, and has spent over half his life in Japan, most of that time in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Chris is dedicated to promoting and preserving Japans’ long history, deep culture, traditions, arts and crafts.