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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 Japan

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.

(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.)

794 - ?

Otomo no Otomaro

Military general appointed to subdue 'barbarians'.


Emperor Kammu appoints the very first incumbent in the role of shogun during the country's Heian period. Otomo no Otomaro works with another general, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (soon also to be appointed as shogun, and later to be the senior commander of the 'Imperial Bodyguard of the Right'), to subdue the indigenous Emishi people in northern Honshu (Japan's biggest island, effectively its 'mainland').

797 - 811?

Sakanoue no Tamuramaro

Military general appointed to subdue 'barbarians'.


Funya no Watamaro


Fujiwara no Tadabumi


The day after the death of Toba, the cloistered Heian emperor, the Hōgen Rebellion ignites. The rebellion concerns finer points about the imperial succession, as well as weightier matters regarding Fujiwara influence by its now-traditional imperial regents. Essentially this short civil war is played out between the new emperor, Go-Shirakawa, and the former ceremonial figurehead emperor, Sutoku, with both sides having Fujiwara support. Both sides also court alliances with the Taira and Minamoto clans and both gain them.

The outcome lays the foundations for Japan's samurai-dominated culture and the rise of the shoguns to absolute power. Sutoku is defeated and exiled, the Fujiwara are utterly sidelined, and the Taira and Minamoto are the new major political samurai powers in Japan.

Shin Heike Monogatari (Tales of the Taira Clan, 1955)
The Japanese film, Shin Heike Monogatari (1955, usually rendered in English as Tales of the Taira Clan - not a translation) portrays the rebellion by Taira no Kiyomori and the rise of the early samurai during the struggle for dominance between the Taira and Minamoto clans


The Taira clan's Taira no Kiyomori supports Heian Emperor Go-Shirakawa and initiates trade with China. But tensions swiftly rise with the Minamoto clan. The Heiji Rebellion breaks out under Minamoto leadership but is swiftly put down by the Taira. Taira no Kiyomori becomes increasingly autocratic afterwards though, and good relations with the cloistered emperor break down.


The Shishigatani incident (or Shishigatani no Inbō) involves an attempted uprising against Taira no Kiyomori. It is the best-known of a series of attempts to remove the now-haughty and imperious Kiyomori from power. The conspirators involve members of the Fujiwara clan, the Taira clan, and others but it is betrayed, enabling Kiyomori to strengthen his position by having a clearout of Fujiwara and other officials which include the regent.

1179 - 1185

Heian Emperor Go-Shirakawa attempts to regain direct power in 1179, but fails. In 1180 he reverts to cloistered rule, but his cause is not entirely hopeless. In the same year the call to arms goes out across the Minamoto-dominated eastern and northern provinces to fight the Taira in support of Go-Shirakawa's son, Prince Mochihito. This particular uprising is defeated, but more is to come.

The deciding war for supremacy, the Gempei War, is ignited. The Minamoto prove victorious, entering the capital in 1183 under the leadership of Minamoto no Yoshinaka. Go-Shirakawa is released from captivity and issues a mandate which stresses the destruction of the Taira clan. Yoshinaka is created Asahi Shōgun. The emperor manages to trick the Taira into lowering their guard with peaceful overtures but, in 1185, the naval Battle of Dan-no-ura sees the Taira being overthrown by the Minamoto.

Gempei War in Japan
The end of the Gempei War in 1185 when the Taira clan was defeated in a naval battle by the victorious Minamoto clan allowed the Minamoto not only to secure the powerful position of shogun but also to dominate subsequent emperors during the following Kamakura period


Minamoto no Yoshinaka


The death of Heian Emperor Go-Shirakawa allows Minamoto no Yoritomo of the Minamoto clan to establish himself as the permanent shogun of the Kamakura era. He dominates the position of emperor, holding supreme power over Japan while the imperial throne becomes secondary to actual governance.

