Hojo Yasutoki (北条泰時)

Yasutoki HOJO was a military commander in the early Kamakura period. Yasutoki was the first son of Yoshitoki HOJO, who was the second regent of the Kamakura shogunate. Yasutoki HOJO was the second head of the Tokuso family, which was a line of the Hojo family. Yasutoki HOJO was the third regent of the Kamakura bakufu.
(Yasutoki's tenure lasted from 1224 to 1242.)

From birth to the Jokyu War

Yasutoki HOJO was born in 1183 as the first son of Yoshitoki HOJO. Yasutoki was called Kongo as his given name when he was a child. Yasutoki's mother was Anan no Tsubone, who was the wife of his father and whose origin was unknown because she was only recorded as a woman who worked in the Imperial Palace. Yoritomo MINAMOTO raised an army and Yasutoki's father, Yoshitoki, along with the Hojo family (including Yasutoki's grandfather Tokimasa HOJO) followed Yoritomo, whereupon they entered Kamakura; in or around the fourth year after this entrance, Yasutoki was born when his father, Yoshitoki, was 21 years old.

Yasutoki celebrated his coming of age on March 3, 1194, when he was 13 years old. Yoritomo, who had become the first shogun of the bakufu, became Yasutoki's godfather 'eboshi-oya' and Yasutoki was given "yori" from Yoritomo's name and thus called Yoritoki. Yasutoki later changed his name from Yoritoki to Yasutoki, but it is not known when he did so. As ordered by Yoritomo, the engagement of a granddaughter of Yoshizumi MIURA to Yasutoki was determined simultaneously with his coming of age and, eight years later, Yasutoki welcomed Yoshimura MIURA's daughter (a nun, Yabe-zenni) as his wife on September 17, 1202. Yasutoki's heir, Tokiuji HOJO, was born the next year, but Yasutoki parted from MIURA's daughter later and welcomed Sanekazu ANBO' daughter as his wife.

Yasutoki was appointed as an assistant chief for repairs in 1211. At this time, the male heir of the Hojo family was Tomotoki HOJO, who was Yasutoki's younger half-brother by father's lawful wife; however, Tomotoki fell from power because he had aroused the anger of Sanetomo MINAMOTO, the third shogun, and therefore Yasutoki, who was a son of his father's mistress, became the male heir. In the Wada War of 1213, Yasutoki, along with his father, Yoshitoki beat down Yoshimori WADA and, due to his distinguished service in the war, was appointed as the steward in charge of a lord's manor of Enda County, Mutsu Province.

In 1218, Yasutoki was appointed by his father as the manager of a warrior office. In 1219, Yasutoki was ranked as Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade and appointed as the governor of Suruga Province.

In the Jokyu War of 1221, Yasutoki left his hometown for Kyoto as the commander-in-chief of the bakufu's army, whereupon he beat down the anti-bakufu army on the side of Emperor Gotoba and then entered Kyoto. Yasutoki was appointed as the manager of the north branch of the Rokuhara-tandai troops (the guard troops for the Rokuhara area), which was newly provided in Kyoto after the war, and similarly, Yasutoki's uncle, Tokifusa HOJO, who entered Kyoto as the grand general with Yasutoki, was appointed as the manager of the southern branch of the troops. Since then, Yasutoki stayed in Kyoto and conducted the monitoring of the Imperial Court, post-war dispositions and supervision of the gokenin, who were warriors who had personally become vassals of the shogun, in the provinces around Kyoto and west of Kyoto.

The third regent

When Yasutoki returned to Kamakura because Yasutoki's father, Yoshitoki had died a sudden death (in June through July 1224), there was a coup by the Iga family triggered by Yasutoki's stepmother, Iga no Kata, which was intended to support her biological son, Masamura HOJO, as the next regent. As instructed by Shogun Masako HOJO, who was a nun and Yasutoki's aunt, Iga no Kata and her cohorts were expelled, and Yasutoki, now 42 years old, succeeded to the house as the third regent. Though Iga no Kata was placed in confinement, Masamura, Yasutoki's younger half-brother by a different mother, and Yoshimura MIURA, one of the influential gokenin involved in the incident, weren't accused and soon Mitsumune IGA, who had been sent into exile, was forgiven and recovered his position. In distributing the territory left by Yoshitoki, Yasutoki gave much to his younger brothers and younger sisters but kept only a little for himself. Masako objected to the distribution and tried to increase Yasutoki's share and made him to control his younger brothers, but Yasutoki declined her objection, saying, "I am the regent." Yasutoki's generous disposition of the Iga incident and the friendly measures he took on behalf of his younger brothers and sisters also represented Yasutoki's weak position, as well as the unstable power of the Hojo family in the bakufu during that period. Yasutoki newly founded the "Karei" position, which supervised the family politics of the legitimate line of the Hojo family; he appointed Kagetsuna BITO, his trusted vassal, as Karei, and thereby Yasutoki clarified the footing of the legitimate line, which was different from other family lines. The Karei position later became Tokuso and Naikanrei (or Uchinokanrei).

