Kamakura Bakufu (鎌倉幕府)

The Kamakura Bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) was a samurai government (bakufu) established in Kamakura (currently, Kanagawa City, Kamakura Prefecture) by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo.


According to an old popular theory, the Kamakura Bakufu was thought to have started in 1192, when MINAMOTO no Yoritomo was appointed to seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") (hereinafter, shogun), but the power and governing system of Yoritomo had existed before that and now this theory is not believed. Also, it was regarded as "the first samurai government in Japan," but now it is seen as the one following Taira clan government.

There are several theories regarding the period when the Kamakura Bakufu was established and the reason for this is that the Kamakura Bakufu underwent several stages before establishing the system of a samurai government (as mentioned below). Firstly Okura Palace was located in Okurago in Kamakura in 1180, and the Samurai-dokoro (the Board of Retainers), which was an archetype of governing system of bakufu, was established and formed an actual samurai government. Yoritomo was subsequently was appointed to kenkan (powerful post, official) Chief of the Councilor of State, Ukone no daisho (the chief of Ukonoefu, the guarding section) and obtained the right to open a Mandokoro (Administrative Board), domestic governing institution of lords of the manor, with Kugyo (the top court officials), and thus came to have the legitimacy of governing system and furthermore Juei-ninen Jugatsu no Senji (the imperial decree issued to MINAMOTO no Yoritomo in October, 1183), the Bunji imperial sanction in 1185, and seii taishogun were declared. At the battle of Dan no Ura in 1185, his clan's defeat of the Taira clan was decisive. This was why Kamakura Bakufu came to be established as a samurai government both in name and reality throughout the Kamakura period. The regions over which the Kamakura Bakufu could exert a political influence were at first only the ningoku (place of appointment) of shogun, which was the Kanto region and the territories of the shogun, but gradually the regions expanded and after the Jokyu War, nationwide sovereignty was established.

The Kamakura Bakufu ended in 1333 when the Hojo clan in Kamakura was defeated by the army of Yoshisada NITTA and his allies. This approximately 150-year period is referred to as the Kamakura period. The political form of samurai government called bakufu was inherited by the Muromachi bakufu and Edo bakufu.

Basic Definitions and Academic Theories

In "Azuma Kagami" (The Mirror of the East), there are instances in which the residence of the shogun is referred to as "bakufu" but samurai government was not called "bakufu" at the time. They were called 'Kanto' by the Imperial Court and kuge (court nobles), 'Kamakura-dono' (lord of Kamakura) by samurai and 'Buke' (samurai family) by general public. Bakufu was originally a concept which referred to a shogun's camp and when MINAMOTO no Yoritomo was appointed to Ukone no daisho, his house, the Okura palace, was called bakufu, but it was not a word for Kamakura bakufu as a samurai government established by Yoritomo, but a word for the private house. That is, the samurai government of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo did not use the name Kamakura bakufu. It was not until the Edo period that a samurai government came to be called bakufu. Moreover, it is considered that the concept of bakufu did not appear until after 1887. For these reasons, the character of the Kamakura Bakufu as a system of government or the time of its founding are both issues relating to the perceptions of subsequent generations, particularly within the field of modern history. Although there are currently prevailing opinions, there are no unified views on issues such as what the Kamakura Bakufu was and when it was established. As Tatsusaburo HAYASHIYA (scholar of Japanese history, professor of Kyoto University) pointed out, to begin with, it is uncertain where the essence of bakufu lies in terms of historical science.

Disputes regarding the Kamakura Bakufu include that of how to regard the relationship between the Imperial Court and the Kamakura bakufu from the standpoint of a nation state in the middle ages times. The prevailing theory is that the medieval Japan was a feudalistic nation based on manor lords centered around the Kamakura Bakufu, so the view that the state centered around the Kamakura Bakufu has become firmly established. However, there are the other theories, such as the argument on the governing structure of the powerful family by Toshio KURODA and his allies, which states that the center of the nation state was the Imperial Court and influential families such as kuge, families that own and reside in temples and samurai families complemented each other and formed the nation state, and the theory of the east state founded by Shinichi SATO and his allies, which says that, instead of the above, the nation state was established in fact in Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region) against Imperial Court in Saigoku (western part of Japan (especially Kyushu, but ranging as far east as Kinki)).

