Minamoto no Sanetomo (源実朝)

MINAMOTO no Sanetomo was the third Seii-taishogun (literally, "great general who subdued the barbarians") of the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun).

He was born to Yoritomo MINAMOTO, who opened the Kamakura bakufu and became Seii-taishogun at twelve after his brother MINAMOTO no Yoriie was expelled. At first, policies were determined mainly by the Hojo clan, but he participated in policies more deeply as he grew. His rank promotion was fast and he was the first to have been appointed to be the Minister of the Right, but he was killed by Yoriie's child Kugyo in the assault at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine next year. He did not have a child, so Sanetomo was the last shogun from the Minamoto clan.

He was also known as a kajin (waka poet), and 92 of his waka were selected for Chokusen wakashu (anthologies of Japanese poetry compiled by Imperial command) and also for Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (the Ogura Anthology of One Hundred Tanka-poems by One Hundred Poets). Kinkaiwakashu is the collection of his personal poetry.

Appointment to Shogun

At around 10 a.m. on September 24, 1192, he was born as the second son between the 1st Seii-taishogun of the Kamakura bakufu MINAMOTO no Yoritomo and his lawful wife Masako HOJO. His childhood name was Senman. For his wet nurse, Zenjo ANO's wife, AWA no Tsubone (a daughter of Tokimasa HOJO, and also a sister of Masako) was selected. Senman was brought up as a young lad with many ceremonies since his birth. On January 16, 1193, Yoritomo held Senman and appeared in front of gokenin (immediate vassals of the shogunate), and said 'Unite your will and protect the future,' and let them hold Senman.

In 1199, his father Yoritomo died, and his brother MINAMOTO no Yoriie succeeded the shogunate.

In October, 1203, Yoriie lost the shogunate and was expelled to Izu Province as a result of the coup by Yoshikazu HIKI. On October 20, Sanetomo was given the title of Seii-taishogun with the rank of Jugoi (Junior Fifth Rank) along his mother's intention. On November 20, he celebrated his coming of age at twelve in Totoumi Province and named him Sanetomo. Gokenin who participated in the ceremony numbered over one hundred including OE no Hiromoto, Tomomasa OYAMA, Kagemori ADACHI, and Yoshimori WADA, and his hair was arranged by his grandfather Tokimasa HOJO, and kakan (to put a crown on a young man's head on genpuku ceremony) was performed by Yoshinobu HIRAGA. On December 6, he was appointed to the position of Uhyoe no suke (assistant captain of the Right Division of Middle Palace Guards), which once his father had been.

In December 1204, he married a daughter of Nobukiyo BOMON as his lawful wife. At first, a daughter of Yoshikane ASHIKAGA was intended for his lawful wife, but Sanetomo did not allow it and sent an envoy to seek one.

On February 2, 1205, he was given the rank of Shogoi (Senior Fifth Rank) and on February 26 appointed to the position of Konoefu (Inner Palace Guard) as well as the governor of Kaga Province.

Hojo administration

In June, the Shigetaka HATAKEYAMA Rebellion happened. His uncle Yoshitoki HOJO, Tokifusa HOJO, and Yoshimori WADA suppressed it, and Masako did a determination of rewards according to each person's merits since Sanetomo was considered too young.

On September 11, Maki no kata's (Lady Maki) plot to kill Sanetomo, who was at Tokimasa's house was known to Kamakura. Sanetomo ran to the house of Yoshitoki, being guarded by gokenin at the command of Masako. Maki no kata's husband Tokimasa called troops but they all went to the house of Yoshitoki. On September 12, Tokimasa was driven away to Shuzenji Temple in the Izu Province, and Yoshitoki succeeded the position of regent. This is called the Makishi Incident.

On October 22, he ordered Shinkokin Wakashu (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry) from Kyoto. He had not published his collection of waka yet, but Sanetomo, who liked waka, was eager to read the collection when he heard his father's waka was selected.

On April 8, 1206, he was promoted to the rank of Jushii (Junior Fourth Rank), and on November 28, he adopted Kugyo, the second son of his brother Yoriie, at his mother's command.

