The Role the Hôjô Played in Transforming the Japanese Polity and Launching Six Centuries of Warrior Leadership

From approximately 1203 to 1334, Japan was ruled by a family known as the Hôjô. Although Minamoto no Yoritomo founded the Kamakura shogunate, the Hôjô became the real decision-makers of the polity after his death.  In form, the Hôjô were servants of the shogun, but by the middle of the thirteenth century they exercised virtually unchallenged control over most Bakufu affairs. The rise of the Hôjô has been described as “one of the great success stories in premodern Japanese history.” 

As the Hôjô were the first warrior family to establish an enduring regime, they have received considerable attention from historians, revealing an interesting collection of leadership characteristics.  There is general agreement that the Hôjô were able to craft a stable and in many ways effective system of government. It is also widely accepted that they established a judicial system that facilitated the fair and equitable judgment of land disputes and other conflicts common to the warrior class.  Some scholars have also credited the Hôjô with implementing a highly participative form of government, arguing that the establishment of the hyôjôshû and hikitsukeshû allowed a significant role for rival warrior families in the decision-making processes of the government and judicial systems.  

Sound government, however, is not the only attribute associated with the Hôjô. They are also known for the resourcefulness and brutality with they eliminated rival warrior families.  As Paul Varley puts it: “The Hôjô, through a skillful mixture of political maneuvering and military force, prevailed over their opponents.” The Hôjô ruthlessly destroyed many strong rival clans. They also manipulated the selection of members of the hyôjôshû or circumvented this body when it’s members were not receptive to Hôjô policies and power.   While there is some debate about the degree to which the Hôjô actually shared decision-making power with other families, most historians agree that one of the Hôjô’s main objectives was to concentrate power in family hands and that they pursued this objective using a combination of coercive and cooptive methods.            

The contrast between what historians have had to say about Hôjô leadership and what Hôjô Shigetoki said to his son in his kakun about the role of a Hôjô leader is striking.  Historians describe a resourceful, but ruthless upstart family that used any and all means at their disposal to increase their influence. Shigetoki, on the other hand, speaks mostly about the importance of using communication as a tool to build and maintain positive relationships with others. His kakun contain virtually no comments on military matters, focusing more on etiquette, communication strategies, self-presentation and moral behavior.  

One common thread running through both historical commentaries on the Hôjô and Shigetoki’s kakun is an emphasis on strategic thinking.  Historian’s note how the Hôjô were able to flourish in times of adversity, manipulating the tools available to them to strengthen their control over the polity.  Shigetoki’s commentary is full of strategic advice, but whereas historians have tended to emphasize the Hôjô’s success in eliminating or manipulating rivals, Shigetoki’s kakun provide a blueprint for how to behave in ways that engender loyalty in subordinates and peasants while earning respect and praise from elders and social superiors.  

Shigetoki’s kakun provide a firsthand account of how a Hôjô leader viewed his family’s position as warrior leaders in a state that had for many centuries been under the control of the courtier class.  Chapters three and four examine these documents in detail. This chapter surveys historical data on the context in which Hôjô Shigetoki lived. Using French and Raven’s typology of power as a framework in which to organize historical data on the Hôjô provides a basis for speculation as to why there is such a gap between what we know the Hôjô did and what Shigetoki encouraged his son to do.

Wielding Influence Throughout the Polity

The Hôjô were the preeminent family of the age, and most of their contemporaries were subject in some way to Hôjô leadership. They exercised influence over their servants, vassals and the peasants inhabiting the family’s lands. As the dominant family in the Bakufu, they also exerted influence over most of the warrior class as well as over the courtiers and even the emperor. Members of all of these groups can be classified as followers of the Hôjô, though there were disparities in the nature and degree of influence the Hôjô exercised over each group.  

The Hôjô appear to have taken steps to enhance all of their power bases, but coercion and legitimacy have played a particularly large role in historical analysis of Hôjô power. This chapter focuses on Hôjô power in relation to both the warrior and courtier classes; some themes reflect the changing relationship between these two classes as a whole. Of course, each class was made up of numerous parties with disparate interests, but there are certain general trends that shaped the evolution of relations between them. At the beginning of the Kamakura period, the Bakufu had not yet asserted dominance over the Court, and the Hôjô position within the Bakufu does not appear to have been particularly strong. The Japanese polity that existed from the end of the thirteenth century through at least the Jôkyû Conflict has been referred to as a dyarchy, indicating that there were two major seats of political power, the Bakufu in Kamakura and the Court in Kyoto. By the middle of the thirteenth century, though, the Hôjô had taken a central position within the Bakufu, and the Bakufu had come to dominate Bakufu-Court relations.

