Shogun (将軍)

Shogun is a job grade and title given to the commander of a relatively large armed force and is also the rank of a military clique leader. As title, it is also called Shogun-go (title of General). It has been the title of the military commander in the Orient since ancient times. In diplomatic situations and inside the armed forces, the commander is addressed as "Kakka" (Your Excellency).

Origin of the word

The word "shogun" originated in China and meant, as the characters represent, "to lead an army," which was adopted as official position or title of the commander leading the armed forces. Use of the term dates back as early as the Chunqui period in China. Later, it came into use as the rank of an army commander to replace the word Sima (Grand Marshal?). In the Han Dynasty, the position of shogun was temporary and given to officials on an ad hoc basis.

Shogun in armed forces in modern times and later

In the modern armed forces to date, the titles of high-ranking military officers in the army, navy, and marine forces are Junsho (Brigadier General), Shosho (Major General), Chujo (Lieutenant General) and Taisho (General) (based on ranks in the US armed forces). Above these ranks is the General of the Army (General of the Army in the case of the US). However, these top military officers from Brigadier General to General and the General of the Army are addressed and referred to as "Generals." The word "Shogun" is used as the Japanese translation of "General" is used to address these military officers. Specifically, a senior military officer in any of these ranks named XXXX will be described as General XXXX. In the case of Douglas MacArthur, for example, he was officially General of the Army, but would often be called "Gensui" in Japanese. In English, he is addressed as General MacArthur, a title that is translated as "shogun" in Japanese. (However, this case applies to the US armed forces only, and the title Marshal is used to refer to "Gensui" in European nations. In these countries, senior officers from General to Brigadier General are addressed as "General," but "Marshal" is used separately as a title for the "Gensui" only.

In Japan, all ranks and titles in other countries that correspond to "General" are called "Shogun." For further details, refer to the List of Titles by Military Rank.

In the navy, the top officer is called Admiral, which is translated into Japanese as "Teitoku," but there are cases where the title "Shogun" is used to address senior naval officers, because the same rank titles used in the army, such as Junsho, Shosho, Chujo, and Taisho, apply in the navy. An example is Heihachiro TOGO, who should be addressed as "Admiral Togo" but is at times described as "General Togo."

Shogun in the Japanese medieval period

In Japan, the title has been in used since the ages described in the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan). The first mention may be the Shido-Shogun (Generals Dispatched to the Four Circuits) who served Emperor Sujin. In the history of East Asia, there is record of Waobu (the last king of ancient Japan) being appointed King and Grand General of Japan by China. It must be noted here that the native Japanese reading for 将軍 is "ikusa-no-kami."

In the ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code), the role of the Shogun is defined in Article 24 of the Gunboryo (the Statute on Military Defense). According to the article, an army of more than 10,000 requires a shogun and two vice-shoguns as commanders. Also, a Daishogun (commander-in-chief) is to be appointed for every three armies. However, actual appointments were not based on the size of the army, and the appointment of a number of shoguns under the Daishogun was never practiced. The rank of Shogun was temporary in function as a general rule and was created only on four occasions, namely, in campaigns against the Ezo in the east and against the Hayato in southwest Japan, service to protect the Emperor during his travels and for the entertainment of foreign guests and representatives of the Ezo and Hayato coming to the capital. Each general carried different title descriptions, and none of them were known only as "general." Examples are Mutsu chinto shogun (generalissimo who subdues the barbarians of Mutsu), Seiechigo ezo shogun (Great general who subdues the barbarians of Echigo and Ezo), Seiteki shogun (Great general who subdues the barbarians of Dewa and Echigo), Seito shogun (Great general who subdues the eastern barbarians) and Seii shogun (Great general who subdues the barbarians) in the anti-Ezo war, Tohizoku shogun and Seihayato shogun in the campaigns against Hayato and, in the area of Imperial escorts and diplomatic functions, Sashogun (Commander of the left), Ushogun (Commander of the right), Gozenkihei shogun (Imperial commander of the front cavalry), Gogkihei shogun (Imperial commander of the rear cavalry) and Kihei daishogun (Imperial commander in chief of the cavalry). The only permanent rank was Commander-in-Chief of Defense (later Chinju-fu shogun or Commander-in-Chief of Defense of the North) in charge of defense against the Ezo.

Under the Kamakura bakufu, the only shogun title was Seii Taishogun (Barbarian Subduing Generalissimo), making shogun the abbreviated name for this rank. With shogunate rule gaining stability, the function of the Chinju-fu shogun was in effect absorbed into the authority of the Seii taishogun, which continued to the downfall of the Kamakura bakufu.

