Military Government (武家政権)

The military government was an administration under the control of samurai. It is also referred to as "Samurai government."

The military government was an administration under the control of samurai, which continued for about 700 years from the establishment of the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo in the late 12th century to Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor) lead by Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA in 1867; however, a theory, in which the start was the Taira clan government ruled by TAIRA no Kiyomori, is now widely accepted.

Of all administrations in the military government, each samurai authority of Kamakura, Muromachi, and Tokugawa were set up by force and could be traced back to the establishment by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo; he started the bakufu by arriving in power of seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") in the form of being entrusted by the Imperial Court, achieved decentralized governance, called a "feudal system," and adopted a form of coalition government of samurai who held sway over their region as a local feudal lord. The position of seii taishogun was passed on to male heirs of the families positioned to accede to the shogunate of the monarchy in the Muromachi bakufu and the Tokugawa shogunate.

It was not always the case that the military government was the identical authority of the bakufu; in fact, there were some cases where a military government would be established through means other than that of establishing a bakufu. Examples include the Taira clan government and the Shokuho government (the government of Nobunaga ODA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. "Shoku" and "ho" are the initial letters of Oda and Toyotomi). The Taira clan government demanded an establishment of authority as a maternal relative of the Emperor. The Shokuho government was a strong centralized administrative framework whose parent structure was the governing system of daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) in the Sengoku Period, and to support the structure, the government took advantage of authorities of the Emperor and the Imperial Court.


In the pre-military government era in Japan, the Imperial Court mechanism, which included the Emperor's direct rule, the government of regents and advisers, and the cloister government and were formed mainly with Imperial families and Court nobles, supported the nucleus of the administration, and thus provincial governors who had authorities of government official were sent all over Japan to rule the nation.

Especially in the Nara period when the nation was governed based on the Ritsuryo system, the system of kokuga (the region the provincial governor of the Ritsuryo system ruled), which was managed by kokushi shitokan (four officials of the provincial governor), extended individual dominance by person throughout areas ruled by the Imperial court by preparing census while taking advantage of authorities originated from chieftaincy of the Gunji (local magistrates) who were scion of the regional chiefs. However, starting from about the Heian period, the rank differentiation was developed dramatically in regional society, and actions by a small number of rich peasants, who had accumulated movable assets and achieved stable business to enslave poor peasants who had lost their kubunden (the farm land given to each farmer in the Ritsuryo system) due to failed management became more popular. Therefore, the system of kokuga executed dominance by person based on the census and it became difficult to collect tax to maintain the central government. As a result a system of the dynasty state was established in the 10th century, in which the heads of the provincial governors (Zuryo) who had been sent to each region received much stronger empowerment than their previous generation and ruled the region and collected tax through the rich peasants. Under this new system, samurai were established as warriors who would manage the kokuga forces system. Through the process of the establishment of the kokuga forces system and the samurai status, the conditional strike, which was originally started by the first samurai to establish their position, turned into an armed uprising, resulting in the Johei-Tengyo Revolt fought by FUJIWARA no Sumitomo and TAIRA no Masakado. During this revolt, which was suppressed in a short period of time, TAIRA no Masakado took control of the system of kokuga in the countries in Bando and called himself 'new emperor,' which is considered to be the beginning of the military government by some people.

Furthermore, after the shoen koryo sei (the system of public lands and private estates) was established in the 11th century, many armed conflicts arose between the owners of shoen (private estates) and the administrators of koryo (public land, also known as kokugaryo, meaning territory governed by a provincial government office), both of whom now had equal rights; accordingly, Soji (local government officials under the ritsuryo system), Gunji (local magistrates), Goji (local government officials under the ritsuryo system), and Hoji (officers who managed koryo), all of whom were regional administrators of koryo, and Shokan (officers who managed shoen) were all appointed from samurai families. In this way, as samurai turned into local feudal lords, they gradually became established as effective controllers of each area.

End of Heian period

At the end of Heian period, TAIRA no Kiyomori was appointed Grand Minister for the first time from a samurai family. Kiyomori gained political power as a result of his military exploits in the Hogen Revolt and the Heiji Revolt, both of which arose as a result of internal conflicts in the Imperial Court; however, the Taira government was not very different from a traditional regency, as can be seen by the fact that the Taira clan occupied most of the official ranks of the Imperial Court, and Kiyomori himself became a maternal relative of the Emperor. Kiyomori did not know how to manage the political system of samurai families and thus carried out old-fashioned politics, showing off the luxurious life style, excessive career success and prosperity of the Taira clan. For this reason, the position of beneficial representatives among many local samurai who were hoping to improve their ranks as regional effective controllers was not sufficiently established and the Taira clan was overthrown by MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka and MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, who gained power through many simultaneous revolts (However, a recent theory says that germination of the organizations which were taken over to Yoritomo administration can be seen in the various systems established by Kiyomori).