On December 26, his close aide Shigetane TO came to Kamakura. Shigetane got leave and went back to the Shimousa Province and stayed there for several months. Sanetomo called him by sending a poem, but Shigetane appeared so late that he was confined to his house. On January 29, 1207, Shigetane visited Yoshitoki's house and lamented over his confinement. Yoshitoki said, "It is a practice of officials to meet with this kind of trouble. But it will be definitely comfortable if you compose a poem for me." And Shigetane composed a poem. Looking at it, Yoshitoki took Shigetane to Sanetomo's house, and plead for mercy for Shigetane after putting a poem in front of Sanetomo. Sanetomo read the poem three times, called Shigetane waiting out of the gate, and asked about the poem and forgave him.

On February 10, 1207, he was given the rank of Jushii (Junior Fourth Rank).

In March, 1208, he suffered from smallpox. Sanetomo had visited Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine many times, but after this he stopped visiting for three years, being ashamed of his wounds due to the illness. On January 23, 1209 he was promoted to the rank of Shoshii (Senior Fourth Rank).

On May 22, 1209, he was given the rank of Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) and on July 6, he was appointed to Konoefu (Inner Palace Guard). On August 13, he asked FUJIWARA no Teika to evaluate the 30 waka he composed. On December 19, Yoshitoki HOJO wanted his roju (vassals) with merits to be promoted to the samurai class. Sanetomo did not allow it and said as follows.
Won't such guys' descendants forget what they were like in the past and rebel against the government?'
That will be a cause of future problems.'
There shouldn't be any permission for them.'
Kenin (retainers) of the Hojo clan were called Miuchibito (private vassals of the tokuso) and held the reins of power in the government.

On January 28, 1211, he was promoted to the rank of Shosanmi (Senior Third Rank), and on February 10, he became a governor of Mimasaka Province too. On October 30, Yoshinari, his adopted nephew, entered into priesthood and changed his name to Kugyo, and went to Kyoto to receive the religious precept on November 6.

On July 13, 1212, there was a sword fight in the building of Samurai-dokoro (the Board of Retainers), triggered by a quarrel among gokenin who were on tonoi (guard), and some were killed. Then, he tried to avoid impurities coming from blood and death by destroying the building of Samurai-dokoro. Naritane CHIBA remonstrated with him that the leader of samurai family was regarding blood and death as impurities. As a result, however, he ordered to destroy the building of Samurai-dokoro and rebuild it on August 14. On January 10, 1213, he was promoted to the rank of Junii (Junior Second Rank).

The Battle of WADA

On March 16, 1213, a rebellion by gokenin was revealed. They were plotting to make Yoriie's bereaved child a shogun and kill Yoshitoki HOJO, and the participants were arrested. Yoshinao and Yoshishige WADA, whose father Yoshimori WADA served as Samurai-dokoro betto (the superior of the Board of Retainers), were among them. On March 20, prisoner Naritomo SONODA's escape was disclosed.
Sanetomo heard that he wanted to be juryo (provincial governor) and said, 'You should search him out and give him a pardon.'
On March 26, when he looked at waka composed by Kanezane SHIBUKAWA, who was sentenced to death, he reduced the sentence. On March 27, many of the rebels were condemned to exile. On the same day, he was promoted to the rank of Shonii (Senior Second Rank). On April 7, Yoshimori WADA came to the shogunate residence in Kamakura and Sanetomo met him. Sanetomo forgave Yoshinao and Yoshishige, considering Yoshimori's merits. On April 8, Yoshimori came to the shogunate residence again with his family and begged his nephew Tanenaga's forgiveness, but Sanetomo did not allow it since he regarded Tanenaga as mastermind, and Yoshitoki, who conveyed the message, laid bound Tanenaga in front of the Wada family (Izumi Chikahira's War).

In April, Yoshimori WADA was heard to prepare for a rebellion. On the morning of May 30, Yoshimori raised an army. Yoshitoki rushed to the government when he heard it, and helped Masako and Sanetomo's wife escape to (Tsurugaoka) Hachimangu Shrine. At around 6 p.m., Yoshimori's soldiers besieged the shogunate residence and set fire to it. Sanetomo escaped from the fire and entered Yoritomo's graveyard the Hokke-do Hall. The battle did not end on May 31, a report said to Sanetomo as follows.
We looked to have superiority in numbers but the rebels were stronger than us and hard to defeat.'
Please give us your reconsideration.'
Sanetomo, who was surprised, called OE no Hiromoto in the service of the Administrative Board, made him write a request, add his handwritten two waka to it, and offered them to Hachiman-gu Shrine. Yoshimori was killed at around 6 p.m., and the battle was over. On June 2, Sanetomo went back to the shogunate residence, appointed Yoshitoki to the successor of Samurai-dokoro betto, and distributed other awards of merits (the Battle of Wada).

