The Ashikaga Bakufu

The Kamakura bakufu . . .bakufu . . .
     rewarded . . . soldiers and samurai with gifts of land; this is how the feudal system worked. The samurai gave unswerving loyalty to his daimyo or to the shogun, and in return was rewarded with land. This gift of land, however, would be divided by his sons, and they would in turn divide their portion among their sons. By the end of the thirteenth century, there was, as a result, widespread poverty and dissatisfaction.

   Several families resented the monopoly that the Hojo held over the positions in the bakufu , and throughout the thirteenth century, disturbances would break out over this issue. Finally, in 1331, the Emperor decided that he should rule Japan, not the bakufu , and led an uprising against Kamakura. The Kamakura bakufu sent its most heroic and brilliant general, Ashikaga Takauji, to meet the Emperor's forces in battle. Ashikaga, however, switched sides; by doing so, he precipitated a hemmorhage of loyal forces from the Kamakura. In 1336, the Emperor's forces under the leadership of Ashikaga Takauji overthrew the Hojo. The Emperor would not be the sole ruler of Japan, for Takauji set up his own bakufu in the capital city of Kyoto.

   Under the Kamakura bakufu , the various regions remained more or less independent. The only rule that was exercised over these regions was by the imperial court and its regional governors. The Ashikaga period, on the other hand, was really a multi-state system whose center was the bakufu in Kyoto. All the offices, of which there were only four—police and military, finances and taxes, records, and a judiciary, were staffed by vassals loyal to the Ashikaga. These vassals were now daimyo, or "lords," that ruled various regions as military governors and owed loyalty to the Ashikaga and the bakufu . All of the daimyo had private armies which oversaw the integrity of their territories (and frequently invaded other daimyo territories).

   The military power, then, lay with individual lords. The only way the government was centralized was through the bonds of loyalty between the daimyo and the bakufu . During the fifteenth century, these bonds grew increasingly frayed until the outbreak of the Onin War (1467-1477) and the descent of Japanese society into unrelenting civil war.

Richard Hooker



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1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 10-27-96