There are also several theories on when the Kamakura Bakufu was established, such as the theory that it was founded in 1192, when MIYAMOTO no Yoritomo was appointed to seii taishogun, the theory of 1190, when he was appointed to Japan general Shugo and Jito (military governor and estate steward), the theory of 1184, when he opened a Kumonjo (administration office) and monchujo (a court of justice), the theory of 1185, when the Bunji imperial sanction was declared, which licensed the appointment of Shugo and Jito, the theory of 1183, when Juei-ninen no Senji was declared for approving, in fact, the dominion of Togoku and the theory of 1180, when he established the dominion of Togoku.

Governing Structure of the Kamakura Bakufu

Today, historians consider Taira clan government to have founded samurai government and politics but there is no doubt that the first full-fledged samurai government independent from the Imperial Court was the Kamakura Bakufu. The Kamakura Bakufu was originally a local government headed by the Kamakura-dono founded in the Tokoku region which presided over the samurai but rapidly developed throughout the nation and expanded its power following the Jokyu War.

The political, military and economical base was Kanto chigyo-koku (provincial fiefdom) and Kanto domains which Yoritomo acquired by searching out and destroying the Taira clan and its allies, but the essence was the lower-ranking vassal system whose base was a feudal master-servant relationship between Kamakura-dono and gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate in the Kamakura and Muromachi through Edo periods). The lower-ranking vassal system originated from the Shugo and Jito system based on shoen koryo sei (system of public lands and private estates) which was the land system after the Heian period, and it consisted of honryo-ando (acknowledgment for inherited estate) where gokenin were appointed to Jito of the territory inherited from the ancestor and military service imposed by Kamakura-dono or the service of Kyoto obanyaku (a job to guard Kyoto) and Kamakura Banyaku (guards of Kamakura), instead of giving a favor by shinon-kyuyo (granting new domains) where Jito was newly given a territory for their deed of valor.


At the end of Heian period, the Taira clan government centered around TAIRA no Kiyomori was established, but old forces and rival forces harbored strong feelings of animosity and opposition. The anti-Taira clan movement became active as a result of the Shishigatani plot in 1177 and in 1180, Mochihitoo, the prince of Emperor Goshirakawa, raised an army to hunt down and destroy the Taira clan but, although he was soon defeated, this led to the rising up of forces throughout the nation who advocate opposition against the Taira clan.

It was to be in these circumstances that MINAMOTO no Yoritomo who had been exiled to Izu Province raised an army in August of the same year was defeated in the Battle of Ishibashiyama but while marching from Awa Province, to which he had fled, to Kazusa Province and Shimousa Province, he gained the support of a Taira clan lineage samurai group (Bando-Heishi clan) active throughout the Kanto region. Yoritomo's army became a powerful force within a very short space of time and in October in the same year entered Kamakura - a place associated with his ancestors - and made it his headquarters. Yoritomo established the Samurai-dokoro in order to lead Kanto Samurai Groups and he came to be called the Kanto Samurai Group Representative = Kamakura-dono. Immediately after this, Yoritomo defeated the Taira clan army in the Battle of Fujigawa and focused on the stabilization and management of the Kanto region at the wish of the Kanto Samurai Group which supported him.

