The Sh?gun (, Japanese: [?o:] ; SHOH-gun) was the military dictator of Japan during the period from 1185 to 1868 (with exceptions). In most of this period, the sh?guns were the de facto rulers of the country, although nominally they were appointed by the Emperor as a ceremonial formality. The sh?guns held almost absolute power over territories through military means.
Sh?gun is the short form of Sei-i Taish?gun (, "Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians"), the individual governing the country at various times in the history of Japan, ending when Tokugawa Yoshinobu relinquished the office to Emperor Meiji in 1867. The tent symbolized the field commander but also denoted that such an office was meant to be temporary. The sh?guns officials were collectively the bakufu (known in English as the shogunate ( SHOH-g?-nayt)), and were those who carried out the actual duties of administration, while the Imperial court retained only nominal authority. In this context, the office of the sh?gun had a status equivalent to that of a viceroy or governor-general, but in reality, sh?guns dictated orders to everyone including the reigning Emperor. In contemporary terms, the role of the sh?gun was roughly equivalent to that of a generalissimo.
Originally, the title of Sei-i Taish?gun ("Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians") 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. ?tomo no Otomaro was the first Sei-i Taish?gun. The most famous of these sh?guns was Sakanoue no Tamuramaro.
In the early 11th century, daimy? protected by samurai came to dominate internal Japanese politics. 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 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. In 1192, Yoritomo was awarded the title of Sei-i Taish?gun by Emperor Go-Toba and the political system he developed with a succession of sh?guns as the head became known as a shogunate. Yoritomo's wife's family, the H?j?, seized power from the Kamakura sh?guns. When Yoritomo's sons and heirs were assassinated, the sh?gun himself became a hereditary figurehead. Real power rested with the H?j? regents. The Kamakura shogunate lasted for almost 150 years, from 1192 to 1333.
In 1274 and 1281, the Mongol Empire launched invasions against Japan. An attempt by Emperor Go-Daigo to restore imperial rule in the Kenmu Restoration in 1331 was unsuccessful, but weakened the shogunate significantly and led to its eventual downfall.
The end of the Kamakura shogunate came when Kamakura fell in 1333, and the H?j? Regency was destroyed. Two imperial families - the senior Northern Court and the junior Southern Court - had a claim to the throne. The problem was solved with the intercession of the Kamakura shogunate, who had the two lines alternate. This lasted until 1331, when Emperor Go-Daigo (of the Southern Court) tried to overthrow the shogunate to stop the alternation. As a result, Daigo was exiled. Around 1334-1336, Ashikaga Takauji helped Daigo regain his throne.
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.
During the Kenmu Restoration, after the fall of the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, another short-lived sh?gun arose. Prince Moriyoshi (Morinaga), son of Go-Daigo, was awarded the title of Sei-i Taish?gun. However, Prince Moriyoshi was later put under house arrest and, in 1335, killed by Ashikaga Tadayoshi.
In 1338, Ashikaga Takauji, like Minamoto no Yoritomo, a descendant of the Minamoto princes, was awarded the title of sei-i taish?gun and established the Ashikaga shogunate, which 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.
While the title of Sh?gun went into abeyance due to technical reasons, Oda Nobunaga and his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who later obtained the position of Imperial Regent, gained far greater power than any of their predecessors had. Hideyoshi is considered by many historians to be among Japan's greatest rulers.
Tokugawa Ieyasu seized power and established a government at Edo (now known as Tokyo) in 1600. He received the title sei-i taish?gun in 1603, after he forged a family tree to show he was of Minamoto descent. The Tokugawa shogunate lasted until 1867, when Tokugawa Yoshinobu resigned as sh?gun and abdicated his authority to Emperor Meiji. Ieyasu set a precedent in 1605 when he retired as sh?gun in favour of his son Tokugawa Hidetada, though he maintained power from behind the scenes as ?gosho (, cloistered sh?gun).
During the Edo period, effective power rested with the Tokugawa sh?gun, not the Emperor in Kyoto, even though the former ostensibly owed his position to the latter. The sh?gun 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.
Upon Japan's surrender after World War II, American Army General Douglas MacArthur became Japan's de facto ruler during the years of occupation. So great was his influence in Japan that he has been dubbed the Gaijin Sh?gun (?).
Today, the head of the Japanese government is the Prime Minister; the usage of the term "sh?gun" has nevertheless continued in colloquialisms. A retired Prime Minister who still wields considerable power and influence behind the scenes is called a "shadow sh?gun" ( yami sh?gun), a sort of modern incarnation of the cloistered rule. Examples of "shadow sh?guns are former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and the politician Ichir? Ozawa.
The term bakufu (, "tent government") originally meant the dwelling and household of a sh?gun, but in time, became a metonym for the system of government of a feudal military dictatorship, exercised in the name of the sh?gun or by the sh?gun himself. Therefore, various bakufu held absolute power over the country (territory ruled at that time) without pause from 1192 to 1867, glossing over actual power, clan and title transfers.
The shogunate system was originally established under the Kamakura shogunate by Minamoto no Yoritomo. Although theoretically, the state (and therefore the Emperor) held 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. The hierarchy that held this system of government together was reinforced by close ties of loyalty between the daimy?s, 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 daimy?s, the sh?en system, the great temples and shrines, the s?hei, the shugo and jit?, the jizamurai and early modern daimy?. Each shogunate reflected the necessity of new ways of balancing the changing requirements of central and regional authorities.