Minamoto Shoguns of Japan (Kamakura Era)
AD 1192 - 1219

The Kamakura shogunate era lasted from the inception of the position in 1192 until 1338. The death of Emperor Go-Shirakawa allows Minamoto no Yoritomo of the Minamoto clan to establish himself as the permanent shogun of the Kamakura era. He dominated the position of emperor, holding supreme power over Japan while the imperial throne became secondary to actual governance.

(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.)

1192 - 1199

Minamoto no Yoritomo


Emperor Go-Toba abdicates the throne to become the cloistered emperor until 1221. His son, Tsuchimikado, accedes in his place but, with the domination of the Minamoto shogun now complete, he wields little direct power. Heian period Japan is succeeded by Kamakura period Japan, but the country is now led by the shoguns while the cloistered emperor is much less powerful than have been previous incumbents.

Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo of Japan
Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo, one of a set of portraits of leading figures of the period of which only three survive - attributed to Fujiwara Takanobu and held at the Kyoto National Museum


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

1201 - 1203

Minamoto no Yoriie

Abdicated and was assassinated.


The Hojo regents gain imperial power in Japan in 1203, 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. The cloistered emperor, however, does retain considerable influence. It is he, Go-Toba, who persuades the now-six-year-old Emperor Tsuchimikado to step down as emperor in 1210 in favour of his brother, Juntoku.

1203 - 1219

Minamoto no Sanetomo

Son. Dominated by the Hojo regents. Assasinated.

1219 - 1221

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.

The quarrels for supremacy between the shoguns and the imperial Kamakura court reach an end in the Jokyu War (or Jokyu Incident) when the imperial army is defeated in Kyoto, and the Hojo regents in Kamakura achieve complete control over Japan. 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. The briefness of his reign causes him not to be listed as an official emperor until after 1870.

Fujiwara Shoguns of Japan
AD 1226 - 1252

The Hojo regents were the true power behind the throne during this period in Japan's history.

1226 - 1244

Kujō Yoritsune

Dominated by Hojo regent.

1244 - 1252

Kujō Yoritsugu

Replaced by Hojo regent.


Kujō Yoritsugu is removed from office by the dominant Hojo regent. His replacement is a Hojo clan member, Prince Munetaka.

Imperial Princes of Japan
AD 1252 - 1336

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

1252 - 1266

Prince Munetaka

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.

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


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.

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

1335 - 1336

Prince Nariyoshi

After Hojos
AD 1333 - 1338

1333 - 1334


1334 - 1338


Hojo Pretenders of Japan
AD 1331 - 1392

1331 - 1333


1336 - 1348


1348 - 1351


1351 - 1352


1352 - 1371


1371 - 1382


1382 - 1392


Ashikaga Pretenders of Japan
AD 1336 - 1392

1336 - 1348


1349 - 1352


1353 - 1371


1372 - 1381


1383 - 1392


Ashikaga Shoguns of Japan
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

Ashikaga Takauji

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 the infant ruler-in-waiting, 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 generals 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 granddaughter, 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 of Japan
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 infant 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

Tokugawa Hidetada


1610 - 1611

The Japanese vessel, San Buena Ventura, arrives on Mexican shores, bringing with it an embassy which consists of the Franciscan friar, Luis Sotelo, and the Japanese trader and 'inventor', Tanaka Shōsuke. The viceroy of New Spain, Luis de Velasco, agrees to send the famous explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, with a side-brief to locate legendary 'gold and silver islands' which supposedly lie to the east of Japan. The Japanese vessel is confiscated, with Velasco worried about competition developing across the Pacific.

Vizcaíno sails on 22 March 1611 along with the emissaries from Japan. They arrive on 16 June 1611, and Vizcaíno journeys to Edo to meet the shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada, and then his cloistered father, Tokugawa Ieyasu. On board the Japanese galleon, San Juan Bautista, Vizcaíno arrives back at Acapulco on 25 January 1614, accompanied by Hasekura Tsunenaga, the first Japanese ambassador to Spain.


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.

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