Coercive Power:  Eliminating All Rivals

A leader need not use force or punishment in all cases to be said to wield coercive power; however, as French and Raven point out, followers will not be subject to coercion unless they have seen what happens to those who do not conform to the wishes of the leader. The Hôjô did not leave such matters to chance. The Hôjô are suspected of complicity in the downfall and deaths of the sons of their lord Yoritomo, and it appears that for their part Yoritomo’s sons were not innocent of plotting against the Hôjô. There is also speculation that the Hôjô may have played a role in the demise of Yoritomo himself. The Hôjô victory in the Jôkyû Conflict demonstrated their power to coerce even the Court into cooperation.  Along the way, the Hôjô mercilessly crushed warrior rivals such as the Hiki, Kajiwara, Hatakeyama, Wada and Miura.    

The Hôjô facilitated warrior ascension by destroying their warrior rivals, thereby consolidating control of the warrior class under themselves. Most of the conflicts between the Hôjô and their rivals in some way involved the Court or the shogun. Both parties had legitimate power exceeding that of the Hôjô family, but neither could resist the Hôjô militarily without the cooperation of rival warrior clans. The picture is further complicated by the fact that various members of the Hôjô family also plotted against each other. As the Hôjô leaders eliminated rebellious members of their own family, Yoritomo’s sons and all significant warrior rivals, they undermined the Court’s ability to resist their encroachment on Court prerogatives. The Hôjô, using each conflict as a pretext to eliminate another rival, made it increasingly difficult for the Court to control the warriors by playing them against each other.

Yoritomo’s sons did not willingly cooperate with the shikken arrangement, which deprived them of the prerogatives of the ruler. In fact, in response to moves taken by Hôjô Tokimasa to undermine the authority of Yoriie and the influence of a rival clan known as the Hiki, the latter two parties instigated a plot to have Tokimasa killed. Using this threat as an opportunity, Tokimasa had the leader of the Hiki killed and with the cooperation of several other warrior families annihilated the Hiki family. Soon thereafter, Yoriie, under duress, yielded the title of shogun to his younger brother Sanetomo and took the tonsure. He died in confinement a year later. The upshot of this conflict was that Tokimasa assumed a much greater role in the Bakufu, taking the title of shikken and issuing policies via the mandokoro. 

Next, a series of Hôjô internecine conflicts resulted in the destruction of the Hatakeyama family and the expulsion of Tokimasa from Kamakura by his son, Yoshitoki, who took over as the next shikken. After destroying the Wada under the pretext of suppressing a revolt, Yoshitoki seems to have been complicit in the downfall of Sanetomo, whose tenure as shogun ended in his death at the hands of Kugyô, a son of Yoriie. While there is no proof that the Hôjô were involved in the plot against Sanetomo, the timing fit nicely with Yoshitoki’s plans to replace Sanetomo with an imperial prince. Sanetomo was the last descendant of Yoritomo to hold the office of shogun. Upon Sanetomo’s demise, the post of shogun was filled by Kujô Yoritsune, whose mother was of Minamoto lineage, but whose father, Kujô Michiie, was a courtier of the Fujiwara line. Finally in 1252, after deposing Yoritsune’s son Yoritsugu, the Hôjô filled the post of shogun with a series of princes. The Minamoto had been effectively purged from the warrior government founded by Yoritomo.

At the beginning of the third decade of the thirteenth century, conflict escalated between the Hôjô and the Court in Kyoto. In 1221, Go-Toba declared Yoshitoki a rebel and sent troops to chastise him, but in the ensuing Jôkyû Conflict the Hôjô defeated the imperial army, which consisted largely of the followers of vassals of the Minamoto who had by this time been purged by the Hôjô. In the aftermath of this conflict the Hôjô acquired the coercive power to determine the imperial succession. 

Even before the beginning of the Kamakura period, the warriors as a class had developed considerable coercive power in relation to the courtier class. The series of conflicts spanning the latter half of the twelfth century involving the Minamoto and Taira clans reflected a shift in the balance of power between the two classes. Courtiers jockeyed with each other for power by aligning themselves with members of one warrior clan, the other, or both, and their fortunes rested largely upon the success or failure of their warrior comrades on the battlefield. Still, the defeat of the Court in the Jôkyû Conflict marked a significant shift in power away from the Court to the Bakufu. Conflicts continued to flare up through the middle of the century. The Hôjô fought among themselves, eliminated rivals and continued to manipulate the Court until, by the middle of the thirteenth century, they were in clear control of the polity. This control was enhanced each time they demonstrated their ability to punish any party that might have been able to mount meaningful resistance to their ascension. Hôjô rule was clearly built upon a strong foundation of coercive power. 

