Hojo Masako (北条政子)

Masako HOJO (born 1157 and died August 23, 1225, which is July 11 on the old lunar calendar) lived from the end of the Heian Period to the beginning of Kamakura Period. She was the wife of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, the man who established the Kamakura Shogunate. She was the first daughter Tokimasa HOJO, head of the ruling family of Izu. She gave birth to four children; MINAMOTO no Yoriie, MINAMOTO no Sanetomo, Ohime, and Sanman. Her siblings include Munetoki HOJO, Yoshitoki HOJO, Tokifusa HOJO and Awa no Tsubone.

She became the wife of Yoritomo, who was an exile in Izu, and when he established a military government in Kamakura, she became known as Midaidokoro (shogun or minister's wife). After her husband's death, she became a nun and was referred to as Amamidai. Her Buddhist name was Annyoin. After her sons Yoriie (head of the Kamakura Shogunate after Yoritomo), and Sanetomo were killed, she became guardian of the young puppet shogun, FUJIWARA no Yoritsune, although in fact she held the real power and was known as the Ama Shogun.

She was given the name 'Masako', which includes one character from her father Tokimasa's name, when she was given the rank of Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) at the Imperial Court in 1218, although her name before that is unknown.

The wife of an exile

Masako was the first daughter of Tokimasa HOJO, the head of the ruling family of Izu.

Her father was the ruler of Izu Province and was given responsibility for MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, who had been exiled to Izu after being defeated in the Heiji Rebellion (Heiji no Ran). While Tokimasa was away in Kyoto on the Obanyaku (service of guard), Masako and Yoritomo fell in love.

There is no historical material related to Masako and Yoritomo at this time; however, a section in "Soga Monogatari" (Tale of Soga) called 'Yumekai' (Buying a Dream), tells about how the two met. Masako's younger sister (later married to Zenjo AMANO, Yoritomo's younger brother) had an odd dream in which she grasped the sun and moon in her hand. When she told Masako about the dream, Masako misled her into thinking the dream would bring bad luck and offered to buy it from her. In those days, it was believed that selling a bad dream would protect the dreamer from any possible bad luck. She sold the dream to Masako, who gave her a Kosode kimono in return. Masako bought the dream from her sister knowing that it would bring good luck. As the lucky dream suggested, Masako married Yoritomo, who later came to power.

In 1177, Tokimasa learned about the relationship and, fearing what important members of the Taira clan would think of it, ordered Masako to marry Kanetaka YAMAKI, the Izu Mokudai (Deputy Official). Kanetaka YAMAKI was once an exile belonging to the Taira clan, and during the Taira reign, he was appointed Mokudai and the Taira's representative in Izu. Refusing to be forced into a marriage with YAMAKI, Masako is said to have walked over a mountain to escape to Yoritomo. The couple was sheltered at Izusan Gongen (Izusan-jinja Shrine). Masako was 21 years old at the time. The power of the priesthood at Izusan was so strong that even Mokudai Yamaki could not force his way in.

Years later, MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune's mistress, Shizukagozen, quoted Masako's words, 'Lost in the darkness of night, I came to you to keep out of the rain,' to sooth the anger of Yoritomo. Not long after, Masako gave birth to her first daughter, Ohime. Tokimasa finally accepted their marriage and the Hojo family became important supporters of Yoritomo.

In 1180, Prince Mochihito, planning to form an army with MINAMOTO no Yorimasa, called all the Minamoto clans spread throughout the various provinces to join with them. Prince Mochihito's message was also sent to Yoritomo in Izu; however, being a cautious man, Yoritomo did not respond immediately. When the plan was exposed and Prince Mochihito was killed, Yoritomo had no choice but to raise an army to defend against the danger that was closing in on him. Yoritomo attacked the residence of the Mokadai, Kanetaka YAMAKI, and killed him, but later suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Ishibashiyama. Masako's oldest brother Munetoki was killed in this battle. Masako stayed in Izu, passing her days worrying about the Yoritomo's safety.

