The Kamakura shogunate, also known as Kamakura bakufu in Hepburn and Japanese, ruled Japan as a feudal military administration from 1185 until 1333. After winning the Genpei War and installing himself as a shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo founded the Kamakura shogunate.
The emperor of Japan and his Imperial Court, who were located in the country’s official capital city of Heian-ky (Kyoto), served as Yoritomo’s figureheads as he ruled Japan as a military dictator from the eastern city of Kamakura. Before 1226, the Kamakura shoguns belonged to the Fujiwara clan; after 1252, the final six were minor princes in the royal dynasty. From 1203, the Hj clan served as the de facto chicken (regent) of the shogun and ruled Japan.
The Jkyu War (1221) and the Kublai Khan-led Mongol invasions of Japan (1274 and 1181) occurred during the Kamakura shogunate. Emperor Go-Daigo toppled the Kamakura shogunate during the Kenmu Restoration in 1333, restoring imperial sovereignty until Ashikaga Takauji and his descendants established the Ashikaga shogunate in 1336 (Nanboku-ch era).
Who Established The Kamakura Shogunate?
In Japanese history, the Kamakura period encompasses the years 1192 to 1333, when the foundations of feudalism were firmly entrenched. It was given the name of the city where Minamoto Yoritomo established the Kamakura shogunate, the military regime that bears his name. Following his resounding victory at Dannoura (1185) over the opposing Taira dynasty, Yoritomo established his own military administration (bakufu) to work alongside the imperial court.
His authority received imperial approval in 1192 when he was awarded the title of shogun (hereditary military dictator). Nonetheless, after Yoritomo’s passing in 1199, the Hj family members served as the shogunal regents for the remainder of the period, and they had real power in the bakufu. The “divine wind” (kamikaze) of typhoons that destroyed the enemy fleet helped Japanese troops repel two Mongol invasion attempts in 1274 and 1281.
Yet, the financial hardship caused by the defense efforts against the Mongol raids compounded the regime’s internal flaws. The bakufu fell in 1333 as a result of the emperor Go-uprising Daigo against the Kamakura shogunate in 1331 and the subsequent factional conflicts. The growth of the warrior class, which held martial arts proficiency and the principles of duty, loyalty, and bravery in the highest respect, contributed significantly to the definition of Kamakura culture.
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Around this time, the cult of the sword and the ceremonial suicide by dismemberment (seppuku) both came into existence. Zen Buddhism, which stressed discipline, concentration, and direct action, gained popularity because it spoke to warrior sensibilities, while Real Pure Land and Nichiren Buddhism, two new religious sects, attracted followers from the general public. Military chronicles, which romanticized the valiant but frequently futile actions of legendary warriors, became a significant genre in literature.
The Kamakura Shogunate’s Demise And The American Civil War
The Hj attempted to distribute greater power among the several major family clans in response to the subsequent upheaval. The bakufu resolved to permit two competing imperial lines—known as the Southern Court or junior line and the Northern Court or senior line—to alternate on the throne in an effort to further weaken the Kyoto court.
The strategy worked for multiple successions until Emperor Go-Daigo, a member of the Southern Court, took the throne. Go-Daigo publicly disobeyed Kamakura by designating his own son as his successor in order to topple the shogunate and reinstate imperial sovereignty. Go-Daigo was exiled by the shogunate in 1331, but loyalist forces—among them Kusunoki Masashige—rebelled.
They received assistance from Constable Ashikaga Takauji, who turned against Kamakura when dispatched to put down Go-Daigo’s rebellion. At the same time, Nitta Yoshisada, another eastern chieftain, rebelled against the shogunate, which quickly disintegrated, and the Hōjō were defeated.
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