Minamoto no Yoritomo: The First Shōgun of Japan (Part 1)

The Kamakura shogunate was a Japanese military government of imperial-aristocratic rule that governed over the country from 1185 to 1333. The heads of  government were the shōguns. Shōgun is the short term for Sei-i Taishōgun, a title given to the commander-in-chief who would lead an army against people resisting the rule of the Japanese imperial court. The shōgun’s rank and position were hereditary.  Officially they were appointed by the emperor, but they were de facto rulers of the country.  A shōgun’s office was the “shogunate” or bafuku. The first three shōguns were members of the Minamoto clan. The years that the shoguns ruled were known as the Kamakura period which takes the name from where the Minamoto shoguns lived.

The making of the first shōgun

Minamoto no Yoritomo (May 9, 1147 to February 9, 1199) founded the Kamakura shogunate of Japan and ruled as the first shōgun from 1192 until 1199. Born in Atsuta, Owari Province (present-day Atsuta-ku, Nagoya), Yoritomo was the third son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, the heir of the Minamoto clan (Seiwa Genji). His mother was Urahime, from the Fujiwara clan. Yoritomo’s grandfather Minamoto no Tameyoshi was the head of the Minamoto at the time.

Minamoto no Yoritomo

Factions in the court erupted into open warfare within the capital in 1156 known as the Hōgen Rebellion. The Minamoto clan was split during the ensuing civil war. Minamoto no Tameyoshi sided with retired Emperor Sutoku while Tameyoshi’s son Minamoto no Yoshitomo sided with Go-Shirakawa, Sutoku’s brother and rival.

Go-Shirakawa’s forces emerged victorious and Yoshitomo became the head of the Minamoto. Yoshitomo tried to have his father pardoned but Tameyoshi was executed.

The rise to power

A few years later, in 1160, clans began to factionalize yet again and became known as the Heiji Rebellion.

Heiji Rebellion

The Taira clan took control of Kyoto and Yoshitomo fled the capital but was later caught and executed. Harsh terms were imposed on the Minamoto and their allies. Only three of Yoshimoto’s young sons remained alive including Yoritomo, which made the Taira and Kiyomori clans the undisputed leaders of the country. Yoritomo grew up in exile. He married Masako from the Hōjō clan. Yoritomo was kept abreast by friends of the goings on in Kyoto which fueled his desire to claim his birthright.

Stay tuned to Part 2 coming soon!