Marquis Tokugawa Yoshichika was the founder of the Tokugawa Art Museum. He was the biological son of Matsudaira Shungaku, last daimyô of Echizen han, and was adopted in 1908 by Tokugawa Yoshikatsu, the last daimyô of Owari han; Yoshichika succeeded Yoshikatsu to become the 19th head of the Owari branch of the Tokugawa clan.
Educated at the Gakushûin (Peers' School), he attended Tokyo Imperial University as an undergraduate, where he researched forestry history, and then went on to pursue graduate studies in botany beginning in 1911. He became a member of the House of Peers that same year.
He established the Tokugawa Institute for Biological Research (Tokugawa Seibutsu Kenkyûjo) in 1918, the Tokugawa Institute for the History of Forestry (Tokugawa Rinseishi Kenkyûjo) in 1923, and the Tokugawa Reimeikai Foundation in 1931. In 1935, along with the Foundation, he worked to establish the Tokugawa Art Museum, on the grounds of the former site of the Owari Tokugawa detached palace in Nagoya, donating to the new museum the Owari Tokugawa clan's collection of artworks and artifacts. An early exhibit, shown the year after the founding of the museum, included works of calligraphy by Emperor Go-Mizunoo, Emperor Kômei, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, and Yoshichika's birth father & adopted father. The Shôwa Emperor visited the museum on August 3, 1937, and is said to have "congratulated Yoshichika on his accomplishment." In fact, Yoshichika is said to have had a friendship, or at least a friendly relationship, with the Shôwa Emperor, who was also well-educated in the natural sciences.
Yoshichika was also involved in radical politics in the 1930s-40s. He donated a considerable sum (some 500,000 yen) to the Sakura-kai, to support a 1931 attempted military coup which later came to be known as the March Incident. He was also involved in a second attempted (and failed) military coup, the "February 26th Incident" of 1936. Nevertheless, Yoshichika managed to escape any punishment or political persecution for his involvement in these two incidents, and to the contrary managed to secure highly influential positions in colonial administration and wartime planning. As the result of experience traveling in Malaya & socializing with the Sultan of Johore during the interwar period, Yoshichika was named supreme consulting advisor to the Japanese colonial administration of Singapore in 1942-1944, and honorary president of the Raffles Museum & Botanical Gardens. Yoshichika was interrogated by the War Crimes Tribunal after the end of World War II, in part due to his role in colonial administration, but was not charged or put on trial.
In the early years of the postwar period, Yoshichika played some role in the establishment of the Japan Socialist Party.
- Morgan Pitelka. "Art, Agency, and Networks in the Career of Tokugawa Ieyasu." in A Companion to Asian Art and Architecture. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, 463-465.
- Pitelka, "Art, Agency, and Networks," 465.
- Morgan Pitelka, “Famous Objects: Agency and Materiality in the Collection of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616),” talk given at Sophia University, Tokyo, 25 May 2017.
- Tokugawa Reiten Roku 徳川禮典録, vol 1., Tokyo: Owari Tokugawa Reimeikai (1942), 1-2.
- Morgan Pitelka, Spectacular Accumulation, University of Hawaii Press (2016), 166-167.