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History of Japan

Early China
  • Xia
  • Shang
  • Zhou
  • Early Imperial China

    Classical Imperial China

    Later Imperial China

    Post-Imperial China

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    China Chronology

    The First Shogun

    d. 1199


    At the age of fourteen, Minamoto Yoritomo was sent away to be put under the care of guardian Ito Sukechika. During his time with Ito, Minamoto developed his skills in practicing the arts of war. After getting his guardians daughter pregnant, he had to run away. He ended up at Hojo Tokimasa's, who was the man that arranged the guardianship with Ito Sukechika. Eventually, Yoritomo married Hojo's daughter.

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    In July 1180, Yoritomo received the bad news that Taira Kiyomori had ordered his capture and execution. On September 8, 1180, Yoritomo's samurais made a raid against Taira Kanetaka, which resulted in Kanetaka's death. Yoritomo did not take part of the raid but stayed at his father-in-law's place praying for success.

    Yoritomo was more of a statesman than a military general. The fighting was left to other members of the family. After being chased through the mountains and loosing most parts of his army, Yorimoto eventually succeeded in reaching the coast. From there he took a boat and crossed the sea to the Awa province, which was Minamoto territory. During the trip, the small group that followed him had grown to a vast army. With his army Yorumoto entered Kamakura, a little fishing village that he decided to make his headquarters. This site had been carefully chosen since Yoritomo could feel safe there. Kamakura gave its name to a period of Japanese history that would last for a century and a half.

    After his final victory over the Taira clan, Yorimoto emerged as the undisputed overlord of Japan. Yoritomo was certain that if he wanted to maintain the power, he had to establish an orderly military dictatorship. He made it clear to the emperor Go-Toba that his power was limited to the matters pertaining to God, while the real power was in the hands of Minamoto.

    The climax of Yoritomo's rise came in 1192, when he was named shogun by emperor Go-Toba. After Yoritomo's death 1199, it was his wife Masako who seized the power. One of the best demonstrations of how the shogun and his organization could lead the nation occurred in 1274, when the Mongols tried to conquer Japan. The Mongols were forced back by the samurais, and their attempt to conquer Japan never succeeded.


    Adler, P. J. World Civilizations. (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 1996).

    Packard, J. M. Sons of Heaven - A Portrait of the Japanese Monarchy. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987).

    Tsunoda, R. ed., Sources of Japanese Tradition. (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1957).

    Turnbull, S. R. The Samurai. (London, England: Osprey Publishing Limited, 1983).

    Edited by: Rasmus K. Gerdeman
    Researched by: Per M. Hillbo
    Written by: Goran B. Aronsson
    December 11, 1996

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