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Shugo (守護) was a post granted by both the Kamakura and Muromachi Bakufu, as well as Emperor Go-Daigo's short-lived Southern Court restoration, and were intended as replacements for the Imperial post of kokushi (Provincial Governors).

Shugo were to be the bakufu's representatives in the provinces, and their role was to undergo significant changes over the centuries.

Kamakura Shugo

After Yoritomo's victory in 1185 it became necessary to place trusted Kamakura representatives in the provinces, and the post of Shugo was created for this purpose. The Shugo were to be coordinators of their assigned province's gokenin (Kamakura bakufu housemen) in ôbanyaku (guard duty of Kyoto) and battle, an adjunct of Kamakura's judicial system, and to prevent rebellions and capital crimes. These three duties were formally incorporated into Kamakura law in 1231 as taibon sankajo, or the Three Regulations for Great Crimes.

The judicial duties carried out by the Shugo were varied and included interrogating local witnesses, summoning defendants, subpoenaing relevant documents, forwarding investigate reports, issuing enforcement orders, and announcing judgements. These duties brought them in to regular conflict with gokenin, jitô (land stewards), and other powerful estate owners. Much like the kokushi who came before, they were also prone to misconduct and abuse of their powers.

There were no regular taxes or rents payable to the bakufu by the Shugo, though there were tribute obligations, such as providing labour and horses, as well as ôbanyaku duties in the capital.

In an effort to limit the power held by the Shugo it was made clear that the post was revocable at will, and Shugo not hailing from the ruling Hojo clan were assigned to provinces not local to themselves, thus taking them away from their traditional powerbases, and often they found themselves with Hojo clan Shugo as neighbours. They also do not appear to have held land as part of their post and could not pass their position to an heir.[1]

Because of these reasons, some Shugo chose to remain in their original province while appointing a delegate of their own, known as a Shugodai, to administer in their name. Other Shugo managed to successfully entrench themselves in their assigned provinces, but all were still reliant on the bakufu for their authority, and were not able to operate autonomously enough to pose a threat to the bakufu.

The Mongol invasions of the late 13th century saw an increase in Shugo power as it became necessary for some Shugo to recruit and maintain standing armies and prepare defences, but it was not until the breakdown of the Kamakura Bakufu and the subsequent warring that the Shugo saw a significant rise in their power.

Muromachi Shugo

As the powers of the shugo in the Kamakura era were defined by the Joei forumulary, so the Muromachi shugo were initially defined by the Kemmu formulary. Officially, this meant they were limited to tax collection, maintenance of public order, and apprehension of criminals.[2] In the beginning of the Muromachi bakufu, Ashikaga Takauji grew his power partly by building on the traditional feudal structure of vassalage, which the shugo also used to their advantage. Many shugo grew their local power bases, becoming shugo daimyo, and the government became a balance between the shogun and the power of the collective shugo. To keep the power of the shugo in check, many were forced to reside in Kyoto or Kamakura, and permission of the shogun was required to leave the capital for any reason. This forced more shugo to rely on shugodai to administer their provinces in their absence.

Despite the problems associated with administering their lands, the shugo grew in wealth and power beyond what they had attained in the past. Their newfound wealth was channeled into arts and commerce, growing the urban society of Kyoto and of cities built in its image in their home provinces. This golden age changed with Ashikaga Yoshinori, who took for himself more autocratic powers. He pitted shugo against one another, and disrupted traditional bonds of loyalty. His assasination in 1441 began the decline of the power of the shogun, and with it the power of the bakufu.

Initially the shugo daimyo prospered as the power of the shogun weakened. But as the authority of the shogun crumbled, so did the authority of the bakufu whence came shugo legitimacy. Without the legitimacy of the bakufu behind their claims, many shugo found their power challenged by powerful landholders within their provinces. Chaos finally broke out with the Onin War in 1466, and the beginning of the Warring States period. Few shugo daimyo survived this era of gekokujo--the low overthrowing the high, and their power was usurped by the new sengoku daimyo.


  1. Marius B. Jansen (ed). Warrior Rule in Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Page 37
  2. Grossberg, 2001


  • The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 3, edited by Kozo Yamamura, Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1990.
  • Grossberg, Kenneth Alan. Japan's Rennaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu East Asia Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 2001.