Kamakura period

The full-scale military government started when MINAMOTO no Yoritomo established the Kamakura bakufu. Yoritomo appeared as a flagman in revolts by samurai groups in the eastern countries, who originally served as court nobles of the Imperial Court as lords of kokuga. After the Jisho Juei Revolt, during which the Taira government collapsed, he was handed a Juei-ninen Jugatsu no Senji (a written decree from the Emperor and the Great Council of State) by Emperor Goshirakawa in 1183, which granted him sovereign authority (effective control of Tokaido and Tosando) over the eastern provinces. He was appointed Ukoneno-daisho (a position in the Ritsuryo system) but soon resigned the position, went back to Kamakura, and executed Mandokoro-kissho-hajime (the ceremony announcing the start of new official works) to establish domestic economy organizations as a Sakino-udaisho in February and March 1191. Due to development of this system, he established a Kamakura-based local government and convinced the Imperial Court to allow him to deploy provincial constables and lords of manors mainly in eastern countries. To maintain the independence of the samurai authority, he was appointed seii taishogun, which was ranked below Konoe no daisho (Major Captain of the Palace Guards) and established a bakufu as an administrative structure. At this stage, the bakufu was a local government mainly in the eastern countries, but a samurai authority that was comparable to the emperor and the retired emperor was born. Although Yoritomo and his children in the Minamoto family perished in three generations, the Hojo clan, which was gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate in the Kamakura and Muromachi through Edo periods), took FUJIWARA no Yoritsune from Sekke (line of regents and advisers) and give him the position of Shogun, and thus maintaining the position of miyashogun (shogun from the Imperial Court) and gained administrative power as a regent to the shogunate. The samurai authority in Kamakura defeated the Imperial Court authority in the Jokyu Revolt, and thus the bakufu deployed Shugo and Jito (military governor and estate steward) in the territory of the Taira family, spread their authority across the country, and eventually established the first nationally-standardized military government. The bakufu gradually intervened in the Imperial Court and Jito eroded Kokugaryo (territories governed by provincial government office) and Shoen, resulting in acceleration of its nation-wide governance by the military government.

Period of the Northern and Southern Courts

In the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, Emperor Godaigo and his people destroyed the Kamakura bakufu and started the Kenmu Restoration, and thus the military government was discontinued. However, the restoration was dictatorial and the Court noble-oriented policies of Emperor Godaigo who tried to reduce reward measures and territory of samurai families in order to restore Kokugaryo, were not supported by the samurai families and only served to confuse them. As Takauji ASHIKAGA rebelled against the restoration, the samurai families banded together and attacked the Godaigo government. Emperor Godaigo ran away with the Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family. However, Takauji was defeated by the Kitabatake forces in Mutsu and fled to Kyushu. The following year, he regained his power and entered the capital with inzen (a decree from the retired Emperor) of Emperor Kogon. He came to a temporary understanding with Emperor Godaigo, where he supported and protected Emperor Komyo of the Jimyoin-line (the Northern Court) and thus was appointed seii taishogun. Later he established the Muromachi bakufu. For this reason, Emperor Godaigo recreated conflict with the samurai authority again and thus established the Southern Court in Yoshino, which marked the beginning of the nation-wide war between the Northern and Southern Courts. The Northern and Southern Courts were unified when Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA was the third Shogun, but it was in fact the Southern Court which was taken over by the Northern Court. Although the period of the Northern and Southern Courts was a time of confusion, a theory says that the existence of the Southern Court made it possible for successive Emperors to continue on while possessing authority.

Muromachi period

In the Muromachi period, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, the third Shogun, hatched a conspiracy to obtain the position of Chiten no kimi (the retired emperor in power) by regaining the Imperial Court's power, and obtained sakuho (homage by Chinese emperors) as 'King of Japan' from Ming, China. Because Yoshimitsu usurped the Emperor and Imperial Court's authorities, including patronage, the right to hold a festa, change in era name, and sealing of jibatsu no rinji (imperial order to punish enemies), his ability to carry out actions under Chiten authority resulted in the lowest authority by the Emperor and Imperial Court in history ("Muromachi no oken" (regal power of Muromachi) and "Tenno-ke wa naze tsuduitanoka" (Why has Emperor's family lasted?) by Akira IMATANI). To systematize Yoshimitsu's ambition, he aimed to ascend Yoshitsugu ASHIKAGA, his third boy, to the Emperor; however, Yoshimitsu died before consummating his scheme which ended in failure.

