The Jokyu Rebellion (承久の乱)

The Jokyu Rebellion (jokyu no ran) occurred in the third year of the Jokyu era (A.D. 1221) during the Kamakura period; in this armed conflict, Emperor Gotoba raised troops to attack the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) but was defeated. It is also known as the Jokyu Disturbance or the Jokyu War.

Even after the Kamakura bakufu, when a samurai government was established, it continued to rule in step with the old aristocratic system of government in Kyoto (called the "lord governing in heaven" system) as part of a two-part government, but as a result of the Jokyu Rebellion, the shogunate gained the upper hand, placing restrictions on the power of the Imperial Court, and achieving influence over matters of Imperial succession etc.

Given the tumultuous history of the disturbances in the Jijo and Juei eras, the Kamakura bakufu--made up primarily of samurais from the eastern provinces, having its stronghold in Kamakura, and having Minamoto no Yoritomo as its leader--exerted control over assignments of provincial governors and estate stewards in several provinces, mainly in the east, and held the power to police those domains; in the west, however, they had no real control, whereas the Imperial Court's power in the West remained considerable, and thus the shogunate and the Court were stuck as joint rulers of Japan.

The retired Emperor Gotoba possessed many talents, including exceptional skill in the arts--as evidenced by the fact that he personally chose the poems that were recorded in the "Shinkokin wakashu" (A New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry)--but his skills also extended to the martial arts, and he was fond of hunting as well, making him quite unique as a sovereign; in the time leading up to his revolt, he had worked to bolster his military strength by establishing a Western Guard Corps and adding this to his existing Northern Guard Corps. Retired Emperor Gotoba's financial resources came from his extensive shoen (private estate holdings) located in various provinces, including the Chokodo and Hachijoin territories. However, because many of these private estates were located in places where the shogunate held sway, tax payments and so forth were frequently late, and the retired Emperor Gotoba, the overlord, or one of his vassals often became embroiled in disputes with the local overseers.

In the first month of the first year of the Jokyu era (1219), the third Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"), Minamoto no Sanetomo, was assassinated by his own nephew, Kugyo. According to the explanation given in the "Jokyu ki" (Chronicle of the Jokyu Era) and other ancient sources, this resulted from the curse of "getting too big for one's breeches" (the idea that if someone rose to an official post beyond what was appropriate for them, disaster would occur); when the retired Emperor Gotoba heard of Sanetomo's death, he was inordinately pleased. Regarding this state of affairs, the retired Emperor Gotoba had initially avoided confrontation with the military government and had instead aimed for harmony between court and shogunate; for that reason, he had if anything seemed strongly supportive of Sanetomo's rise to the rank of Shogun. With Sanetomo's sudden death, responsibility for ruling at Kamakura fell to Masako HOJO, Yoritomo's legal wife, and to her younger brother Yoshitoki HOJO, regent to the Shogun, who advised her.

The shogunate submitted a request to the retired Emperor Gotoba that his son, Imperial Prince Masanari, be sent to Kamakura as the new Shogun. In response to this request, the retired Emperor Gotoba sent his vassal Tadatsuna Fujiwara to Kamakura, who submitted as requirements that the punishment of the gokenin (low-ranking warrior vassal) Morita NISHINA (a member of the Western Guard Corps), who was close to the retired Emperor, be overturned, and the annulment of responsibility over the Nagae estate in Settsu Province, which belonged to the courtesan Igakyoku (formerly the prostitute Kamegiku), and the Kurahashi estate be repealed. Yoshitoki, who saw these requests as shaking the very foundations of shogunal authority, refused. Yoshitoki provided his younger brother, Tokifusa HOJO, with 1000 mounted samurai warriors and sent him up to the capital at Kyoto, intending to negotiate with the court with this intimidating show of force as a backdrop, but the Court held firm in its position and the negotiations broke down. Consequently, Yoshitoki gave up the idea of having an Imperial family member as Shogun, choosing instead to seek a Shogun from among the line of regents and advisors; in the sixth month of the same year, he hailed Mitora KUJO (afterwards known as Yoritsune KUJO), son of Michiie KUJO, as the new Shogun and Lord of Kamakura, creating a rule by regency system that concentrated most power in the regent's hands. The problematic issue of the shogunal succession left lingering bad feelings between the retired Emperor Gotoba and Yoshitoki.