In July, 1183 MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka expelled the Taira clan from Kyoto, but his forces pressed for the enthronement of Hokuriku no Miya as emperor and committed numerous violent acts within Kyoto. Concerned by this, Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa requested that Yoritomo come to Kyoto, but instead Yoritomo requested that the issue of the declaration of October in 1183 (Juei-ninen Jugatsu no Senji) ordering shoen (manors in medieval Japan) and Kokugaryo (territories governed by provincial government office) in Tokai-do, Tosan-do and Hokuriku-do to be returned to kokushi (provincial governors) and honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor). The Imperial Court capitulated to the majority of Yoritomo's requests with the exception of Hokuriku-do out of consideration for Yoshinaka. It was through this that Yoritomo indirectly secured power over Tokai-do and Tosan-do.

Thus Yoritomo established the right of government over Togoku in reality and in name, and in 1184 he set up the Kumonjo (later Mandokoro) in charge of administration and Monchujo in charge of justice to form actual government. At the same time he sent his younger brothers MINAMOTO no Noriyori and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune to search for and destroy the Taira clan which were destroyed in the Battle of Dan no Ura in 1185, ending the civil war which had lasted for six years.

In the same year, when MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune and MINAMOTO no Yukiie breached the bylaws of the Yoritomo administration, Yoritomo received an inzen (a decree from the retired emperor) from Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa to seek and destroy both of them and, in the name of this task, had the retired emperor approve his right to appoint and dismiss Shugo and Jito. This is called the Bunji imperial sanction. It was due to this that the Yoritomo administration held the military and police powers throughout the entire country, and it is therefore the prevailing opinion that the bakufu was established during this period. Shugo and Jito were given the power of collection for provisions of rice for the army and the control of Zaichokanjin (the local officials in Heian and Kamakura periods) and so on, which was the opportunity for Yoritomo administration to expand control over local lands across Japan. The control of local lands by the Yoritomo administration during this time did not excel the traditional control by the great and powerful and the appointment of Jito was limited to territories once held by the Taira clan (Heike Mokkanryo (Land rights confiscated by Kamakura bakufu from the Taira family)).

The Yoritomo administration defeated the Oshu Fujiwara clan in the Battle of Oshu in 1189 and took complete control of Togoku. In 1190 Yoritomo was appointed Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards), the highest job of regular military officers, but the post was associated with various political constraints and he therefore soon resigned, hoping to become shogun with the higher degree of freedom that the position afforded. After Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa, who had opposed this, died in 1192, MINAMOTO no Yoritomo came to be deified by samurai as the originator of a samurai government. These events essentially completed the formation of the Kamakura Bakufu. However, one theory states that the bakufu was formed as a result of victory in the Jokyu War of 1221.

As described above, the Kamakura bakufu was originally derived from the private government of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo. The private government acquired legitimacy of its right of control by gaining approval from the Imperial Court. Thus, the extent of the bakufu's control was limited mainly to the samurai under Yoritomo and, in principle, at least until Jokyu War, it did not infringe on the control of Imperial Court forces (the great and powerful). The system of bakufu was very different from that of the Imperial Court, and the Kamakura-dono character of a domestic governing institution remained strong.

Theories Regarding Time of Establishment

The following theories exist regarding when the Kamakura Bakufu was established.

1180 - Yoritomo rose an army in Izu Province, to which he had been exiled, in order to seek and destroy the Taira clan (the master-servant relationship between Yoritomo and local samurai was established).

The same year - Yoritomo established Samurai-dokoro (the establishment of samurai governing system).

1183 - Yoritomo was approved to have the control of lands indirectly by Imperial Court according to Juei-ninen Jugatsu no Senji.

1184 - Yoritomo established the Kumonjo (later renamed Mandokoro) and Monchujo (the establishment of the system of administration and justice).

1185 - Taira clan were destroyed (the disappearance of the opposing samurai family force).

The same year - Yoritomo received approval from the Imperial Court to appoint Shugo and Jito (the Bunji imperial sanction: the establishment of the military, police and control of lands).

1189 - Yoritomo defeated MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune and the Oshu Fujiwara clan who harbored Yoshitsune (eliminated rival samurai forces by mobilizing samurai throughout the nation).

