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Shogun: Minamoto – Yoritomo Essay, Research Paper

Minamoto Yoritomo established the capital of his new military government in familiar surroundings at his home town of Kamakura, the former small fishing village on the western extent of the Kanto Plain once governed by his great grandfather . Situated in a scenic valley on the northeastern edge of Sagami Bay amid the lush foothills of a craggy mountain range that surrounds the town on three sides, it was both easy to defend and difficult to invade. Where Taira no Kiyomori had only limited military control in the immediate area around the imperial capital at Heian-kyo, Yoritomo’s military dominance was nationwide. Kiyomori exercised his authority from behind the scenes and largely through the old civil government structure in the tradition of the Fujiwara before him. Yoritomo declined to dethrone the emperor and created an entirely new and separate governmental structure closely linked with the old civil administration, but independent of it and separately based Kamakura.

The post of shogun was, in theory at least, purely military, so Yoritomo’s administration and those of later military rulers came to be known as the shogunate, bakufu, or “tent government,” to distinguish it from the civil government in Heian-kyo. As the samurai clans under the Minamoto began building political power, Japan’s political center shifted away from Heian-kyo toward the Kamakura bakufu, leaving Heian-kyo as the symbolic, religious and cultural center of Japan. The Kamakura Shogunate set down a pattern of rule in Japan that would last for some seven centuries.

Throughout most of Japanese history, the power of the emperor, tenno, has been either limited or purely symbolic. Still, all Japan’s effective rulers, from the Fujiwara and Hojo regents to the Minamoto, Ashikaga and Tokugawa shoguns, respected the emperor and were anxious to secure their legitimacy as rulers of Japan by seeking approval from the imperial throne. China tolerated no ruling authority except that of its emperor. Korean monarchs sought legitimacy by gaining approval from the Chinese emperor. Japanese shoguns sought legitimacy, not from any foreign ruler, but from their own emperor.

Because almost any shogun had the power to interfere with imperial succession, the emperor selected shoguns as political rulers on a regional basis. Since these military men who ruled local populations were not related to the imperial family, their legitimacy depended heavily on the perception they were ruled by the emperor. This form of government rule has been referred to as “centralized feudalism.” The Kamakura Shogunate set down the pattern for a new, land-based feudal government that was much simpler than the previously adopted Chinese system and worked much more efficiently for the Japanese.

Yoritomo’s real power rested on his personal band of warrior vassals, called “honorable house men,” gokenin, which he had built up on the Kanto Plain. After confiscating lands from the defeated Taira clan, he added a large number of estates throughout the country. He also gained the power to make appointments to provincial posts in some sixteen provinces. Thus, Yoritomo could reward his vassals with new appointments in the estates and provincial governments under his control. Although the ultimate right to posts in the provinces or estates and income from them derived from the Heian-kyo court, Yoritomo became directly responsible for the protection of many of these posts and appointments to some of them.

Many samurai originally outside the Kanto region sought to protect their positions by commending their properties to Yoritomo’s protection and accepting vassalage as his gokenin. In time of war, these men would fight and risk their lives for the shogun. The shogun could then reward them with land, a symbol of great honor. With the personal loyalty of some two thousand scattered families, including the Hojo, Hiki, Miura, Wada, Hatakeyama, Kajiwara, Adachi, and Chiba, Minamoto Yoritomo was able to appoint his vassals to estates where they had not been before. Yoritomo’s stewards and protectors watched over his interests and asserted his right to a share in the taxation and administration of those estates entirely outside the structure of the civil government. Thus, Yoritomo was able to establish direct administrative control over most of Japan and create numerous small, but effective, provincial armies.

After establishing his shogunate, Yoritomo moved his wife, Hojo Masako, and her family to their new home on Mount Okura in Kamakura. The same year he was named Shogun, Masako gave birth to his second son, Sanetomo, at the Hojo family villa called Hojo Yakata, located at Shokado in the Nagoe hills in Kamakura. Family life did little to mellow his warrior heart, for within one year he became a cruel and merciless tyrant who trusted no one but himself. He moved swiftly to solidify his position by eliminating his enemies, actual and potential alike. Not even family members were safe.

