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Shogun (English: /ˈʃɡʌn/ SHOH-gun;[1] Japanese: 将軍, romanizedshōgun, pronounced [ɕoːɡɯɴ] ), officially Sei-i Taishōgun (征夷大将軍, "Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians"),[2] was the title of the military dictators of Japan during most of the period spanning from 1185 to 1868.[3] Nominally appointed by the Emperor, shoguns were usually the de facto rulers of the country,[4] although during part of the Kamakura period, shoguns were themselves figureheads, with real power in the hands of the Shikken of the Hōjō clan.

The office of shogun was in practice hereditary, although over the course of the history of Japan several different clans held the position. The title was originally held by military commanders during the Heian period in the eighth and ninth centuries. When Minamoto no Yoritomo gained political ascendency over Japan in 1185, the title was revived to regularize his position, making him the first shogun in the usually understood sense.

The shogun's officials were collectively referred to as the bakufu (幕府, IPA: [baꜜkɯ̥ɸɯ]; "tent government"); they were the ones who carried out the actual duties of administration, while the Imperial court retained only nominal authority.[5] The tent symbolized the shogun's role as the military's field commander but also denoted that such an office was meant to be temporary. Nevertheless, the institution, known in English as the shogunate (/ˈʃɡənt/ SHOH-gə-nayt), persisted for nearly 700 years, ending when Tokugawa Yoshinobu relinquished the office to Emperor Meiji in 1867 as part of the Meiji Restoration.[6]


Kanji that make up the word shogun

The term shogun (将軍, lit.'army commander') is the abbreviation of the historical title Sei-i Taishōgun (征夷大将軍):

  • 征 (sei, せい) means "conquer" or "subjugate", and
  • 夷 (i, い) means "barbarian" or "savage";
  • 大 (dai, だい) means "great";
  • (shō, しょう) means "commander",[7] and
  • 軍 (gun, ぐん) means "army".[8]

Thus, a literal translation of Sei-i Taishōgun would be 'Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians'.[2]

The term originally referred to the general who commanded the army sent to fight the tribes of northern Japan, but after the twelfth century, the term was used to designate the leader of the samurai.[9] The term is often translated generalissimo and is also used for such military leaders of foreign nations by the Japanese.

Though shogun (将軍) now predominantly refers to the historical position Sei-i Taishōgun (征夷大将軍) in Japanese, this term simply means "a general" in other East Asian languages, such as Chinese (simplified Chinese: 将军; traditional Chinese: 將軍; pinyin: jiāngjūn; Jyutping: zoeng1 gwan1). In fact, since Sei-i Taishōgun (征夷大将軍) was originally a specific type of general, this is an example of semantic narrowing.


The administration of a shogun is called bakufu (幕府) in Japanese and literally means "government from the curtain". During battles, the head of the samurai army would sit in a scissor chair inside a semi-open tent, called a maku, that exhibited its respective mon or blazon. The application of the term bakufu to the shogun government shows an extremely strong and representative symbolism.[10]


Historically, similar terms to Seii Taishōgun were used with varying degrees of responsibility, although none of them had equal or more importance than Seii Taishōgun.[citation needed] Some of them were:


Shoguns in the history of Japan
S# Name Birth/


First shoguns[16]
Tajihi no Agatamori 668–737[17] 720[18]
Ōtomo no Yakamochi 718?–785[19] 784–785[20] Ki no Kosami in the year 789[21]
Ki no Kosami 733–797[22] 789[21]
Ōtomo no Otomaro 731–809[23] 794[24]
Sakanoue no Tamuramaro 758–811[25] 797–811?[26]
Fun'ya no Watamaro 765–823[27] 813[26]
Fujiwara no Tadabumi 873–947[28] 940[26]
Minamoto no Yoshinaka 1154–1184[29] 1184[26]
Kamakura Shogunate[30]
1 Minamoto no Yoritomo 1147–1199 1192–1199
2 Minamoto no Yoriie 1182–1204 1202–1203
3 Minamoto no Sanetomo 1192–1219 1203–1219
4 Kujō Yoritsune 1218–1256 1226–1244
5 Kujō Yoritsugu 1239–1256 1244–1252
6 Prince Munetaka 1242–1274 1252–1266
7 Prince Koreyasu 1264–1326 1266–1289
8 Prince Hisaaki 1276–1328 1289–1308
9 Prince Morikuni 1301–1333 1308–1333
Kenmu Restoration
Prince Moriyoshi 1308–1335[31] He was named shogun by his father Emperor Go-Daigo in 1333[32] 1333–1335[32]
Prince Nariyoshi 1326–1344?[33] 1334–1338[33]
Ashikaga Shogunate[30]
1 Ashikaga Takauji 1305–1358 1338–1358
2 Ashikaga Yoshiakira 1330–1367 1358–1367
3 Ashikaga Yoshimitsu 1358–1408 1368–1394
4 Ashikaga Yoshimochi 1386–1428 1394–1423
5 Ashikaga Yoshikazu 1407–1425 1423–1425
6 Ashikaga Yoshinori 1394–1441 1429–1441
7 Ashikaga Yoshikatsu 1434–1443 1442–1443
8 Ashikaga Yoshimasa 1436–1490 1449–1473
9 Ashikaga Yoshihisa 1465–1489 1473–1489
10 Ashikaga Yoshitane 1466–1523 1490–1493
11 Ashikaga Yoshizumi 1480–1511 1494–1508
10 Ashikaga Yoshitane 1508–1521
12 Ashikaga Yoshiharu 1511–1550 1521–1546
13 Ashikaga Yoshiteru 1536–1565 1546–1565
14 Ashikaga Yoshihide 1538–1568 1568
15 Ashikaga Yoshiaki 1537–1597 1568–1573
Tokugawa Shogunate[30]
1 Tokugawa Ieyasu 1542–1616 1603–1605
2 Tokugawa Hidetada 1579–1632[34] 1605–1623
3 Tokugawa Iemitsu 1604–1651 1623–1651
4 Tokugawa Ietsuna 1641–1680 1651–1680
5 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi 1646–1709 1680–1709
6 Tokugawa Ienobu 1662–1712[34] 1709–1712
7 Tokugawa Ietsugu 1709–1716 1713–1716
8 Tokugawa Yoshimune 1684–1751 1716–1745
9 Tokugawa Ieshige 1711–1761 1745–1760
10 Tokugawa Ieharu 1737–1786 1760–1786
11 Tokugawa Ienari 1773–1841[34] 1787–1837
12 Tokugawa Ieyoshi 1793–1853 1837–1853
13 Tokugawa Iesada 1824–1858 1853–1858
14 Tokugawa Iemochi 1846–1866 1858–1866
15 Tokugawa Yoshinobu 1837–1913 1867–1868[35]

First shogun[edit]

There is no consensus among the various authors since some sources consider Tajihi no Agatamori the first, others say Ōtomo no Otomaro, other sources assure that the first was Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, while others avoid the problem by just mentioning from the first Kamakura shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Heian period (794–1185)[edit]

Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758–811) was one of the first shoguns of the early Heian period.

Originally, the title of Sei-i Taishōgun ("Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians")[2] was given to military commanders during the early Heian period for the duration of military campaigns against the Emishi, who resisted the governance of the Kyoto-based imperial court. Ōtomo no Otomaro was the first Sei-i Taishōgun.[36] The most famous of these shoguns was Sakanoue no Tamuramaro.

In the later Heian period, one more shogun was appointed. Minamoto no Yoshinaka was named sei-i taishōgun during the Genpei War, only to be killed shortly thereafter by Minamoto no Yoshitsune.

Sakanoue no Tamuramaro[edit]

Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758–811)[25] was a Japanese general who fought against the Emishi tribes of northern Japan (settled in the territory that today integrates the provinces of Mutsu and Dewa). Tamarumaro was the first general to bend these tribes, integrating their territory to that of the Yamato State. For his military feats he was named Seii Taishōgun and probably because he was the first to win the victory against the northern tribes he is generally recognized as the first shogun in history.[25][37][38] (Note: according to historical sources Ōtomo no Otomaro also had the title of Seii Taishōgun).

