Seii Taishogun (征夷大将軍)

Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") was one of the Shogun positions in Japan's Ryoge no kan (class outside of the Ritsuryo system). It was abolished in the Meiji Restoration.


It was one of the names given to the general dispatched to the eastern part of the country from the Nara period to the Heian period. Also abbreviated to Shogun, Kubo, Taiju, Taijuko, Gosho, etc. Although there were no posts called Seiju Taishogun or Seiban Taishogun, there were the similar posts of Seiteki Daishogun and Seisei Taishogun. From the Kamakura period until the Edo period, it was the head of the Shogunate, a position held by the leader of the samurai families, and became hereditary to his descendants. Although he was formally a retainer appointed by imperial edict, he was in fact the ruler of Japan who even held sway over the Imperial Court, and typically was treated as the king by outsiders.

Nara/Heian Periods

'Seii' means 'to conquer the barbarians.'
The Seii Taishogun was a general appointed for conquering 'barbarians,' and led an army in an advance from the Pacific Ocean side. A general who led an army's advance to the Japan Sea side was called Seiteki Daishogun, and one who led an army's advance into Kyushu was called Seisei Taishogun.
It is thought that this was an adaptation of the Sinocentrism of 'Shii' (four barbarians), 'toi, seiju, namban and hokuteki.'

In fact, at first it was called 'Seii' but from Hoki onward it became 'Seito,' and was again called 'Seii' from 793 on. The first 'Seii Shogun' was appointed on September 29, 720, and was Tajihi Agatamori; the first 'Seito Taishogun' was appointed on December 7, 788, and was KI no Kosami. The title of Shogun is not uniform in the records, with FUJIWARA no Umakai, for example, being 'Jisetsu Taishogun' at the time of his appointment, and 'Seii Jisetsu Taishi' at the time of his return to the Capital.

On July 13, 791, OTOMO no Otomaro was appointed Seito Taishi. On February 17, 793, Seitoshi was changed to Seiishi. 'Shi' was also called 'Shogun,' and one school of thought says this is the first appearance of a Seii Taishogun, but the issue gets more complicated.

Below OTOMO no Otomaro was the Seito Fukushi/Seii Fukushi, SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro, who was appointed Seii Taishogun on November 5, 797. Tamuramaro brought Aterui, of the Ezo of Isawa, who had fought stubbornly until then, back to the capital, thereby conquering that land. Practically speaking, Tamuramaro can be seen as the first Seii Taishogun.

Later, on April 17 of 811, during a battle with the Ezo, FUNYA no Watamaro was appointed Seii Shogun, without the 'tai,' and on December 11 of that year reported the end of the conquest of the Ezo, and MONONOBE no Taritsugu, who had been Fukushogun, rose to Chinju Shogun (without the 'fu'), but on November 17, 814, became again Seii Shogun without the 'tai.'

In fact, below the Seii Taishogun were the posts of Seii Fukushogun, Seii Gungen, Seii Gunso, etc.

Kamakura Period

At first MINAMOTO no Yoritomo was nothing but the leader of the Kanto Bushidan (Kamakura-dono), and did not hold a position under the Ritsuryo system. That is to say that at first he was only the head of a provincial insurrection, the same as TAIRA no Masakado. That same Yoritomo's plan for a new government used as models the three governments of the Taira family, KISO Yoshinaka, and the provincial government of the Oshu Fujiwara clan, and it is thought that the form of the Kamakura government was molded out of comparative consideration of these.

Under the administration led by the Taira family, given that the position of court noble was already very high at the time, court nobles reached the height of their powers when the Taira family, part of the Taira clan, became court nobles. In contrast to that, Yoritomo worked toward elevating the status of warriors themselves. With respect to the Imperial Court, they sought a suitable position in order to establish the independent sovereignty of the warriors.