After a dispute with his brother Yo*censored*sune, who successfully eliminated the Taira at Dan-no-ura, Yoritomo had him killed along with other members of his family. He also murdered another younger brother, Minamoto Noriyori, out of jealousy and suspicion. In the Ayamedani Valley near Heian-kyo, Minamoto samurai captured Rokudai Gozen, the son of Taira no Koremori, the only Taira warrior with direct family ties to the former dictator Taira Kiyomori. On December 23, 1198, more than thirteen years after the Taira clan suffered near annihilation, Rokudai Gozen was brought to Kamakura to face the wrath of Minamoto Yoritomo, who ordered him beheaded and buried on the bank of the Tagoe River in Sagami.

Just four days after Rokudai Gozen’s execution, the fifty-three-year-old Shogun Yoritomo was returning home from the ceremonial opening of a bridge in Sagami, when he was thrown from his horse. Seventeen days later, on January 13, 1199, Minamoto Yoritomo, the Lord of Kamakura died. He was buried halfway up Mount Okura, just east of his family’s manor at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu. Yoritomo’s wife, Hojo Masako, carefully began the process of steering her own family into power in Kamakura. Ironically, the Hojo were descendants of the Taira clan, formerly Minamoto Yoritomo’s most bitter enemies. The family took its name from their small estate in the Kanogawa Valley in Izu Province. Beginning with her father Tokimasa, Hojo regents governed the Kamakura bakufu in the name of puppet shoguns until overthrown by Go-Daigo over a hundred years later.

A number of quarrels for supremacy erupted between the Kamakura bakufu and the imperial court in Heian-kyo after Yoritomo’s death. On a local and more personal level, a major feud between the powerful Hiki clan and the smaller Hojo clan began to surface. Yoritomo left two sons to fill his role as shogun, neither of whom were up to the challenge. His eldest son, Yoriie succeeded him as head of the Kamakura shogunate and married a woman from the powerful Hiki family. Hiki Yoshikazu, head of the family, saw the birth of Yoriie’s son Ichiman as a golden opportunity for the Hiki to hold more power in the government. In late July 1203, Yoriie became ill and collapsed after hearing news that his uncle Ano Zenjo and cousin Yorizen had been murdered at Higashiyama in Heian-kyo. Yoriie’s grandfather, Hojo Tokimasa, angered by developments in his grandson’s family, began laying plans to entrap Hiki Yoshikazu and settle his dispute with the powerful Hiki family. On September 2, Tokimasa sprang his trap. When Hiki Yoshikazu arrived at the Hojo manor at Shakado, Tokimasa had him murdered.

With the head of the Hiki family now dead, Hojo samurai completely surrounded the Hiki family and mercilessly slaughtered the entire group. The Hojo troops burned their houses and killed everyone related to the Hiki, including women and children. The feud ran so deep that even Yoriie’s wife and his son Ichiman were murdered. Yoriie was blamed for losing the support of the Hiki clan and banished to the Izu Peninsula as a monk, where he was confined in exile in a small hall at Shuzenji Temple. Less than a year later, on July 10, 1204, a group of assassins allegedly sent by Hojo Tokimasa, an uncle, and his own mother, Masako, slipped into the Shuzenji Temple and murdered the Kamakura Shogun. Leadership of the shogunate fell to Yoriie’s younger brother and Yoritomo’s only surviving son, the four-year-old boy Sanetomo.

Minamoto Sanetomo was anointed the third Kamakura Shogun in 1205, ruling under the regency of the Hojo clan, who quietly manipulated events from the background. Almost immediately after the young Sanetomo had been designated the new shogun, Hojo Tokimasa and his family began carefully advancing plans for his eventual removal. On January 27, 1219, the eighteen-year-old Shogun Sanetomo made a ceremonial visit to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine near his family manor overlooking the city of Kamakura. A local priest named Kugyo, Shogun Yoriie’s son and Sanetomo’s own nephew, suddenly sprang from behind a large gingko tree and assassinated the young shogun. Sanetomo’s murder was no simple incident and certainly no accident. Kugyo, encouraged by Hojo informants, long believed Sanetomo to be responsible for his father’s death and killed the young shogun in revenge. In the final act of this terrible drama, Hojo samurai murdered Kugyo in retaliation for the death of their leader. The tragic deaths of Sanetomo and his nephew, Kugyo, ended Minamoto Yoritomo’s family line.