Kamakura shogunate (1192–1333)[edit]

Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun (1192–1199) of the Kamakura shogunate

In the early 11th century, daimyō protected by samurai came to dominate internal Japanese politics.[39] Two of the most powerful families – the Taira and Minamoto – fought for control over the declining imperial court. The Taira family seized control from 1160 to 1185, but was defeated by the Minamoto in the Battle of Dan-no-ura. Minamoto no Yoritomo seized power from the central government and aristocracy and by 1192 established a feudal system based in Kamakura in which the private military, the samurai, gained some political powers while the Emperor and the aristocracy remained the de jure rulers.[40][41]

In 1192, Yoritomo was awarded the title of Sei-i Taishōgun by Emperor Go-Toba and the political system he developed with a succession of shoguns as the head became known as a shogunate. Hojo Masako's (Yoritomo's wife) family, the Hōjō, seized power from the Kamakura shoguns.[42] When Yoritomo's sons and heirs were assassinated, the shogun himself became a hereditary figurehead. Real power rested with the Hōjō regents. The Kamakura shogunate lasted for almost 150 years, from 1192 to 1333.

The end of the Kamakura shogunate came when Kamakura fell in 1333, and the Hōjō Regency was destroyed. Determined to restore power to the Imperial Court, in 1331 Emperor Go-Daigo tried to overthrow the shogunate. As a result, Daigo was exiled. Around 1334–1336, Ashikaga Takauji helped Daigo regain his throne in the Kenmu Restoration.[43]

The fight against the shogunate left the Emperor with too many people claiming a limited supply of land. Takauji turned against the Emperor when the discontent about the distribution of land grew great enough. In 1336 Daigo was banished again, in favor of a new Emperor,[43] leading to the creation of the new Ashikaga shogunate.

During the Kenmu Restoration, after the fall of the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, another short-lived shogun arose. Prince Moriyoshi (Morinaga), son of Go-Daigo, was awarded the title of Sei-i Taishōgun. However, Prince Moriyoshi was later put under house arrest and, in 1335, killed by Ashikaga Tadayoshi.

Ashikaga (Muromachi) shogunate (1336/1338–1573)[edit]

Ashikaga Takauji (1336/1338–1358) established the Ashikaga shogunate.

In 1336[44] or 1338,[45][46] Ashikaga Takauji, like Minamoto no Yoritomo, a descendant of the Minamoto princes,[45] was awarded the title of sei-i taishōgun and established the Ashikaga shogunate, which nominally lasted until 1573. The Ashikaga had their headquarters in the Muromachi district of Kyoto, and the time during which they ruled is also known as the Muromachi period.

For the first fifty years of the Shogunate the Ashikaga were unable to assert power over the entire country, as the descendants of Go-Daigo formed a rival court challenging their authority in the Nanboku-chō period. Finally in 1392, the Southern Court surrendered to the Northern Court and the authority of the bakufu.

Following the Onin War the power of the Ashikaga Shoguns slowly dwindled and with the start of the Sengoku period were reduced to puppets of various warlords, until ultimately the last Muromachi Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki was deposed in 1573.

Azuchi–Momoyama period (1573–1600)[edit]

With the end of the Ashikaga bakufu Oda Nobunaga and his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, rose to power, governing using the court titles of Imperial Regent and gaining far greater power than any of their predecessors in those offices had. Hideyoshi is considered by many historians to be among Japan's greatest rulers, yet neither man was ever formally granted the title of Shogun.

Tokugawa shogunate (1600–1868)[edit]

Ukiyo-e of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate

After Hideyoshi's death following the failed invasion of Korea, Tokugawa Ieyasu seized power with the victory at the Battle of Sekigahara and established a shogunate government at Edo (now known as Tokyo) in 1600. He received the title sei-i taishōgun in 1603, after he forged a family tree to show he was of Minamoto descent.[47]

The Tokugawa shogunate lasted until 1867, when Tokugawa Yoshinobu resigned as shogun and abdicated his authority to Emperor Meiji.[48] Ieyasu set a precedent in 1605 when he retired as shogun in favour of his son Tokugawa Hidetada, though he maintained power from behind the scenes as 'Ōgosho', cloistered shogun).[49]

During the Edo period, effective power rested with the Tokugawa shogun, not the Emperor in Kyoto, even though the former ostensibly owed his position to the latter. The shogun controlled foreign policy, the military, and feudal patronage. The role of the Emperor was ceremonial, similar to the position of the Japanese monarchy after the Second World War.[50]

The Honjō Masamune was inherited by successive shoguns and it represented the Tokugawa shogunate.[51] It was crafted by swordsmith Masamune (1264–1343) and recognized as one of the finest Japanese swords in history. After World War 2, in December 1945, Tokugawa Iemasa gave the sword to a police station at Mejiro and it went missing.[52][53]


Timeline of the Kamakura shogunate[edit]