1190 - Yoritomo was appointed Ukone no daisho (the highest rank of military officers in the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code) and given an order relating to security enforcement which consisted of 17 articles (later, Taibon sankajo (three basic rights of shugo, the provincial constable)).

1192 - Yoritomo was appointed seii taishogun (Heiba no ken (the right of supreme military power over nationwide samurai) was officially approved).

1221 - The forces mainly consisting of the Hojo clan defeated Emperor Go-Shirakawa's faction (the completion of taking control of the whole of country, especially Saigoku (western part of Japan (especially Kyushu, but ranging as far east as Kinki) and taking control of Imperial Court).

Kamakura bakufu is not considered to have been established at one specific time, rather it is the dominant view that the bakufu was gradually established in several stages.

The Rise of the Hojo Clan

MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, who established the Kamakura bakufu, died suddenly in January 1199. It was MINAMOTO no Yoriie, Yoritomo's legitimate child, who was aged 18 at the time, that followed in the footsteps of Yoritomo and became Kamakura-dono. However, the powerful individuals within the bakufu were anxious about entrusting government practices to Yoriie at such a young age and therefore senior vassals established a governing system called the 13-person parliamentary system which was in charge of court and government affairs instead of Yoriie. The central persons of the parliamentary system were Hojo clan, maternal relatives of Yoriie, and the father and son of Tokimasa HOJO and Yoshitoki HOJO abolished the other senior vassals in sequence (1200: the incident of Kagetoki KAJIWARA, 1203: the Conspiracy of Yoshikazu HIKI).

In 1203 Yoriie became seriously ill, was confined to Shuzen-ji Temple in Izu province by his maternal grandfather Tokimasa and died in 1204, the year after his younger brother MINAMOTO no Sanetomo assumed the position of Kamakura-dono/shogun. It is said that he was assassinated by the Hojo clan including Tokimasa. Tokimasa supported shogun Sanetomo, held a post called Shikken (regent) and had real power in politics. In the following year of 1205, Tokimasa planned to install his adopted son-in-law Tomomasa HIRAGA as shogun, killed Shigetada HATAKEYAMA who had opposed to Tomomasa and tried to depose Sanetomo. However, Tokimasa's son Yoshitoki and Masako HOJO opposed to this move, collaborated with the senior vassals, forced Tokimasa to retire and eliminated Tomomasa HIRAGA (Shigetada HATAKEYAMA Rebellion).

After that Yoshitoki HOJO became Shikken, tried hard to establish the power of Hojo clan, but Yoshimori WADA, Samurai-dokoro betto (the superior of the Board of Retainers), appeared as an opposing force. Yoshitoki engineered a plot and abolished the entire Wada family in 1213 (Wada War). The continuing armed conflicts of the bakufu culminated in the assassination of shogun MINAMOTO no Sanetomo in January 1219. Yoritomo's direct family line died out and the bakufu, concerned by this, requested that the Imperial Court appoint an Imperial Prince shogun, but Chiten no kimi (the retired emperor in power), the Emperor Gotoba refused this and as a result of a series of complicated moves, a Sekkan-ke (the families which produced regents) infant, FUJIWARA no Yoritsune, who was distantly related to Yoritomo, was welcomed as a new shogun = Kamakura-dono. The following two generations of Kamakura-dono were called Sekke Shogun (Shogun from a regent family). Thus, the real power of bakufu came to be held by Shikken Hojo clan.

The Jokyu War

Retired Emperor Gotoba aimed for autocratic rule as Chiten and despised the existence of the bakufu. He saw the assassination of Sanetomo as disorder and weakening within the bakufu and planned to defeat it. In May 1221, Retired Emperor Gotoba issued the inzen (a decree from the retired Emperor) to hunt down and destroy Yoshitoki HOJO. Considering the history so far, Gotoba expected that Yoshitoki would soon be killed and that the Kanto Samurai Group would submit, but the bakufu faction called in its favors since the time of Yoritomo and allied with the majority of gokenin. They adopted a short decisive battle strategy and defeated the imperial court forces in under two months.