Yoritomo escaped to Awa Province with Tokimasa and Yoshitoki and planned another attack, gathering warriors from the eastern provinces to create an army that grew into a force of several tens of thousands, then they sat up a fort in Kamakura, an area connected with the Genji.
Masako, too, moved to Kamakura
Yoritomo won the Battle of Fujigawa, destroying the opposition forces and gaining control of the Kanto area. Yoritomo became known as the Kamakuradono of the eastern provinces, and Masako was called Midaidokoro.


At the beginning of 1182, Masako conceived her second child. At the request of Yoshizumi MIURA, Yoritomo granted the release of Sukechika ITO of the Taira clan, who had been captured in Kamakura. Before marrying Masako, Yoritomo had been in love with Sukechika's daughter, Yaehime, with whom he had a son. Afraid of angering the Taira, Sukechika had killed their son, broken up the young couple and forced Yaehime to marry another samurai. Sukechika saw his release as an embarrassment and committed suicide. In September of 1182, Masako gave birth to a boy who was named Manju. Manju later became the second Shogun, Yoriie.

During Masako's pregnancy, Yoritomo had an affair with Kame no mae, moving her closer to him and visiting her often. Hearing about this from Tokimasa's second wife, Maki no kata, Masako was enraged with jealousy. In December, Masako ordered Maki no kata's father, Munechika MAKI, to destroy Hirotuna FUSHIMI's residence, where Kame no mae lived, but Maki no kata escaped. Yoritomo was enraged and after questioning Munechika MAKI, disgraced him by ordering him to cut off his top-knot with his own hands. Angered by Yoritomo's deed, Tokimasa returned to Izu with his warriors. Masako's anger, however, did not subside, and she sentenced Hirotsuna FUSHIMI to exile in Totomi Province.

Masako's jealousy was unusual in this age of polygamy. Yoritomo had affairs with many women in his lifetime, although out of fear of Masako's jealousy, he did his best to hide them. Male aristocrats at the time had many mistresses, moving from one to another, a custom powerful samurai families followed in order to increase the population of the clan. Masako's father, Tokimasa, too, had several mistresses, and Masako had several siblings born to different mothers. Yoritomo's father, MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo also had many mistresses, and Yoritomo's grandfather, MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi had more than 20 children. Afraid of what Masako might do, Yoritomo's biological son, Jogyo, was forced into the priesthood. With this, Masako gained a reputation as a jealous and temperamental villainess.

In 1183, Yoritomo agreed to make peace with his enemy, MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka, on the condition that Yorinaka's son, MINAMOTO no Yoshitaka (Shimizu no Kanja) marry Ohime, the eldest daughter of Yoritomo and Masako. Under this pretext, Yoshitaka was ordered to Kamakura, where he was effectively held as a hostage. At the time, Yoshitaka was 11 years old and Ohime was around the age of 6. Young as she was, Ohime became attached to Yoshitaka.

Yoshinaka defeated the Taira and entered Kyoto before Yoritomo. Yoshinaka, however, failed in his attempt to govern Kyoto, battled and was defeated by the Taira clan, and clashed with the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa. In 1184, Yoritomo sent his younger brothers, MINAMOTO no Noriyori and Yoshitsune to overthrow Yoshinaka. To remove this thorn in his side, Yoritomo decided to kill Yoshikata in Kamakura, but Ohime was told about his plan by her maid-in waiting, and she helped Yoshitaka to escape. Enraged Yoritomo ordered Chikaie HORI to hunt down and kill Yoshitaka, who was found and killed by Chikaie's vassal, Mitsuzumi TONAI. Devastated by Yoshitaka's death, Ohime fell ill. Masako was enraged at Yoshiktaka being killed, blaming it for causing Ohime's illness; and Yoritomo was forced to kill Mitsuzumi TONAI, whose head was then displayed in public. Ohime continued to be emotionally ill and suffered depression for many years. Hoping for her daughter's recovery, Masako prayed frequently at temples and shrines, but Ohime never recovered.

Noriyori and Yoshitsune won a great victory over the Taira clan at the Battle of Ichinotani, and TAIRA no Shigehira, the commander-in-chief, was captured and sent to Kamakura as a hostage. Yoritomo received Shigehira warmly, and Masako sent her maid-in-waiting, Senju no mae, to entertain this member of the nobility. Shigehira was later killed at Todai-ji Temple, which he had burned to the ground, making Senju no mae so sad that she died shortly afterwards.

