The shogunate   幕府

Date of publication :
Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Portrait of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Minamoto no Yorimoto

Portrait of Minamoto no Yorimoto

Taizo-in Temple

Taizo-in Temple

Commodore Perry's ships

Commodore Perry's ships arrived in 1854

The History of the shogunate in Japan

Japan has had for almost mythological times an emperor who, according to tradition, has belonged to the same family for more than 2,500 years. However, during the last millennium, he only ruled the country sporadically, often leaving the controls to the country's military class, the samurai. The name of this power: the shogunate.


It was Emperor Kanmu during the Heian period (794 - 1185) who introduced the word shogunate or shogun a name that was originally for a generals who were sent to conquer and pacify the Tohoku region against the indigenous Emishi. The full title was then "seii taishogun" or "great general appeaser of the barbarians". The most famous of them was Sakanoue Tamuramaro, also the founder of the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto.

Having fallen into disuse after the completion of the conquest of Tohoku, this title experienced a resurgence with the rise of the samurai, warriors were paid by wealthy landowners who became the dominant force in the 11th and 12th centuries and who built their own clans for protection. 

Statue of Minamoto no Yoritomo

Statue of Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of Kamakura in Genji-yama koen in Kamakura

These clans finally took power over the aristocrats' court in Tokyo in 1185 with the creation of the bakufu, "office in the tent", that is, the home of warriors during a military campaign, from Kamakura. A new power was established that was to last nearly 700 years.

Ashikaga Takauji

Ashikaga Takauji is the first Shogun of the Muromachi period.


Japan knew three shogunates during its history.

The Kamakura shogunate (1192 - 1333). Founded by Minamoto no Yorimoto, this military government was quickly dominated by the Hojo clan, which took over the charge of "regent", while the provincial lords, the " shugo", saw their power grow.

The Ashikaga shogunate (1336 - 1573). Created by Ashikaga Takauji, this shogunate had for center of power the district of Muromachi in Kyoto, Takauji being close to the imperial court. It was this proximity to a competing power that made his shogunate weaker than the others, while the provincial lords, now called "daimyo", became autonomous over time.

The Tokugawa shogunate (1603 - 1868). Established by Iyeasu Tokugawa, the last of the three unifiers in the country, imposed strict and unique power over all of Japan for two and a half centuries, being overthrown only by the arrival of Westerners.


The shogunate was for a long time an unstable power, with lords seeking to gain their independence, and when they could, to compete with the central power.

This was the background to the shogunates of Kamakura and Ashikaga, during which Zen Buddhism gained popularity. The shrines of Mount Hiei took on great importance during the Kamakura period, whereas, the weak Ashikaga power witnessed the birth of an era of flourishing arts ( Noh, tea ceremony ...).

The castle of Edo at the time of Tokugawa

The castle of Edo at the time of Tokugawa

The Tokugawa shogunate was ultimately the bakufu which brought peace and stability to Japan, preparing the advent of Japan as a great power at the international level.

Comments Read comments from our travellers