The misdeeds of the conflict were atoned for under the leadership of the bakufu faction. The leader, Retired Emperor Gotoba, as well as the retired emperors and imperial princes related to him were sent into exile, while Emperor Chukyo was deposed and many of the nobles and samurai of the imperial faction were executed. People of the time were greatly shocked by the state of affairs in which the retired emperor, the emperor and the retainers of the imperial faction, including Chiten no kimi, were punished. The values of the society at the time were completely overturned. The prestige of the Imperial Court was in tatters and the bakufu appointed Rokuhara Tandai (an administrative and judicial agency in Rokuhara, Kyoto) to monitor the Imperial Court and strengthened its governance over the Imperial Court.

Immediately after the war, the Imperial Court asked the bakufu who the next Emperor would be. The Imperial Court subsequently came to ask the opinion of the bakufu when deciding who would be Chiten or Emperor, which meant that the tables had been turned between the bakufu and Imperial Court.

The Establishment of Shikken (Regent of the Shogun) Politics

As the founding generation of the bakufu passed away, with Yoshitoki HOJO dying in 1224, and Masako HOJO and Hiromoto OE both passing away in 1225, Yoshitoki's son, Yasutoki HOJO became Shikken. In order to prevent confusion during the transition of power to the next generation, Yasutoki appointed his uncle, Tokifusa HOJO, as rensho (assistant to the shikken), established the hyojoshu - a consulting institution for making political decisions - and founded the collective leadership system.

After the Jokyu War, Yasutoki established clear judicial criteria in order to fairly handle the rapidly increasing lawsuits. This was a legal code (Bukeho (the law system for the samurai society and the military government)) called Goseibai-shikimoku (code of conduct for samurai) and was praised as a simple yet practical decree. The Muromachi Bakufu which followed also inherited this decree in principle. Also, Yasutoki emphasized it did not interfere with the legal jurisdiction of the Imperial Court when establishing the code.

This series of measures by Yasutoki is regarded as the establishment of Shikken politics. The Kamakura Bakufu largely depended on the personal character of the Kamakura-dono and the organization only developed to become a domestic governing institution of the Kamakura-dono. However, the judicial system by collective leadership system and clear codes established by Yasutoki was not determined by unstable factors such as a personal character, and gave rise to stable political results.

Tokiyori, Yasutoki's grandchild, inherited Yasutoki's Shikken politics. Yasutoki focused on the reinforcement of the judicial system and in 1249 he appointed a Hikitsukeshu (Coadjustor of the High Court) to make the courts fair. On the other hand, he tried to strengthen the power of Shikken. In 1246, Tokiyori expelled a group of the former shogun FUJIWARA no Yoritsune and Mitsutoki NAGOE from the bakufu because they attempted to eliminate Tokiyori (Miya-sodo (failed attempt at rebellion)) and in 1247 he eradicated the family of Yasumura MIURA who was a senior vassal (Battle of Hoji). In 1252 FUJIWARA no Yoritsugu, who played a part in a rebellion against the bakufu, was deposed and Tokiyori successfully welcomed Imperial Prince Munetaka as new shogun in his place. Following this, successive generations of Imperial Prince shogun (miyashogun (shogun from the Imperial Court)) was welcomed but generally did not participate in bakufu politics. It was due to this that the Hojo clan which had come to strengthen its autocratic rule under Imperial Prince shogun conferred most of its power the power on Muneie HOJO. Because of illness, Tokiyori ceded the position of shikken to Nagatoki HOJO, member of a branch of the Hojo clan, but he continued to hold the real power. Thus actual political power diverged from the position of shikken. Because Muneie HOJO was called Tokuso at the time, the above political system is referred to as the Tokuso autocracy.