The Rebellion of Chokei HATAKEYAMA

On October 11, report ran that the youngest son of Shigetada HATAKEYAMA, Chokei, who lived in Nikko, was planning a rebellion. Sanetomo ordered Munemasa NAGANUMA to capture him alive, but he came back with Chokei beheaded on October 13. Sanetomo said as follows and after a sigh of grief he prohibited Munemasa from service.
Shigetada received a punishment without committing any crime.'
It was no wonder that his youngest son plotted a rebellion.'
If Munemasa had captured him alive as I ordered, I could have decided a punishment, but he took his life.'
The thoughtless deed was a crime.'
Munemasa heard it and said as follows with his eyes full of anger.
This case was no doubt a rebellion.'
If I had captured him alive, he would have received forgiveness for answering the petition from his wife and others, so I beheaded him.'
When this kind of thing happens from now on, who would be in trouble if he makes little of the fidelity.'
On November 7, Sanetomo forgave Munemasa, receiving a petition from his brother Tomomasa OYAMA.

Plan to goo to Sung

On January 12, 1214, a copy of Manyoshu (the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry) inherited from an ancestor arrived, having been sent by FUJIWARA no Teika.
When he received it from Hiromoto, he appreciated it and said, 'Is there anything more valuable than this?'
On the same day, he inhibited the misbehaviors of the jito (land steward appointed by the central military government to each of the estates) in Ise Province, which Masatsune ASUKAI, who did brokerage, had been complaining about. It is believed that Kinkaiwakashu (MINAMOTO no Sanetomo's private anthology) was organized around this time.

On June 23, 1214, he instructed to rebuild Onjo-ji Temple which was burned by the monks of Enryaku-ji Temple. On July 18, people in various districts were grieving over a drought, so Sanetomo skip-read Hokke-kyo Sutra to pray for rain. On July 20, it rained. On July 28, he reduced the nengu (annual tribute) of the Imperial domains in the Kanto region by one third.

On March 31, 1216, he adopted Yoriie's daughter (later, Take no Gosho) at Masako's command.

On July 1, CHIN Nakei, or CHIN Wakei, arrived at Kamakura, and said as follows.
The shogun now is the incarnation of the Buddha or Gods.'
I'm thinking to visit him to see his face.'
CHIN Nakei was a priest from Sung who reconstructed the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple. On July 16, when CHIN Nakei met Sanetomo at the shogunate residence, he bowed to Sanetomo three times and cried. Sanetomo felt suspicious, but CHIN Nakei said as follows.
You were an elder living in Mt. Ito in Sung before.'
Then, I was a disciple of yours.'
Sanetomo believed CHIN Nakei since a high priest who had appeared in his dream said the same thing and he had not spoken of it to anybody.

On July 21, he was appointed to the position of Chunagon (Middle Counselor) and on September 11 he also took charge of Konoefu. On November 6, Yoshitoki HOJO and OE no Hiromoto had a secret meeting and worried about the rapidity of Sanetomo's promotion.
On November 8, Hiromoto visited the shogunate residence under the name of Yoshitoki's messenger and remonstrated with him and said, 'For your descendants' prosperity, you should resign your official position and just be Seii-taishogun, and after a while when you come to a senior, why don't you combine the general?'
Sanetomo answered as follows.
Your remonstration is quite natural, but the orthodoxy of the Minamoto clan is dwindling at this moment, and my descendants could not succeed this position.'
If so, I would like to hold my official position and raise my family name.'
Hiromoto left without answering yes or no and told it to Yoshitoki (besides, Masataka UWAYOKOTE and Shosuke KOUCHI interpret it as Sanetomo wanting Yoshitoki to carry a message that implies he gave up having a son and wanted his successor from other families).

On January 10, 1217, he hit on an idea to go to Sung to see Mt. Io in Sung, where he lived in his previous life, and ordered CHIN Nakei to build a vessel in the Tang style. Yoshitoki and Hiromoto remonstrated with him many times, but Sanetomo did not accept them.