The Chinju-fu shogun title was restored during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts. Chikafusa KITABATAKE of the Southern Court requested on the appointment of his son Akiie KITABATAKE as Mutsu no kami and Chinju-fu shogun that a shogun ranking higher than Sanmi (Third Rank) be granted to Chinju daishogun. It has been recorded that Akiie became Chinju daishogun after this.

Shogun in modern Japanese history

In the period after the Muromachi bakufu to the Edo bakufu, shogun was regarded synonymous with Seii taishogun because the Seii taishogun was the only shogun title. However, it was not strictly a title for a military commander, but reflected a position of political power similar to the Prime Minister of today. For this reason, a sense of discrepancy grew from calling the top leader a shogun. This led to the use of titles such as Kubo-sama, Gosho-sama and Uesama (used variably depending on the period of history) when referring to the ruler. As a diplomatic title, there are cases of the ruler being called the King of Japan or Tycoon of Japan. A retired ruler is called Ogosho.

However, the fifteenth shogun Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA of the Edo bakufu implemented Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor) in 1867. Later, the Meiji government abolished the title of Seii taishogun and the shogunate system. For this reason, the Tokugawa family was the last to hold the title of shogun.

Shogun borrowed by Western languages point exclusively to Seii taishogun of Japan. Also, "Shogun" is a novel by James Clavell, on which a film and a TV drama series have been produced.

Shogun in premodern China

In the age of the Han Dynasty, the shogun was a rank granted to the military commander by the Emperor when such a leader was necessary, and the topmost commander-in-chief was regarded equivalent to the San Gong (Three Dukes). Under the commander-in chief are the general of the cavalry, general of the guards, and general of the cavalry and chariots, who were in turn served by Jo-shogun (grand general), general of the hidden waves and others who served on temporary basis. Subsequent wars led to increase in the number of shogun titles, and there were 125 titles for twelve organizations when Sho En (Xiao Yan) of Liang (Southern Court) of the Southern Dynasty systematized the titles. In the Tang Dynasty, there were shogun titles for bureacratic rank and also for Imperial busankan rank. In the Northern Sung Dynasty, only the title of busankan remained, but later disappeared in the Shenzong Dynasty, when it was renamed taifu and ro. The title was revived and conferred to the busankan rank during the Yuan Dynasty and also as title for the military commander in chief and the subordinate commanders in the Ming Dynasty that followed. In the Qing Dynasty, the title of Daishogun was used as a temporary rank, but was scrapped once again for use as a permanent title referring to the top military commander, remaining as title used for military officers of vice shogun or lower or commander of the eight armies serving in defense against external attacks.

Shogun as title of respect for sovereigns

On the international level, there are instances of the title of shogun being adopted deliberately as a rank by the top commander or the top political leader in a regime that emerged from military rule or when following a revolution and circulated among the people to gain recognition. However, the title in some cases had been used as part of a strategy to enhance the image of the person in power in a nation that is generally perceived to be a dictatorship.

There are also a number of cases in which a top military officer representing the forces occupying a defeated nation assumes the office of its top political leader, such as General Douglas MacArthur of the General Headquarters, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan after the end of World War II.

Also, Manuel Noriega of Panama, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Kim Il Song and son Kim Jong Il of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were called "shogun."

In the case of Kim Jong Il, his title of shogun is accompanied by "nim," which is used in DPRK and the Republic of Korea as address to show deference to a higher-ranking person, much in the same way "sama" is used in Japanese. For this reason, the term is commonly used in the two countries after titles such as company president, department chief, teacher, etc. The "nim" after the shogun title for Kim Jong Il therefore is used as an application of this custom and is not used exclusively for the leader.


A term used to describe meteorological phenomena. Example is "fuyu-shogun," or very strong cold front in winter.

Shogun is the name in the United Kingdom for Mitsubishi Pajero, an off-road utility vehicle manufactured by Mitsubishi Motors.

Fictional character Akuma Shogun appears in the manga series "Kinniku-man" and "Kinniku-man II" by Yudetamago.

The name is used by a pachinko parlor operator headquartered in Tokyo. The name is used by the Shogun Group (Justice).

In "Twentieth Century Boys," Occho was known as Shogun in Thailand.

The name was used for a carp-shaped robot that appeared in the 2007 TV drama Karei naru ichizoku (The Grand Family).

Shogun was the name of a brand of fragrance produced by Alain Delon.

It is also a nickname for Mauricio Rua. He is a martial arts expert nicknamed the "Stomping Shogun."

It is the name of a kitty appearing in Stratos Four.

It is a nickname for Michel François Platini, a French soccer player.

The name was used as the name for the fourth album from Trivium. It is "Shogun."

[Original Japanese]