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Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 - 1616 AD) was the daimyo ("great person") of a province of Japan. Life as a Japanese feudal lord was not easy. The lords fought each other constantly, using deception, treachery, seduction, blackmail and poison in addition to bloody war to achieve dominance. At one point Tokugawa's wife and son were implicated in a plot to overthrow him; under intense pressure from his friends and allies, Ieyasu ordered their deaths - his son by ritual suicide, and his wife by execution. Despite this mishap, by all accounts Tokugawa was a master of this most dangerous game. A great general, a master tactician and an excellent liar, he did to others what they would do to him - except that he usually did it faster and better.
As Tokugawa rose in power and prominence, he became an important personage in the court of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a powerful general who had conquered most of Japan. Eventually he was given the great responsibility of looking after the general's son. However, upon Hideyoshi's death Tokugawa assembled an "eastern army" to take on Hideyoshi's successor. The two forces met in the battle of Sekigahara (1600). Aided by treachery of one of the enemy's generals, Tokugawa was victorious.
After his victory at Sekigahara, Tokugawa had himself declared "shogun" (which translates approximately as "generalissimo"). In Japan, the Emperor is the titular head of the country but with little real power. The real power resided in the shogun.
Tokugawa's rule was a time of peace and stability for Japan. He stopped much of the interminable fighting between the various feudal lords. Contrary to popular myth (as portrayed in the novel "Shogun"), Tokugawa actually welcomed foreign traders - Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, English, Spanish and Siamese - in Japanese ports, and Japan's trade net expanded greatly during his rule. (The ban on foreign trade and travel was put in place by his descendants.)
Tokugawa was always preoccupied with ensuring that he would not suffer the same fate that had befallen so many of his predecessors, and he took draconian measures to protect himself. For example, he forbade all wheeled vehicles from using Japan's fine road network. This made gathering an army to rise against him more difficult, of course, but it also crippled Japan's internal commerce, as all goods had to be carried on the backs of animals or people, rather than in far more efficient carts.
In 1605 Ieyasu abdicated in favor of his son, Hidetada. His family would rule Japan until 1868.
William Adams was an English sailor who arrived in Japan in 1600. Adams by chance was introduced to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was immediately impressed by the Westerner's intelligence. Ieyasu promoted Adams to become his advisor on all issues concerning Japan's relations with the West and later raised him to the rank of samurai, an honor that had never before been bestowed on a Westerner.
After establishing his domination over the other lords of Japan in 1603, Ieyasu demanded that they construct him a new palace to prove their loyalty. The resulting fortress, Edo Castle, was the largest in all of Japan.