On May 30, 1217, he made his men tow the completed vessel from the Yuigahama beach to the sea, but it did not float and decayed on the beach. It is uncertain whether it comes from the interests in Sung, but Sanetomo asked to bring Buddha's ashes from Neng Ren Temple in Sung, and it has been dedicated to Shariden (reliquary hall) of Engaku-ji Temple.

On July 2, he gave a territory in Bicchu Province to KI no Yasutsuna, who grieved over few reward grants by composing a waka. That was because he sympathized with the poem.

On August 1, Kugyo, who were learning at Onjo-ji Temple, came back to Kamakura, and took charge of betto at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine by Masako's command.


On February 16, 1218, he was appointed to the rank of Dainagon (Chief Councillor of State). On March 15, he sent a messenger to Kyoto to gain the appointment to the office of Udaisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards), but he changed the order into gaining the office of Sadaisho without fail. His father MINAMOTO no Yoritomo was Udaisho. On April 19, he took charge of Konoefu and Meryo (the section taking care of imperial horses) as well. On November 5, he was also given the position of Naidaijin (the Minister of the Interior), and on December 28 he was transferred to Udaijin (Minister of the Right) due to the death of Yoshisuke KUJO. He was the first samurai to become Udaijin. On January 16, 1219, clothes and cars were presented from the Retired Emperor Gotoba for the year's visit to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine to celebrate his promotion. On January 21, he gave the instruction for accompanying soldiers.

On February 20, the day came when he visited Hachiman-gu Shrine for celebration with a snowfall of about sixty centimeters. He left the shogunate residence, and when he reached a tower gate of Hachiman-gu Shrine, Yoshitoki HOJO complained of his bad condition and handed over his sword bearer position to MINAMOTO no Nakaakira.
When night fell, he finished praying to God, and while he was leaving, he was assaulted and killed by Kugyo, who were crying, 'This is how parents' enemy should be killed.'
He died at the age of 26. Kugyo killed MINAMOTO no Nakaakira, too, with a sword. It is said that he mistook Nakaakira for the sword bearer Yoshitoki. Kugyo took Sanetomo's head away and he is believed not to have left it far from him even during meals. On the same day, Kugyo was killed by executioners.

Feeling a premonition or not, OE no Hiromoto said as follows with tears on Sanetomo's departure.
I haven't cried since coming of age.'
But I couldn't help shedding tears when I'm close to you.'
This is unusual.'
You should wear a bellyband under your sokutai (traditional ceremonial court dress).'
However, MINAMOTO no Nakaakira answered, 'Nobody who hasn't done such a thing who is going to be a minister and a general,' and stopped him. Sanetomo gave a hair to a hairdresser in commemoration. His death waka was composed while looking at a Japanese apricot tree in the garden means that if I leave here, you might be a dwelling without a master, but don't forget spring, a Japanese apricot by the eaves. This poem is considered to be a taboo poem.

The place where he was killed is said to be the stone stairs or stone bridge of Hachiman-gu Shrine, and some people say that Kugyo was hiding behind a big ginkgo tree. According to "Jokyuki" (A Chronicle of the Jokyu War), he parried the first stroke with the mace, but was cut by the next stroke, and at the last moment he said, 'Hiromoto was right,' and died.

On February 21, his wife entered the priesthood by shaving her hair off and also more than one hundred gokenin became priests. His body was buried at Shochoju-in Temple, but his head was still missing, so the commemorative hair was put into his coffin. He did not have a child, and the Shogunate of the Minamoto clan origin came to an end after three generations.


Dates come from the sources.

The years in the Western calendar system are estimated by changing New Year's days in the Japanese calendar system into the old calendar system.

Religious service

For the tomb of his body, a many-tiered stone tower is placed in the caved graveyard in the precincts of Jufuku-ji Temple. Jufuku-ji Temple was built on the place where the residence of MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo had stood, and next to Sanetomo's grave, is his mother's grave. It is said that Sanetomo's head was buried by Kugyo's executioner Tsuneharu TAKE at Gorinto (a gravestone composed of five pieces) in Daiseizan Kongo-Ji Temple (which Sanetomo revived), Hatano City, Kanagawa Prefecture, and the tomb is called Mishirushizuka. And people say that Masako HOJO donated Amida Sanzon (Amida Triad), which Sanetomo worshiped when he was alive, to the Amida-do Hall in Kongo-ji Temple. Sanetomo is deified together with MINAMOTO no Yoritomo at Shirahata-jinja Shrine in the precincts of Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, and during the Meiji period Ryuei Shrine was built for him in the precincts of Shirahata-jinja Shrine. Hachiman-gu Shrine holds the Sanetomo Festival on his birthday, August 9.

