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What was the role of the shogun in medieval Japan?

Question:

What was the role of the shogun in medieval Japan?

Pre-Shogunal Japan:

Before the rise of the samurai and the institution of the shogunate in 1192, Japan was governed much more similarly to China, with an Emperor, a conscript army, and a civilian nobility. After the Kanmu Emperor dissolved the central army and devolved responsibility for military service down to the local level, most of the military forces in the country were loyal to their local lords rather than to the Emperor directly. This would bring about the downfall of the old aristocracy in 1192 as the samurai took power from the de-militarized leadership of Japan for the first time.

Answer and Explanation:

The word shogun translates roughly as "generalissimo" or "military dictator." It was a hereditary position of enormous power in medieval Japan, roughly comparable to the king of a European state, but with a crucial difference: the shogun was not formally the leader of the country, but rather simply running it on behalf of the Emperor who was safely stowed away performing ceremonial duties and keeping his divine hands out of messy earthly politics. The shogun's power was based on the loyalty of his daimyo, or domain lords, also a hereditary position. These lords enjoyed relative autonomy in their domains as long as they loyally served the shogun and fought in his army if necessary. Shogunal power began to seriously break down in the 1860s, as many daimyo -- particularly those in relatively rich and modern Choshu and Satsuma -- abandoned their military leader in favor of the Emperor.


Learn more about this topic:

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Medieval Japan: Religion, Government & Economy

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Chapter 5 / Lesson 17
52K

Read about Medieval Japan's social structure and religion. Learn about the economy and government of Japan in the Middle Ages and see how society changed over time.


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