The numerous quarrels over supremacy between the Kamakura bakufu and the imperial court in Heian-kyo finally came to head in 1221, when Emperor Go-Toba tried to reclaim political power through an abortive attack on the Regent Hojo Yo*censored*oki. The Hojo clan saw this as a direct threat to not only their own stature, but to the shogunate. Hojo Masako gathered Yoritomo’s vassals and demanded a show of allegiance. She sent the full force of the shogunate’s samurai armies against Heian-kyo in what became known as the Jokyu War and succeeded in defeating the Imperial army. The Ama Shogun (widow shogun), as she was popularly called, had triumphed. In their victory, the Hojo regents of the Kamakura bakufu succeeded in achieving complete control over Japan. By redistributing the estates and land taken during the Jokyu War, they secured loyalty among all the powerful clans throughout the country. For the next four years until her death in 1225 at the age of 65, Hojo Masako was the guiding hand behind the Kamakura bakufu. More than that however, she was the Ama Shogun, the wife of Minamoto Yoritomo, leader of the Minamoto and the great Lord of Kamakura, and defender of her own family, the Hojo.

Following the Jokyu War, the emperor and the few remaining governmental offices in Heian-kyo lost practically all effective power. Go-Toba was forced into retirement for the second time and exiled for the remainder of his life to the remote Oki Island north of Honshu. In his remaining years, he spent long hours trying to forge a sword worthy of replacing the sword of the Imperial Regalia that went to the bottom of the Kanmon Straits with the child emperor Antoku in the Battle of Dan-no-ura. He also planned to use the sword to kill all the Hojos. Neither happened.

The end of the Minamoto line left the Kamakura bakufu under the secure leadership of the Hojo family, which acted as regents to the shogun. Hojo Masako’s brother, Yo*censored*oki, was a dominant figure at Kamakura at the time, but neither he nor any of successors ever made a move to usurp the position of shogun. Instead, they chose to exert their power through a series of puppet shoguns just as the Fujiwara clan had in Heian-kyo. Hojo Tokimasa took the post of Chief of the Administrative Office and his title, shikken, came to mean “shogunal regent.” In 1225, Yo*censored*oki’s son Yasutoki created a Council of State to broaden participation in the government and made and uncle a “co-signer” of government decrees to share responsibility with him. Thereafter until the fall of the Kamakura in 1333, the Hojo family demonstrated great success at collective leadership. Two senior Hojo occupied the paired posts of “shogunal regent” and “co-signer,” while two junior members of the family occupied the paired posts of deputies in Heian-kyo.

The year after the Council of State came into existence, the Hojo installed the Fujiwara infant Yoritsune, descended through his mother from Minamoto Yoritomo, as the titular shogun. In 1252, Yoritsune was replaced with the imperial prince Yoritsugu. The Hojo regency provides a remarkable tribute to the cohesiveness of Minamoto Yoritomo’s shogunate. The entire system depended, in theory, on the personal loyalty of the vassals to him and his heirs, yet despite the extinction of his lineage, the Kamakura bakufu operated successfully with a purely symbolic object of loyalty at its head. By the early thirteenth century, the Japanese emperor was merely a puppet in the hands of a retired emperor and a great court family, the Fujiwara, who together controlled a skeleton government completely dominated by the private military government of the shogun, who in turn was a puppet in the hands of a Hojo regent. The man behind the throne had become a series of men, each one in turn controlled by the man behind him.

The Hojo maintained tight control of the government and immediately destroyed any sign of rebellion. The relatively powerless shogun stayed in Kamakura while the Hojo placed his deputies in Heian-kyo and throughout western Japan. In 1232, the shogunate introduced a new legal code that stressed such Confucian values as the importance of loyalty to the master, and generally attempted to suppress a growing decline of morals and discipline. Estate stewards and constables patrolled the provinces to ensure tight control and loyalty to the shogun. The Hojo promoted native culture and Buddhism brought to Japan by Chinese monks and craftsmen who sailed into Sagami Bay to introduce their culture through Kamakura. At a time when the ancient religion was beginning to take on a more Japanese flavor, new Buddhist sects found a large following among the samurai, now a leading social class in Japan.

Despite several decades of peace and economic expansion, widespread rumors predicting impending political coups fueled a growing discord among the governing clans. A series of natural disasters hit Japan during the early thirteenth century that included typhoons, floods and earthquakes. Magnifying the impact of these events were fear-provoking comet-sightings that came amidst periods of famine and rampant plague. The compounding effect of all these occurrences gradually pushed the citizens to a state of near panic. Perhaps the worst threat to Japan during this period came not from nature, but from the far side of the broad East China Sea. By 1259 the Mongols under Kublai Khan had conquered China. Looking for new worlds to conquer, Kublai Khan began to cast his eyes towards the island nation of Japan.

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