The next year (1225), the bakufu lost its very important peopole one after the other: Hiromoto OE, an influential bakufu vassal, died in July and August and Masako died in August and September. Facing this difficult time, Yasutoki launched a system of group instruction and council politics instead of the autocratic system that had been employed in the days of Yoritomo to Masako. Yasutoki called his uncle Tokifusa back from Kyoto and put him at the position of regent similar to himself, and thereby established a system with a plurality of regents, called double-regent system, with those next to the regents later called Rensho. Next, Yasutoki selected 11 Hyoteishu in total, who were literally the council members, including the representatives of influential gokenin such as Yoshimura MIURA, and the bakufu bureaucracy such as Morokazu NAKAHARA and let them serve in the government office; subsequently, Yasutoki founded the council conference consisting of 13 members, including the 11 members and two regents as the top governmental institution, and this institution handled the determination of policies and personnel affairs, settlement of lawsuits, legislation of laws, etc.

Yasutoki was welcomed to Kamakura from Kyoto as the new lord of Kamakura after the assassination of the third shogun, Sanetomo MINAMOTO, and he caused Mitsutora, who was eight years old, to celebrate his coming of age and take the name Yoritsune FUJIWARA. In 1226, Yoritsune formally became the great general 'Seii Taishogun' (the bakufu had not have any Seii Taishogun for more than six years since the assassination of Sanetomo). Instead of the Imperial Palace of the bakufu, which had been in Okura Imperial Palace since the days of Yoritomo, Yasutoki constructed a new bakufu building in Utsunomiya-tsujiko in the south of Tsurugaoka-Hachiman-gu Shrine and east of Wakamiya-oji Street. Yoritsune moved to the new building, and the next day the first council was conducted by Hyoteishu and Yasutoki, who declared that all honors and punishments thereafter would be determined by Yasutoki himself. Though the scale of this transfer of the bakufu was small, it was a transfer of the capital in fact and was therefore a symbolic event that facilitated the change of people's minds over the period of shogun autocracy, ultimately giving rise to council-based regent politics.

In Yasutoki's family, however, his second son, Tokisane HOJO, was killed at the age of 16 by a vassal on August 8, 1227. Yasutoki continuously met with misfortunes after that, as three years later, on August 5, 1230, his first son Tokiuji HOJO died of a disease at the age of 28 and, one month later his 25-year-old daughter, who had married Yasumura MIURA, gave birth; the child died about ten days later and the daughter, whose own post-delivery recovery was slow, died on September 19 at the age of 25.


After the Jokyu War, conflicts continually occurred in various places over the acts and incomes of the newly appointed stewards in charge of lords' manors, and an abstract instruction philosophy was necessary to establish the group instruction system. Though the 'precedents' of the days of Yoritomo were employed as the criteria by which to settle the conflicts, the precedents were limited and many conditions changed as compared to the days of the precedents. Yasutoki asked a lawyer in Kyoto to write down the points of the laws for the court nobles, such as Ritsuryo codes; then, eagerly studied those points every morning. Yasutoki started to consider the need for a 'legal code' that employed the sound commonsense in the warrior society called 'dori' as its criterion in order to serve as the basis of a more unified warrior society, thereby employing the precedents, and the opinions of the council members were similar to his own.

The council members, with Yasutoki as their core, devised and edited a draft, which, in August and September 1232, became the bakufu's new basic 51-chapter legal code. The legal code was simply called "Shikijo" or "Shikimoku" but was later called "Goseibai-shikimoku" meaning the criteria used in lawsuits. When the legal code was completed, Yasutoki wrote about the aim of Shikimoku as follows in two letters sent to his younger brother, Shigetoki HOJO, who was staying in Kyoto as a member of the Rokuhara-tandai.

Yasutoki wrote, 'This Shikimoku was produced as the criteria by which to abolish the unfairness that persons with power win and persons without power lose for nearly the same charges in many lawsuits, and to hold fair trials without any favoritism regardless of the positions of such persons.'
In and around Kyoto, some people may laugh at me, saying, "How can an eastern guy who doesn't know the fact dare say such a thing?" and some people may ask me back, saying, "There already are great Ritsuryo codes as the criteria for trials, aren't there?'"'
Nevertheless, it is a fact that in the provinces less than one in a thousand will know well about the Ritsuryo codes.'
Punishing people by applying Ritsuryo codes to them, even under such circumstances, is almost like setting traps for animals.'
Instead, this "shikimoku" is a law that has been created for the local warriors who cannot read Chinese characters, and this shikimoku is based on the very common reason called "dori" for the native residents to be able to live in peace by respecting honesty in people's minds and eliminating dishonesty, as followers who are loyal to their master and children who are dutiful to their parents.'

