The Shogunate: History of Japan


The island nation of Japan was ruled by a form of government known as the shogunate multiple times throughout its history. The last shogunate, the Tokugawa Shogunate, ruled Japan from 1600 to 1868, before it was overthrown by the Empire of Japan. The shogunate system created a social structure roughly similar to that of medieval Europe, and was an important factor in shaping Japanese culture and history. So, what exactly was a shogunate? A shogunate was essentially a military government in which a family of military lords, or Shoguns, ruled Japan. The first shogunate, the Kamakura Shogunate, was founded in 1192 when local lords, known as daimyo, seized control of the government along with their samurai, or private warriors. The ruler of the Kamakura Shogunate became known as the Shogun. The new shogunate government, ruling from the city of Kamakura, kept the imperial court in Kyoto intact. The Emperor still held his title and divine status, and was by law the head of state, though all the real power was in the hands of the shogun. The shogun was supposedly serving as a regent for the Emperor. The second shogunate, the Ashikaga Shogunate, was founded in 1336 when the Ashikaga clan overthrew the Kamakura Shogunate and became the new ruling family. The Ashikaga clan moved into Kyoto in order to exercise more control over the Emperor there. Unlike the Kamakura Shogunate, however, the Ashikaga Shogunate was unable to keep the local lords, daimyo, under control. Through the 15th and 16th centuries, that problem reached its zenith as Japan became fractured into many local clans fighting for control. This period is known as the Sengoku Period. Eventually, Oda Nobunaga captured the capital, Kyoto, and unified most of Japan under his rule. After his death in 1582, Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to power after defeating his rival Akechi Mitsuhide. After Toyotomi himself died in 1598, he was succeeded by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who completed the unification of Japan and established the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1600. The capital was moved to Edo, or today’s Tokyo. The Tokugawa clan in Edo maintained a stable and feudal relationship with the local daimyo. Which brings me to my next point. I mentioned earlier that the social structure of the Tokugawa Shogunate resembled that of medieval Europe. Basically, this is how it worked. At the top of the social pyramid was the Emperor, though he held no actual power. The shogun was the de facto head of state. Although the shogun supposedly was only in power thanks to the Emperor’s permission, it wasn’t as though the Emperor could force the shogun to resign by withdrawing that permission. The shogun ruled over many feudal lords known as daimyo, who ruled over small domains known as han. The daimyo had existed in Japan even before the first shogunate was established. There were roughly 250 domains throughout the Tokugawa Shogunate’s history, though that number often changed. These domains were ranked by the amount of rice they could produce per year, not their land size. The daimyo paid taxes to the shogun in rice as well. The daimyo were also divided into three ranks. The highest class of daimyo were the shinpan, relatives of the Tokugawa family who ruled over large domains. The second class of daimyo were the fudai. The fudai daimyo as a class came into existence when Tokugawa Ieyasu, after unifying Japan, rewarded his vassals and allies by making them daimyo. The fudai were trusted by the Tokugawa rulers and their domains were placed around important features such as trade routes. The fudai were also very prominent in politics. The Roju officials, or Elders, were the most highly ranked government personnel in the shogunate, working closely with the shogun himself. Only fudai daimyo could join the Roju. The council of Roju was extremely small, with three, four, or five officials depending on the time period. Lastly, we have the tozama daimyo, who owned the largest domains but had the least political power. The tozama daimyo were descended from warlords who had surrendered to Tokugawa Ieyasu during his wars of unification. The tozama daimyo were thus considered outsiders and were not trusted by the shogunate. The tozama had to rule domains far from the capital because they were considered dangerous, and they were often kept under watch by the fudai. The tozama were not appointed to high positions in government. In the end, though, the tozama would be the ones to overthrow the shogunate. Though all of the daimyo were submitted to the shogun, they did enjoy some degree of autonomy. Each domain had their own economies, currencies, and even militaries, comprised of samurai. The samurai were warriors who had, like the daimyo, existed since before the first shogunate was founded. The samurai were often under a daimyo’s employment. Unemployed samurai, known as the ronin, were not very respected in society. The samurai served their daimyo as medieval European knights with their lords, and basically served as private armies. The samurai were not allowed to own land and lived near the daimyo’s castle, being regularly paid by the daimyo in stipends. The samurai lived by a code known as bushido, similar to chivalry in Europe. Bushido was based off the values of frugality, loyalty, and honor, and also discipline in martial arts. The samurai was initially introduced as a class of warriors, but as the Tokugawa Shogunate was mostly peaceful, the samurai began to fight less. Instead, the samurai also became cultural leaders, engaging in the arts and literature. The samurai could exercise some control over peasants as well, like beheading them for being disrespectful. In summary, the shogun, the daimyo, and the samurai were the ruling class of the shogunate system. Peasants, artisans, and merchants were the classes being ruled. These people could own land and property, though they would have to pay taxes to the local daimyo. The shogunate system proved to be a stable way to rule over Japan. Even though the rigid social hierarchy did cause some rebellions, none was able to significantly damage the framework of the shogunate. That stability ended in the 19th century, when the arrival of Western powers at Japan’s doorstep created a divide within Japan. Japan was split into the shogunate and its supporters, who kept giving in to Western demands, and the Japanese nationalists, who sought to restore the Emperor to actual power. Eventually, the nationalists won, and in 1868 the shogunate was overthrown in a revolution known as the Boshin War. The revolution was led by tozama leaders from the Satsuma and Choshu domains. The Emperor was restored to power, and a modernization process known as the Meiji Restoration began. That put an end to the shogunate system, which had ruled over Japan for about seven centuries. To learn more about the Meiji Restoration, stay tuned for my video on the subject, which is scheduled to be uploaded on April 11 (that didn’t happen). Other than that, thanks for watching.