Mongol Invasions of Japan

After Tokiyori's death, it was Tokimune HOJO that succeeded the status of Tokuso. Around 1268 when Tokimune became Tokuso, Kublai (the 5th Khan of the Mongol Empire) demanded that tributes be brought via Goryeo. The Imperial Court entrusted the matter to the bakufu which decided not to respond but instead strengthened the defense of Saigoku. Sovereign messages from Mongol arrived in 1269 and 1271 and Imperial Court suggested replying, but the bakufu chose to ignore them following the original policy (indicating that diplomatic powers were also held by the bakufu).

The Yuan Dynasty which developed from the Mongol empire, attacked northern Kyushu in October 1274, but retreated after a few days (today, there is little credibility to the account that the reason for the retreat of the Yuan army during the Bunei War was a severe storm, the kamikaze (divine wind), and it is considered that the main reason for the attack was a reconnaissance of military strength). This conflict is called the Bunei War. The bakufu collaborated with Imperial Court for the defense of the nation and, in addition to refortifying the Saigoku's defenses, it also received permission to procure personnel and military supplies from the Imperial Court's territories which had previously been outside of the bakufu's control. This was to be an opportunity for the power of bakufu to expand nationwide.

The Yuan Dynasty again attempted to invade Japan, concentrating their forces on northern Kyushu, in the summer of 1281. This assault met with the strong resistance of the Kamakura faction for more than a month, causing the invasion to stagnate when a typhoon inflicted heavy damage on the Yuan army, forcing them to retreat. This is called Koan no eki (second Mongol invasion). This and the previous assault are collectively referred to as the Mongol invasions of Japan.

During this time, in the name of a rapid response to the emergency, Tokimune made policies at his own discretion with only clansmen and close aides (Miuchibito (private vassals of the tokuso)), bypassing the parliamentary system which took a lot of time. Meanwhile, the Uchi-Kanrei (head of Tokuso Family), who was the top of the Miuchibito, gradually began to gain power, and during the Koan period Uchi-Kanrei TAIRA no Yoritsuna and a senior vassal Yasumori ADACHI became opposed to one another. With the understanding of Tokimune, Yasumori attempted to implement a policy to guarantee the status of gokenin, as well as enrich the economical base of the bakufu. However, when Tokimune died suddenly in 1284, TAIRA no Yoritsuna killed Yasumori in a sudden assault and exterminated the gokenin of the Yasumori faction in the following year of 1285 (the Shimotsuki Incident). This incident completed the Tokuso autocracy.

During this time, concerning imperial succession after the Emperor Gosaga, the Imperial Court had split into the Daikakuji-to (imperial lineage starting with Emperor Kameyama) and Jimyoin-to (imperial lineage from Emperor Gofukakusa to Emperor Gokomatsu), and requested that the bakufu arrange the affairs of imperial succession. The bakufu tried to mediate between both parties, suggesting that a principle of ryoto tetsuritsu (alternate accession from two ancestries of imperial families) be adopted; at the same time, the bakufu also urged the Imperial Court to undertake a political reform called "Tokusei " (virtuous rule) in order to deal with both the internal and external crises. In response to this, Retired Emperor Kameyama divided In no hyojo (consultation under the government by the retired Emperor) into tokusei-sata (dealing with problems related to religious matters and official appointments) and zasso sata (litigation investigation) and the Emperor Fushimi reformed the organization of Kirokusho (government agency of lawsuits) in June 1293 and aimed for the smooth implementation of government duties by the renewal of political system. However, during the processes of imperial succession and implementation of Tokusei, discord with the bakufu arose and became the underlying cause of a resurgence of the latent anti-bakufu sentiment within the Imperial Court.