Reward Power:  Taking Care of Vassals and Collaborators

The Hôjô wielded considerable reward power in relation to other warriors, and at times this may have been the glue that held their polity together. They are reputed to have been fair and generous in the parceling out of estates, as well as in the judgment of cases of disputed land rights. The shikken’s ability to reward loyal vassals with land was a determinant of the scope of his influence over them. Yasutoki made a particularly strong impression on his own brothers and descendants in this respect by distributing among his brothers much of the property he inherited when he became shikken.   

One of the reasons cited for the decline of the Hôjô government is that in the aftermath of the Mongol invasions they were unable to reward their vassals with new lands. Throughout the first half of the thirteenth century, they had used conflicts with rivals as a pretext for confiscating and redistributing properties to Hôjô family members and supporters.  After the Mongols had been repulsed, there were no lands to be confiscated; thus, they were unable to satisfactorily reward those who had collaborated in resisting the invasion. This led to dissatisfaction among parties who had fought against the Mongols, and it has been cited as a cause of declining loyalty to the Hôjô toward the end of the Kamakura period. 

The Hôjô also had reward power over the courtiers, in that they could provide bureaucratic positions as well as assign and protect land holdings for courtier peers who cooperated with them. As mentioned above, the Hôjô even acquired the power to determine the selection and retirement of emperors. Despite the increasing encroachment of the Hôjô, the Court retained the formal prerogative to reward warriors with court ranks, and warrior leaders continued to solicit, or at least claim to have, the support of the Court as justification for their policies and military campaigns. While it is possible that the Hôjô would have been able to maintain their hegemony without maintaining the appearance that they were serving the Court, it nonetheless seems likely that being able to claim that they were defenders of the Court probably enhanced Hôjô legitimacy in the eyes of other warriors.  

The Hôjô were not able to take unassailable control of the polity until the middle of the thirteenth century; however, their ability to obliterate opponents and reward supporters made it very clear that they were the strongest family in the Bakufu. The Hôjô victory in the Jôkyû Conflict signaled a major enhancement of the reward and coercive power bases of the Hôjô at the expense of the Court and warrior rivals. Nonetheless, as noted in chapter one, reward and coercive power are not as reliable as expert, legitimate and referent power. Influence and loyalty gained through rewards and punishments are contingent upon the continuing expectation of reward or threat of punishment.  For the Hôjô, then, as for other leaders, it was desirable to enhance their expert, legitimate and referent power bases.  

The shift of the referent and legitimate power bases from Court to Bakufu seems to have taken longer. In terms of position in the official social hierarchy, the warriors never surpassed the courtiers. The Court survived as the symbolic apex of the polity throughout seven centuries of warrior domination. The only warrior leader historians have suggested may have seriously considered toppling the imperial structure was Oda Nobunaga, one of the three great unifiers. Nobunaga, of course, died at the hands of one of his own captains.

When the warriors acquired increased referent and legitimate power, they did so largely by acquiring expertise that had until that point been the domain of the courtier class. Prior to the Kamakura period, the expert power bases of the warrior and courtier classes rested on different types of expertise. The courtiers were experts on matters of civil administration, and they were literate at a time when most warriors were still unable to read. Even after the establishment of the Kamakura Bakufu, illiterate warrior leaders relied upon courtier bureaucrats to read and write formal documents. The expert power of the courtiers in civil and administrative matters was matched by the warriors’ expertise in the arts of war. The two classes had to rely upon each others’ strengths in civil and military matters, so the power balance shifted back and forth depending upon which sort of expertise was in demand. From the middle of the Kamakura period, though, the expert power base of the Hôjô and the warrior class in general expanded to include categories of expertise that had previously been the domain of courtier bureaucrats. The expansion of warrior expertise into civil and cultural fields had the effect of enhancing the legitimate power of the warriors as rulers. In addition to recognizing the legitimating effect of developing civil knowledge, as shown in chapters three and four, Shigetoki also seems to  have seen potential for warriors to gain status simply by behaving in a way that would elicit praise from courtier peers.

Legitimate Power:  The Complexities of Legitimacy

There are several factors directly pertinent to the strength of the Hôjô’s legitimate power base. One source of Hôjô legitimate power was their relationship to a legitimating authority. The Hôjô, like other powerful families in Japanese history, enhanced their legitimacy through their relationship to a recognized higher authority, in this case the shogun. Hôjô Tokimasa’s daughter Masako was married to Yoritomo.  While Yoritomo does not appear to have given Tokimasa preferential treatment while he was alive, the Hôjô used this association to their advantage in Bakufu politics, and Masako is known to have worked tenaciously to enhance the position of her family. 

