The Kamakura Shogunate The first of the Shoguns was Yoritomo of the Minamoto clan. The Minamoto clan held power in the east, while their opponents, the Taira, were strong in the southwest. A series of power struggles marked the twelfth century, with the Taira emerging victorious over the Minamoto and the ruling Fujiwara in 1160. In 1180, the Yoritomo led a successful uprising, and drove the Taira from power in 1185.
Yoritomo set up a military capital, or bakufu, in Kamakura after the conflict. The emperor bestowed the title of "Shogun" on him in 1192. Yoritomo was already extremely powerful because of his military network, and this designation made him even more so. The emperor became powerless against the new ruler in Kamakura.
Yoritomo's power came from the new warrior class, the samurai, which he maintained as a privileged order, and from a network of political and military alliances. Yoritomo attached warriors to himself, and this was the seed of feudalism in Japan. Additionally, this allowed him to forbid ties with the royal court. Stewards of estates, and constables and protectors assigned to provinces by the shogun, and these positions eventually became hereditary.
The Kamakura government was broken into three main bodies. The Samurai-dokoro or "service room" concentrated on the military, becoming involved in all aspects of a warrior's life. The Mandokoro, or "Council" made policy. The third body was the Monchujo, and was the judicial body of the Kamakura government. This established a link between the bakufu and the court in Kyoto. Yoritomo had established the groundwork for the rule of Japan by the shogun.
In 1219 the Hojo family, gained power by eliminating the Minamoto heirs. They became the new military rulers of Japan. No Hojo would ever become shogun. Sometimes they would have figurehead shoguns appointed, but the Hojos ruled as the shikken, or "hereditary regent." Thus the power handed over by the emperor to a shogun, was in fact exercised by a Hojo regent.
There was only one attempt by the court to regain control in this period. The emperor Go-Toba called all eastern warriors to a festival in 1221, with the intent of drawing them from their bases. Those sympathetic to the court proved to be no match for the Kamakura fighters. The Kamakura did not inflict harsh terms on the rebels, opting for exile and confiscation of property. This rebellion prompted the military rulers to keep closer tabs on the court however.
The remainder of the thirteenth century saw peaceful rule under the Hojo clan. They set an example of frugal living, and employed the management structure Yoritomo had set in place quite successfully. But the Mongol attempts to invade drained the Hojo resources, and left them unable to reward supporters. Attempts to placate warriors and the public, such as a cancellation of debts, failed, and the emperor Go-Daigo came to power in 1318.
The emperor, thirty years old when he took the throne, led a successful rebellion, and in 1333 captured Kamakura. He had been denied his throne by the Hojo, and subsequently exiled. He employed similar methods to those of Go-Toba, but this time there was little public support for the military government. The emperor then attempted to restore imperial rule, but the military leaders of Japan still held the power. In the...