Height of the Tokuso Autocracy

TAIRA no Yoritsuna supported the young Sadatoki HOJO, who succeeded Tokimune, and tried hard to strengthen the Tokuso autocracy. Yasumori ADACHI established the magistrate's office of council system (Chinzeidangisho (magistrate's office of Kyushu region)) in Kyushu to judge Onsho (reward grants) and lawsuits for Kyushu gokenin who had worked for the defense of Japan against Mongol invasion attempts, but Yoritsuna, instead of this, founded a new institution (Chinzei tandai (office of the military governor of Kyushu)) which was managed only by the Tokuso party. The Yoritsuna administration came to strengthen the governance of shoen and public territories in Saigoku through this institution. On the other hand, the provision of onsho to gokenin remained low due to the possibility of further Mongol invasion.

Sadatoki HOJO, who reached adulthood in 1293, eliminated the family of TAIRA no Yoritsuna (Heizenmon Incident). Sadatoki regained real political power from Uchi-Kanrei and further strengthened the Tokuso autocracy. Firstly, for the rapid processing of lawsuits which stagnated under the Yoritsuna administration, the Hikitsukeshu (Coadjustor of the High Court) council system was abolished and all judgments were passed by Sadatok. At first, gokenin welcomed the advancement of lawsuits, but a backlash against autocratic judgment soon emerged. When a large comet appeared in 1297, anxiety spread across society, and, according to the Tokusei concept of the time, Sadatoki issued the Einin no Tokuseirei (a debt cancellation order) by which properties had to be returned to the original owner without compensation. The Tokuseirei deeply influenced monetary economy prevalent at the time, bringing great unrest to the society.

After this, when Sadatoki left the position of Shikken (regent), he was succeeded by four men from the branch line of the Hojo clan in succession; Sadatoki himself retained the position of Tokuso (patrimonial head of the main branch of the Hojo clan), however, which means that he held the real power to control the bakufu. During the time of Sadatoki, the number of chigyo-koku (provincial fiefdoms) held by the Hojo family dramatically increased. On the other hand, common gokenin had to shoulder new burdens such as Ikokukeigobanyaku (military service imposed on gokenin in the Kyushu area by the bakufu in order to protect themselves against the invasion force of the Yuan dynasty) and Nagato keigoban (guards to protect Nagato Province against an invasion by a foreign country), which made it difficult for them to cope with the emerging monetary economy; moreover, their territories were broken up due to divided inheritance, so the social hierarchy rapidly diversified. Some gokenin, some increased the number of territories they held but a considerable number went into decline, with an increase in the number of musoku gokenin (a vassal without territory) who sold or pawned their territories and were unable to work for bakufu. These gokenin or samurai as well as the samurai and commoners who bought or acquired their land became akuto (a villain during the middle ages), further advancing social change.

Despotic Rule

When Sadatoki died in 1311, his son Takatoki HOJO succeeded him. Enki NAGASAKI of TAIRA no Yoritsuna's family and Tokiaki ADACHI, a survivor of the Adachi family were appointed as assistants to the nine-year-old Takatoki. In those days, local outlaws known as Akuto emerged as a powerful force, and one after another of the temples and shrines began to appeal directly to the bakufu for help; however, the Tokuso administration, which was supported by Takatsuna NAGASAKI and Tokiaki ADACHI, responded to these appeals in a high-handed manner. Takatoki, who had reached adulthood and become engaged in government affairs, inherited this attitude and attempted to suppress the movements in various areas with an iron fist. However, such an despotic governance could not suppress the movements in various areas and the conflicts became increasingly larger.

Emperor Godaigo's Movement to Overthrow the Bakufu

Emperor Go-Daigo appeared during this time. After ascending to the imperial throne, he attempted to restructure a political system centering on the Emperor. Godaigo's attempt to achieve political reform was motivated by a desire to avoid problems regarding the imperial succession, but this created conflict with the Tokuso autocracy of the bakufu, and in 1324 Godaigo's plan to lead an uprising was revealed, and the kuge who served as his close advisers were punished (Shochu Disturbance).