Soon after Yoritomo’s death, the Hôjô began to siphon power away from the post of shogun to that of the shikken, regent to the shogun.  In 1199, a council consisting of the Bakufu’s leading warriors and bureaucrats was formed. Ostensibly, this council’s mission was to provide guidance to Yoritomo’s son and successor Yoriie, but in reality the leading families used the council to make decisions and issue policies in place of the shogun. The leader of this council was Shigetoki’s grandfather Hôjô Tokimasa. In 1203, Tokimasa further enhanced Hôjô legitimacy and influence by establishing the office of shikken, regent to the shogun. During most of the Kamakura period, the position of shikken was filled by a member of the Hôjô family. The shikken, while formally subordinate to the shogun, was in fact able to exercise great authority based on the title.  In form, he was a servant, but in practice he was the ruler.

Hôjô legitimacy was buttressed by their early monopolization of the office of shikken. In fact, the Hôjô never chose to take the position of shogun and thus establish themselves as official heads of the Bakufu.  Rather, they made use of the legitimacy that came with being official advisors to the shogun. The Hôjô had public legitimacy, but that legitimacy was predicated upon maintenance of the existing political order, in which at least formally their position was subordinate to that of the shogun, who was in turn subordinate to the Court. Some scholars have suggested that the Hôjô were sensitive to the possibility that taking the title of shogun would have undermined the source of their own legitimacy by making it official that they were usurping rather than serving the authority of the shogun. At any rate, they were able to achieve their objectives without eliminating the posts of shogun or emperor or taking these titles for themselves.

Using governing bodies to legitimate Hôjô policies – Governance and justice were administered at least partially through collectives such as the hyôjôshû and the hikitsukeshû.  The hyôjôshû was an association of leading warrior families and courtier bureaucrats. Japanese historians have traditionally pointed to the establishment of these bodies as evidence that the Hôjô practiced a consultative form of government involving rival families in the the formulation of Bakufu policies and administration of justice.  The hyôjôshû has been treated as a council facilitating consultative government by leading warriors.  

Recent scholarship has disputed the degree to which the Hôjô intended to use such bodies to distribute power to rival families.  Documentary evidence implies that the Hôjô did not use these bodies to distribute power so much as to propagate their own agenda under the auspices of what appeared to be a participative body. In fact, it seems the Hôjô deliberately excluded their strongest rivals from these bodies.  Nonetheless, at times rival families were able to influence the hyôjôshû so that it did not always provide a rubber stamp for Hôjô decisions.  At such times, the Hôjô chose to rule through an alternative body known as the mandokoro, which was more firmly under Hôjô control.  

The use of councils as a legitimating authority is relevant to this study. Whether working through the hyôjôshû or mandokoro, the Hôjô did choose to govern through bodies in which non-Hôjô members usually outnumbered Hôjô members. At the beginning of their rise, the Hôjô probably had little choice but to build support for their own policies among other rival families. They didn’t achieve complete dominance of the Bakufu until they obliterated their last significant rivals, the Miura, in 1246. In fact, in major campaigns such as the Jôkyû Conflict, the Hôjô depended on the support of other warriors to overcome their enemies. Their ability to coerce some families was contingent upon their ability to gain the support of others. In all likelihood, at least for the first half of the thirteenth century, the hyôjôshû was a somewhat participative body whether the Hôjô intended it to be or not, simply because they could not always coerce its membership to submit to Hôjô decisions.

Decision-making is a complex process.  Many steps in the formulation of an official policy occur in informal settings.  Generally, later generations do not have access to records of the informal stages of the decision-making process; thus, it is difficult to judge exactly how a decision was reached. What is recorded in official documents is only the tail end of the process. Both before and after the establishment of the hyôjôshû, the Hôjô probably formulated their plans and consulted with various parties before they ever brought them before in an official body such as the hyôjôshû or mandokoro. The official body the Hôjô used to propagate a policy probably depended upon a number of factors such as the support the Hôjô anticipated they would receive in each body.

At any rate, whether the Hôjô intended to use hyôjôshû as a body to involve other families in the Bakufu decision-making process or not, they set a precedent in warrior government when they established this body. By gathering warriors together for hyôjôshûmeetings, the Hôjô added another institutional feature to the Bakufu increasing both the legitimacy of the Bakufu and the Hôjô as its strongest clan. These bodies may have been intended primarily to serve as a mouthpiece for the Hôjô. After all, the shikken controlled selection of members of these bodies, and official documents always bore his seal. Nonetheless, the hyôjôshûhikitsukeshû, and mandokoro served as official organs through which the Hôjô could issue their policies. The inclusion of other warrior families can only have enhanced the public legitimacy of these bodies, but once they were included some of these families probably pursued policies that did not conform with the designs of the Hôjô. Whether they willingly or unwillingly shared power with other warrior and bureaucratic families, the Hôjô had to exercise power through other parties not all of whom were tied to them by vassalic obligations. These bodies were formal organs through which to disseminate Hôjô decisions to the warrior class as a whole, but they were also formal organs through which other families could attempt to influence the Hôjô.

