The Abe Family, Distinguished Hereditary Vassals to the Tokugawa Family
Historical Heads of the Family and Abe Masahiro
The Deep Relationship Between the Tokugawa and Abe Families
Masakatsu, founder of the Abe family, was sent to the Imagawa family together with Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1547. As Ieyasu’s close aide and friend, he served as an assistant to Ieyasu during the latter’s time as a hostage. Masakatsu’s heir, Masatsugu, also participated in the Battle of Sekigahara and the siege of Osaka. Especially following the winter campaign of the siege of Osaka, Masatsugu participated in peace negotiations with the Toyotomi family. Later, Shigetsugu served as a bodyguard to the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, from Iemitsu’s youth. He served on the Roju council of elders with Abe Tadaaki, his relative in a branch family, and followed his master into the grave after Iemitsu’s death by illness.
In this way, the Abe family had a pedigree of being in service to the Tokugawa family from its earliest days and carried that heavy responsibility.
The Abe Family of Fukuyama Domain Remained at the Core of the Shogunate
In 1710, Masakuni entered Fukuyama Domain as the domain’s first feudal lord of the Abe family. Masayoshi defended Osaka and became Osaka jodai (governor), kicking off an era of glory. Masasuke served as Soshaban, master of ceremonies, in Edo Castle; Jisha-bugyo, overseer of temples and shrines throughout Japan; Kyoto Shoshidai, who kept an eye on the Imperial Court and feudal lords west of the Kinki region; and on the Roju council of elders, a core organization in the shogunate. He was succeeded by Masatomo and Masakiyo. Masahiro climbed to the position of head of the Roju, of which there is only one. Towards the end of the shogunate, when there were signs of upheaval in Kyoto, Masakata served as a guard there. They continued throughout to work in support for the shogunate.
Turbulence at the End of the Shogunate: Building the Foundation for Modern Japan
Abe Masahiro led the shogunate with respect to diplomatic issues such as the arrival of the Perry expedition in 1853 and the signing of the Convention of Kanagawa. In 1844, at the age of 26, he was selected to serve as the young leader of the Roju council of elders, and with the colonial policies of the major powers and other matters, the times were certainly not tranquil.
In this context, Masahiro actively sought out information on foreign countries and reached across the barriers of feudal domain, hereditary vassal group, and daimyo allegiance to work with others on these matters, instituting an appointment system that was not restricted by social status. In Edo and Fukuyama, he worked hard to cultivate human resources, establishing the Seishikan school for the children of the domain’s retainers and making appointments based on actual ability.