Emperor Godaigo did not give up and planned to overthrow the bakufu, but his plot was exposed and he was exiled to Oki no shima Island in the following year. However, samurai known as akuto in various areas, including Masashige KUSUNOKI and Enshin AKAMATSU, were dissatisfied with the Tokusho autocracy and raise forces opposed to the bakufu throughout the country. In 1333, when a senior vassal named Takauzi ASHIKAGA who had been dispatched to Kyoto to eliminate the anti-bakufu forces defected to the Godaigo faction and deposed the Rokuhara Tandai, Yoshisada NITTA raised an army in Kozuke Province and with Kanto gokenin, who agreed to this, captured Kamakura and thus overthrew the Kamakura bakufu and the Hojo clan (Genko War). Godaigo returned to Kyoto and began Shinsei (Government rule of a state by the direct administration of the Emperor) (Kenmu Restoration).

Favor and Service

The existence of Kamakura bakufu was based on samurai, especially Kanto Samurai Group. These samurai became kenin (retainers) of the Kamakura-dono (= shogun) and became the members of Kamakura bakufu. Samurai who became kenin of the Kamakura-dono were called gokenin. The master-servant relationship between the Kamakura-dono and gokenin was preserved by a reciprocal relationship called "favor and service," a system known as the lower-ranking vassal system.

The Kamakura-dono guaranteed the governance of territories by gokenin and supplied them with new land. Favors consisted of both honryo-ando (acknowledgment of inherited estates) and shinon-kyuyo (the granting new domains). Both were performed by appointing gokenin as Jito.

The military and economical burdens which gokenin owed to the Kamakura-dono. Specifically, there was military service during emergencies such as "Iza, Kamakura" (mobilization to Kamakura at the time of emergency), Obanyaku (the job of guarding Kyoto) to protect for dairi (Imperial Palace) or bakufu, Ikokukeigobanyaku and Nagato keigoban during later Mongol invasions, and Kanto-mikuji which was an economic burden.

It was in this way that both parties were connected in a mutually beneficial relationship. The master-servant relationship contract was managed by myobu (a piece of wood with a name inscribed on it) offered by a gokenin who visited Kamakura-dono, and the bakufu supervised gokenin using the Gokenin Meibo (name list of retainers).

Economic Base

The Kamakura Bakufu possessed the following economic bases.

Kanto goseibaichi - provinces, manors and kokugaryo for which the shogun family possessed the power to appoint/dismiss Jito.

Kanto domains - manors whose honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor) was shogun.

Kanto gobunkoku - provincial territories belonging to the Kamakura Bakufu.

Kanto shinshishoryo - manors and kokugaryo for which the shogun possessed the power to appoint and dismiss Jito.

Kanto gokunyuchi - manors and provincial lands for which the shogun had the right to recommend Jito.


Seii taishogun (Kamakura-dono)

The leader of Kamakura bakufu. When Yoritomo was the first shogun, it was practically a top rank, but later became a mere façade.

Shikken (regent)

Assistant to the shogun (Kamakura-dono) of the Kamakura Bakufu. The post gradually absorbed the power of shogun and became the de facto top position within the Kamakura bakufu. The position was successively inherited by the Hojo clan.


The position below shikken or equal to shikken.

Hyojoshu (a member of Council of State)

The supreme council system of policy decision within the bakufu. It became neglected with the rise of Tokuso autocracy.


Responsible for the trial lawsuits filed with the bakufu. The result of trial was reported to the Hyojoshu where it was judged.


Responsible for governing gokenin.


Originated from Yoritomo's domestic governing institution and was in charge of general government practices and finance.


Responsible for practices concerning lawsuits filed with bakufu.



Kyoto Shugo => Rokuhara Tandai.

Was originally in charge of communication and adjustment with Imperial Court, but after the Jokyu War, Rokuhara Tandai came to monitor Imperial Court and control Saigoku gokenin.

Chinzei bugyo (a magistrate of Kyushu region) => Chinzei Tandai

For details, see Chinzei Bugyo and Chinzei Tandai.

Oshu Sobugyo (the general magistrate of Oshu region)

[Original Japanese]