Naosuke Ii was born on Oct 29th, 1815, in the Hikone castle as the 14th son of the 11th lord of Hikone domain, Naonaka Ii. He had a large family with 14 boys and five girls. Naosuke’s mother, Otomi, a concubine of Naonaka, was reputable for her beauty and wisdom. He was named Tetsunosuke in childhood, but later he was renamed as Tetsusaburo. After Otomi passed away when Naosuke was five years old, he continued to live in the Hikone castle. But when his father died in 1831, He followed the rule and moved to Osuemachi house (later named as Umoreginoya) with his younger brother Naoyasu in October. Naosuke was only 17 years old. Since then, he had lived a frugal life with an annual income of only 300 bales of rice. In the Hikone domain, a strict rule had established that all children except an official successor must go out of the castle and be adopted into other lords unless otherwise, they must live a modest life with 300 bales of rice. Naosuke was a son of a lord of the Hikone domain, but because he was not a successor, he had to live a humble life.
One year after his move to Osuemachi house, he celebrated the coming-of-age ceremony. Although it should have been done one year earlier at the age of 17, his father’s death forced him to postpone it. In 1834, a lord Naoaki arranged adaptation interviews with loads for Naosuke and his brother in Edo(=old name of Tokyo), so he had a farewell party with acquaintances thinking that he would never come back to this house. However, after the interview, his younger brother Naoyasu was adopted, but he was not. Naoyasu changed his name to Masayoshi Naito, obtained an official high-ranking position, and became a load in the Hyuuga Nobeoka domain. No one knows why Naosuke was unsuccessful, but he must have been very disappointed, but he encouraged himself by writing “words of Umoreginoya” in Edo. He came back to Umoreginoya in Hikone in August 1835. He said, “Four hours sleep a day is enough for me” and devoted himself to study and training. Besides, Zen Buddhism, the Japanese classics, calligraphy, Rakuyaki and Kotoyaki (pottery), and international relation are all categorized to “study.” Iai (drawing a sword blade quickly from a sitting position), Judo, a martial art, and Japanese archery are classified as “training.”
But about ten years later, on January 13, 1846, Naomoto, a successor of the lord Naoaki, passed away at the age of 38, Naosuke’s turn came at last. He left Umoreginoya he had lived in for 15 years from 17 to 32 years old, and he headed for Edo. Tokugawa shogunate approved that a lord of Hikone would adopt him, and the first meeting with Shogun at Edo castle finished successfully, he immediately started an official task in Edo. In the meantime, vessels of western countries came to Japan’s coast one after another at that time.
In 1850 Sep., when a lord Naoaki died, Naosuke succeeded his territory and took a position of the 13th lord of Hikone. First, he distributed predecessor’s heritage 150 thousand Ryoo (1 Ryoo is about one thousand dollars) to his vassals, temples and shrines, and people in his territory. He appointed talented persons, supported fair trials, and patrolled all over his area. He cultivated his strong character and creed in Umoreginoya, which brought good policies and the reforms of politics. In 1852, at the age of 37, he got an official marriage with Masako, 18 years old, a daughter of Nobuhiro Matsudaira, a lord of Tanba Kameyama (current Kyoto prefecture). Okubo Kozen undertook a general affairs office of the marriage then.
June 3, 1853, Captain Perry of America’s East-Indian fleet lead four armed vessels to come to Uraga and handed over a sovereign letter requesting for diplomatic relations. To deal with this emergency occurrence, Naosuke returned to Edo in July, and the shogunate started building Shinagawa fortress. Hikone domain received an order to defend Haneda and Omori. On the other hand, Naosuke submitted his opinion about America’s request, where he firmly insisted on opening the country. In January 1854, Perry came again, and finally, the US-Japan peace treaty was concluded. Then the above order of defense was canceled, so Naosuke returned to Hikone in May. Since then, he had been so busy traveling between Hikone and Edo.
Perry arrival (Public Domain)
In 1857 U.S. Consul General Townsend Harris submitted a sovereign letter demanding free trade to Tokugawa Shogunate. To find the way out of these difficulties, Naosuke, who was assigned as Tairoo (an extraordinary highest political position) in April 1858, concluded the US-Japan treaty of amity and trade. In June, he placed Tokugawa Yoshitomi in Kii (current Wakayama) as a successor of Shogun. His decision to open the country came from his principle of pacifism and cooperation policy. He knew that Japan would lose and become a colony if they fight with foreign countries at that time. Because all the political affairs and diplomacy were entrusted to Tokugawa Shogunate, he was in a position to make a decision. But he respected the Emperor and tried to listen to his opinion and other lords, and it backfired. Some anti-Shogunate lords and court nobles schemed behind the scenes and obtained an imperial sanction (could be a fake one) on overthrowing the shogunate from the Emperor. He was reluctant to conclude the treaty. The Tokugawa Shogunate arrested those who involved in the scheme. Then, he punished them by the rules of that time in a trial. It is wrongly called “the Ansei purge” from a later historical view, but please imagine what Japan could be if the treaty had not been concluded. In December 1858, the Emperor issued an approval of the conclusion of the agreement. Tokugawa shogun appreciated his efforts to save the country and gave him a saddle and a sword.
the US-Japan treaty of amity and trade1858/7/29 （This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: World Imaging）
On March 3, 1860, was a day of a seasonal ceremony at Edo castle. Naosuke and his 60 attendants were marching to Edo castle from his house in outer Sakurada. In a remote place, a group of warriors with rough costume were waiting as if they were looking at a lord’s parade for fun. As the march approached, one of the warriors attacked the leader with a sword. Unfortunately, attendants’ swords were covered with the cloths because it was snowing on that day, so they could not take out their swords, so attackers killed them. A gunshot rang out, and other warriors ran toward the Naosuke. He was shot in his waist and could not move. Finally, one of the attackers took him out of a palanquin, and the head was cut off. Naosuke was dead at the age of 46. It is a disaster in front of the Sakuradamon gate. The terrorists assassinated the top-ranking official of the Shogunate.
Sakuradamon disaster (Public Domain)
Two months before the disaster, Naosuke ordered to draw his portrait and donated it to his home temple Seiryooji with a Japanese poem. He had a sense of foreboding about his death. Naosuke made some more hanging scrolls, one of which was given to Okubo Kozen, who is an ancestor of the owner of Umoreginoya and handed over to generation by generation in Okubo family. His frantic politics to protect Japan did not get through to a dissident faction and terrorists. Naosuke II staked his fate on the opening of Japan, and lead our country to peace and international cooperation.