Expert Power:  Demonstrating the Ability to Judge and Govern  

Beyond the legitimate power they derived from their claim to the position of shikken, the Hôjô’s legitimacy was supported by expert power deriving from their reputation for admirable performance as rulers and judges. As noted by Jeffrey Mass, “The system was effective because the Bakufu served as arbitrator, not as prosecutor, within an exclusively accusatorial process. Kamakura thus remained outside and above the suits it sought to resolve, and in the process insulated itself from undue partisanship or criticism.” The Hôjô maintained impartiality by hiring professional courtier bureaucrats to help administer the organs of justice. Yoritomo had started the practice of hiring courtiers to run his administrative apparatus shortly after he established the Bakufu in 1180.  The Hôjô continued to recruit skilled courtiers to administer justice through the end of the Kamakura period. 

In 1232, Hôjô Yasutoki (1183-1242), Shigetoki’s older brother and the third shikken, issued the Jôei Formulatory, a set of public injunctions primarily concerned with the judgment of land disputes. As noted by French and Raven, “In all cases, the notion of legitimacy involves some sort of code or standard, accepted by the individual, by virtue of which the external agent can assert his power.” The Jôei Formulatory served this purpose for the Hôjô. As Jeffrey Mass explains, Yasutoki’s conception of justice was rooted in Confucian doctrines, but he advocated a flexible application of law, so that the adjudicator could respond appropriately to the particulars of each case. “The goal was to produce a blueprint that would have the force of law in individual cases, yet would clearly reflect the values and experiences of the warrior class.”

Mass notes, “Educated in classical Confucianism, he (Yasutoki) appreciated better than any of his peers the value of order and predictability in the highly volatile post-Jôkyû world. Yet he set as his goal not so much the establishment of rules as the creation of standards:  ‘reasonableness’ (dôri), not literalness, was to function as his essential guideline.” The concept of dôri  has become emblematic of the political philosophy of the Hôjô, but the term was not coined by Yasutoki. Buddhist teachers such as Jien used the term. According to Paul Varley, “The term, an important concept in a number of areas of medieval thought, was generally employed with the meaning of ‘reasonableness,’ ‘common sense,’ or ‘rightness.’ In short, dôri was to be the real basis for dispensing fair and equitable decisions in legal cases brought before the Kamakura shogunate.” As the Hôjô set about enhancing their own legitimacy as rulers and judges, one can see how a flexible concept such as dôri might have been a useful one for the Hôjô, who had the coercive and reward power to influence “common sense.”

It may not be accurate to suggest that Yasutoki intended to formulate the standards by which the emerging warrior elite should lead the Japanese polity. He was probably interested in dealing with the specific problems of running the Bakufu rather than with legitimating the increasing power of the warrior class as a whole. Still, The Jôei Formulatory deals mostly with issues of concern to the warrior class.  Yasutoki was probably concerned with legitimating the Hôjô position at the top of the warrior class rather than with claiming a place for the warriors class at the top of the polity. Nonetheless, in the eyes of later warriors and historians, the Jôei Formulatory and Hôjô justice did become symbols of good government, and the content and sentiments of the Jôei Formulatory were echoed in later legal documents. The Kemmu shikimoku  directly addresses good government in the Confucian sense, and the Ashikaga justified their rule as a return to good practices of the early Hôjô. By the Tokugawa period, the warriors were in fact justifying their rule in terms of their ability to provide sound government. Through the many centuries of warrior rule, Yasutoki and the Hôjô were looked to as models of how warriors should rule.  

 While the Hôjô were probably primarily interested in consolidating and legitimating their own position in the polity, the tools they used to accomplish this became the tools by which subsequent warrior governments were able to legitimate their own rule and the ascendancy of the warrior class.  After several generations of rule primarily based on coercion and a claim to legitimacy predicated upon their role as supporters of the shogun, the Hôjô legitimate power base was enhanced by their expertise in sound government as reflected in the promulgation of the Jôei Formulatory, the establishment of formal organs of government and justice such as the hyôjôshû and hikitsukeshû , the staffing of these organs with qualified bureaucrats, and a record of fair administration of justice according to the principle of dôri.

Referent and Legitimate Power:  Looking and Acting Like Rulers

While there are many themes in warrior history relevant to the concept of referent power, historians have had little to say about what if any role referent power played in Hôjô leadership. The Hôjô have been hailed as superior political strategists, capable rulers and ruthless militarists, but not as inspirational or charismatic leaders. As discussed in chapter one, the lord-vassal relationship has often been portrayed as an emotional bond, particularly in literary historical accounts such as the war tales. However, there is good reason to doubt that emotions such as pure loyalty were the glue that held together most vassalic bonds. At any rate, as the leaders of the Bakufu, the Hôjô had to influence parties who were not subject to vassalic ties. Perhaps it is a reflection of the Hôjô’s broad influence that in Shigetoki’s kakun, the lord-vassal relationship receives relatively little attention compared to other relationships Shigetoki had to maintain. One group of potential followers with the ability to cause a great deal of trouble for the Hôjô was the courtier class.