Public estimation

Azuma Kagami (The Mirror of the East)

When the writing of kemari (Japanese ancient Imperial court game like kick-ball) was sent from Kyoto, Azuma Kagami writes, 'What the Shogun especially loved was poetry and kick-ball among various things he enjoyed.'


At the rebellion of Shigetada HATAKEYAMA's youngest son, Munemasa said as follows.
The present head of the family makes poetry and kick-ball as his business, and military arts are almost outdated.'
Women are centered, and brave warriors are almost none.'
And confiscated territories are not applied to merits.'
Many of them are given to young women.'

OE no Hiromoto

Grieving about Sanetomo, who sought early promotions, Hiromoto said, 'He only succeeded the remains of the former general, and he hasn't gained any merits, but he was promoted to Chunagon (vice-councilor of state) Chujo (Middle Captain) only by managing various districts.'


As you know, recently waka has not been popular at all. Honestly speaking, waka has not been popular since "Manyoshu" (the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry) or since Sanetomo. I feel very sorry that Sanetomo died a disappointing death before he reached 30 and gained a bright future. If he had survived ten more years, he might have left us more wonderful poems. Anyway, he was a top grade poet. He did not try to follow the styles of KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro or YAMABE no Akahito or imitate the styles of KI no Tsurayuki or FUJIWARA no Teika at all, his style was established as highly as mountains and as bright as the light of the sun and moon, and it was to be really respected and I felt brought to my knees unawares. It is definitely wrong that he was evaluated as an ordinary person, and I think that he just held back from the Hojo clan and concealed his talent or he was a late-boomer. It is common that someone who directs people and reaches to the culmination of literature or arts is inferior as a human being, but Sanetomo must be exceptional. That is because Sanetomo's poems are not only skillful but powerful, discreet, and influential, and the points that they do not follow the trend and adjust to others were quite different from those of the curious people or dead poem composers, and if he had not been a thoughtful person, such powerful poems as Sanetomo's could not have been created. KAMO no Mabuchi bestowed his highest praise on Sanetomo, but it seems to be not enough. Mabuchi only knew the half of the charm of Sanetomo's poems, and he might not have known the other half.
"Utayomi ni atauru sho" (Letters to the Tanka Poets)


Emperor Gotoba was in favor of Sanetomo and it is said that he expedited his promotion. Meanwhile, he firmly rejected the Retired Emperor's jito (land steward) dismissal request (Ota no sho manor in the Bingo Province) on the ground that it would crush the basis of bakufu if he allowed it, saying 'I have no reason to dismiss jito who the late MINAMOTO no Yoritomo assigned as far as they're not problematic,' and when Kintsune SAIONJI was dismissed from Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards), Sanetomo pointed out the Retired Emperor's mistake and remonstrated with him. When Tokihiro OE, who was appointed to Kurodo (Chamberlain) of Emperor Juntoku, tried to go back to Kyoto, being negligent of his duties in Kamakura, Sanetomo criticized him for making little of Kamakura although he was gokenin ("Azuma Kagami" (The Mirror of the East) The Article of October 20, the 6th Year of Kenpo). Judging from the fact that the Retired Emperor launched Jokyu no ran (a war between the Retired Emperor Gotoba and Kamakura bakufu in Jokyu era) by taking advantage of Sanetomo's death, it is too hasty to conclude that Sanetomo was "a pro-imperial general." His father MINAMOTO no Yoritomo tried to make his daughter an empress of Emperor Gotoba (at that time) to reinforce the government by making use of the Imperial Court, and Sanetomo may have succeeded in his approach to the Retired Emperor. Also, it has been pointed out since Masataka UWAYOKOTE that Sanetomo was planning to adopt a shogun from the Imperial Court as his successor, and there is one view that the promotion of his official rank was preparation for that (an official rank over ministers was necessary to be a father of an imperial family even on paper) (Shosuke KOUCHI's theory). However, after the Kamakura bakufu was established, as the samurai class gradually became influential in policies and confident, they clearly refused control by the Imperial Court and the nobility, and the main constituent gokenin considered the extreme promotion as an attitude favoring the Imperial Court, and this lead to the later assassination, according to one theory.

[Original Japanese]