98 Replies to “The Shogunate: History of Japan

  1. Man I feel like playing Shogun 2 in this order now.
    Rise of the Samurai: As the Minamoto.
    Vanilla: As the Tokugawa.
    Fall of the Samurai: As the Satsuma.

  2. Its funny how history turn out, the losers of sekigahara finally got their revenge and change much of the country more than the tokugawa did…

  3. Your pyramid is wrong. The emperor, while nominally in charge, was not at the top. Furthermore, the social hierarchy of (at least) the Tokugawa bakufu officially recognized (in order of importance) samurai, farmers, artisans and crafts people and, merchants. All others, like priests, entertainers and grave diggers remained outside of these castes.

  4. My history teacher just played this in class! Really helpful keep it up, also those characters are adorable

  5. The first Shougun was Ōtomo no, Otomaro, followed by Sakanoue no, Tamuramaro.
    Thus, Ainu (including Emishi or Qui) should be always important to Japanese history.

  6. Thank you so much! This was incredibly helpful 🤙🏽 Im working on some concept art and I wanted to add shogun themes. But before taking from a culture I wanted a better understanding of it! Thank you again ☺️✌🏽✨

  7. I dont understand why nobunaga is called the unifier when he only began the process and it wasnt completed until his 2nd successor took power

  8. bit wrong here Hideyoshi managed to unite japan before but he died after his invasion of Korea which fractured japan once more

  9. Dumb question, but this is the place to ask. What era of shogunate is Soul Society in Bleach based off of? Or is it even based off a shogunate?

  10. OMG this was so helpful! I'm taking modern Japanese this semester and I've never studied anything about Japan. This is a great summary of the first chapter we had to read for the second day of class. Thank you!

  11. You needed to mention the sankin-kotai. This was a very important tool of the Tokugawa to keep the daimyos in chech.

  12. Not even one word about the banning of meat consumption and banning of killing animals that the Tokugawa shogunate introduced and lasted 2 centuries. Therefore, for me, the video is totally useless.

  13. Nani how oda nobunaga died just like a 5-7-5 japanese verse.
    Literally: "The end of the journey, shed onto red maples, the tombstone."
    or: "This is the end of my journey, red maples sheds with my own blood, now there is my tombstone."
    just like the end of oda nobunaga ambition or the end or shogunate

  14. 목소리 드래곤 히스토리안님이신가요? 너무 좋으시네요! 영어 발음도 자연스럽고

  15. Great way to leave out the fact that the first Japanese Shogun ever was a black man. I know Japanese people would hate to figure that out since yalls culture has been white washed

  16. 0:32 It's wrong. In the Battle of Oshu (1189) Minamoto no Yoritomo ruined Oshu Fujiwara clan. After fall of the Oshu Fujiwara clan, Tohoku region(North-East Japan) was ruled by Kamakura Shogunate and Bando Samurai

  17. This makes me appreciate how educational the anime Rurouni Kenshin was. I had a basic knowledge of this stuff thanks to that anime.

  18. Rurouni Kenshin is on Hulu and takes place at the end of the Tokugawa era and at the beginning of the Meiji restoration. It's fictional but it's a cool setting!

  19. ive been looking for this and serching to learn about it and thank you today i have an exam on this wish me good luck:)

  20. The city of Edo isn't pronounced "e-do", its pronounced "a-do". (That's why sake isn't called "saw-key", its called "saw-kay").

  21. Japan and China have a very interesting history, I'm glad total war is making a China let's play this time , but I gotta admit China history sounds very confusing compared to Japan or Rome.

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