Hojo Masako, the Prominent Nun Shogun

The Prominent Nun Shogun

Shogun were Japanese warlords. They played an essential role in the history of Japan, particularly in the Medieval Period. Most of them came from the Samurai class. It is easy to think of them as all males. However, some of them were females.

Among them, there was one who was also a nun. Who was she? What was her significance in Japanese history? Before dwelling on that, let us also take a look at what was the Shogun and what were their duties to the government.

What Were these Shogun?

Shogun was a title the emperor granted the top military commander. This military dictator was a de facto ruler of Japan as well. This was although the emperor appointed him as a ceremonial officer. The title had its first use during the Heian Period. During the time, the emperor bestowed the position on a general after a successful campaign.

Moreover, the term Shogun was short for Sei-i Taishogun. It mainly meant “Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians”. It was one who governed the country at various times in history.

Shogun also had their officials. They collectively called them the Bakufu. They carried out the actual duties of the administration. Along with this, the imperial court retained nominal authority. With this, the official status of a Shogun was equivalent to that of a governor-general.

Unfortunately, in reality, he would dictate orders to everyone. This did not exempt the reigning emperor. Hence, his role was practically equivalent to that of a generalissimo.

What Was Their History?

The rule of the Shogun was from 1185 to 1868. It covered the Heian, Kamakura, Ashikaga, Momoyama, and Tokugawa periods. They concluded in the Meiji Restoration Period, the era of peace throughout Japan.

Heian Period

This period spanned from 794 to 1185. During this time, military commanders obtained the title Sei-i Taishogun. They served for the duration of military campaigns against the Emishi. These ethnic people from the Tohoku region resisted the governance of the Kyoto imperial court.

The first Sei-i Taishogun was Otomo No Otomaro. He was a son of Otomo no Koshibi. In 779, he successfully attained the second grade of the fifth rank of honor. One year after, the government-appointed him lieutenant of the Palace Guards. He also served as deputy for the Hitachi expedition in 783.

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The second grade of the fourth rank of honor came to him in 791. It was in 794 when the emperor declared him the Sei-i Taishogun. The following year, he obtained the second grade of the third rank of honor. He also got the Order of Merit, Second Class, at the time. It was a recognition of his military achievements. Unfortunately, his life ended in 809.

Meanwhile, the most famous was Sakanoue No Tamuramaro. Son of Sakanoue no Karitamaro, he was the second one to receive the title Shogun. The Shogunate tasked him to conquer the Emishi. He also served as Major Counselor and Minister of War. Sadly, he died at age 54.

Kamakura Shogunate

The Taira and Minamoto were two of the Samurai clans of the 11th century. They were fighting for control over the imperial court. The Taira first won and assumed power from 1160 to 1185. However, the Minamoto defeated them under the leadership of Yoritomo.

Along with several sectors gaining political power, Yoritomo also obtained the Sei-i Taishogun title. This gave him the authority to establish the Kamakura Shogunate in 1192.

Following this, his wife’s clan, Hojo, seized power from the succeeding Shogun. Political power thus rested with the regents.

Mongolian invasions, unfortunately, challenged the Shogunate in 1274 and 1281. Also, Emperor Go-Daigo attempted to restore the imperial rule in the 1331 Kenmu Restoration Period. These weakened the government and eventually led to its downfall in 1333. This destruction included the Hojo Regency.

Ashikaga Shogunate

Daigo’s attempt to overthrow the Shogunate resulted in his exile. Fortunately, Ashikaga Takauji helped him regain his throne around 1334-1336. The following years, however, had him turning against the emperor and banishing.

Nevertheless, he became a Shogun and set up the Ashikaga Shogunate. This headquartered in the Muromachi district of Kyoto. Hence, people more commonly referred to this era as the Muromachi Period.

Azuchi-Momoyama Period

This short period was the final phase of the Sengoku Period. It consisted of three years of political unification, mainly spanning from 1573 to 1600. The resulting chaos paved the way for the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Tokugawa Shogunate

Tokugawa Ieyasu took the seat and established his government in 1600. He set it up at the Edo Castle. It was for this reason history called this era the Edo Period. He assumed the position of a Shogun in 1603. During this time, power rested upon him instead of the emperor.

The Shogun thus controlled foreign policy, military, and feudal patronage. The emperor’s role, on the other hand, was ceremonial. It was similar to that of the monarchy after World War 2.

Hojo Masako and Her Significance in the History of Japan

Youth and Marriage

Born in 1157, Masako was the second child and eldest daughter of a military family. She lived in the Izu Province, near the city of Kamakura.

Her father was Minamoto Yoritomo’s guardian. Yoritomo was the son of a defeated Japanese noble. With this, there could have possibly been a relationship between the young man and lady. There was no documented evidence for this. Nevertheless, they eventually ended up marrying each other.

Their marriage went in favor of Masako’s father. Especially, Yoritomo showed a skillful use of his pedigree. He also gave importance to the ambitions of local warriors. More so, he valued the upheavals in the imperial court.

These he did intentionally to form power and authority. This allowed him to establish his government at Kamakura. He managed to oversee the country and the warrior class.

Political Life

When Yoritomo died in 1199, his son Yoriie took over his throne. This led to a developing conflict between Hiki Yoshikazu and the Hojo. Yoshikazu was Yoriie’s father-in-law. Hojo fought under the leadership of Masako and Yoriie’s grandfather.

This family feud grew even worse in 1203. The Hojo clan directly attacked the Hiki and eliminated them. They denounced Yoriie and replaced him with Sanetomo, his younger brother. Sanetomo was only 11 years old, in need of a regency council.

In 1205, Masako and her brother dethroned their father. They then reorganised the power structure of the Shogunate and redefined the regime’s role.

Later on, she shaved her head to become a member of the religious community. Hence, people called her the “nun Shogun”.

Her brother then became regent over Sanetomo, who was still young at the time. This allowed him to pair up with his sister in a rebellion for 15 years. In this, they targeted and eliminated warriors’ houses, which were potential threats and competitors.

Sanetomo had his assassination in 1219. This gave the siblings the excuse to declare martial law. Eventually, they became dictators over the Shogunate. They won over the army of the former emperor. As such, they expanded their rule.

Unfortunately, his brother passed away in 1224. Some sources suggested that his wife poisoned her as a reason. She specifically wanted to take the siblings’ power to use it with her family.

In good fortune, Masako prevented it from happening. She was at age 67 at the time. This made her remain politically powerful until her death in 1225.

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