Then in the seventh month of the same year, Minamoto no Yorishige, grandson of Minamoto no Yorimasa and guardian of the imperial palace, was attacked and killed by the Western Guard Corps. The reason given was that Yorishige had been plotting to usurp the position of Shogun himself, but given the poor relations with the shogunate, for the retired Emperor Gotoba to send the court's military forces into action for such a reason would have been unnatural, and so it is thought that Gotoba struck because Yorishige had learned Gotoba had been carrying out incantations and prayers to curse Kamakura. Perhaps for the very same reason, right after this incident with Yorishige, the Saisho Shitenno-in (the Hall of the Four Conquering Deva Kings), which the retired Emperor Gotoba had been using for such prayers, was demolished.

Tension between the Court and the shogunate gradually escalated, and the retired Emperor Gotoba's intention to strike down the shogunate hardened, but Emperor Tsuchimikado opposed this plan, as did many of the Court nobles, including the regent Iezane KONOE and his father, Motomichi KONOE, and many nobles opposed the plan or supported it only halfheartedly. Emperor Juntoku enthusiastically supported the plan to overthrow the shogunate, so in 1221, he abdicated in favor of Imperial Prince Kanenari (who became Emperor Chukyo), and with his newfound freedom from official duties he actively worked to aid the plan to topple the shogunate. He secretly commanded temples and shrines to begin incantations and prayers to curse Yoshitoki. Rumors of a plot to overthrow the shogunate began to circulate, until things reached the point that a confrontation between the Court and the shogunate was unavoidable.

Retired Emperor Gotoba raises an army
On the fourteenth day of the fifth month in 1221, the retired Emperor Gotoba used a mounted archery competition as a pretext to gather samurai warriors together from all over the country, until he had assembled an army of over 1700 mounted samurai, including those in the Northern and Western Guard Corps and those official guardsmen stationed in Kyoto. Among these samurai were the prominent gokenin (lower vassals) Moritsuna ONO and Taneyoshi MIURA. The protector of Kyoto, Chikahiro OE (son of Hiromoto OE), who was also the shogunate's local envoy, was coerced by the retired Emperor Gotoba until he had no choice but to join the capital faction. At the same time, Dainagon (chief councilor of state) Kintsune SAIONJI, who was of the faction friendly to the shogunate, was put under house arrest. The next day, on the fifteenth, 800 riders led by Hideyasu FUJIWARA, of the capital faction, raided the mansion of Mitsusue IGA, one of the protectors of Kyoto. Mitsusue had only a handful of samurai with him and was killed in heavy fighting, but he managed to get one of his servants safely away who went and reported the critical state of affairs to the shogunate.

The retired Emperor Gotoba then issued an imperial decree to all the gokenin (lower vassals) and jito (estate stewards) in the various provinces to hunt down and kill Yoshitoki. He simultaneously prepared for conflict by fortifying the barriers and checkpoints in the neighboring provinces. Morale among the capital faction became very high, and they optimistically predicted that, given the fact Yoshitoki had been declared a traitor and an enemy of the Court, he would probably not be able to find even 1000 men to stand with him. In response to this, Iesada SHO (庄家定), one of the samurai of the eastern provinces, rebuked their optimism, saying 'Surely the samurai on Yoshitoki's side will number not a man less than 10,000. Indeed, had I been in Kanto (eastern Japan), I too would have become Yoshitoki's ally," and with these words fell into disgrace with the retired Emperor Gotoba.

Those of the capital faction were convinced that the Imperial decree would absolutely have the desired effect, and all the warriors of the various provinces would flock to join them. The retired Emperor Gotoba sent a messenger to Kamakura who carried special decrees for the influential gokenin among the shogunate, and above all for Yoshimura MIURA. To Yoshimura MIURA in particular, his younger brother Taneyoshi said 'If you want to be appointed Inspector General of all Japan, all you must do is join us as our ally,' and hopes were high that Yoshimura would be won over.