The political structure of the first half of the Kamakura period has been described as the kôbu polity, a dyarchy in which power was divided between , the Court in Kyoto, and the bu, the Bakufu in Kamakura. This sharing of power came about because Yoritomo realized that it was to his advantage to reintegrate his newly autonomous warrior state back into the polity formally ruled by the Court. His kishu (lineage) as a descendant of a past emperor supported his position above other warrior houses; however, invoking kishu as a legitimating factor entailed recognizing the Court as an even higher legitimate authority. When the Hôjô seized power in the aftermath of Yoritomo’s death, they also chose to work within this kôbuframework. 

The fact that the Court survived as a locus of formal authority seems to have had significant consequences for the leadership behaviors of the warrior class. As legitimacy was still shared between these two classes, and the Court was formally superordinate to the Bakufu, ambitious warriors seem to have understood the benefits of promoting good relations with at least some members of the courtier class. During the series of conflicts involving the Minamoto and Taira in the twelfth century, the competing factions both generally consisted of some combination of warriors and courtiers. With the conclusion of the Jôkyû Conflict, the Hôjô had demonstrated that it was possible for the Bakufu to militarily subdue the Court; still, they seem to have chosen instead to coopt, manipulate or work around the Court rather than simply destroy it.

As the warriors assumed an increasingly significant role in the political sphere, the differences between them and the courtiers blurred.  The bun and bu had not always been seen as the prerogatives of two separate classes. Having just triumphed in a battle for the right to succeed his brother Tenji as emperor, the seventh century emperor Temmu  is said to have explained his own ascension by saying: “In government, military matters are the essential thing.” Over many centuries, though, military matters came to be the prerogative of a separate warrior class, and scholars generally agree that the courtiers and warriors of the Heian period saw each other as being of separate status. Even great warrior families like the Taira and the Minamoto, who could trace their lineages back to emperors saw themselves and were seen by the courtiers as warriors rather than as courtiers.

Nonetheless, starting at least from the twelfth century, certain warriors, especially those living in Kyoto, began to adopt aspects of the courtier identity. Descriptions of what Paul Varley refers to as courtier-warriors show that the courtier authors of the war tales, viewed warriors who adopted courtier ways‚ with ambivalence. On the one hand, Taira no Atsumori cuts a beautiful figure, playing his flute in camp the night before he goes to battle. Still the descriptions of Atsumori’s death at the hands of Kumagae no Naozane show that the authors viewed Atsumori as a warrior who had lost the essential roughness he needed to survive in the world of war. Atsumori is a tragic figure, more worthy of sympathy than respect. Another courtier-warrior, Taira no Tadanori, seems to have achieved a higher degree of expertise in the arts of war, but he also is killed on the battlefield by an eastern warrior. The western general Tadanori affixes a poem to his quiver as he prepares for battle; the eastern warrior Okabe no Tadazumi attaches Tadanori’s head to his sword when the battle has concluded. The message is clear:  while warriors who cultivate a sense of the civil arts are attractive as individuals, they are not capable of standing up to the ferocity of eastern warriors who have not been tainted by exposure to the courtiers.

As their political clout expanded in the thirteenth century, the Hôjô were confronted with a vexing situation. Their expanded political role brought them into ever closer contact with the courtiers. Obviously, as there were still many instances in which they needed martial skills, it would have been folly to allow their military expertise to decline; nonetheless, as the experience of the Taira showed, it would have been very difficult to interact with the courtiers without being influenced by them. Yoritomo seems to have considered this dilemma when he chose to locate his capital in Kamakura, which was far from the Court culturally and politically as well as geographically. 

By the middle of the thirteenth century, though, long after Yoritomo and his progeny had vanished from the stage of power in Kamakura, the Hôjô had either destroyed or established control over their rivals in both the warrior and courtier classes. It would appear that by this time they also started to recognize the value of embracing rather than rejecting courtier ways. Although the Hôjô are said to have been bothered by the courtier habits of Yoriie, and they certainly recognized that their power rested largely upon their military prowess, the Hôjô did also take steps to promote courtier arts among the elite members of the Bakufu. In 1241 Yasutoki ordered that warriors with skills in both the bu and bun arts be included in the kosamuraidokoro. In 1250, three years after Shigetoki’s return to Kamakura, his son-in-law, the shikken Hôjô Tokiyori followed the precedent set by Yasutoki when he ordered that from that point forward certain warriors should be selected to master the arts of the courtiers and teach them to other warriors. Carl Steenstrup explains that Tokiyori’s order was intended to reduce dependence on courtiers for knowledge of the civil arts, which had at any rate become increasingly popular among the Kamakura warriors in the aftermath of the appointment of Yoritsune and Yoritsugu to the post of shogun. There is no proof that Shigetoki was behind this order, but given its timing, the content of Shigetoki’s kakun, his status as the oldest member of the family, and his relationship with Tokiyori, it is not absurd to conjecture that Shigetoki influenced the Bakufu’s stance toward the bun.   

