Tokugawa Ietsugu (1709-1716) became shogun at age three, surviving only only four more years. He was the last shogun from the main Tokugawa line. Despite the image, his courtiers were very serious men, Neo-Confucians engaged in a political struggle against the power of Buddhism in Japan, and included the unlikeable Baron Aoyama, whose murder of Okiku Yoshitoshi was to illustrate in his series New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts. It is generally said that Ietsugu, like his predecessor, Ienobu, was frail: more likely he was inconvenient.
It is unlikely that Yoshitoshi meant to flatter the courtiers shown playing with the shogun. The strong cultural values about masculinity and aristocracy in Japan would have guaranteed that the viewers of this print were given a strong message about the decadence and foolishness in a child shogun's court. To a Westerner's eyes, however, the scene can seem quite different: one can only hope that Ietsugu had days like this at some time in his short, constrained life.