Letter from Itakura Katsushige


Letter from Itakura Katsushige

calligraphy / Edo

Edo period, 17th century

Ink on paper


This letter was written at the start of the Edo period, not long after the Tokugawa samurai clan had established a military government in Edo, as Tokyo was formerly known. The Emperor and the nobility had remained in Kyoto, so messengers were constantly travelling between the two cities. This letter was delivered to an official at the Imperial Court by an official from the military.

Though a formal document exchanged between ambassadors, it is written on folded-paper that was usually used for informal private or everyday correspondences.

The letter is about Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Edo shogun, now in retirement. It describes how he had caught a crane while out hunting with hawks. It goes on to say that the crane would probably be presented to Tokugawa Hidetada, the second shogun. The letter seems quite genial at first glance and it reveals how the shogunate and the Imperial Court corresponded frequently, even over trivial matters like this.

Hawk hunting involved releasing trained birds like hawks to catch cranes, herons and hares. As well as serving as a leisurely pursuit and a form of training, this pastime was also a symbol of status and authority for the samurai. As such, this account of a hawk catching a crane may be alluding to strength of the Tokugawa Ieyasu.

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