Yoshinaka KISO, who advanced into the central area and Kyoto, took the position called 'Seii Taishogun,' which had previously existed. The position of Seii Taishogun had a hint of a mission to punish the eastern forces, and Yoshinaka's hidden intent to oppose Yoritomo has been surmised from that, but the Yoshinaka government was over very shortly (in fact, in recent years the story that says Yoshinaka was not 'Seii Taishogun' but 'Seito Taishogun' is gaining ground.
It is the later compilations such as "Azuma Kagami" and "Hyakurensho" that give him the title 'Seii Taishogun,' while "Gyokuyo" and "Sankaikoryonukigakiyo" (excerpts from "Sankaiki"), historical documents that were written at the time these events took place, have his title as 'Seito Taishogun.'
Furthermore, it is thought that, as a post that would conquer Yoritomo of Bando, 'Seito Taishogun,' a post previously taken by FUJIWARA no Tadabumi to conquer TAIRA no Masakado of Bando, was better than 'Seii Taishogun,' which conquered the Ezo of Ou.

The Oshu Fujiwara clan ruled the northeast region at that time, as it was an area to which the Imperial Court's rule did not extend.
The Oshu Fujiwara clan secured the position of 'Chinjufu Shogun' and called their own residence 'Yanagi no Gosho' or 'Ryuei.'
Ryuei is another name for the Shogunate. The Chinjufu Shogun was granted regional autonomy in the form of military rule within Mutsu Province and Dewa Province, and as this position was formally one of an officer commanding the standing army on the border (in the case of the Seii Taishogun, it was commanding a temporary expeditionary force), it was not necessary for the holder of this title to live in Kyoto, which was very convenient for a regional leader. This seems to have been the Yoritomo government in microcosm.

In 1190 Yoritomo was appointed to Ukone no Daisho (Udaisho) and had his own organs of household government approved as government offices. However, the Konoe Daisho was required, by the nature of that position, to live in Kyoto, and was not suited to moving toward independence in Kanto. Then Yoritomo resigned from Udaisho, and held onto those privileges as a former Udaisho. It is thought that the notion of using the title of 'former Udaisho' for heads of state in the Kamakura government was not unheard of. However, although the formal position of the post of Udaisho was high, compared to the rival KISO Yoshinaka, who was Seii Taishogun (or Seito Taishogun), as it was an officer of the central imperial guards, it was not a position for actively suppressing regional disturbances with military force.
Also, compared to the Oshu Fujiwara clan's Chinjufu Shogun, it lacked the important, active element of 'warrior's self-rule.'

What Yoritomo turned his attention to then was the office of 'Seii Taishogun.'
As military rule (regional sovereignty), it was the same as the Chinjufu Shogun. However, given that the goal of this position was to lead the Bando soldiers (in this case, warriors from eastern Japan) to victory over the Ezo of Ou (in this case, the Oshu Fujiwara clan), it was traditionally a post superior to that of Chinjufu Shogun.

To put it another way, the Seii Taishogun was the one who placed a private position called Kamakura-dono to rule as a leader of the warriors of eastern Japan, Shugo and Jito throughout the country, was recognized as Udaisho with the authority to exercise military police powers, had family organs of clan governance treated the same as official government offices, and bundled it all together and officially secured it.

However, there is reason to believe that the post of Seii Taishogun was deemed necessary especially in the Oshu War to defeat the Oshu Fujiwara clan, and when he was in fact appointed in 1192 it had already lost its importance to Yoritomo. Yoritomo was not in fact very attached to the Seii Taishogun post, and indicated his intent to resign 2 years later in 1194. Also, MINAMOTO no Yoriie was his heir and right away was appointed to Sakone no Chujo, and then Saemon no Kami, and was proclaimed Seii Taishogun 3 years later. Then at the time of the HIKI Yoshikazu Incident, the succession of the positions of Sotsuibushi and Sojito were in question, and the Shogun posts were not involved. Consequently, at this stage the Shogun post was not an absolute requirement for leadership of the warrior families, and may not have been seen as that important. On the other hand, the post of Shogun was proclaimed first when it came to succeeding MINAMOTO no Sanetomo.

