was daimyo of Hikone (1850 – 1860) and also Tairō of Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan, a position he held from April 23, 1858 until his death on March 24, 1860. He is most famous for signing the Harris Treaty with the United States, granting access to ports for trade to American merchants and seamen and extraterritoriality to American citizens. He was also an enthusiastic and accomplished practitioner of the Japanese tea ceremony, in the Sekishūryū style, and his writings include at least two works on tea ceremony.
Under Ii Naosuke’s guidance the Tokugawa shogunate navigated past a particularly difficult conflict over the succession to the ailing and childless Tokugawa Iesada. Ii Naosuke managed to coerce the Tokugawa Shogunate to its last brief resurgence of its power and position in Japanese society before the starting of the Meiji period. Ii was assassinated by a group of Mito loyalists on the 24th of March 1860.
Ii became involved in national politics, rapidly rising to lead a coalition of daimyo. In 1853 Ii put forward a proposal concerning the Japanese negotiations with Commodore Matthew Perry. Realizing that Japan was “faced with immediate military danger” Ii argued that Japan should use their relationship with the Dutch to allow them to buy enough time to develop armed forces, which could resist invasion. Ii recommended that only the port of Nagasaki be opened for trade with foreigners Ii, like Hotta Masayoshi, refused to remain silent while shogunal advisor Abe Masahiro appeased the anti-foreign party Ii led the fudai daimyo in their effort to bring about the downfall of Abe Masahiro and replace him with Hotta Masayoshi. This alienated many reformist daimyo, leading them to strengthen their association with the Imperial court
Ii Naosuke regarded the Harris treaty, which Hotta Masayoshi had negotiated with the American envoy Townsend Harris as in Japan’s best interests. In accordance with protocol asked the three house lords for their views in writing. However Ii faced a problem in the form of an obstructionist policy from members of the Hitotsubashi faction led by Hitotsubashi Keiki’s father Tokugawa Nariaki.
Ii was unwilling to sign the Harris treaty without approval from Emperor Kōmei in Kyoto. However the daimyo of the Hitotsubashi faction were preventing him from presenting the treaty to the emperor by withholding their approval. At this time Harris started putting pressure on the shogunal officials to sign the treaty. Ii decided not to risk aggravating the Americans and on the 29th of July 1858, encouraged by the full backing of the bakufu officials, Ii ordered the Harris treaty to be signed. Soon after this Ii negotiated a number of similar unequal treaties with the Dutch, the Russians, the British and the French. The recovery of Japan’s sovereignty and power, which were lost due to the treaties conducted by Ii Naosuke, were the basis of a large part of the policies formed during the Meiji period.
Due to the frail health of the Shogun, Tokugawa Iesada, the members of the Hitotsubashi faction wanted to force Ii to support Hitotsubashi Keiki as the heir to the ailing Shogun. Hitotsubashi Keiki was the reformist candidate, supported by the reformist faction, headed by his father Tokugawa Nariaki; his supporters pointed to his experience and skill in handling policy decisions. Ii was aware that Japan needed strong leadership, but unlike the reformist daimyo, Ii was not prepared to accept strong leadership from outside the traditional forms of government. The bakufu, led by Ii, wanted the 12 year old daimyo of Kii, Tokugawa Yoshitomi, to ascend to the position of shogun. The bakufu supported such a young candidate because they felt that it would be easier for them to influence and control a young and inexperienced shogun.
To end meddling in bakufu affairs, shortly after he signed the Harris treaty Ii settled the matter of the shogunal succession by claiming that the shogunal succession was a matter for the Tokugawa house alone and neither the shinpan daimyo or the Emperor had the right to interfere. As head councilor of the Tokugawa house Ii was now free to influence the decision in favor of whichever candidate he preferred without any interference. In this way Ii was able to ignore the Daimyo who supported Hitotsubashi Keiki, the reformist candidate for the office of Shogun and crowned the fudai daimyo‘s candidate, Tokugawa Yoshitomi who changed his name to Tokugawa Iemochi, as the 14th Tokugawa Shogun.
Ii’s decision made him very unpopular with Imperial loyalists, especially with the Mito samurai. Towards the end of 1858 the reformists went to the emperor with the hopes of restraining Ii. In response to the attempt by Tokugawa Nariaki and his supporters to denounce him in the emperor’s court Ii had a shogunal decree passed which allowed him to conduct the Ansei Purge. During the rest of 1858 and into 1859 Naosuke purged over 100 officials from the bakufu, the imperial court and the lands of various daimyo. Eight of the officials who were purged were executed; the remainder were forced into retirement. During the Ansei purge Ii Naosuke was able to force Hitotsubashi Keiki’s supporters to retire and place Hitotsubashi and his family under house arrest. Ii Naosuke was also able to remove officials who had expressed unhappiness with his handling of the Harris treaty and the shogunal succession from public life.
Although Ii’s Ansei purge was very effective in silencing the officials and his high ranking opponents, it did not have the same effect on lower ranking samurai. Ii Naosuke’s 20 month dictatorial reign as Tairō came to an abrupt end in the third month of Ansei 7 (March 24, 1860). Ii was attacked by a band of 17 young samurai loyalists from the Mito province and cut down just in front of one of the gates of the Shogun’s Edo castle entering to meet with the shogun. The assassination of Ii Naosuke, who was seen as the symbol of the bakufu’s power and authority, crushed any hope for the resurrection of the shogunate,.
The death of Tairō Ii Naosuke started a wave of loyalist terrorism across Japan, the poet Tsunada Tadayuki even wrote a poem praising Ii’s assassins. Soon attempts were being made on the lives of other members of the bakufu and their informants. The wave of popular dissent also turned against officials with a connection to Ii Naosuke, no matter how distant it was. Shimada Sakon, retainer of the Kujō, (one of the Sekke families; the 5 regent houses, and among the most powerful in the court), Imperial regent, was killed by dissidents for supporting the Harris treaty and helping Ii’s confidant, Nagano Shuzen, expose members of the court who were targeted during the Ansei purge. The Shogun and the Bakufu were astounded and taken completely unawares by the death of Ii Naosuke. They didn’t even announce his death until several months after the assassination took place. Instead the Shogun and the bakufu pretended that Ii was still alive and rendering service to the Shogun, then they faked an illness and had him tender his resignation to the Shogun before announcing his death. In this way Ii continued to serve the Shogun, even after death. Ii’s assassins were later granted a general amnesty by the Bakufu, a precedent later used by Yamagata Aritomo, a key member of the Meiji restoration, to show that any action can be forgiven if it is performed for the betterment of the emperor.
After Ii Naosuke’s death the Ii family was disgraced for many years, recently however Ii’s actions have been looked at in a more favorable light and Ii Naosuke has taken his place as one of the most important political figures of Japanese history.