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Minamoto No Yoritomo: The First Shogun Descriptive Essay

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Updated: Apr 8th, 2022

Minamoto Yoritomo was the chieftain warrior in Japan who formed the first military government in Japan. Japan was ruled by imperial courts that were made up of mainly the family members of the Fujirawa Courtier and was based in Kyoto. This family held most of the highest positions at the system of justice.

Yoritomo was aged twelve when the conflict between Tiara and Minamoto that led to the defeat of Minamoto occurred in 1959. During this period, Yoshitomo his father who held the throne was killed. Yoritomo was spared death by the Taira leader Kiyomori but he was taken to exile.

Kiyomori did not by any means improve financial administration and they failed to provide for the class of warriors that was rapidly growing. The feeling of dissatisfaction gave rise to a class of famous Minamoto leaders Yoritomo included who decided to fight against them. The war between Tiara and Minamoto lasted for five years after which Minamoto became the conquerors (McCullough 462).

A group of highly skilled warriors known as the Samurai developed after Taika reforms in Japan. The reforms included imposition of heavy taxation and land distribution. The aim of these reforms was to offer support to Chinese empire. Small farmers resulted into selling their land.

The large land owners became powerful and rich forming a feudal system of government similar to that of Europe during the medieval period. Feudal lords saw the need of having their wealth protected and employed warriors. This is how the Samurai group was founded.

Some of the warriors were relatives of the landowners while others had been contracted. Out of the total number of warriors, relatives and financial dependants of the landowner seemed to be more loyal (Weston 130).

According to Weston (131), the Civil War between the samurai clans of Minamoto and Taira in 1160 led to what the defeat of Minamoto in what was called Heiji rebellion. Taira warriors formed the first-warrior government. As a result, Minamoto were not allowed to visit Tokyo the capital city.

Japan was under the control of Minamoto family after Gempei war that led to the defeat of the Taira clan. In 1192, Minamoto Yoritomo was appointed as the Shogan in the territory during which a new government known as Kamakura Bakufu was formed (Weston 131).

The new government was simple and efficient compared to that of Kyoto. During the war, the warriors protected their bodies against injuries and deaths by putting on helmets to cover their heads, metallic armor, silk and leather plates. This was the second government to be founded by warriors.

Minamoto no Yoritomo lived between 1147 and 1199 and his rule lasted up to 1333. He was the third born in a family of eight children. His mother died during when he was young after which his father remarried. He had three stepbrothers Yoshitsune being included who later in his life became a hero.

Even though they were powerful, they did not rule over the northern and western parts of the country; he was the first Kamakura Shogun (Watsky 75).

The first permanent shogun in Japan was Minamoto no Yoritomo who entered office in 1192. Even though there were other three generals before him who held the same title during wars, he passed on the office to his sons while the rest did not. Being the founder of the government, he greatly influenced the system of justice.

During his rule, he established feudal, judicial and military systems that lasted for over 700 years. Many Japanese fail to recognize the achievements of Yoritomo because of the ruthlessness that he showed towards Yoshitsune his brother between 1159 and 1189.

Many recognized his half brother as the hero compared to Yoritomo who won several battles. The wife of Yoritomo, Hojo Masako took over the leadership and led the territory successfully but she is remembered more because of being jealous (Watsky, 197).

Ebrey, Walthall and Palais (206) point out that Yoritomo at Kamakura established a new regime of warrior a small village located on the southern part of today’s city of Tokyo. Minomoto was vey influential in this regime.

He was the founder of kamakura shogunate which began in 1185 and ended in 1333. In order to succeed in his leadership, he established feudal form of government with his subjects.

He granted his vassals with land and made them sure that they were absolutely protected under the condition of the high quality services offered by them. Initially, Yoritomo held power and authority only within the southern eastern provinces of Japan.

However, during the Tiara war in 1985, it was made a public matter. He received permission from the throne to appoint his vessels to represent all the provinces in Japan to act as stewards and offer protection to various provinces.

Appointment of those representatives did not replace the initial imperial administration in the various provinces. Some other communities refused any outside interference and retained their administrative systems. Kamakura shogunate however became the central government in replacement of imperial court at Kyoto (Ebrey 100).

Bary (752) argues that one of the greatest failures of Yoritomo was that he failed to effectively provide for succession in the territory. The shogun office was supposed to be carried on through generations.

During his rule, he liquidated his brothers and close relatives out of fear that they would act as his rival and overthrow him. By the time he died in 1199 at the age of 52 years, his two sons were too young to hold Minamoto power.

After Yoritomo’s death, Kamakura government was controlled by members of the Hojo family whose relationship to Yoritomo was through marriage. They became the regents of shogunate. The new rulers established Fujiwara courtiers and imperial princess who acted as the shogun figureheads. Hojo regent’s leadership was very different from that of the Yorotomo.

Instead of using autocratic form of leadership that Yoritomo used, they formed a council of state which gave chieftain warriors from the east to participate directly in the decision making process (Bary and Dykstra 322).

McCullough (462) argues that the head of the government played a major role in Japan. The system of governance was hereditary in the sense that it was passed down from one generation to another. Because of the hereditary system of leadership, people were exposed to harsh rules.

The subjects had no choice other than to follow the instructions of the leader. Apart from subjection to harsh rule, the leader played the role of guiding people in what to do. During times of war, he organized the warriors to defend the territory against attacks. During this period, different kingdoms competed for power an aspect that caused frequent wars.

Works Cited

Bary, Williams. Sources of East Asian Tradition: Premodern Asia. London: Columbia University Press, 2008. Print.

Bary, Williams, and Dykstra, Yoshiko. Sources of Japanese Tradition: 1600 – 2000, volume 2. London: Columbia University Press, 2006. Print.

Ebrey, Patricia, Walthall, Anne and Palais, James. East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. New York: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.

McCullough, Helen. The Tale of the Heike. New York: Stanford University Press, 1988. Print.

Watsky, Andrew. Chikubushima: deploying the sacred arts in Momoyama Japan. New Jersey: University of Washington Press, 2004. Print.

Weston, Mark. Giants of Japan: The lives of Japan’s most influential men and women. New York: Kodansha America, 2002. Print.

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