When the Minamoto clan's Shoguns ended after the third one, Shoguns from regent families or royal Shoguns were installed as puppets and the regent Hojo clan held the real power.

Later Samurai Society

From the Kamakura period on, after MINAMOTO no Yoritomo took the position of Seii Taishogun and started the Shogunate, the warrior families came to control Japanese politics. Along with that Seii Taishogun was the highest authority of the warrior families and Japan's substantive sovereign. Although it was originally a post bestowed by the Imperial Court, actual appointments, except for a time during the New Kemmu Government, were at the request of the person whose influence placed him at the pinnacle of samurai society. Formally speaking, among the nobles it was recognized that the Court was the true government and the Shogunate was a temporary government in the provinces. However, among warrior families that was not the case.

In the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, Akiie KITABATAKE of the Southern Court, as Chinjufu Shogun, was allowed to be called Chinjufu Taishogun, but it is thought that this was done to put it on a level with and oppose the Seii Taishogun.

Historical Traditions
It was customarily accepted by the warrior families that 'the families that could rise to Shogun, leader of the samurai, were limited to those extending from the Seiwa Genji.'
Because the Oda family claimed a connection with the Taira family, Nobunaga ODA was not able to become 'Seii Taishogun'; and when Ieyasu TOKUGAWA was appointed 'Seii Taishogun,' he falsified a connection to the Seiwa Minamoto clan; and there are other such tales. However, Nobunaga ODA in fact received an imperial recommendation for 'appointment to Seii Taishogun,' so realistically there was no basis for the idea that one could not be Shogun if he was not from the Minamoto clan (it seems that the reason Ieyasu claimed Minamoto heritage was not only to become Shogun, but that by becoming the Minamoto clan chief and entering the post of Shogun, he would oppose Hideyoshi's warrior Kampaku system and aimed to gain authority to rule over both the warriors and the nobles). Furthermore, even after Yoritomo, there are examples of regent Shogun and imperial Shogun, so it was not in fact limited to the Seiwa Minamoto clan. All this can be interpreted to mean that someone from the Minamoto or Taira clans, or even from the noble Fujiwara clan, could become Seii Taishogun.

A recently popular explanation on the subject is that, since 'Seii Taishogun' was originally a post for leading soldiers of eastern Japan in conquest over the Ezo, the condition for assuming office was that he had to be 'someone who controls eastern Japan in some form.'
There are various opinions as to whether or not Nobunaga ODA wanted to be Seii Taishogun, but it is not possible to know for sure. In fact, there is some speculation that what became a nominal qualification for the imperial recommendation for appointment to Seii Taishogun was that Nobunaga wiped out the Takeda clan, who were eastern Japan Daimyo, and effectively made the Hojo clan of Kanto subservient. Also, there are those who say that Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI was not able to become Seii Taishogun because he lost to Ieyasu TOKUGAWA in the battles of Komaki and Nagakute. However, Hideyoshi was appointed to Kampaku, a higher ranking position than Seii Taishogun. For that reason, it is possible to speculate that Hideyoshi was not interested in the Shogun post, and wanted not a simple samurai government, but a new government that would subsumed the nobles.

On the other hand, there was previously, among the nobles, a tendency to view a person's pedigree - whether Minamoto or Taira clan - as 'Taira who are close to the nobles' or 'the warrior Minamoto clan who are difficult to control.'
Also stemming from this came the idea that the Minamoto and Taira clans, or the Minamoto and Taira families, alternately take control of political power in Japan (Gempei kotai shiso).

In fact, although there is an apocryphal tale that TAIRA no Tomomori and Mitsuhide AKECHI were appointed to Seii Taishogun, there is no historical evidence to indicate so.

Successive Seii Taishoguns

Similar Shogun Positions

Cavalry Taishogun

Seito Shogun

Seisei Shogun (Seisei Taishogun)

Chinjufu Shogun

Seito Taishogun




[Original Japanese]