Prince MorikuniPrince HisaakiPrince KoreyasuPrince MunetakaKujō YoritsuguKujō YoritsuneMinamoto no SanetomoMinamoto no YoriieMinamoto no Yoritomo

Timeline of the Ashikaga shogunate[edit]

Ashikaga YoshiakiAshikaga YoshihideAshikaga YoshiteruAshikaga YoshiharuAshikaga YoshitaneAshikaga YoshizumiAshikaga YoshitaneAshikaga YoshihisaAshikaga YoshimasaAshikaga YoshikatsuAshikaga YoshinoriAshikaga YoshikazuAshikaga YoshimochiAshikaga YoshimitsuAshikaga YoshiakiraAshikaga Takauji

Timeline of the Tokugawa shogunate[edit]

Tokugawa YoshinobuTokugawa IemochiTokugawa IesadaTokugawa IeyoshiTokugawa IenariTokugawa IeharuTokugawa IeshigeTokugawa YoshimuneTokugawa IetsuguTokugawa IenobuTokugawa TsunayoshiTokugawa IetsunaTokugawa IemitsuTokugawa HidetadaTokugawa Ieyasu


The shogun hearing a lawsuit at the Fukiage of Edo Castle, by Toyohara Chikanobu

The term bakufu (幕府, "tent government") originally meant the dwelling and household of a shogun, but in time, became a metonym for the system of government dominated by a feudal military dictatorship, exercised in the name of the shogun or by the shogun himself.[54] Therefore, various bakufu held absolute power over the country (territory ruled at that time) with limited interruptions between 1192 and 1867, glossing over actual power, clan and title transfers.

The shogunate system was originally established under the Kamakura shogunate by Minamoto no Yoritomo after the Genpei War, although theoretically the state, and therefore the Emperor, still held de jure ownership of all land in Japan. The system had some feudal elements, with lesser territorial lords pledging their allegiance to greater ones. Samurai were rewarded for their loyalty with agricultural surplus, usually rice, or labor services from peasants. In contrast to European feudal knights, samurai were not landowners.[55] The hierarchy that held this system of government together was reinforced by close ties of loyalty between the daimyō, samurai, and their subordinates.

Each shogunate was dynamic, not static. Power was constantly shifting and authority was often ambiguous. The study of the ebbs and flows in this complex history continues to occupy the attention of scholars. Each shogunate encountered competition. Sources of competition included the Emperor and the court aristocracy, the remnants of the imperial governmental systems, the daimyōs, the shōen system, the great temples and shrines, the sōhei, the shugo and jitō, the jizamurai and early modern daimyō. Each shogunate reflected the necessity of new ways of balancing the changing requirements of central and regional authorities.[56]

Relationship with the emperor[edit]

The Imperial Seal of Japan

Since Minamoto no Yoritomo turned the figure of the shogun into a permanent and hereditary position and until the Meiji Restoration, there were two ruling classes in Japan:

  • The emperor or tennō (天皇, lit. "Heavenly Sovereign"),[57] who acted as "chief priest" of the official religion of the country, Shinto.
  • The shogun, head of the army who also enjoyed civil, military, diplomatic and judicial authority.[58] Although in theory the shogun was an emperor's servant, it became the true power behind the throne.[59]

No shogun tried to usurp the throne, even when they had at their disposal the military power of the territory. There were two reasons primarily:[60]

  • Theoretically the shogun received the power of the emperor, so this was his symbol of authority.
  • There was a sentimentalist tradition created by priests and religious who traced the imperial line from the "age of the gods" into an "eternal line unbroken by the times". According to Japanese mythology, the emperor was a direct descendant of Amaterasu, goddess of the sun.

Unable to usurp the throne, the shoguns sought throughout history to keep the emperor away from the country's political activity, relegating them from the sphere of influence. One of the few powers that the imperial house could retain was that of being able to "control time" through the designation of the Japanese Nengō or Eras and the issuance of calendars.[61]

Emperors twice tried to recover the power they enjoyed before the establishment of the shogunate. In 1219 the Emperor Go-Toba accused the Hōjō as outlaws. Imperial troops mobilized, leading to the Jōkyū War (1219–1221), which would culminate in the third Battle of Uji (1221). During this, the imperial troops were defeated and the emperor Go-Toba was exiled.[62] With the defeat of Go-Toba, the samurai government over the country was confirmed.[62] At the beginning of the fourteenth century the Emperor Go-Daigo decided to rebel, but the Hōjō, who were then regents, sent an army from Kamakura. The emperor fled before the troops arrived and took the imperial insignia.[63] The shogun named his own emperor, giving rise to the era Nanboku-chō period (南北朝, lit. "Southern and Northern Courts").

