Kamakura shogunate

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The Kamakura shogunate (Japanese: 鎌倉幕府, Kamakura bakufu) was a military dictatorship in Japan headed by the shoguns from 1185 (or 1192, when it was formally recognized) to 1333. It was based in Kamakura. The Kamakura period draws its name from the capital of the shogunate. From 1203 onwards, the family of the first Shogun Yoritomo's wife, the Hōjō clan, effectively had total control over the nation with the title Shikken (Regent), setting up a Hojo family court that discussed and made most of the significant decisions.




Before the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate, civil power in Japan was primarily held by the ruling emperors and their regents, typically appointed from the ranks of the imperial court and the aristocratic clans that vied there. Military affairs were handled under the auspices of the civil government. However, after defeating the Taira clan in the Gempei War, Minamoto no Yoritomo seized certain powers from the aristocracy in 1185 and was given the title of shogun in 1192. The system of government he established became formalized as the shogunate.

The Hōjō Regency

After Yoritomo's death, Hōjō Tokimasa, the clan chief of Yoritomo's widow, Hōjō Masako, and former guardian of Yoritomo, claimed the title of regent (Shikken) to Yoritomo's son Minamoto no Yoriie, eventually making that claim hereditary to the Hōjō clan. The Minamoto remained the titular shoguns, with the Hōjō holding the real power.

With the Regency, what was already an unusual situation became even more anomalous when the Hōjō usurped power from those who had usurped it from the Emperor in the first place. The new regime nonetheless proved to be stable enough to last a total of 135 years, 9 shoguns and 16 regents[1].

With Sanetomo's death in 1219, his mother Hōjō Masako became the Shogunate's real center of power[1]. As long as she was alive, regents and shoguns would come and go, while she stayed at the helm. Since the Hōjō family didn't have the rank to nominate a shogun from among its members, Masako had to find a convenient puppet[2]. The problem was solved choosing Kujo Yoritsune, a distant relation of the Minamoto, who would be the fourth shogun and figurehead, while Hōjō Yoshitoki would take care of day-to-day business[2]. However powerless, future shoguns would always be chosen from either Fujiwara or imperial lineage to keep the bloodline pure[2] and give legitimacy to the rule. This succession proceeded for more than a century[2].

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