While the Hôjô pursued a policy of educating members of the Bakufu elite in the ways of the courtier, they did not encourage all warriors to indulge in the bun. A few years after ordering that the polite arts be learned by selected warriors, Tokiyori issued an edict to the warrior class as a whole reiterating that warriors must commit themselves first and foremost to honing their military skills. At first glance it may appear that the Hôjô were issuing conflicting policies and this may indeed be the case. However, I feel that there is an alternative explanation that better accounts for the apparent contradiction. The two directives issued by Tokiyori show how the Hôjô actively promoted the sorts of power that were of use to them at different levels of the polity. On the one hand, they wished to maintain the military strength of warriors, particularly those who were aligned with themselves. Their coercive power was dependent upon their military expertise. At the same time, they recognized that running a state required civil expertise and the cooperation of the courtiers. The Hôjô mandated the study of the bun among themselves and their elite followers as a means to improve their expertise in government and to enhance their legitimate and referent power bases in relation to the courtiers.  

One of the noteworthy trends in warrior thought reflecting the influence of courtier culture on warrior thinking is the emergence of the concept of bunbu no nidô (or bunburyôdô) the practice of both the military and civil arts. For a warrior, cultivating the bun meant becoming more like a courtier. The warriors may have identified courtier cultural forms with courtier power, and some warriors probably felt a genuine respect for the cultural attainments of the courtier class. At the very least, it seems likely that warrior elites realized it would be hard to deal with courtiers without learning the rules of courtier interaction. Despite Tokiyori’s order mandating the study of the arts of peace, it took some time for the bunburyôdô ideal to permeate the warrior class.  The latter half of the thirteenth century was dominated by the Mongol invasions, so that the warriors were too busy resisting the coercion of a foreign power to worry about their legitimacy on the domestic front. By the end of the fourteenth century, however, the bunburyôdô ideal had permeated much of the warrior class, finding eloquent expression in the life and work of warrior leaders such as Imagawa Ryôshun. The ideal continued to evolve along with the political role of the warrior class all the way through the conclusion of the Tokugawa period.  

This theme has received more attention in discussions of the Muromachi than the Kamakura period. Robert Huey suggests, that as the Ashikaga family’s control of the Court increased, so did their control of Court cultural forms such as imperial waka anthologies. One would expect that as the warriors took control of these forms, they would have altered them to suit their own tastes, but it seems that this is not what actually happened. Huey states that “while the de facto sponsorship of imperial anthologies had passed into the hands of the warrior aristocracy by the 1340s, the power of the traditional courtiers to dictate cultural values was still strong.” Rather than imposing warrior culture on the Court, the warriors conformed to courtier aesthetics to such a degree that their poetry was often not identifiable as warrior poetry per se. The warriors may have been able to manipulate the politics of Court culture, but they could not challenge the legitimacy of its basic cultural forms.  To infiltrate courtier society the warriors had to learn how to behave in courtier circles. To be privy to courtier discussions of political affairs, they had to participate in Court cultural activities. Simply put, to gain the expertise they needed from the courtier class, they had to learn how to behave like and earn the respect of courtiers. This is exactly what the Ashikaga did, developing their own ceremonial practices and etiquette, modeled on those of the Court. 

It is possible to interpret the assimilation of courtier culture by the warriors not merely as an outgrowth of a tainting influence of courtiers on warriors, but rather as an attempt by the warriors to become more like a group they had previously recognized as socially and politically superior to themselves. This line of interpretation has traditionally been applied to the Ashikaga, but it would appear that the directives issued by Yasutoki in 1241 and Tokiyori in 1250 mark the beginning of a conscious effort on the part of the Hôjô to master courtier forms. I am not suggesting that the warriors believed that building a feeling of affinity between themselves and the courtiers would eliminate the need for coercive power over the Court. Such a position would be ridiculous. It would also be irrelevant since by 1250 the Hôjô had already established its domination.  

Still, it seems sensible to call into question the tendency of historians of the Kamakura period to portray the Hôjô as having built and maintained their polity on bu rather than bun expertise. The Hôjô seem to have utilized knowledge from both spheres. Although discussions of the Kamakura period tend to reflect the view that the Bakufu actively resisted the practice of courtier ways by the warrior class, Yoritomo’s practice of employing courtier bureaucrats reflects his recognition of the need for bun expertise. Yasutoki and Tokiyori took another step toward the integration of bun expertise into the bu when they promoted the practice of bun arts by certain warriors. Even after they had achieved military dominance over the Court, it was easier for the Hôjô to monitor and manipulate the Court if they were able to cultivate strong relationships with certain members of the courtier class. Becoming more familiar with the rules of courtier interaction made it easier for the Hôjô to establish these relationships. The Hôjô began to mark themselves with signs of courtier culture as a way of facilitating an increase of Hôjô influence among the courtiers.  

