Keiki was born into an offshoot of the Tokugawa family that made his chances at birth of later becoming Shogun extremely small. However, succession was more flexible than simple primogeniture, and Keiki’s adoption into another branch of the family and the deaths of other contenders made him the logical choice for Shogun when the vacancy arose in 1858. Pressured by foreign forces and internal dissent, at that stage there was still probably an opportunity for a strong Shogun to reunite the country and secure the future of Tokugawa rule. But the Shogunate advisors feared Keiki’s very strength, and opted instead for his malleable teenage cousin. After eight years of civil strife and poor leadership, upon the cousin’s death the advisors turned in desperation to the candidate they had previously stymied, but it was too late. Not only was it impossible by 1866 even for a man like Keiki to maintain the status quo, but a strong Shogun such as Keiki paradoxically ruled out the House of Tokugawa playing some reduced role in the new constitutional arrangements that followed the restoration of Imperial rule in 1868.
Shiba is seen by the Japanese as one of their best writers in any genre, but sadly not many of his books are available in English. While at times his playful style does feel very much translated in this English edition, he has a talent for character that will engross anyone interested in the fascinating period that was the end of the Shogunate and the birth of modern Japan. Ryotaro Shiba vividly captures both Keiki’s greatness and his contradictions. Highly recommended historical biography.