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Japan and their Shoguns

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The Shogun used to be the dictator of Japan from 1185 to 1868. They had a huge amount of power over the Japanese territories, and reaching the position as the next Shogun of Japan was a often fought for and very bloody struggle.


The Beginning


osaka castle japanBefore the Shoguns ruled all over Japan, Japan gave a similar title to military leaders that led some important campaigns against “barbarians”, that did not want to live under the rule of the Kyoto court in those times. Later, the political climate in Japan changed, because the so called “Daimyos” rose to gain more and more power. Those Daimyos were lords over a big territory in Japan. When those powerful Daimyos became too powerful, they often got into internal wars to secure more land – or more power over Japan. In 1160, when two powerful Daimyos wanted to control all of Japan, the “Tiara” gained power until 1185, where they then were defeated in battle. The winners of this battle and war were the Minamoto – and they established the first Shogunate in Japan, which lasted until 1333. A big reason for the downfall of the Kamakura Shogunate was the then Emperor Go-Daigo, who tried to restore the imperial rule in 1331. Since the establishment of the Shogunate, the power of the emperor was very limited, and this was the first big attempt to regain power. While the attempt eventually failed, it led to the downfall of the first Shogunate in 1333.


Ashikaga Shogunate


Between 1336 and 1573, the Ashikaga ruled over Japan. While the Shogunate usually was a very dictating and strong central power, the Ashikaga had a looser rule over Japan, and Daimyos got more powerful all over Japan. In fact, since the first Shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate disliked the emperor so much that he put another ruler on his place, between 1336 and 1392 there were two emperors of Japan – the southern court, ruled by the ex-emperor, and the northern court, ruled by the Ashikaga.


The Ashikaga had a great hand with diplomacy. They were able to establish good relations between Japan and Korea, as well as between Japan and the Ming Dynasty, that ruled in China during that time. While those were great accomplishments, the Ashikaga had one problem: In Japan, they did not rule over a huge amount of land – other Daimyos were far more powerful and had way more wealth and influence.


Because the Ashikaga did not manage to hold enough power over the other Daimyos, Japan fell into a war into 1467 – it escalated into a nation-wide war between many different factions who all wanted to gain control over the Shogunate. While nominally the Ashikaga still held power, their rule basically ended at the start of the war in 1467 – officially only when Oda Nobunaga overthrew Ashikaga Yoshiaki in 1573.


Tokugawa shogunate


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Between 1573 and 1600, there was no Shogun in Japan, since Oda Nobunaga and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi were no formal Shoguns but held most of the power in the country. Hideyoshi was able to gain control over all of Japans territories and is often regarded as the most powerful Japanese leader in the Shogun period, although not being a Shogun himself. After attacking Korea and being counterattacked by Ming China, Hideyoshi could not reach his goal of defeating the Chinese. He died in 1598, and his successor was only 5 years old – that led to another war between powerful Daimyos that wanted to control the Shogunate.  In 1600, after the Battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu gained power, which marked the start of the Tokugawa shogunate. During this time, there still was the emperor of Japan, although he was basically powerless. That lasted until 1862, in which a marriage between the Shogun and the family of the emperor led to increasing power for him. With this increasing power and also an increasing following for the emperor, the two pro-imperialist and pro-shogunate forces fought for a last time – resulting in the pro-imperialist forces to be able to re-establish the emperor as ruler of Japan and starting the Empire of Japan.


This period led to a huge diversity in Japanese culture, religion and art – many of which still is present in todays Japan! The best way to learn more about all of it is by visiting Japan yourself – why not with an internship in Osaka or Tokyo?

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