While Noriyori and Yoshitsune were fighting against the Taira clan, Yoritomo continued his rule of the eastern provinces, and Masako accompanied when he attended ceremonies to mark construction of, or went to pray at, temples and shrines. In 1185, Yoshitsune overthrew the Taira clan at the Battle of Dannoura.

After the fall of the Taira clan, Yoritomo and Yoshitsune became enemies, and Yoshitsune, failing to gather an army, left Kyoto with his vassals, wife and mistresses. In 1186, Yoshitsune's mistress, Shizukagozen, was captured and sent to Kamakura. Masako wished to see Shizuka perform the traditional Shirabyoushi dance, and Shizuka reluctantly did so.
Giving in to persistent requests, Shizuka performed the Shirabyoushi dance at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, and recited a poem that spoke of her love for Yoshitsune: 'Missing the one so loved who went into the deep snows of Mt. Yoshino' and 'Hoping to exchange the present for the past when my loved one ruled.'
This angered Yoritomo but Masako, remembering how she felt when she first met Yoritomo as an exile and when he was away fighting, said, 'I once felt the same way as Shizuka does now.
You must let go of the years of love for Yoshitsune, and fall in love again, for a woman is not a woman unless she is in love.'
Masako's words calmed Yoritomo's anger and he rewarded Shizuka for her performance.

Masako visited Minami mido to console Ohime, and Shizuka danced for them. Shizuka was pregnant with Yoritomo's child and he ordered that if it were a girl, she would live, but if it were a boy, he would be killed in order to avoid a possible family feud. Shizuka gave birth to a boy; and although Masako pleaded with Yoritomo to let the boy live, he was abandoned at Yumigahama. Masako and Ohime sympathized with Shizuka, and presented Shizuka and her mother, Iso no Zenji, with many valuable gifts when they returned to Kyoto.

Escaping to Oshu in April 1189, Yoshitsune was attacked by FUJIWARA no Yasuhira and committed suicide. Yoritomo departed for the Battle of Oshu. Masako prayed for Yoritomo's victory by performing a 100-prayer ritual at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine. Yoritomo defeated the Oshu Fujiwara clan and made a triumphant return to Kamakura. In 1190, Yoritomo led a huge army into Kyoto. He was presented to the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa, and was appointed Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards).

In 1192, Masako gave birth to a boy (Senman). The boy later became the third Shogun, MINAMOTO no Sanetomo. A few days before Senman was born, Yoritomo was appointed Seii Tashogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"). During Masako's pregnancy, he again had an affair with a woman named Daishin no Tsubone, who gave birth to a boy (Jyogyo); however, fearing Masako's anger, no birth ceremony was held. Fearing Masako's jealousy, Daishin no Tsubone hid herself, and the boy was raised in hiding, without a wet nurse. At the age of 7, Jyogyo was to be sent to Ninna-ji Temple, and Yoritomo secretly came to see him off.

In 1193, Yoritomo held a huge Makigari (hunt) at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
When Yoriie killed a deer, Yoritomo sent a messenger to Masako; however, she sent the messenger back saying that 'No need to make a fuss over a samurai's heir killing a deer.'
This story shows Masako's strong personality. On the final night of the Fuji no Makigari, the Soga brothers killed Suketsune KUDO to avenge their father's death.
In Kamakura, rumor spread that Yoritomo had been killed, which worried Masako; and Noriyori, who was at Kamakura at the time, consoled Masako by telling her, 'Please be calm in the knowledge that I will be here to protect the Minamoto family.'
Hearing about this from Masako when he returned to Kamakura, Yoritomo became suspicious of Noriyori, confined him to Izu, then killed him.

Ohime was in and out of bed, unable to recover from her illness. In 1194, Masako attempted to marry Ohime to Takayoshi ICHIJO, Yoritomo's nephew, but because of her deep love for Yoshitaka, she obstinately refused. To cheer Ohime up, Masako held a grand memorial service for Yoshikata.

