The Emperor had always been the head of the country. However, for a very long time, it was the military head of Japan – the shogun
who had real power. Shogun is an abbreviation of the title Seii tai shogun
, meaning “barbarian-destroying Commander in Chief.”1
It was a title granted by the Emperor to the strongest military commander. A shogun
’s government was called bakufu
Before Minamoto Yoritomo created the first bakufu
in Kamakura, daimyos
or clans ruled each of the provinces of Japan. They owned a vast amount of land and military. These feudal lords were in constant war with each other. Their goal was to have more influence in the Imperial Court and if they are lucky, have an Emperor who were born in that clan.
However, by the 12th
century, Taira and Minamoto stood out as the two most powerful clans, while the Emperor was still in power. Eventually, Minamoto Yoritomo would come out victorious and establish his bakufu
in Kamakura in 1192.
It was the beginning of a somewhat liberalistic society in Japan. The best of the warriors had always remained middle-class ﬁgures in the social hierarchy. However, when Yoritomo of the Minamoto clan became the first shogun of Japan, he achieved something that was never done before. He broke through his conventional status and power, which was a major breakthrough in the conventional class system. Many historians consider it the first significant step in Japan of someone trying to achieve what he wants to achieve. It is one of the key features of a liberal nation that everyone is free to choose what they want to do. Thus, the elite fighting men had the opportunity to rise above the social rank by becoming a shogun. They could become almost equal to a noble and in fact, become the most important person in the country (second of course to the Emperor). Of course, by no means the 12th
century Japan was liberal. However, after the rise of the shoguns came the rise of the merchants during the 18th
century, abolition of class system in the 19th
century, and eventually the establish of a parliament.
Although, on paper the shogun was under the control of the Emperor and his authority extended to military only, the increasing feudalistic nature of Japanese society caused them to take on the responsibility of the Emperor and Imperial Court. Thus, the shogun held most of the practical power, while the Emperor in Kyoto became a symbol of sovereignty. For centuries, Japan was controlled by a succession of shoguns, whose power was handed down from father to son. If a bakufu
became too weak, another one replaced it. After the beginning of the bakufu
system, the Emperor never held the practical power in Japan. This is why many historians argue that Minamoto Yoritomo was responsible for beginning the process of establishing a liberal Japan that exists today. By all means, this argument is far stretching. However, the fact remains that he was the first one beside the Emperor, who was able to gain control of most of the land in Japan, in other words unifying Japan. Therefore, it is only usual to study how Minamoto Yoritomo contributed to the unification of Japan.
by Khalid SaifullahSource
- Shogun: The Facts,” Royal Armouries, accessed October 9, 2014, http://www.royalarmouries.org/projects/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/shogun-the-life-of-lord-tokugawa-ieyasu/shogun-the-facts.