"Goseibai-shikimoku" was the first legal code for the warriors as well as an epoch-makingl one in the history of laws in Japan.

Yasutoki's later years

In 1235, when Iwashimizu-Hachimangu shrine and Kofuku-ji temples had a dispute and Enryaku-ji Temple at Mt. Hiei became involved in the dispute, which caused the occurrence of a large-scale temple dispute, Yasutoki suppressed the temples' power by invoking the power of state. The prevalence of monk soldiers, including those of the Kofuku-ji and Enryaku-ji temples, was a problem by which the Imperial Court had, since the period of rule by retired emperors, experienced difficulty in taking measures against them; however, a policy was employed by which the Bakufu could fully undertake the matter and firmly suppress the unreasonable demands of the monk soldiers through use of force.

Because Emperor Shijo had died in 1242, a prince of Emperor Juntoku, Chuseio, was to be enthroned as the new Emperor; however, Yasutoki strongly objected to this because the father, the Emperor Juntoku, had been a leader in the Jokyu War, and Yasutoki took an attitude that he would compel Chuseio to abdicate if his enthronement was realized; therefore, Yasutoki forcibly enthroned the new Emperor Gosaga against the complaints and opposition of the court nobles. Sadamichi TSUCHIMIKADO, who was a maternal uncle of the new Emperor, had married Yasutoki's younger sister, and therefore Yasutoki started to infiltrate the Imperial Court through Sadamichi.

Yasutoki, who had been sick with excessive fatigue since the occurrence of the dispute of imperial enthronement, became more sick due to dysentery accompaning the fatigue; subsequently, he became a Buddhist priest and had the priestly name Kana; he died one-and-a-half months later on July 21, 1242. Yasutoki died at the age of 60.

Tsunetoki HOJO, who was a grandson of Yasutoki and the first son of Tokiuji, who died young, took the position of fourth regent.

The ruling of the retired emperors Goshirakawa and Gotoba had been influential over the bakufu before the Jokyu War, and the bakufu then took the position of supporting the interests of the gokenin and opposing the old power; however, after the war the actual function of the ruling of the retired emperors was lost, and the bakufu was established as the authority to mediate the confrontation between the old power of the court nobles, temples, and shrines, and the power of stewards in charge of lords' manors and gokenin, being based on the balance of the two sides. Yasutoki succeeded to the great performance of his father Yoshitoki; he set the Hojo regent system on its way, and therefore Yasutoki was praised as a great regent.

Personality and anecdote

Yasutoki tends to be positively evaluated due to the fact that he had excellent personality and was trusted by both the warriors and court nobles. In the same period, people including the Imperial Advisor Tsunemitsu HIROHASHI adored Yasutoki, comparing him to the saints of ancient China.

Many stories have been handed down to represent his excellent personality, which supports the opinion that the politics of Yasutoki realized the ideal of the warriors living in those days in Kamakura, which was simplicity and fortitude. A book, Sasekishu, evaluated Yasutoki as follows: 'Yasutoki is a real wise man. He feels people's grief as his own, and he is a person who is like everybody's parent'; it described Yasutoki as one who, repeats 'reason, reason' in trials and is deeply moved even the point of tears, saying, 'There is nothing more interesting than reason,' when he listens to a reasonable episode.

Sasekishu contains the following story, for example:

There was a diligent young warrior in the Kyushu district. His father was compelled to sell his territory due to poverty. He managed to buy back the territory and returned it to his father. However, his father did not give him the territory but, for an unknown reason, gave it to his younger brother, and therefore a confrontation occurred between the brothers and a trial for this was held under the supervision of Yasutoki. Yasutoki, attending the trial, first thought that he should judge in favor of the elder brother. However, the younger brother had completed the formal procedure and was apparently in an advantageous position in light of the legal code 'Goseibai-shikimoku'. Though Yasutoki felt deep sympathy for the elder brother, Yasutoki had to decide on this case that the younger brother won. Because Yasutoki could not help but feel pity for the elder brother, he was kind to him and support him in his daily life. The elder brother married a woman and led a life of great poverty. One day, a piece of land that lacked a lord was found in Kyushu, and therefore Yasutoki gave this land to the elder brother.
The elder brother thanked Yasutoki, saying, 'Because I have made may wife feel miserable this couple of years, I would like to let her eat enough and take good care of her with the given territory.'
Yasutoki also gave him a horse for travel and a saddle for it, saying, 'When men have established their social positions, many a man will forget the wife with whom he lived in hard times. Your philosophy is truly great.'

