Cloistered rule

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The Insei system (院政), or cloistered rule, was a specific form of government in Japan, in which the Emperor abdicated, but kept exerting power and influence. Retired emperors are called Daijō Tennō or Jōkō. Choosing to enter a buddhist monastic community, a retired emperor would become a Daijō Hōō (太上法皇) or cloistered emperor.

There were Daijō Tennō and Daijō Hōō before and after the Heian period, but the Insei system usually refers to the governing system put in place by Emperor Shirakawa in 1086 during the Heian period.


Background of the Insei system

The ritsuryo code provided for abdicated emperors to exert some kind of powers. There are indeed early examples of abdicating emperors, such as Empress Jito, Emperor Shōmu or Emperor Uda in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. Retired Emperor Uda was probably one of the first examples of the insei system, his successor Emperor Daigo being often sick.

At the end of the 10th century, the Hokke Family of the Fujiwara clan held political power in Japan through the Sessho and Kampaku regency system, and the emperor was more of a figurehead.

In 1068, Emperor Go-Sanjo was the first Emperor in almost two centuries not being of Hokke Family descent. After reaching the throne, he exerted personal power while the Hokke family was dealing with internal conflicts of interests between Fujiwara no Yorimichi and his brother Fujiwara no Norimichi. He was in position to edict several laws and regulations (most notably the Enkyū Shōen Regulation Decree) during his rule, thus weakening the regency. Sick, he abdicated in 1072 in favor of Emperor Shirakawa, and died the following year. Although not having the time to exert rule by himself after his retirement, he had weakened the regency and had paved the way for the apparition of the cloistered rule.

In 1086, Emperor Shirakawa in his turn, abdicated in favor of his son, Emperor Horikawa, who was 4 at the time. The objective of the Emperor may have been to protect his young son against his own younger brother, who was a serious pretendent to the throne, but strongly exerting his personal power after his retirement he set up in effect the Insei system and definitively weakened the regency.

The Insei system

The retired emperor set up the In no Cho (院庁), a Department under his direct control, edicting his orders through Inzen (院宣) and Innocho Kudashi Bumi (院庁下文). Cloistered emperors also had their own army, the Hokumen no Bushi (北面の武士). The creation of this army led to the rise in power of the Taira clan.

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