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Discuss the warrior rule in the Kamakura and Ashikaga Shogunates with specific examples

Most of Japan’s political history revolved around the warrior rule or political rule of warring clans. Throughout the twelve until the nineteenth century, the governance of Japan depended on the outcomes of the continuous struggle between warring groups to take control. At the center of the warrior rule are two concepts, the bushi translated as ‘fighting men’ and the samurai meaning ‘those who serve’. Warriors practiced a code centered on loyalty and no tolerance for defeat.

(Jansen, 1995) This made the warrior rule and the change in political leadership very dynamic. Kamakura Shogunate The Kamakura Shogunate exemplifies the warrior rule in Japan, with a warrior clan controlling governance and the warrior clan descending from the noble families. On one hand, the noble families maintain and secure political dominance by engaging the strongest warriors since the right to lead depended on the ability to wield the sword and defeat the ruling power and defend one’s rule from other warrior groups.

On the other hand, the warriors with familial or non-familial ties with the noble families developed loyalty to these families and defended the leadership that they helped establish. This implied the overlap between the noble families and warrior groups. Noble families with strong warrior leaders often win the battle and those families without strong leaders in war became subservient to those with the ability to lead wars and defend governance.

The Kamakura Shogunate is one period of warrior rule preceded by the Genpei war fought by two clans the Minamoto and Taira with both having prominent samurai capabilities. These two clans had similar military strength that the battle lasted for five years, from 1180 to 1185. The success of the Minamoto warrior clan brought about the Kamakura Shogunate. Minamoto no Yoritomo, the leader of the Minamoto warrior clan is himself of noble birth. His leadership reflected the manner that noble families gained warriors through the ability to lead.

Throughout Minamoto no Yoritomo’s rule, he faced countless resistance from the other samurai clans but his decision to establish the center of government at Kamakura and refrain from extending his control over the northernmost and westernmost regions led to a longer rule. (Jansen, 1995) Warrior rule depends on territorial control and gaining the territory of one group meant extending one’s territory but adding another opponent likely to make a challenge in the future. By not expanding the territory too much, this became easier to defend and enemies minimized. Ashikaga Shogunate

The Mongols became the strongest opponent of the Kamakura Shogunate so that even if storms dissipated the number of the invaders, the battle weakened the Shogunate. The exiled Emperor Go-Daigo took advantage of the situation to regain his lost power by restoring the Kemmu rule. However, this only lasted three years because of the weak military backing of the emperor. Warrior rule again emerged with the Ashikaga Shogunate led by Takauji. Nevertheless, even the Ashikaga Shogunate was weak in military leadership resulting to the assertion of independent power by the daimyo or regional warrior leaders.

The strength of a warrior rule lies not only in the number of forces and degree of cohesiveness of loyalty of the forces but also in the strength of the top leadership. With a weak power at the top, warrior rule is bound to fall apart. The daimyos not only made decisions independently but also meddled in governance such as in influencing succession. With only backing from one or a limited number of regions, conflict was inevitable with other regions pushing for the shogun they preferred.

All the aspiring shoguns backed-up by the regional military forces had claims over the shogunate based on either or both nobility and known samurai clan lineage. With the inability of the present Shogun to take control, this led to the Onin War, a ten-year war for leadership of the Shogunate by the different daimyos. (Jansen, 1995) The war destroyed Kyoto, claimed thousands of lives, and led to the greater overlap between leadership nobility claims and samurai lineage.

Reference

Jansen, M. B. (1995) (ed. ). Warrior rule in Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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