AskDefine | Define shogunate

Dictionary Definition

shogunate n : a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.) [syn: dictatorship, absolutism, authoritarianism, Caesarism, despotism, monocracy, one-man rule, Stalinism, totalitarianism, tyranny]

User Contributed Dictionary



Japanese 将軍 shogun + -ate




Extensive Definition

listen is a military rank and historical title in Japan. The Japanese word for "general", it is made up of two kanji words: sho, meaning "commander", "general", or "admiral", and gun meaning troops or warriors. The modern rank is equivalent to a Generalissimo. As a title, it is the short form of , the governing individual at various times in the history of Japan, ending when Tokugawa Yoshinobu relinquished the office to Emperor Meiji in 1867. The tent is symbolic of the field commander but also denoted that such an office was meant to be temporary. The shogun's officials were collectively, the bakufu; and those officials carried out the actual duties of administration while the Imperial court retained only nominal authority.

The title

The term sei-i-tai-shōgun means "great general who subdues the eastern barbarians." "Eastern barbarian" is one of several ancient terms for various groups who lived in eastern area and had not yet become subject to the central government. Among them were the aboriginal Ainu people who once inhabited Honshū in addition to Hokkaidō.
Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate, seized considerable power from the aristocracy in Kyoto. He became the practical ruler of Japan, and received the title sei-i taishōgun. Thereafter, the heads of three successive shogunates received the same title. After the downfall of the Kamakura Shogunate, certain conditions had to be met in order for a Warlord to be bestowed the title of Shogun. First and foremost, the warlord had to be of Minamoto Clan descent. Secondly, all of Japan had to be unified under a single daimyo. If a warlord unified Japan, and was not of Minamoto descent, then he would be bestowed the title of Regent.


Heian period (794–1185)

Originally, the title of Seii Taishōgun was given to military commanders during the early Heian Period for the duration of military campaigns against the Emishi who resisted the governance of the Imperial court based in Kyoto. The most famous of these shogun was Sakanoue no Tamuramaro who conquered the Emishi in the name of Emperor Kammu. Eventually, the title was abandoned in the later Heian period after the Ainu had been either subjugated or driven to Hokkaidō.
In the later Heian, one more shogun was appointed. Minamoto no Yoshinaka was named sei-i taishōgun during the Gempei War only to be killed shortly thereafter by Minamoto no Yoshitsune.

Kamakura shogunate (1192–1333)

In the early 11th century, feudal estates headed by daimyo and protected by samurai came to dominate internal Japanese politics. Two of the most powerful families, the Taira and Minamoto, fought for control over the declining imperial court. The Taira family seized control from 1160 to 1185, but was defeated by the Minamoto in the Battle of Dan-no-ura. Minamoto no Yoritomo seized certain powers from the central government and aristocracy and established a feudal system based in Kamakura in which the private military, the samurai, gained some political powers while the Emperors of Japan and the aristocracy in Kyoto remained the de jure (and in many ways de facto) rulers. In 1192, Yoritomo was awarded the title of Sei-i Taishōgun by the emperor and the political system he developed with a succession of shogun at the head became known as a shogunate.
Yoritomo's wife's family, the Hōjō, seized the power from the Kamakura shoguns. When Yoritomo's sons and heirs were assassinated, the shogun became a hereditary figurehead. Real power rested with the Hōjō regents. The Kamakura shogunate lasted for almost 150 years, from 1192 to 1333.
In 1274 and 1281, the Mongol Empire launched invasions against Japan. An attempt by Emperor Go-Daigo to restore imperial rule in 1331 was unsuccessful, but weakened the shogunate significantly and led to its eventual downfall.

Kemmu restoration (1333–1336)

The end of the Kamakura shogunate came when Kamakura fell in 1334 and the Hōjō Regency was destroyed. After this two families, Go-Saga the senior line, and Go-Daigo the junior line, had a claim to the throne. The problem was solved with the intercession of the Kamakura Shogunate, who had the two lines alternate. This lasted until 1331 when the Go-Daigo line refused to alternate with the Go-Saga line. As a result the Go-Daigo was exiled. Around 1334-1336 Ashikaga Takauji helped the Go-Daigo line regain the throne.
The fight against the shogunate left the new Emperor with too many people claiming a limited supply of land. Ashikaga Takauji turned against the Emperor when the discontent about the distribution of land grew great enough. In 1336 the emperor was banished again, in favor of a new emperor.


The term bakufu originally meant the dwelling and household of a shogun, but in time it came to be generally used for the system of government of a feudal military dictatorship, exercised in the name of the shogun; and this is the meaning that has been adopted into English through the term "shogunate."
The shogunate system was originally established under the Kamakura shogunate by Minamoto no Yoritomo. Although theoretically the state, and therefore the Emperor, held ownership of all land of Japan, the system had some feudal elements, with lesser territorial lords pledging their allegiance to greater ones. Samurai were rewarded for their loyalty with land, which was in turn, on the liege lord's permission, handed down and divided among their sons. The hierarchy that held this system of government together was reinforced by close ties of loyalty between samurai and their subordinates.
Each shogunate was dynamic, not static. Power was constantly shifting and authority was often ambiguous. The study of the ebbs and flows in this complex history continues to occupy the attention of scholars. Each shogunate encountered competition. Sources of competition included the emperor and the court aristocracy, the remnants of the imperial governmental systems, the shōen system, the great temples and shrines, the shugo and the jitō, the kokujin and early modern daimyo. Each shogunate reflected the necessity of new ways of balancing the changing requirements of central and regional authorities.



Further reading

  • Beasley, William G. (1955). Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868. London: Oxford University Press. [reprinted by RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2001. 10-ISBN 0-197-13508-0; 13-ISBN 978-0-197-13508-2 (cloth)]
  • Mass, Jeffrey P. and William B. Hauser, eds. (1985). The Bakufu in Japanese History. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Sansom, George. 1961. A History of Japan, 1134-1615. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 10-ISBN 0-804-70525-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-804-70525-7
  • Learning from Shogun: Japanese History and Western Fantasy
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