helmet and 2 fans © Royal Armouries and Nikko Toshogu Shrine

SHOGUN: The facts

Who was Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu?

He was one of the most outstanding figures in Japanese history, a lord revered in his country 400 years after his death, and created a deity in recognition of his achievements.

Why was he so important?

He not only became ruler of Japan after the battle of Seki-ga-Hara, which left 36,000 dead or seriously injured in one day of fighting, but also was granted the title of Shogun, laying the foundations for a dynasty which brought over 250 years of peace in Japan.

What is a Shogun?

The title taken by Tokugawa Ieyasu was an ancient one, Seii tai shogun, literally meaning “Barbarian destroying Commander in Chief”, abbreviated to Shogun. For centuries, it was the Shogun who held the real power in Japan, with his military government, as the Emperor was kept occupied in Kyoto with religious and secular ceremonies.

What influence have the Shoguns had on Western culture?

Although after Tokugawa Ieyasu’s death, Japan shut itself off from the rest of the world, the tales of the samurai warrior class who were at the top of their system have had enormous fascination, reflected in movies as diverse as The Magnificent Seven, Robocop and Star Wars – Darth Vader’s iconic mask in the Star Wars stories has its origins in the samurai masks on show in Leeds. And the decorative arts which flourished in the period, from textiles to lacquerwork, will be fully represented in the exhibition. The fascination continues – Japanese comic strips and Manga cartoons were influenced by events from this period in Japan’s history.

How did the Royal Armouries exhibition come about?

Although it was officially formalised only in 1999, the relationship between the Royal Armouries and the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, built in memory of Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu, goes back many years. It stems from the Armouries’ custodianship of the magnificent suit of armour that was presented to King James I, and which will be a major feature of the exhibition. Both the Armouries and the Shrine see the exhibition as a major opportunity to educate a wider audience about Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu and Japanese culture more generally.

Why is the shrine so significant?

It took 4.5m people – including some of the country’s finest artists and craftsmen – 17 months to build, working night and day, and cost about £200m in today’s money. Nikko Toshogu Shrine, now a World Heritage site, has survived virtually intact for 400 years and it is with the aid of priests at the shrine that the exhibition is being held.