Nagahira MIYOSHI, a high-ranking member of Kintsune SAIONJI's household, and Mitsuhide IGA both sent urgent messages to Kamakura that the retired Emperor Gotoba was raising an army; they arrived on the nineteenth. The envoys from the capital faction arrived somewhat after these missives, so the samurai of the shogunate, forewarned, were able to capture the Imperial envoys. Yoshimura MIURA, after receiving the secret message from Taneyoshi, chased off the messenger and immediately sent the secret message on to the shogunate.

News that the retired Emperor was raising an army caused great consternation among the samurai of Kamakura, but according to the "Azuma kagami" (Mirror of the East) and the "Jokyu ki" (Chronicle of the Jokyu Era), Masako HOJO responded, 'The obligation we bear to the former great general of the Right (Yoritomo) is surely higher than a mountain, and deeper than the sea. This unjust Imperial decree is due to the slanders of disloyal retainers. Strike down and capture Hideyasu and Taneyoshi, and fulfill your duty to the remains of the slain third Shogun. Those who wish to join the retired Emperor as allies, let them immediately declare their intentions and go to him,' she said in tears, giving what most consider a masterful performance, and consequently they were successful in gathering many gokenin around Yoshitoki.

Progress of the war

A war council consisting of Yoshitoki, Yasutoki HOJO, Tokifusa HOJO, Hiromoto OE, Yoshimura MIURA, Kagemori ADACHI, and others was convened, and in response to the cautious view that they hold out to the bitter end at Hakone and at Mt. Ashigara, Hiromoto advocated that they sally forth for a preemptive strike on the capital. Masako judged a sortie towards Kyoto the best course of action, so it was decided to launch an attack; samurai were quickly assembled, and on May 22 they were dispatched to converge on the capital from three sides, along the Tokaido (Eastern Sea road), the Tosando (Eastern Mountain road), and the Hokurikudo (the road through Hokuriku, the area on the Japan Sea side northwest of modern-day Tokyo). Because the forces had been assembled so hastily, the army that departed from Kamakura along the Tokaido initially consisted of only 18 horsemen. Before he had gone too far, Yasutoki turned back to Kamakura to consult with Yoshitoki about how to proceed if the Emperor were to lead his forces personally. Yoshitoki is said to have ordered him, 'We cannot raise our bows against the Emperor's person; quickly strip off your armor and cut your bowstrings, and surrender to him.
But if he is not personally in command, fight with all your might.'
Along the way, the ranks of the shogunal army swelled until in the end, if the "Azuma kagami" can be believed, they had assembled an army of 190,000 horsemen.

Yoshitoki sent the messengers of the retired Emperor Gotoba he had captured back to the capital bearing a letter in which he declared war. Blithely assuming that the samurai of Kamakura would obey the Imperial decree and strike down Yoshitoki, the retired Emperor Gotoba and the rest of the capital faction leaders had not anticipated the shogunal sortie, and were thrown into considerable panic. In any event, the capital faction, with Hideyasu FUJIWARA as the general in command, decided to meet the shogunal army in battle, and consequently sent more than 17,500 riders out into Mino Province (now part of Gifu Prefecture). The capital faction formed defensive battle lines along the Owari river, the provincial borders of Mino and Owari (part of modern-day Aichi Prefecture), unwisely dispersing their already outnumbered forces. On the fifth day of the sixth month, the 50000-strong shogunal army marching along the Tosando, led by Nobumitsu TAKEDA, routed 2000 riders of the capital faction that were commanded by Korenobu OUCHI and had been drawn up in battle formation at Oidowatari. Judging that there was no way for them to aid Korenobu, Hideyasu FUJIWARA and Taneyoshi MIURA decided to pull back quickly to the cities of Uji and Seta (Otsu City), from there to protect the capital. On the sixth day, the main shogunal force, 100,000 riders advancing up the Tokaido under the command of Yasutoki and Tokifusa, crossed Owari river; when they attacked the enemy encampment at Sunomata, they found it completely empty, and only Shigetada YAMADA offered any fierce resistance at Kuise river, making the engagement a complete rout for the capital faction, who had been dealt a crushing defeat.

