Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Persons of Ancient Japan

Minamoto Yoritomo(1147-1199): Japanese warrior and founder of the shogunate—a feudal form of government that lasted nearly 700 years. Born into the Minamoto family, a powerful military clan of imperial descent, Yoritomo was exiled as a youth after an abortive rebellion in 1160 against the rival Taira family in which his father died. He married into the family of one of his jailers, the Hojo clan, who later became shoguns after his death. In 1180 he joined another Minamoto rebellion and established headquarters at Kamakura. His cousin Yoshinaka drove the Taira out of the capital Kyoto in 1183, but when his forces caused unrest in the capitalYorimoto crushed him with the help of his brilliant half-brother Minamoto Yoshitsune. Yoritomo now set up an independent government at Kamakura to control his samurai followers, which was duly recognized by the imperial court. In 1185 Minamoto forces under Yoshitsune smashed the Taira in the naval battle of Dannoura. Jealous of his half-brother, Yoritomo then began hounding him, using imperial sanction to appoint constables and stewards throughout Japan to seek out the fugitive. Yoshitsune was forced into suicide in 1189, and these new officials became the limbs of Yoritomo's national government. Keeping his base in Kamakura, Yoritomo declined to usurp the throne, but took for himself in 1192 the ancient title of shogun ("generalissimo"), giving him the perpetual right to act independently against any rebel. The Minamoto clan held power only until 1219, when the line died out and was replaced by the Hojo, but Yoritomo's shogunate set the pattern for governmental structure in Japan until the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Ashikaga (family): Japanese family that occupied the office of shogun from 1338 to 1573, known as the Muromachi period because the shogun's palace was in the Muromachi district of Kyoto. The Ashikaga were descended from the Minamoto family which established Japan's first shogunate in 1185. The line's founder, Ashikaga Takauji, rebelled in 1333 against the last Hojo shogun in favour of Emperor Go-Daigo. Following a power struggle under Go-Daigo's new regime he rebelled again, set up a rival emperor from the alternative northern branch of the imperial family at Kyoto in 1336, and had himself appointed shogun. Civil war continued until 1392, when one of Go-Daigo's successors renounced his claim to the throne. The Ashikaga then tried to reunify the country, but were unable ever to fully control the daimyo. Yoshimitsu (reigned 1369-1395) was the most effective Ashikaga shogun, playing off the leading daimyo, but under Yoshinori (reigned 1429-1441), the Ashikaga lost control of the eastern Kanto region. Ashikaga Yoshimasa (reigned 1449-1474) was unable to stop the devastating Onin War (1467-1477) between the great daimyo, and after he abdicated in 1474 to devote himself to the arts, a succession dispute hastened the family's decline. The Ashikaga shoguns became puppets of the contending daimyo in the bitter fighting of the 16th century, the so-called Epoch of Warring States. The Ashikaga shogunate was finally brought down by the warlord Oda Nobunaga, who first installed then (1573) toppled the last Ashikaga shogun, Yoshiaki (reigned 1568-1588). Despite their uneven political record, the Ashikaga shoguns, especially Yoshimitsu and Yoshinori, were great patrons of the arts, responsible for the brilliant Muromachi culture and for such masterpieces as Kyoto's Golden Pavilion.

Hojo: Japanese family of Taira descent that ruled Japan as hereditary regents (shikken) from 1199 to 1333, a period known as the Kamakura Shogunate from the shogunal base at Kamakura. The Hojo gained prominence under the first shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo, who married into the family. His father-in-law, Hojo Tokimasa, became the regent for Yoritomo's young heir in 1199. By 1219, when the main Minamoto line was cut short by assassination, the Hojo were entrenched in power, and soon set up the legal and institutional structure of shogunal rule. In Japanese fashion, however, they left intact the puppet shogunate, which in turn pulled the strings of a puppet emperor. The clan ruled ably until the late 13th century, leading national resistance to the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281, but they later tended to become inept and dissolute. The last Hojo regent killed himself in 1333 during the restoration led by Emperor Go-Daigo which led to its replacement by the Ashikaga shogunate.

Back to Notes on Japan