Kamakura Period - Kamakura Shogunate: A Brief Overview

Do you know the Kamakura Period or Kamakura Shogunate? In this article we will talk about what this period in Japan was like, who created it, how long it lasted, conflicts that took place during this era and much more.

In Japanese this period is called Kamakura Bakufu [鎌倉幕府] and was officially recognized in 1192, although the period began in 1185.

Kamakura period - kamakura shogunate

What was the Kamakura period?

The Kamakura period was Japan's first feudal military regime. This period became well known for the emergence of the samurai and the establishment of the feudalism in japan.

The Kamakura era, or Kamakura Shogunate, began in 1185 and was so named as the administrative seat of Japan was transferred to Kamakura, a village on the eastern coast of Japan.

This period began when Minamito Yoritomo was appointed shogun (military dictator) by the emperor. The first shogunate became known as the Kamakura Bakufu.

The shogun came to have the power to choose his own vassals for administrators and protectors of the provinces. The shogunate was a form of government based on the samurai rules of conduct.

It was the time when Boshidô began to be formed, which was the samurai code of ethics. The samurai became guardians of this regime, exercising civil, military and protective functions.

Kamakura period - kamakura shogunate

The domain of the Hojo clan

After Minamoto's death and that of his sons, the Minamoto clan had no more heirs for the title of shogun, which was passed hereditarily. So, Hojo Masako, Minamoto's widow, decided to adopt a child and give him the title of shogun. This way, the Hojo clan remained in power for several decades.

In 1232, Hojo Yasutiki proclaimed the first samuraic legislation, which had 51 articles. This legislation became known as Goseibai Shikimoku, and was Japan's first code of feudal law.

During this period, Japan experienced a certain prosperity, with economic growth and population, and with the emergence of new agricultural techniques.

Buddhism has also enjoyed a considerable resurgence and popularity. Currently, the main schools of Buddhism in Japan are descendants of the schools that emerged during the Kamakura period.

Kamakura period - kamakura shogunate

The War against the Mongols

The Kamakura period was a period marked by several wars and conflicts between clans and also against other peoples. One of the most interesting conflicts of this time was between the Japanese and the Mongols.

In 1274, kublai kan, king of Mongolia and grandson of one of the greatest conquerors and military strategist in the world, decided to expand his domains also conquering Japan, because he believed that Japan was a country rich in gold and other minerals. Then Kublai sent an army of 40,000 men to Hakata Bay.

Although the samurai fought valiantly to protect their territory, the numerical superiority of the Mongols was very great. So the samurai lost the battle right? Not really.

During a night of rest for the Mongols in their boats, a powerful hurricane sank several boats and forced the army to retreat. The samurai then took the opportunity to drive the Mongols out for good.

But the Mongols did not give up on conquering Japan, and in 1281 King Kublai kan sent another army, this time with more than 140,000 soldiers, which landed at the same place the other army landed, on the coast of Hakata.

For two months the samurai tried to defend their land when again, miraculously, a typhoon swept the coast of Kyushu, forcing the Mongol ships to retreat again.

Japan then twice defeated an enemy far superior to them thanks to its typhoons that became known as Kamikaze, which means divine wind, as the Japanese came to believe they were protected by the gods. These victories against the Mongols contributed to the emergence of a strong sense of nationalism in the japanese.

Despite these impressive victories, the Japanese shogunate was unable to properly reward the warriors, as the defense spending of the country were very high, and thus the samurai lost confidence in the Kamakura shogunate.

Kamakura period - kamakura shogunate

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The Battle of Sekigahara

Another important battle of the Kamakura period was the battle of Sekigahara, or "Division of the Kingdom", as it became popularly known. This conflict paved the way for Tokugawa Ieyasu to become shogun in the year 1600.

This battle took place after the death of shogun Maeda Toshiie, and began with a conspiracy against Tokugawa.

The main author of this conspiracy was Mitsunari, who with some allies declared war against Tokugawa. Mitsunari had a great numerical advantage in terms of territory over the Tokugawa army, but even so, thanks to Tokugawa's impressive military strategies, he managed to win the battle fought at Sekigahara in the year 1600.

Tokugawa then managed to control the rebellion and ascended as the last shongun of that period. The period of the Tokugawa shogunate was very important for the formation of Japan as we know it today, as much of Japanese culture is linked to this period, which lasted about two and a half centuries.

Emperors and Shoguns of the Kamakura Period

Here's a list of emperors who reigned during the Kamakura period:

ReignEmperorName in Kanji
83º1198 to 1210Tsuchimikado 土御門天皇
84º1210 to 1221Juntoku 順徳天皇
85º1221Chukyo 仲恭天皇
86º1221 to 1232Go-Horikawa 後堀河天皇
87º1232 to 1242Shijo 四条天皇
88º1242 to 1246Go-Saga 後嵯峨天皇
89º1246 to 1260Go-Fukakusa 後深草天皇
90º1260 to 1274Kameyama 亀山天皇
91º1274 to 1287Go-Uda 後宇多天皇
92º1287 to 1298Fushimi 伏見天皇
93º1298 to 1301Go-Fushimi 後伏見天皇
94º1301 to 1308Go-Nijo 後二条天皇
95º1308 to 1318Hanazono 花園天皇
96º1318 to 1336Go-Daigo 後醍醐天皇

See below a list of shoguns who reigned during the Kamakura Period:

1Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–1199)1192 to 1199
2Minamoto no Yoriie (1182–1204)1202 to 1203
3Minamoto no Sanetomo (1192–1219)1203 to 1219
4Kujō Yoritsune (1218–1256)1226 to 1244
5Kujō Yoritsugu (1239–1256)1244 to 1252
6Prince Munetaka (1242–1274)1252 to 1266
7Prince Koreyasu (1264–1326)1266 to 1289
8Prince Hisaaki (1276–1328)1289 to 1308
9Prince Morikuni (1301–1333)1308 to 1333

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