History Files History Files
Donate add-in

This page needs an editor. If you would like to help, please contact us.

Far East Kingdoms



Shoguns of Japan

The title of shogun in Japan meant a military leader equivalent to general, and at various times in the first millennium shoguns held temporary power, but it became a symbol of military control over the county. The establishment of the shogunate (or bakufu) at the end of the twelfth century saw the beginning of samurai control of Japan for 700 years until the Meiji Restoration in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Heian Period

During the early Heian Period the title of shogun was given for the duration of military campaigns against the north-eastern Emishi people who resisted the governance of the Kyoto-based Imperial court. The title was abandoned in the later Heian period after the northern island Ainu had been either subjugated or driven to Hokkaido.

Otomo no Otomaro

797 - 811?

Sakanoue no Tamuramaro


Funya no Watamaro


Fujiwara no Tadabumi


Minamoto no Yoshinaka

Minamotos (Kamakura Era)
AD 1192 - 1219

The Kamakura shogunate era lasted from the inception of the position in 1192 until 1338.

1192 - 1199



After Yoritomo's death, quarrels for supremacy start between the bakufu of Kamakura and the Imperial court in Kyoto.

1201 - 1203


1203 - 1219



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 Regents in Kamakura achieve complete control over Japan.

AD 1226 - 1252

1226 - 1244


1244 - 1252


Imperial Princes
AD 1252 - 1336

Supplied by the Hojo clan, who also supplied the line of Hojo regents in the fourteenth century.

1252 - 1266

Prince Munetake

1266 - 1289

Prince Koreyasu


The first Mongol invasion is defeated through bad weather conditions, with the outnumbered Japanese facing superior and much more modern forces.


The second Mongol invasion is again defeated through bad weather conditions.

1289 - 1308

Prince Hisa-akira

1308 - 1333

Prince Morkuni


Prince Moriyoshi


Emperor Go-Daigo overthrows the weakened Hojo Regents, but the Ashikaga Shoguns split the country between the Northern and Southern courts.

1335 - 1336

Prince Nariyoshi

After Hojos
AD 1333 - 1338

1333 - 1334


1334 - 1338


Hojo Pretenders
AD 1331 - 1392

1331 - 1333


1336 - 1348


1348 - 1351


1351 - 1352


1352 - 1371


1371 - 1382


1382 - 1392


Ashikaga Pretenders
AD 1336 - 1392

1336 - 1348


1349 - 1352


1353 - 1371


1372 - 1381


1383 - 1392


Ashikaga Shoguns
AD 1338 - 1573

The Hojo Regents were defeated by the Imperial court, but almost immediately the Ashikaga Shoguns seized power under Ashikaga Takauji who appointed himself shogun and held the stronger north of Japan. The imperial court was reunited in 1392, and the following Muromachi Period was dominated by the Ashikaga shogunate.

(Additional information from Tanegashima - The Arrival of Europe in Japan, Olof G Lidin, and from External Link: History Extra.)

1338 - 1358


1358 - 1367


1367 - 1395


1395 - 1423


1423 - 1425


1428 - 1441


1441 - 1443


1449 - 1474



The Sengoku Period, the age of civil war, begins in Japan.

1474 - 1489


1490 -1493


1493 - 1508


1508 - 1521


1521 - 1545


1543 - 1550

Although Venice's Marco Polo had known of the country's existence from his travels, the Portuguese now 'discover' Japan by accident, despite having sailed up and down the coast of China for the last thirty years. The accident is due to stormy weather blowing a vessel off course in September 1543, although perhaps the Ryukyu Islands are first explored by Portuguese in 1542. The first visit to Japan by a European seems to take place towards the end of 1544 (or early in 1545, since the country is reported to be a cold place), but the report that reaches Spanish ears is based on a mixture of hearsay and fairly accurate fact. Within seven years the Portuguese establish a trading base at Nagasaki.

1545 - 1565




1568 - 1573



The Ashikaga shogunate is ended when Yoshiaki is driven out of the capital in Kyoto by Oba Nobunaga.


Oda Nobunaga dies, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi soon cements his place as successor, the most powerful daimyo in Japan.

1592 & 1598

Japan attempts to invade Korea twice but is defeated both times. Toyotomi Hideyoshi dies on 18 September 1598, and the Council of Five Elders keeps it a secret until they can withdraw the army from Korea. The dream of invading China is over, and Toyotomi's son, the infant Toyotomi Hideyori now faces the threat posed by the powerful Tokugawa Ieyasu. The council fulfils the role of regency for Hideyori, hoping to hold the peace until the child can come of age.