In a confrontation occurred between a certain steward in charge of a lord's manor and a family in the territory, the steward said 'I have lost' immediately after listening to the opinion of the family.
Yasutoki was deeply moved and, with tears in his eyes, said, 'He is a good loser indeed. Even in what appears to be a lost cause, people usually make excuses. But you have admitted that you lost. Your attitude is truly great, and you are an honest person. I have supervised trials for a long time as the regent, but I have never experienced such pleasantness as this.'

When he served Yoriie MINAMOTO at the age of 19, Yasutoki gave advice to Yoriie, worrying that Yoriie was absorbed in a ball-kicking sport 'Kemari' and did not care for bakufu politics. There remains a story that, during the large-scale famine in the Kanki era, Yasutoki saved a large number of people by exempting farmers from taxes and supplying rice to farmers in severely affected areas. In this case Yasutoki prioritized simplicity, taking the people into account; he prohibited extravagance by avoiding having newly made tatami mats, costumes, eboshi hats, etc., stopped using lights at night, and canceled parties and sightseeing. In his later years Yasutoki even rode a horse in order to carry soil and stones in road construction.

Because Yasutoki honestly conducted his duties as above, he was popular among the court nobles and the general public; thus there is an anecdote that travelers who took a break under a willow tree planted by Yasutoki thanked him.

Nevertheless, people such as Tsunekane KONOE had a grudge against Yasutoki for having taken strict measures against the Imperial Court after the Jokyu War, and criticized Yasutoki unfairly by comparing Yasutoki to Kiyomori TAIRA in the late Heian period. The adverse impression held by some of the court nobles might have been reflected in general society, with some people talking about the curse of the Retired Emperor Gotoba after Yasutoki's death.

After the collapse of the Kamakura bakufu, the evaluation on the Hojo family was discussed mainly in regard to the logic of justification for the treatment of the Imperial Family by the Hojo family, and people including Takatoki HOJO were criticized as foolish ruler; however, Yasutoki tended to be praised for his benevolent administration. In the Northern and Southern Court period, Chikafusa KITABATAKE of the Yoshino Imperial Court positively evaluated Yasutoki in a book containing a record of the legitimate succession of the divine emperors entitled "Jinno-shotoki", and in the Edo period, even Hakuseki ARAI, who criticized the tyranny of the warriors, positively evaluated Yasutoki. Nevertheless, scholars of Japanese classical culture such as Norinaga MOTOORI and Raisanyo began to criticize Yasutoki in promoting the study of Japanese classical culture in the Edo period.

"Azuma-kagami", a book compiled in a later period by the Hojo family of the Kamakura bakufu, included many heroic tales concerning Yasutoki; however, the intentions are obvious in some of these tales, which seem to attribute the episodes of other people (see Public Hornoring of Tokuso family in "Azuma-kagami").


* Dates are according to the old calendar. Yasutoki celebrated his coming of age on March 3, 1194.

Appointed an assistant chief for repairs on October 23, 1211.

Appointed an assistant manager of women working in the Imperial Palace on April 23, 1216. Ranked at Jugoinoge on February 14, 1217. Remained in the position of assistant manager of women.

Transferred to the governor of Sanuki Province in 1218.

Promoted to Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade on January 29, 1219. Yasutoki was ordered to remain in the position of governor of Sanuki Province on February 15, but was relegated to the governor of Suruga Province and was transferred to the post of governor of Musashi Province on December 28.

On July 14, 1221, Yasutoki was appointed as the manager of the northern branch of the Rokuhara-tandai troops of the bakufu.

On July 12, 1224, Yasutoki resigned from his position in the Rokuhara-tandai. On July 23, Yasutoki became the regent.

On May 9, 1232, Yasutoki was promoted to Senior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade. Yasutoki remained as the governor of Musashi Province.

On April 18, 1236, Yasutoki was ranked at Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade. Yasutoki remained as the governor of Musashi Province. On January 13, 1237, Yasutoki additionally took the position of an official ranked temporarily at Fifth Rank relevant to the Sakyo area called 'Sakyo-gon-no-daibu'.

On May 10, 1238, Yasutoki was promoted to Junior Fourth Rank, Upper Rank. He retained the positions of Sakyo-gontaifu and governor of Musashi Province. On May 28, Yasutoki resigned as the governor of Musashi Province. On January 20, 1239, he resigned from the position of Sakyo-gontaifu.

On October 14, 1239, Yasutoki was promoted to Senior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade.

On June 15, 1242, he became a Buddhist priest. On July 21, Yasutoki died. Died at the age of 60. Yasutoki's Buddhist name was Kana of Joraku-ji Temple. Yasutoki's grave is at Joraku-ji Temple in Mt. Kurifune, in Ofuna, Kamakura City.

[Original Japanese]