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Japanese troops during the February 26 Incident

Gekokujō (下克上, also 下剋上) is a Japanese word which refers to someone of a lower position overthrowing someone of a higher position using military or political might, seizing power.[1] It is variously translated as "the lower rules the higher" or "the low overcomes the high".[2]


The term originated from Sui dynasty China. In Japan, it came into use during the Kamakura period.[citation needed]

Instances of gekokujō date back to the Sengoku period. Through the chaotic political climate of the era, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were able to create fervour and acquire political and military power. In 1588, Hideyoshi ordered the sword hunt, a nationwide confiscation of weapons, to try and prevent further insurrection.[3] After the shogunate was established, social mobility and the freedom of soldiers and farmers was restricted to try and prevent further gekokujō.[4] The Tokugawa shogunate adopted a Confucian system of social stratification, which put all members of society into distinct groups, making it nigh impossible for anyone to leave their given social class.[5]

During the Showa Period, repeated acts of gekokujō influenced the Japanese government, creating an ultranationalist and aggressive foreign policy in the process. British correspondent Hugh Byas describe the phenomenon as "government by assassination".[6] Masanobu Tsuji (辻 政信) was a well known supporter of extreme gekokujō during World War II.[7]

In art[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 『大辞林』第3版 下克上
  2. ^ Ferejohn, John and Frances Rosenbluth (2010). War and State Building in Medieval Japan, p. 149.
  3. ^ Friday, Karl (2012). Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850. p. 347.
  4. ^ Friday, Karl (2012). Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850. p. 315.
  5. ^ Friday, Karl (2012). Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850. pp. 348–349.
  6. ^ Orbach, Danny (2017). Curse on This Country: The Rebellious Army of Imperial Japan. Cornell University Press. p. 2.
  7. ^ Budge, Kent G. "Tsuji Masanobu (1901–1961?)". Pacific War Online Encyclopedia website. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  8. ^ Mishima, Yukio (1966). Death in Midsummer and Other Stories pp. 93–119.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sources of Japanese Tradition Volume 2 compiled by William T. de Bary, Carol Gluck and Arthur E. Tiedemann