The arrival of a Dutch trading vessel, the Liefde, greatly unsettles the Portuguese and Spanish merchants in Japan. The vessel's pilot, William Adams, is an Englishman of wit and charm. He is escorted to the powerful warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, where he reveals the lies peddled by Jesuits about religion in Europe. Ieyasu is no less interested in the Liefde's canon, and it is possible that he uses them in battle later in the year. (William Adams serves as the inspiration for the character of John Blackthorne in James Clavell's novel, Shogun, with the role played by Richard Chamberlain in the remarkable tv mini-series of the same name.)

On 21 October 1600 the Battle of Sekigahara witnesses a mighty clash between more than 200,000 warlords, samurai, and retainers. The mighty 'Western Army' is loyal to an infant ruler-in-waiting named Toyotomi Hideyori. The rival 'Eastern Army' is under the command of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who hopes to seize power. His forces are outnumbered by almost two-to-one and it seems inconceivable that they can defeat the stronger army.

However, Ieyasu is a shrewd operator. At a critical point in the battle, General Kobayakawa and his 16,000 crack troops switch sides to join Ieyasu. Four other general do the same, all thanks to pre-arrangements with Ieyasu. The Western Army is suddenly outnumbered, and badly off-balance. Its ranks break and scatter, and Toyotomi Hideyori is captured and married off to Ieyasu's grand-daughter, bringing him firmly under control. Ieyasu's victory ushers in the Togugawa Period, with Ieyasu himself in the role of its first Shogun.

Tokugawa Shoguns
AD 1603 - 1867

The Tokugawa were officially established in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Born in 1543 to a family of provincial lords, he established an elite army at a young age and began rolling back the boundaries of his feudal lands. He was the main beneficiary of the achievements of two powerful daimyo (feudal lords), Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Initially an opponent of Nobunaga, with whom he had shared childhood as a hostage of the Oda clan, the two eventually reconciled and became firm allies, dominating Japan. Nobunaga's death allowed Ieyasu's main rival, Toyotomi Hideyoshi to secure his place as the most powerful daimyo, but Ieyasu's startling and well-managed victory over his son's forces at Sekigahara was total. He now dominated the imperial court which entered the Edo Period, with a capital in the city of the same name (modern Tokyo). Under his governance Japan experienced relative peace for the next two and-a-half centuries.

The arrival of Pilot William Adams and the Dutch ship, the Liefde, in 1600 transformed the status of foreigners in Japan. Shogun Ieyasu now encouraged both the Dutch East India Company and its English counterpart to establish trading bases. The first English ship to arrive, in 1613, was the Clove. By this time William Adams had been living in the country for thirteen years and, having the ear of the shogun, was able to act as a facilitator and translator. It was not to last, however. Ieyasu may have welcomed traders, but his son was xenophobic and vehemently anti-Christian. A wave of draconian edicts persecuted Christians and merchants alike and soon forced them to leave the country entirely.

(Additional information from External Link: History Extra.)

1603 - 1605

Tokugawa Ieyasu

Died 1616.

1605 - 1623




The last English vessel in Japan sets sail in December 1623, taking with it the handful of other traders who have weathered the storm unleashed by Shogun Hidetada. The country enters a period known as sakoku - the closed country. It has seen enough of the troublesome foreign barbarians and their bitter internecine wars. Now, after almost a century of contact, it closes its doors to the world.

1623 - 1651


1651 - 1680


1680 - 1709


1709 - 1712


1712 - 1716


1716 - 1745


1745 - 1760


1760 - 1786


1786 - 1837


1837 - 1853



US Commodore Matthew Perry arrives with a fleet of ships on 8 July and forces Japan to end its period of isolation. This contributes to the weakening of the shogunate, and internal factions eventually bring about its termination.

Commodore Perry's second visit to Japan, 1854
After having forcibly ended Japanese isolation in 1853, Commodore Perry's second visit to Japan in 1854 was recorded on this hand scroll which is now part of the collection of the British Museum

1853 - 1858



Following the treaty entered into between Commodore Perry and the Shogun in 1853, the first US consul general, Townsend Harris, arrives on Japanese soil to take up his office. Initially, the Japanese refuse to recognise his official status, treating him as a private citizen and a barely-honoured guest. After eighteen months of protracted negotiations and a personal audience with the Shogun, he is able to open the first US Consulate in Shimoda under the terms of the 'Harris Treaty' (as described by the John Wayne feature film, The Barbarian and the Geisha, 1958).

1858 - 1866


1886 - 1867

Keiki / Yoshinobu

Last shogun. Died 1903.


The shogun resigns. While being part of a movement which had aimed to reform the aging shogunate, Yoshinobu is ultimately unsuccessful. The Modern Period begins in Japan.