Sunday 29 July 2018

Kenmu Restoration Period of Japan

The Kenmu Restoration (1333–1336) is the name given to both the three-year period of Japanese history between the Kamakura period and the Muromachi period, and the political events that took place in it. The restoration was an effort made by Emperor Go-Daigo to bring the Imperial House back into power, thus restoring a civilian government after almost a century and a half of military rule.

The Mahavira Hall of Eihō-ji

The Emperor's role had been usurped by the Minamoto and Hōjō families ever since Minamoto no Yoritomo had obtained from the Emperor the title of shōgun in 1192, ruling thereafter from Kamakura. He was the first shōgun  who ruled until his death in 1199 CE.

Grave of Yoritomo in Kamakura

For various reasons, the Kamakura shogunate decided to allow two contending imperial lines—known as the Southern Court or junior line, and the Northern Court or senior line—to alternate on the throne. The method worked for several successions until a member of the Southern Court ascended to the throne as Emperor Go-Daigo.

Emperor Go-Daigo

Emperor Go-Daigo wanted to overthrow the shogunate and openly defied Kamakura by naming his own son his heir. In 1331 the shogunate exiled Go-Daigo but loyalist forces, including Kusunoki Masashige, rebelled and came to his support. They were aided by, among others, future shōgun Ashikaga Takauji, a samurai who had turned against Kamakura when dispatched to put down Go-Daigo's rebellion.

Main hall of Tōji-in temple

When Emperor Go-Daigo ascended the throne in 1318, he immediately manifested his intention to rule without interference from the military in Kamakura. The Emperor reclaimed the property of some manors his family had previously lost control of, rewarding with them, among others, Buddhist temples like Tō-ji and Daitoku-ji in the hope to obtain their support.

Daitoku-ji Temple

Emperor Go-Daigo instead of giving rewards to his minor samurai, the warrior class, gave biggest of the rewards to Nitta Yoshisada, the man who had destroyed the Kamakura shogunate, and Ashikaga Takauji. In so doing, however, he failed to return control of the provinces to civilians. Samurai anger was made worse by the fact that Go-Daigo, wanting to build a palace for himself but having no funds, levied extra taxes from the samurai class. By the end of 1335 the Emperor and the nobility had lost all support of the warrior class.

Nitta Yoshisada in an image by Kikuchi Yōsai

Go-Daigo wanted to re-establish his rule in Kamakura and the east of the country, he sent his six-year-old son Prince Norinaga to Mutsu Province and nominated him Governor-General of the Mutsu and Dewa Provinces. In an reply to this move, General Ashikaga Takauji's younger brother Tadayoshi without an order from the Emperor escorted another of his sons, eleven-year-old Nariyoshi to Kamakura, where he installed him as Governor of the Kōzuke Province with himself as a deputy and de facto ruler.

Ashikaga Tadayoshi depicted in an Edo period print

Third son of Emperor Go-Daigo's, Prince Morinaga, was appointed sei-i taishōgun together with his brother Norinaga, a move that immediately aroused General Ashikaga Takauji's hostility. Takauji believed the military class had the right to rule. Prince Morinaga, with his prestige and his devotion to the civilian government cause, was Takauji's natural enemy and could count therefore on the support of his adversaries, among them Nitta Yoshisada, whom Takauji had offended.

Prince Moriyoshi's statue at Kamakura-gū in Kamakura

Kyoto by now was aware that Takauji had assumed wide powers without an imperial permission. By late 1335 several thousand of the emperor's men were ready to go to Kamakura, while a great army at the command of Kō no Moroyasu was rushing there to help it resist the attack. On November 17, 1335, Tadayoshi issued a message in his brother's name asking all samurai to join the Ashikaga and destroy Nitta Yoshisada, a high ranking samurai.

Main Hall of Hasedera in Kamakura

The war started with most samurai convinced that General Takauji was the man they needed to have their grievances redressed, and most peasants persuaded that they had been better off under the shogunate. The campaign was therefore enormously successful for the Ashikaga, with huge numbers of samurai rushing to join the two brothers. By February 23 of the following year Nitta Yoshisada and the Emperor had lost, and Kyoto itself had fallen. On February 25, 1336, Ashikaga Takauji entered the capital and the Kenmu Restoration ended.

Minatogawa Shrine, one of the shrines dedicated to individuals and events of the Kenmu Restoration.


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