Kenmu Restoration (建武の新政,
Kenmu no shinsei)
(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 attempted restoration
ultimately failed and was replaced by the Ashikaga shogunate
(1336–1575). This was to be the last time the Emperor had any
power until the
Meiji Restoration of 1868. The many and serious
political errors made by the Imperial House during this three-year
period were to have important repercussions in the following decades
and end with the rise to power of the Ashikaga dynasty.
2 Objectives of the restoration
3 Failure of Go-Daigo's policies
4 Rise of the Ashikaga brothers
5 Prince Morinaga
6 Civil war
7 Calendrical peculiarities of the era
8 See also
11 Further reading
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. 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
Southern Court ascended to the throne as Emperor Go-Daigo.
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. At roughly the
same time, Nitta Yoshisada, another eastern chieftain, attacked the
shogunate's capital. The shogunate tried to resist his advance:
Yoshisada and shogunate forces fought several times along the Kamakura
Kaidō, for example at Kotesashigahara (小手差原), Kumegawa
(久米河) (both near today's Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture), and
Bubaigawara, in today's Fuchū, ever closer to Kamakura. The city was
finally reached, besieged, and taken. Kamakura would remain for one
century the political capital of the Kantō region, but its supremacy
Objectives of the restoration
Emperor Go-Daigo ascended the throne in 1318, he immediately
manifested his intention to rule without interference from the
military in Kamakura. Historical documents show that, disregarding
evidence to the contrary, he and his advisers believed that a revival
of the Imperial House was possible, and that the Kamakura's shogunate
was the greatest and most obvious of the obstacles.
Another situation that begged for a solution was the land-ownership
problem posed by the manors and their lands (see the article
shōen). The great landowners (shugo (governors) and jitō (manor's
lord)), with their political independence and their tax exemptions
were impoverishing the government and undermining its authority, and
Kitabatake Chikafusa, Daigo's future chief adviser, discussed the
situation in his works on succession. Chikafusa admitted that
nobody had any intention of abolishing those privileges, so the hope
of success on this front was from the beginning clearly very dim.
What he planned to replace shugo and jitō with is unclear, but he
surely had no intention of sharing power with the samurai class.
However serious the land ownership problem, Daigo and his advisers
made no serious effort to solve it, partly because it was samurai from
the manors in the western provinces that had defeated the shogunate
for him. In such a situation, any effort to regulate the manors was
bound to cause resentment among key allies.
Failure of Go-Daigo's policies
The Emperor reclaimed the property of some manors his family had
previously lost control of, rewarding with them, among others,
Buddhist temples like
Daitoku-ji in the hope to obtain
their support. He however failed to protect the rights of tenants
and workers, whose complaints poured into the monasteries.
He didn't understand the importance to him of the warrior class
either, because he never properly rewarded his minor samurai
supporters, as he could have done using lands from the confiscated
Hōjō lands, indulging instead in favoritism. These errors are the
key to understanding the events of the next few decades. After
rewarding religious institutions, he prepared to redistribute Hōjō
lands, and samurai came to him in great numbers to lay their
claims. The biggest rewards were given to samurai, among them 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. But he made his greatest error when he
failed to properly reward minor warriors who had supported him. The
tribunals set up to the purpose were inefficient and too inexperienced
for the task, and corruption was rife.
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. A wave
of enmity towards the nobility started to run through the country,
growing stronger with time. The
Taiheiki also records that,
although Takauji and Yoshisada were richly rewarded, the offices of
shugo and jito in more than fifty provinces went to nobles and court
bureaucrats, leaving no spoils for the warriors. By the end of 1335
the Emperor and the nobility had lost all support of the warrior
Rise of the Ashikaga brothers
A portrait of
Ashikaga Takauji bearing his son Yoshiakira's cipher
Go-Daigo wanted to re-establish his rule in Kamakura and the east of
the country without sending a shōgun there, as this was seen as still
too dangerous. As a compromise, he sent his six-year-old son Prince
Mutsu Province (the eastern part of today's Tōhoku
region, stretching from
Fukushima Prefecture in the south to Aomori
Prefecture in the north) and nominated him Governor-General of the
Mutsu and Dewa Provinces. In an obvious reply to this move,
Ashikaga Takauji's younger brother Tadayoshi without an order from the
Emperor escorted another of his sons, eleven-year-old Nariyoshi
(a.k.a. Narinaga) to Kamakura, where he installed him as Governor of
Kōzuke Province with himself as a deputy and de facto
ruler. The appointment of a warrior to an important post was
intended to show the Emperor that the samurai class was not ready for
a purely civilian rule.
Later, a third son of Go-Daigo's, Prince Morinaga, was appointed sei-i
taishōgun together with his brother Norinaga, a move that immediately
aroused Ashikaga Takauji's hostility. Takauji believed the
military class had the right to rule and considered himself not a
usurper but, since the Ashikaga descended from a branch of the
Minamoto clan, rather a restorer of
Minamoto power. When the Hōjō
garrison at Rokuhara was destroyed in 1333, he immediately stepped in
and installed there his office (bugyōsho). It kept order in the
city and in general took over the original's function. Extending
its authority to controlling travel along highways, issuing passports
and exercising rights previously belonging to the shogunate's deputies
(the Rokuhara Tandai), Takauji showed he believed that samurai
political power must continue. His setting himself apart as a
representative of the military made him an aggregation point for the
Samurai saw him as the man who could bring
back the shogunate's heyday, and therefore his strength was superior
to that of any other samurai,
Nitta Yoshisada included. His only
obstacle to the shogunate was Prince Morinaga.