During the 1850s and 1860s, the shogunate was severely pressured both abroad and by foreign powers. It was then that various groups angry with the shogunate for the concessions made to the various European countries found in the figure of the emperor an ally through which they could expel the Tokugawa shogunate from power. The motto of this movement was Sonnō jōi (尊王攘夷, "Revere the Emperor, Eject the Barbarians") and they finally succeeded in 1868, when imperial power was restored after centuries of being in the shadow of the country's political life.[64]


Today, the head of the Japanese government is the Prime Minister. The usage of the term "shogun" has nevertheless continued in colloquialisms. A retired Prime Minister who still wields considerable power and influence behind the scenes is called a "shadow shogun" (闇将軍, yami shōgun),[65] a sort of modern incarnation of the cloistered rule. Examples of "shadow shoguns" are former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and the politician Ichirō Ozawa.[66]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary, ISBN 0-8048-0408-7
  3. ^ Spafford, D. "Emperor and Shogun, Pope and King: The Development of Japan's Warrior Aristocracy." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Vol. 88, No. 1/4, (2014), pp. 10-19.
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  5. ^ Beasley, William G. (1955). Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853–1868, p. 321.
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  14. ^ Ishii, 2002:2396.
  15. ^ Ishii, 2002:2467.
  16. ^ There is no consensus among the various sources on this list, since some authors consider Tajihi no Agatamori to be the original shogun, whereas others regard Ōtomo no Otomaro or even Sakanoue no Tamuramaro as being the first, and still others avoid the problem entirely by starting from the first Kamakura shogun only.
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  40. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Kamakura-jidai" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 459.
  41. ^ "...not only was the Heian system of imperial-aristocratic rule still vigorous during the twelfth century, but also it remained the essential framework within which the bakufu, during its lifetime, was obliged to operate. In this sense, the Heian pattern of government survived into the fourteenth century – to be destroyed with the Kama-kura bakufu rather than by it." Warrior Rule in Japan, p. 1. Cambridge University Press.
  42. ^ "shogun | Japanese title". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  43. ^ a b Sansom, George (1961). A History of Japan, 1134–1615. United States: Stanford University Press.
  44. ^ Grossberg, Kenneth A. (1976). "From Feudal Chieftain to Secular Monarch. The Development of Shogunal Power in Early Muromachi Japan". Monumenta Nipponica. 31 (1): 34. doi:10.2307/2384184. ISSN 0027-0741. JSTOR 2384184.
  45. ^ a b Hall, John Whitney (1 January 1977). Japan in the Muromachi Age. University of California Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-520-02888-3.
  46. ^ conflicting start dates of 1336 and 1338 are listed across different sources.
  47. ^ Titsingh, I. (1834). Annales des empereurs du Japon, p. 409.
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  51. ^ History of Masamune by Jim Kurrasch Archived April 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
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  66. ^ "Ichiro Ozawa: the shadow shogun". The Economist. 10 September 2009. Archived from the original on 31 October 2020.


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  • Roth, Andrew (15 March 2007). Dilemma in Japan. Roth Press. ISBN 978-1-4067-6311-9.
  • Fiévé, Nicolas; Waley, Paul (2003). Japanese Capitals in Historical Perspective: Place, Power and Memory in Kyoto, Edo and Tokyo. Routledge. ISBN 0-4154-0581-5.
  • Andressen, Curtis; Milton Osborne (2002). A Short History of Japan: From Samurai to Sony. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-516-2.
  • Ramírez-Faria, Carlos. Concise Encyclopedia of World History. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 81-269-0775-4.
  • Mitchelhill, Jennifer; David Green (2003). Castles of the Samurai: Power and Beauty. Kodansha International. ISBN 4-7700-2954-3.
  • Kuno, Yoshi (2007). Japanese Expansion on the Asiatic Continent - Volume I. Read Books. ISBN 1-4067-2253-7.
  • Davis, Paul (2001). 100 Decisive Battles: From Ancient Times to the Present. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0-19-514366-3.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Shoguns at Wikimedia Commons