History Files
 

Far East Kingdoms

Japan

 

Hojo Regents (Shikken) (Japan)
AD 1203 - 1333

The chain of islands that make up modern Japan stretch from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea in the south. Much of Japan faces what is now North Korea and South Korea, while the southernmost edge of the country's territory abuts that of modern China to the south-west. Four main islands make up the country, these being from north to south Hokkaido, Honshu (Honshū - the largest of all of them), Shikoku (the smallest), and Kyushu (Kyūshū). A further six thousand smaller islands are also included, although less than five hundred of these are occupied.

Dynastic Japan emerged from a generally unified but rarely harmonious history of clan feuding and political intriguing that began as soon as its Early Cultures had reached any particular level of complexity. At various points that unity existed in name only thanks to the continued presence of a divine emperor, while two or more major clans conducted what was little less than a Japanese civil war across the four main islands. The divine emperors themselves were rarely opposed by their warring subjects, but were often little more than pawns themselves in the ongoing clan struggle for superiority.

The Heian period witnessed the formalisation and expansion of the royal court in Kyoto. The Fujiwara clan remained extremely powerful for a long period, but the clan problem reached a peak when the younger Taira and Minamoto clans opposed each other to the extent that they engaged in full-blown war towards the end of the period. To further complicate matters, the first shoguns appeared during the Heian period, with the first appointment being made in 794. They became the secular rulers of the country from 1192 and the start of the Kamakura period under Emperor Go-Toba. Initially, though, they were dominated by the Hojo regents.

The Hojo clan (or more correctly, Hōjō) took their name from their small estate in the Kanogawa Valley in Izu Province, somewhat distant from Kyoto. Hōjō Tokimasa was the first of them to become a regent (shikken) - for the infant Emperor Tsuchimikado. Tokimasa was also the earliest-known member of his clan, although his father is believed to have been Hōjō Takayoshi who died in 1159, suggesting that they only gained any real power through his efforts. However, they were probably helped through the fact that they were an offshoot of the powerful Taira clan. The effective Japanese ruler of the time was Taira Kiyomori, under the nominal but ineffective overlordship of the emperors. He charged Hōjō Tokimasa with the co-wardenship of the exiled Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1160. He and his descendants subsequently gained much power in Japan, while Yoritomo ended up marrying his daughter. Together the unified clans gained much power in defying the Taira during the Genpei War of 1179-1185, and ended up maintaining tight control of the state they effectively seized, destroying any signs of rebellion as soon as they appeared.

Cherry blossom

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Haruo Kakuta, from Ichirō Ichida: The Future and the Past (a translation and study of the Gukanshō, an interpretive history of Japan written in 1219), Delmer M Brown (University of California Press, 1979), from The Imperial House of Japan, Richard Ponsonby-Fane (Ponsonby Memorial Society, Kyoto, 1959), and from External Links: Japan-Guide.com, and Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and New World Encyclopaedia, and Japan: The Official Guide, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

1203 - 1205

Hōjō Tokimasa

Taira clan relative. First of the Hojo regents. Died 1215.

1203

The Hojo regents gain imperial power in Japan, virtually rendering the position of the emperor entirely impotent and also dominating the Minamoto shoguns following the enforced abdication and then murder of the standing shogun, Minamoto no Yoriie. His son is installed in his place, to be dominated by the Hojo.

Hōjō Tokimasa of Japan
Hōjō Tokimasa, a distant descendant of the Taira clan, forged a controlling power over imperial  Japan in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries

1205 - 1224

Hōjō Yoshitoki

Son. Succeeded when his father abdicated. Died.

1210

Despite Hōjō Yoshitoki maintaining his father's domination of the imperial court, the cloistered emperor does, however, retain considerable influence. It is he, Go-Toba, who persuades the now-six-year-old Emperor Tsuchimikado to step down as emperor.

1219

Shogun Minamoto no Sanetomo is assassinated by his own nephew, who is later also murdered. The Minamoto line of clan leaders is therefore considered to be extinct. A replacement is selected by the Hojo regent in the form of a distant Minamoto relative, Kujō Yoritsune, who is installed as the first of the Fujiwara shoguns.

1221

The quarrels for supremacy between the shoguns and the imperial court reach an end in the Jokyu War (or Incident) when the imperial army is defeated in Kyoto, and the Hojo regent in Kamakura achieves complete control over Japan. Emperor Juntoku is forced into exile in favour of his two year-old son, Chūkyō. However, Chūkyō himself is removed just two months later by a shogun who is keen to remove all of Go-Toba's direct descendants from the throne.