In 1195, Masako traveled with Yoritomo to Kyoto to meet with TAKASHINA no Eishi, the mother of the sixth daughter of Emperor Goshirakawa, Senyomonin, and discussed marriage between Ohime and Emperor Gotoba. Yoritomo wanted this marriage for the political advantage it would bring, and Masako thought that marriage ito the Imperial family would make Ohime happy, but Ohime became very ill. Masako and Yoritomo held a prayer session for Ohime's recovery but, in 1197, she died at the young age of 20. According to "Jokyuki," Masako grieved so deeply that she wanted to kill herself, but Yoritomo stopped her, saying that her death would make Ohime's afterlife worse.

Yoritomo tried to have his second daughter, Sanman hime marry into the Imperial family, but was hampered by MINAMOTO no Michichika, a person of influence in the Imperial Court. Kanpaku (chief adviser to the Emperor) Kanezaen KUJO, who had been on favorable terms with the Kamakura clans, was ousted from power, putting Yoritomo's position at the Imperial Court government into danger and making the chance of Sanman marrying into Imperial family virtually impossible. Yoritomo planned another visit to Kyoto; however, he died after a fall from a horse in February 1199. According to "Jokyuki," Masako said; 'With Ohime and Yoritomo gone, this is the end for me, but if I die, young Yoriie will lose both parents.
I cannot abandon my children.'

The eldest son, Yoriie, inherited the estate. Masako joined a nunnery and took the name Amamidai. Approximately 2 months after Yoritomo's death, her second daughter Sanman became critically ill. Masako ordered temples and shrines in Kamakura to offer prayers and requested Emperor Gotoba to issue an order to send Kyoto's most renowned physician to Kamakura. The medicine prescribed by the physician seemed to make Sanman better, but after a temporary recovery, she died in July at the young age of 14.

Young Yoriie's leadership caused a revolt among warriors, and a 13-member conference system was established in 1200 by OE no Hiromoto, Kagetoki KAJIWARA, Yoshikazu HIKI, Tokimasa HOJO and Yoshitoki HOJO, in order to control Yoriie's autocratic rule.

Yoriie caused a scandal by kidnapping Kagemori ADACHI's mistress. Learning that Kagemori was holding a grudge, Yoriie formed an army to fight him.
Masako went to Kagemori's residence, ostensibly to mediate, also sending a messenger to Yoriie that read: 'If you intend to kill Kagemori, you must shoot your arrow through me first.'
Masako appeased Kagemori and coaxed him into giving his written promise that he would not commit treason; and she admonished Yoriie not to act rashly.

Conflict between Yoriie and his elderly retainers continued, and Kagetoki KAJIWARA, who had been an important retainer from his father's time, was overthrown. Yoriie often indulged in entertainment, particularly enjoying Kemari, a game in which a players try to keep a ball in air by kicking it. Masako admonished him for spending so much time playing Kemari; however, he refused to listen. There had been number of incidents in which Yoriie had misgoverned, increasing his retainers' discontent. Furthermore, Yoriie appointed a wet nurse's husband, Yoshikazu HIKI, to an important position, and Yoshikazu's daughter gave birth to Yoriie's first son, MINAMOTO no Ichiman, which placed Yoshikazu in a position of power. The rise of the Hiki clan was a threat to the Hojo clan.

In 1203, Yoriie fell critically ill. Masako and Tokimasa decided to divide Japan in two by splitting power between Ichiman and Sanetomo. Unhappy with this decision, Yoshikazu appealed to Yoriie on his deathbed to intervene in this decision by the head of the Hojo clan. Learning of the decision, Yoriie was enraged, and he ordered the subjugation of the Hojo clan. Masako overheard their conversation from the other side of the screened door and sent a messenger to Tokimasa, who plotted to kill Yoshikazu. He used Masako's name to form an army to overthrow the Hiki clan. Ichiman died along with the Hiki clan in what became known as the Conspiracy of Yoshikazu HIKI.

Upon recovering from his critical illness, Yoriie was enraged to learn that the Hiki clan had been overthrown and killed and that Ichiman was dead, and he ordered Tokimasa subdued but by then, full power was in the hands of the Hojo clan and, on Masako's orders, Yoriie was removed from the position of Shogun, forced to join the priesthood and confined to Shuzen-ji Temple in Izu. Yoriie was later assassinated.