Prince Morinaga's statue at
Kamakura-gū in Kamakura
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. Tension between the Emperor
and the Ashikaga gradually grew, until Takauji had Morinaga arrested
on a pretext and first confined him in Kyoto, then transported him to
Kamakura, where the Prince was kept prisoner until late August
1335. The situation in Kamakura continued to be tense, with Hōjō
supporters staging sporadic revolts here and there. In the course
of the same year Hōjō Tokiyuki, son of last regent Takatoki, tried
to re-establish the shogunate by force and defeated Tadayoshi in
Musashi, in today's Kanagawa Prefecture. Tadayoshi had to flee, so
before leaving he ordered the beheading of Prince Morinaga.
Kamakura was therefore temporarily in Tokiyuki's hands. Heard the
news, Takauji asked the Emperor to make him sei-i tai-shōgun so that
he could quell the revolt and help his brother. When his request
was denied, Takauji organized his forces and returned to Kamakura
without the Emperor's permission, defeating the Hōjō.[a] He then
installed himself in Kamakura's
Nikaidō neighborhood. When invited
to return to Kyoto, he let it be known through his brother Tadayoshi
that he felt safer where he was, and started to build himself a
mansion in Ōkura, where first Kamakura shōgun
Minamoto no Yoritomo's
residence had been.
Kyoto by now was aware that Takauji had assumed wide powers without an
imperial permission, for example nominating a
Uesugi clan member to
the post of Constable of Kōzuke, Nitta Yoshisada's native
province. 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. The Court, meanwhile, had done the opposite, ordering
samurai from all provinces to join Yoshisada and destroy the two
Ashikaga. The war started with most samurai convinced that 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,
Ashikaga Takauji entered the capital and the
Calendrical peculiarities of the era
Kenmu era is in the anomalous condition of having two different
durations. Because Japanese era names (nengō) change with the Emperor
and the Imperial House split in two after 1336, the
Kenmu era was
counted by the two sides in two different ways. "Kenmu" is the era
after the Genkō era, and it is understood to have spanned the years
1334 through 1336 before the beginning of the "Engen" era, as time was
reckoned by the Southern Court; and it is concurrently said to have
spanned the years 1334 through 1338 before Ryakuō, as time was
reckoned by the rival Northern Court. Because the Southern Court, the
loser, is nonetheless considered the legitimate one, its time
reckoning is the one used by historians.
Fifteen Shrines of the
^ Unlike every other source consulted Goble, on page 38 of his
"History of Japan" (see references),
George Sansom states that
Tokiyuki was killed on September 8, 1335 by Ashikaga forces entering
Kamakura. This is also certainly an error.
^ Spelling note: A modified
Hepburn romanization system for Japanese
words is used throughout Western publications in a range of languages
including English. Unlike the standard system, it maintains the "n"
even when it's followed by "homorganic consonants" (e.g., shinbun, not
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae
af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az Sansom
^ a b Hall and Duus 1990: 184-7.
^ a b c d Kamakura Shōkō Kaigijo 2008: 24–25.
^ a b c Shirai 1976: 301–302.
^ In his "History of Japan" (see references),
George Sansom states
Prince Morinaga was not in fact appointed shōgun. This is surely
an error, because contradicted by more recent and reliable sources
both in English and Japanese, for example Shirai and Hall.
^ Goble 1996.
^ Sansom says Ashikaga was staying at a temple called Eifuku-ji. This
is an error, because Takauji in 1335 is known to have stayed at the
bettō's residence at Yōfuku-ji (永福寺), a famous temple in
Nikaidō built by
Minamoto no Yoritomo which disappeared at some point
during the 15th century. Yōfuku-ji was a traditional vacation
residence of the shōguns, and the characters in its name are indeed
usually read "Eifuku-ji". See the article Nikaidō.
Hall, John Whitney; Duus, Peter (1990). Yamamura Kozo, ed. The
Cambridge History of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kamakura Shōkō Kaigijo (2008). Kamakura Kankō Bunka Kentei Kōshiki
Tekisutobukku (in Japanese). Kamakura, Japan: Kamakura Shunshūsha.
Sansom, George (January 1, 1977). A
History of Japan
History of Japan (3-volume boxed
set). Vol. 2 (2000 ed.). Charles E. Tuttle Co.
Shirai, Eiji (1976). Kamakura Jiten (in Japanese). Tōkyōdō Shuppan.
Goble, Andrew Edmund (1996). Kenmu: Go-Daigo's Revolution. Harvard
University Press Asia Center. ISBN 978-0-674-50255-0.
Kamiya, Michinori (2008). Fukaku Aruku - Kamakura Shiseki Sansaku Vol.
1 & 2 (in Japanese). Kamakura: Kamakura Shunshūsha. p. 97.
ISBN 4-7740-0340-9. OCLC 169992721.
Titsingh, Isaac, ed. (1834). [Siyun-sai Rin-siyo/Hayashi Gahō, 1652],
Nipon o daï itsi ran; ou, Annales des empereurs du Japon, tr. par M.
Isaac Titsingh avec l'aide de plusieurs interprètes attachés. Paris:
Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland.
History of Japan
Coordinates: 35°0′N 135°46′E / 35.000°N 135.767°E