Emperor Fushimi of Japan
Emperor Fushimi (1288-1298), as pictured in the fourteenth century Tenshi-Sekkan Miei, attempted to manoeuvre his Jimyōin-tō line son onto the throne, Go-Fushimi, although he was forced to abdicate just two years after acceding

1224 - 1242

Hōjō Yasutoki

Son. Abdicated to become a Buddhist monk.

1242 - 1246

Hōjō Tsunetoki

Grandson. Died.

1246 - 1256

Hōjō Tokiyori

Brother. Abdicated to become a Buddhist monk. Died 1263.

1252 - 1259

The young Kamakura period emperor, Go-Fukakusa, is compelled by his father, the cloistered Emperor Go-Saga, to abdicate in 1259 in favour of his even younger brother, Kameyama. Imperial Prince Munetaka had already become shogun in 1252 at the behest of the Hojo regent who controls the imperial throne. Henceforth, the shoguns of the Kamakura bakufu are drawn from the imperial house, although the Hojo regents still manage to increase their control of the shogunate and continue to rule in all but name.

1256 - 1264

Hōjō Nagatoki

Son of Hōjō Shigetoki, the brother of Yasutoki.

1264 - 1268

Hōjō Masamura

Son of Yoshitoki. Died 1273.

1268 - 1284

Hōjō Tokimune

Son of Tokiyori. Entirely dominated Japan. Died.

1274

The great khans of the Mongols have recently concentrated their rule almost entirely on China itself, although effective control of a single Mongol empire has ended as a result. Now, the first Mongol invasion of Japan is defeated through bad weather conditions, with the outnumbered Japanese under the overall command of Hōjō Tokimune facing superior and much more modern forces. The defeat is an unexpected one for the otherwise near-universally victorious Mongols.

First Mongol invasion of Japan
This illustration of the first Mongol attempt to invade Japan shows the Mongol fleet being smashed to pieces by the 'divine wind' which saved the Japanese

1281

The second Mongol invasion of Japan is again defeated through bad weather conditions. The Mongols suffer around seventy-five per cent casualties and a clear limit is set on their expansion in East Asia. Japan praises the kamikaze, or 'divine wind', which has saved it twice from invasion (although the word 'kami' has a broader meaning than 'divine' as it can also be used for 'god').

1284 - 1301

Hōjō Sadatoki

Son. Acceded aged 14. Abdicated to be a monk. Died 1311.

1301

The frequently-used abdication route of becoming a Buddhist monk is followed by Hōjō Sadatoki, Leaving the relatively young Morotoki as his successor. Although he fulfils the duties of office for a decade, he dies at the end of that time. The regency is left with a string of further successors about whom information seems to be scant and who rule briefly, often dying in office.

1301 - 1311

Hōjō Morotoki

Acceded aged 26. Died.

1311 - 1312

Hōjō Munenobu

Acceded aged 52. Died.

1312 - 1315

Hōjō Hirotoki

Acceded aged 33. Died.

1315 - 1316

Hōjō Mototoki

Abdicated. Died 1333.

1311 - 1326

With the abdication of Hōjō Mototoki, the child son of a previous regent, Hōjō Sadatoki, is placed in office. Too young to fulfil his duties, he is guided by his own regents in the form of his grandmother, Adachi Tokiaki, and a minister by the name of Nagasaki Takasuke. Having fallen ill in 1326 he abdicates but seemingly retains a good deal of influence at court.

Conflict in Kamakura period Japan
The Kamakura period in Japan witnessed growing pressure between the three offices that were attempting to govern - imperial throne, shoguns, and regents (shikken) - along with financial problems which were inherited from military preparations against a Mongol threat that took too long to arrive, all of which finally boiled over in the form of the Genkō War in 1333

1316 - 1326

Hōjō Takatoki

Son of Sadatoki. Acceded aged 8. Abdicated. Died 1333.

1326

Hōjō Sadaaki

In office 19-29 April. Died 1333.

1326 - 1333

Hōjō Moritoki

Acceded aged 31. Killed in battle in 1333.

1333

With Hōjō Takatoki still generally dominating the office of regent and proving to be wildly inconsistent and unpredictable in his dealings with the court and the emperor, it is Emperor Go-Daigo himself who determines to overthrow the weakened Hojo regents. Takatoki appoints Ashikaga Takauji, a direct male line descendant of the Minamoto samurai class, to command the shogun's armies against the emperor during the Genkō War.

The emperor has a trusted supporter in the form of Nitta Yoshisada, who besieges the Hojo regents in Kamakura. Takatoki's eldest son is killed in battle, as is the current regent, Moritoki. The imperial city is destroyed by fire and the Hōjō commit suicide en masse, leaving Go-Daigo firmly in command during a very brief resurgence of imperial power.