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(Shogun may also refer to James Clavell's Shogun)
  • Japanese: 将軍 ・ 征夷大将軍 (Shougun / Sei-i-tai shougun)

Seiitaishôgun (lit. "Supreme Commander Against the Barbarians"), often shortened to shôgun, is the term most commonly used to refer to the heads of three samurai governments ("shogunates" or bakufu) which ruled Japan from 1192-1333 (Kamakura shogunate), 1336-1573 (Ashikaga or Muromachi shogunate), and 1603-1867 (Tokugawa shogunate).

Early Shoguns

The title was originally a temporary Court commission assigned to courtier military commanders in the 8th century frontier campaigns against the Emishi in northern Honshu. It later became a hereditary distinction acknowledging the recipient as the buke no tôryô, "Head of the Warrior Houses", and titular head of the three bakufu warrior governments.

(See also: Chinjufu shôgun, daishôgun)

Kamakura Shogunate

In 1192 Minamoto Yoritomo, as head of the newly established Kamakura Bakufu, was invested with the seiitaishôgun title by the Court, which he returned in 1193. Following his death in 1199 the bakufu had the Court appoint his sons in turn as shôgun, beginning the link of the title with the titular head of the bakufu. After the murder of both Yoritomo's sons, the bakufu brought children of Kyoto courtiers and Emperor's children to serve as shôgun for the remainder of the Kamakura Period, though none held any actual power, instead serving as figureheads of the regime.

Muromachi Shogunate

Following the destruction of the Kamakura Bakufu, Ashikaga Takauji established his own Muromachi Bakufu, and was awarded the title of shôgun in 1338. The power Takauji wielded as shôgun was comparable to that which Yoritomo held, and was passed down through several generations of Ashikaga shôgun. As unrest grew throughout the nation in the 15th century, the Ashikaga shôgun began to lose their hold over the provinces, with the outbreak of the Onin War and the subsequent civil warring effectively removing them from national influence, useful only as political tools to warlords with their eye on national hegemony. The final Ashikaga shôgun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, was evicted from Kyoto by Oda Nobunaga in 1573, bringing to an end the line of Ashikaga shôgun.

Tokugawa Shogunate

Following the Battle of Sekigahara and Tokugawa Ieyasu's grasp of the realm, Ieyasu was granted the title of shôgun in 1603 as head of the Tokugawa Bakufu located in Edo, passing the title down to his son Hidetada two years later. The Tokugawa clan continued to reign as shôgun throughout the Edo Period until the Imperial Restoration of 1867.

Though the term shôgun is most commonly used today to refer to such individuals, in the premodern and early modern periods, a number of other terms were quite frequently employed in its place. These included kubô, particularly in interactions with the Imperial Court, or when invoking their legitimacy and connection to Imperial power.[1]; taiju ("great tree"); and taikun ("great prince/lord")[2]; as well as Nihon kokuô ("King of Japan"), which was the chief term used to refer to the shôgun in diplomatic documents.

The shogun claimed legitimacy and authority in a variety of ways. He was, firstly, the head of the Tokugawa house, the premier warrior house to which all other warrior houses were directly or indirectly (through other lords) feudally loyal, and a house which claimed descent from the Minamoto clan. He was also an Imperial servant, appointed shôgun by the Emperor, and wielding high-ranking Court posts, albeit honorary ones that entailed no actual obligations. These included Minister of the Right (udaijin), Rector of the Junna and Shôgaku Colleges (Junna Shôgaku ryôin bettô), Captain of the Left Imperial Guards (sa konoe no daishô), and Inspector of the Left Imperial Stables (sa meryô no gogen). Tokugawa Ieyasu, further, was deified as Tôshô Daigongen, a Shinto deity, which made him, by association, also, perhaps, akin to a bodhisattva. Finally, through the reception of embassies from neighboring polities such as Korea and Ryûkyû, the shogun claimed legitimacy within the Neo-Confucian discourse of the enlightened ruler, source of virtue and center of civilization, whose virtue extends even to foreign realms, inspiring others to come pay homage and bring tribute, for which the enlightened ruler generously bestows gifts in return.[3]


  • Jansen, Marius. Warrior Rule in Japan, Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1995.
  • Sansom, George. A History of Japan, to 1334, Stanford University Press, reprinted 1991.
  • Farris, William Wayne. Heavenly Warriors, Harvard University Asia Center, 1996.
  1. Luke Roberts, Performing the Great Peace: Political Space and Open Secrets in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 23.
  2. Timon Screech, Obtaining Images, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 169.
  3. Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, Stanford University Press (1999), 26.; Ronald Toby, State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan, Princeton University Press (1984).