Acquiring the trappings of power – Nearly a century before the rise of the Ashikaga, the Hôjô seem to have grasped that they needed more than just reward or coercive power to control the polity and engender cooperation in the courtiers. They needed expertise in the ways of government, a field which until then had been dominated by courtier bureaucrats. After serving as tandai in Kyoto, Yasutoki was responsible for promulgating The Jôei Formulatory, a legal document showing bun expertise and warrior sensibilities. He and his uncle Tokifusa also showed a taste for the polite arts. In addition to expertise in justice and public administration, the Hôjô also needed expertise in the etiquette and ceremonial practices of the courtiers. To interact smoothly and develop useful relationships with influential courtiers, they needed to put on the “trappings” of power, as represented by the refinement and cultivation of the courtier class.   

Shigetoki’s kakun indicate that by mid-career he had developed an awareness of the importance of courtier culture to political influence.  Shigetoki devotes much of his kakunto themes such as social grace and etiquette, and while he never uses the specific terms bunburyôdô or bunbu no nidô, the content of the two documents show that he was interested in developing civil and cultural as well as military skills. His first kakun reflects his ambivalence toward warrior participation in courtier culture. In one article, he inveighs Nagatoki to give top priority to martial training, followed by administrative ability and judgment rather than to performance of the polite arts. However, in that same article, he goes on to note that the polite arts are key to making a good impression, and he says that Nagatoki must “on every occasion, strive to be well thought of by others.” The form and content of his second kakun clearly indicate that he devoted considerable time to mastering the polite arts. In The Gokurakuji Letter, Shigetoki presents himself as an early, albeit crude, example of the bunburyôdô leader, demonstrating his cultural knowledge by peppering the letter with references to the Chinese classics and punctuating several points with waka.

The content of Shigetoki’s kakun probably reflect the degree to which his years in Kyoto had affected his own sensibilities. Shigetoki spent much of his career in Kyoto, serving as tandai from 1230 to 1247.  Shigetoki’s kakun seem to reflect his understanding that cultivation and social grace were essential to success for a warrior leader watching over the civil capital of the polity. It may be that his ability to move smoothly in Kyoto society complemented the military and strategic power of the Hôjô who stayed in Kamakura. A glance at Shigetoki’s life and career reveals a man more acquainted with administration and ceremony than with weapons and warfare. The next chapter starts with a brief summary of Shigetoki’s life through the end of his term as tandai. This is followed by a summary and analysis of his first kakun, The Letter to Nagatoki.

About this post:

This post is Chapter 2 of POWER, PERSONAL BONDS AND TRANSFORMATION IN THIRTEENTH CENTURY JAPANESE WARRIOR LEADERSHIP, a paper I submitted as my MA thesis when I was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa between 1997 and 2001. At the time when I wrote this paper, few historians inside or outside Japan had done much research on Hojo Shigetoki. During the past 20 years, scholarship on this period has continued, but this chapter provides a decent summary of the events surrounding the Hojo family’s rise to power. I’m currently reading Mori Yukio’s Hojo Shigetoki and enjoying the opportunity to learn details about Shigetoki’s life that I could not easily investigate at the time when I wrote this paper.

The original version of this paper is available at approximately 27 academic libraries in eleven countries around the world.

The footnotes and sources I used in compiling this chapter are available in the print and digitized versions of the paper available at libraries. Unfortunately, the footnotes didn’t survive on my computer when I upgraded my own files to a recent version of Word. I do plan, however, to add the notes and sources when I am able to recover them from the written version of the paper.

Some of the scholars cited in this chapter include:

Andrew Goble

Robert Huey – From whom I learned enough Classical Japanese to at least try to engage with the original documents.

Kakehi Yasuhiko – Historian most closely associated with research on Shigetoki’s kakun. His book includes the original (pre-modern Japanese) versions of the kakun that I used in my research.

Jeffrey Mass – A leading scholar of the Kamakura and Muromachi periods

Carl Steenstrup – The western scholar most closely associated with research on Shigetoki and his kakun.

Paul Varley – Chair of my thesis committee. Dr. Varley was quite skeptical of the value of my research on Shigetoki’s kakun as a historical research project. Nonetheless, he humored me and even once told me that I might be onto something in my choice to give more attention to the Kamakura antecedents of the flourishing of warrior leadership in the Muromachi period.

© Dana Cogan, 2001 and 2022, all rights reserved.

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