Sanetomo was made Shogun and his father, Tokimasa, was appointed the first regent. Tokimasa and his wife, Maki no kata, attempted to monopolize power, and Masako quickly recalled Sanetomo from Tokimasa's residence. In 1205, Tokimasa and Maki no kata plotted to overthrow Sanetomo and replace him with their son-in-law, Tomomasa HIRAGA. Masako and Yoshitoki foiled the plot, forcing Tokimasa into exile as a priest in Izu. Thereafter, Yoshitoki was placed in power (the Maki incident).

Unlike Yoriie, who had always insisted on having his own way, Sanetomo was more academically oriented, honored the Imperial Court and strived for a harmonious relationship with the nobility. For this reason, the Retired Emperor Gotoba treated Sanetomo well, and he moved steadily up the ladder. However, this extremely good relationship with the Imperial Court was not advantageous to the samurai class, who grew increasingly discontent.

To avoid future problems, Masako put Yoriie's children into the priesthood. One of them, Kugyo, became the head (betto) of Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine.

In 1218, Masako went to Kumano to pray for good health for the sickly Sanetomo and during her stay in Kyoto, she spent her days talking with FUJIWARA no Kaneko, the Retired Emperor Gotoba's wet nurse.. While in Kyoto, through Kaneko's influence, Masako was awarded Junii (Junior Second Rank). According to the "Gukansho" (The Jottings of a Fool), Masako and Kaneko discussed the idea of having the Retired Emperor Gotoba's son become the childless Sanetomo's successor.

Sanetomo's official position at court was further elevated to Udaijin (Minister of the Right). Yoshitoki and OE no Hiromoto warned Sanetomo that he was isolating himself from the samurai at court but Sanetomo refused to listen.

In 1219, Sanetomo went to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine to give thanks for promotion to Udaijin, where he was killed by his nephew. According to the historical document "Jokyuki," Masako was devastated by the news, saying that: 'Losing Udaijin, the only child I had left, I have nothing to live for. Why must a nun live alone in a world that is so full of sadness.
I even thought of throwing myself into a river.'

Ama Shogun
After Sanetomo's funeral, Masako sent a messenger to Kyoto to express her wish to have the Retired Emperor Gotoba's son become the Shogun.
The Retired Emperor Gotoba refused, saying that 'such a thing would divide Japan in two.'
The Retired Emperor Gotoba then sent a messenger to Kamakura with the message that his son would come if the lord of his mistress's fief was dismissed. Yoshitoki refused, saying that it would shake the very foundation of the Bakufu government. Yoshitoki gave troops to his younger brother, Tokifusa, and sent him to Kyoto to discuss sending the prince to Kamakura, but Retired Emperor Gotoba refused. Yoshitoki abandoned the idea of installing an Imperial Shogun and decided to put Mitora (FUJIWARA no Yoritsune), from one of the five Sekkan (regent) families, into power. Tokifusa returned to Kamakura with Mitora. Since Mitora was only 2 years of age, Masako was appointed his guardian and ruled the country in Mitora's place, becoming known as the Ama Shogun.

In 1221, opposition deeper between the Retired Emperor Gotoba, wishing to re-capture authority for the Imperial Court, and the government, and finally the Emperor attacked Mitsusue IGA, the Shugo (military governor) in Kyoto and established a military police force. The Retired Emperor Gotoba ordered the Shugo and Jito (lords) of several provinces to attack Yoshitoki. Receiving news of the Retired Emperor's army, the samurai in Kamakura panicked. The samurai still greatly feared the Imperial Court.

Her last words were spoken with tears in her eyes: 'Our indebtedness to the late Utaisho (Yoritomo) is higher than a mountain and deeper than the ocean; because of the lies of traitors, the Emperor has given unjust orders. Destroy FUJIWARA no Hideyasu and Taneyoshi MIURA (the Retired Emperor's trusted vassal) and fulfill your service to the third Shogun (Sanetomo).
If you wish to side with the Emperor, speak up and leave immediately.'
With these word the panic among the samurai subsided.