At first, it was prohibited for shugo to intervene in the tasks of Kokushi and the authorities of Jito, however, as a result of settlement in local areas and expansion of authorities after the Onin War, they gradually became feudal lords and cemented their grip in local areas by the late Muromachi period; shugo in this period are especially called shugo-daimyo (Japanese territorial lords). In parallel with this, the Muromachi bakufu adopted the local government system, and the administration of the nation after the mid 15th century was called the Bakufu-Shugo System.

Jibatsu no rinji (imperial order to punish enemies), which was sealed off for about 60 years, was reactivated and then abused, which marked the resurgence of the Emperor.

Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States)

In the Sengoku Period, the Muromachi bakufu and shugo lost their authorities to rule the nation and daimyo (Japanese territorial lords) in the Sengoku period, who newly came to the forefront, ruled many countries. The samurai authority became a decisive power, but parvenu daimyo in the Sengoku period, on the other hand, received official rank and government post from the Imperial Court and obtained administrative power and legitimate reasons. Moreover, appointment and dismissal of the government post for utilitarian purposes to expand the power of the daimyo in the Sengoku period, starting from acquisition of Dazai no daini (the next seat position of Dazaifu) by directly reporting to the throne of the Ouchi clan, also began. The Kyoto-style court noble culture penetrated the samurai families and the adoration of Emperor became stronger in the complex, as seen in the fact that the Mori clan fell into raptures over receiving a woodchip of ranjatai (a fragrant wood which is said to have the best aroma) from the emperor. In this way, the authority of the Emperor was restored in a new style while the samurai families gained power. Nobunaga ODA, who grew in strength among these daimyo in the Sengoku period, defeated the Muromachi bakufu and formed the foundation for a strong centralized system (the Oda government). Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, who was a successor to Nobunaga and dominated Japan, took the imperial proclamation to become kanpaku (chief adviser to the Emperor) as a yushi (an old Japanese adoption system) of Sakihisa KONOE and assumed the reins of government (the Toyotomi government). Hideyoshi reversed the achievement and document architecture of the military government in the Muromachi bakufu, which was even before the era of Nobunaga, and groveled at the Emperor's feet as a loyal samurai general of the Emperor ("Buke to Tenno"(the Emperor and the Samurai) by Akira IMATANI). Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the shogun after Hideyoshi, claimed member of Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan) by following "Azuma Kagami" (The Mirror of the East), assumed the post of seii taishogun, and established the Edo bakufu.

Edo period

The Edo period lasted for 264 years and the bakufu controlled the Imperial Court based on Kinchu narabini kuge shohatto (a set of regulations that applied to the emperor and the Kyoto nobles). Local politics were conducted in each domain, which are, together with the bakufu, called the feudal system characteristic of the shogunate. Ieyasu put his efforts into Neo-Confucianism to stabilize his power. On the other hand, authorities of the Emperor, which were restored in the Sengoku period, once turned into an independent-type bakufu which was modeled on the Kamakura bakufu; however, along with the stability of lives and editing of the Great Japanese History, the delegation from the Imperial Court of the Edo bakufu became larger. Each domain of the bakufu ran into debt from large-scale merchants and eventually went broke because of their dependence on agricultural fundamentalism to rule the nation, in addition, basic systems such as tax collection, did not respond to the establishment of the lower capitalist society made up of flourishing commerce. Merchants did not have to pay tax except a service charge for his/her own town. The samurai authority was unable to catch up with the changes in society, even though there were some struggles including payment of goyokin (the money the Edo bakufu charged temporarily on farmers and merchants) to each government contractor and failure to pay Daimyogashi (lending money to a daimyo with high interest). At the end of the Edo period, with the financial downswing of the bakufu, sonnoron (the thought respecting the Emperors) gradually spread.

End of Edo period

At the end of the Edo period, as many foreign countries requested the bakufu to open the nation to the world, movements such as Sonno Joi (slogan advocating reverence for the Emperor and the expulsion of foreigners), and yoshinobu TOKUGAWA, the 15th Shogun, implemented Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor) under the unstable political situation, resulting in the end of the military government. The samurai authority remained in the form of the Tokugawa family; however, some civil wars, starting from the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, were held between forces mainly consisting of the Tokugawa family and the Sacchodohi yuhan (the domains of Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa and Higo), a force of the western Japan which was restored by the reform, as a result, the Sacchodohi yuhan, which became a government army formed by the Imperial Court, defeated the forces of the Tokugawa family. However, this war also had an aspect of a coup d'etat launched by the lower class samurai of each domain for Yuhan. After that, the Meiji Government held sovereignty, and accordingly, daimyo and other samurai were ranked as peerage and warrior class respectively, and samurai families disappeared. The ideology of samurai families remained in modern Japan of the Meiji period in the form of a rooted family system enforced through education and a garrison state based on the conscription system, which became a model for later periods in Japan.

[Original Japanese]