- Birth: 1835/12/19
- Death: 1883/11/12
- Birth Name: 島津一子 (Shimazu Katsuko)
- Other Names: 近衛敬子 (Konoe Sumiko), 藤原敬子 (Fujiwara Sumiko)
- Married Name: 徳川篤姫 (Tokugawa Atsu-hime)
- Retired Name: 天璋院 (Tenshô-in)
Born the daughter of Shimazu Tadatake (島津忠剛), in the Imaizumi mansion in Ibusuki, Satsuma province, she was initially named Katsuko, or Okatsu. She was adopted by the lord of the fief, Shimazu Nariakira, in 1853, given the name Atsu, and brought to Kagoshima. Though actually an adopted daughter, she was represented to the Tokugawa shogunate as being Nariakira's biological daughter. Atsuhime lived at Kagoshima castle for only two months, however, before moving to Kyoto in the 8th month that same year, and then relocating, yet again, to the Shimazu clan mansion at Shiba in Edo, in the 10th month. The following year, in 1856/7, she was adopted into the Konoe family and was given the name Konoe or Fujiwara Sumiko.
Adopting the daughter of a branch house or a high-ranking retainer for use in marriage politics was not an unusual practice in Japan; it was much used by Tokugawa Ieyasu, among others. In Atsu's case, Nariakira intended to marry her to the shogun Tokugawa Iesada. However, Nariakira's purpose was not to become the grandfather of the future shogun. Iesada had already buried two wives and was still childless. His successor had to be chosen from among the heads of several Tokugawa branch houses. The most natural one was his cousin, the young lord of Kii Iemochi (aka Yoshitomi, 1846-1866). However, Yoshinobu (1837-1913), originally of the Mito Tokugawa clan, but adopted into the Hitotsubashi branch, was also a strong candidate. The latter was supported by those, including Nariakira, who believed the shogunate needed a strong leader who could make necessary reforms, especially in view of the foreign threat typified by the visit of Matthew Perry in 1853. It was hoped that Atsu could be influential in getting Yoshinobu to be named as successor. The "outer lords" (tozama daimyô), including the Shimazu, had been shut out of the shogunate administration since the beginning, but from the shogunate's perspective it was hoped that this marriage would strengthen the weakening shogunate by allying it to this powerful clan.
As the wife of the shogun was supposed to be from the imperial family or from a high-ranking imperial noble (kuge) family, Atsu was adopted by the Minister of the Right, Konoe Tadahiro. Her wedding palanquin, today in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, bore the Tokugawa and Konoe family crests as part of elaborate gold leaf decorations on a black lacquered exterior; painted panels on the inside depicted scenes from the Tale of Genji. In the 11th month of 1856, she entered Edo castle as the wife of the shogun. The wedding ceremony took place the following month, on 12/18. The next year she was formally given the title of Midaidokoro, the wife of the shogun.
However, Atsu was not able to exercise the influence that had been hoped. Iesada died on 1858/7/4, naming as his heir the young lord of Kii; Nariakira died less than two weeks later, on 7/16. Two months after her husband's death, Atsu-hime retired and took the name Tenshô-in, and at the end of the year she was given Third Degree rank. With both Iesada and Nariakira gone, Atsu-hime was freed from obligations, or expectations, to support Tokugawa Yoshinobu as the choice for shogunal heir. Iemochi became shogun instead; Atsushime continued living in Edo castle throughout Iemochi's reign, and that of Yoshinobu, who succeeded him as shogun in 1866. She continued to advise these successive shoguns, and worked to manage the Ôoku.
During this time, the Shimazu clan joined forces with the Môri of Chôshû in support of the imperial restoration against the shogunate, and events eventually erupted into the Boshin War (1868), ending with the overthrow of the shogunate. At the end of the war, Tenshô-in (Atsuhime) and Kazu-no-Miya (now known as Seikan-in-no-miya, 静寛院宮), successfully interceded with both sides for the bloodless surrender of Edo, and the continuance of the Tokugawa family. After the fall of Edo castle, Tenshô-in and the rest of the Tokugawa family were deprived of their rank. After vacating Edo castle at the age of 34 on 1868/10/4, she moved into the Hitotsubashi mansion and stayed there until 7/28 the following year, when she then relocated to the mansion of the Kii Tokugawa in the Akasaka district of the city, now renamed Tokyo. She then moved to Ushigometoyama (牛込戸山) in Tokyo on 1870/8/11. Yet in 1872, to better help supervise the raising and education of Yoshinobu's heir Yasuda Kamenosuke (Tokugawa Iesato), Atsuhime moved back to Akasaka, settling in Fukuyoshi-chô, where she remained until Iesato went to study abroad in England in 1877. After that, she moved into the main Tokugawa residence in Sendagaya, in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Tenshôin suffered from Parkinson’s disease, which eventually took her life at the age of 49 in 1883. Upon her death her rank was restored.
Atsu-hime's grave was erected within the area of the mausoleum of Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi at Kan'ei-ji, only a short distance from that of her husband, Iesada. A loquat (biwa) tree, supposedly one of her favorite foods, was planted immediately next to her grave. It is not accessible to the public.
- "Hime," often translated "princess," is a title used with the personal name of a woman of high rank, such as the daughter of a daimyo.
- See omote and uchi.
- Plaques on-site at former site of Imaizumi Shimazu family mansion, Dairyû-chô, Kagoshima.
- A similar route had been chosen when a woman from the Shimazu family (Kôdai-in) married the 11th shogun Tokugawa Ienari. In that case, they had been engaged before he was chosen as shogun. Kôdai-in was coincidentally also known as Atsu-hime.
- "The Princess Atsuhime's Wedding Palanquin Revealed in the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. ArtDaily.org. 3 November 2008.
- Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 2 (1937), 277, 282.
Atsu-hime in Fiction
- Tenshôin Atsuhime (天璋院篤姫) ANB 1985
- Atsuhime (篤姫) NHK 2008
- Tenshôin Atsuhime (天璋院篤姫) Miyao Tomiko
- Tenshôin Sumiko (天璋院敬子) Umemoto Ikuko
- Plaque outside mausoleum of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi at Kan'ei-ji.
- 明治維新人名辞典, 日本歴史学会編集、吉川弘文館, 1981 (Dictionary of Personal Names of the Meiji Restoration).
-  From Japanese Wikipedia 広大院 (Kôdai-In)
- 天璋院篤姫, ＮＨＫプロモーション, 2008 (Catalog from the Tenshôin Atsuhime Exihibit, Edo-Tokyo Museum)
- Beerens, Anna."Interview with Two Ladies of the Ooku: A Translation from Kyûji Shimonroku", Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 63:2(2008) pp. 265-324.