A military strategy meeting was held and the majority were in favor of the defensive measures of attacking Hakone and Ashigara; however, OE no Hiromoto pushed for the offensive measures, supported by Masako, of marching on Kyoto and attacking there. After the order was issued for the samurai to mobilize, the defensive measure was brought up once again but MIYOSHI no Yasunobu, backed by Masako, argued for attack and the government force marched to Kyoto. Government forces reached 190,000 troops.

The Retired Emperor Gotoba believed his words would be taken as law and never expected the government force to attack. The Emperor's Kyoto force lost battle after battle fighting against the huge government force, finally losing Kyoto. The Retired Emperor Gotoba rescinded his orders, which in effect meant surrender to the government forces, and was exiled to Iki-jima island (The Jokyu Disturbance).

Masako and Yoshitoki took control after the war. In 1224, Yoshitoki died suddenly. His eldest son, Yasutoki HOJO, was a wise and accomplished man who was expected to be a good leader but Yoshitoki's widow, Iga no kata, schemed to hand the regency to her biological son, Masamura HOJO, through an alliance with the powerful Yoshimura MIURA. As rumor of Yoshimura's plot spread, causing uproar, Masako visited Yoshimura's residence to convince him that Yasutoki should be the successor and to ascertain if he had been part of the conspiracy. Yoshimura prostrated himself before her and vowed his loyalty to Yasutoki. The turmoil in Kamakura continued, but Masako worked to bring about calm. Iga no kata was exiled to Izu (Incident of the Iga clan).

Yasutoki consulted Masako about the distribution of property left by Yoshitoki, presenting a proposal that he take a far smaller amount than his younger brothers, which impressed Masako.

In 1225, Masako fell ill and died. She was 69 years old.

She was buried next to MINAMOTO no Yoritomo in Jufuku-ji Temple.

Assessment of her later years
In "The Azuma Kagami" (Mirror of the East), Masako is praised as having 'ruled the country like the Western Han dynasty empress, Lu Zhi.'
It also states that Masako 'protected the emperor system that was revived by Empress Jingu.'
The priest Jien praised Masako in his "Gukansho," writing that she used her power to rule 'Japan through the eyes of a woman.'
In the "Jokyuki," Masako is described as 'an example of a happy woman.'
To this, Masako replied that 'there is no one in the world who feels deeper sadness than a nun.'

Kaneyoshi ICHJO, who lived in the Muromachi Period, stated: 'This Japan is a country of Princesses. It is a country that should be ruled by women,' giving as examples Masako, Himiko and other empresses from the past. Masako was also highly evaluated for her leadership of the Kamakura government in the 'Jinno Shotoki' (Chronicles of the Authentic Lineages of the Divine Emperors) by Chikafusa KITABATAKE and the 'Nan Taihei ki' by Ryoshun IMAGAWA.

During the Edo Period, the Confucian ideals of humanity and morality were important, and Masako is given high praise in the "Dai Nihon Shi" and by scholars such as Hakuseki ARAI and Sanyo RAI for her leadership of the Kamakura government after the death of her husband Yoritomo, yet added the criticism that she lacked morality, which led to the violent death of her sons (Yoriie, Sanetomo), the decline of the family she married into (the Minamoto clan) and the rise to power of her birth family, the Hojo clan. She was also criticized for her jealousy. Some of the criticism named her wicked, equivalent to Tomiko HINO and Yodo-dono (Lady Yodo).

In the modern era, her position as a female politician began to be evaluated from the perspective of the history of civilization. On the other hand, from the point of view of Imperial Court history, her victory over the Emperor in the Joykyu Disturbance and the exiling of three former Emperors is seen as lacking respect for the Imperial Court.

More recently, "Masako HOJO," a novel written by Michiko NAGAI, was the basis for the Taiga-dorama (NHK Historical Drama) "Kusamoeru." In this television drama, Masako is depicted as a complicated woman with a strong will and desire for power on one hand, while showing compassion from time to time on the other. Masako is known both as a wicked woman who ruled the country by killing her husband and children and also as good wife and a wise mother filled with love and grief.

[Original Japanese]