Tomotoki HOJO, in command of the 40,000 strong army coming along the Hokurikudo, also crushed the capital faction forces at Mt. Tonami and forced his way into Kaga Province, homing in in on the capital.

When news of the defeats at Mino and Owari reached the capital faction they were thrown into a panic, and the capital itself descended into pandemonium. The retired Emperor Gotoba personally girded on weapons and armor and climbed Mt. Hiei, seeking the military support of the sohei (warrior monks), but his plan to rein in the temples and shrines had not gone over well at all with the monks of Mt. Hiei, who refused to join forces with him. Lacking any other choice, the capital faction decided to take all their remaining military forces and form up for battle in Uji and Seta and attempt to repulse the shogunal army at the Uji river; the court nobles also joined the battle formation as high generals. On the thirteenth day of the sixth month, the capital faction and the shogunal army met in battle. The capital faction destroyed the bridges over the Uji river, and fought a desperate defensive battle, shooting so many arrows they fell like rain. The river's water level was high due to a recent downpour, so the shogunal army was unable to cross the river and found themselves at a loss as to how to attack; on the next day, the fourteenth, they attempted to force a crossing right in front of the enemy army, and despite losing many samurai to drowning, they succeeded in breaking through the enemy encampment. The capital faction was routed, and the shogunal army stormed into the capital. The shogunal forces set ablaze both temples and shrines and the homes of court nobles and warriors in the capital faction, and began to pillage the city.

According to the "Jokyu ki" (Chronicle of the Jokyu Era), the routed generals of the capital faction, Hideyasu FUJIWARA, Taneyoshi MIURA, and Shigetada YAMADA, intended to fight to the last and rushed to the imperial palace to make their stand, but the retired Emperor Gotoba had ordered the gates firmly shut and turned them away. Shigetada YAMADA reportedly cried 'We have been deceived by our lord, who turned out to be a great coward,' and thereupon struck the gate in indignation.

The retired Emperor Gotoba sent an emissary to the shogunal army, claiming that the entire rebellion was the plot of his scheming advisors, and that he was repealing the decree to hunt down and kill Yoshitoki and was issuing a new decree demanding that Hideyasu FUJIWARA, Taneyoshi MIURA and the others be captured. Betrayed by the retired Emperor Gotoba, Hideyasu FUJIWARA, Taneyoshi MIURA, Shigetada YAMADA and the other samurai of the capital faction holed up in Toji temple and fought back. Yoshimura MIURA's forces attacked them at Toji temple and routed Hideyasu FUJIWARA and Shigetada YAMADA, while Taneyoshi MIURA fought to the last and in the end took his own life.

Aftermath of the battle
In the seventh month, the ringleaders of the rebellion, the retired Emperors Gotoba and Juntoku, were exiled to the islands of Oki and Sado, respectively. The retired Emperor Tsuchimikado, who had opposed the plan to attack the shogunate, was exiled to Tosa Province, which is where he himself had wished to be sent. The retired Emperor Gotoba's sons, the Imperial Princes Masanari and Yorihito, were also banished, to the provinces of Tajima and Bizen, respectively. The reigning Emperor, Chukyo (note however that the titles Kujo the Deposed Emperor and Chukyo did not come into use until the Meiji period), was deposed, and the son of Imperial Prince Morisada was raised to the throne (as Emperor Gohorikawa). Kintsune SAIONJI, who belonged to the faction friendly to the shogunate and whose movements were restricted due to his opposition to the retired Emperor Gotoba's plan, was raised to the position of Minister of the Interior, and as someone who would accept the will of the shogunate, he became the de facto leader of the court.

The retired Emperor Gotoba's extensive holdings of shoen (private estates) were confiscated and given to the Imperial Prince Morisada (who was known posthumously by the title Retired Emperor Gotakakura). The sovereignty over these lands remained with the shogunate, however.

Court nobles such as Nobuyoshi ICHIJO, Mitsuchika HAMARU, Arimasa MINAMOTO, Muneyuki HAMARU, and Norishige TAKAKURA who had joined the Retired Emperor Gotoba in his plan to raise an army against the shogunate (who later became known as the 'kasen-chohon-kugyo,' meaning "the court nobles behind the attempt to overthrow the shogunate") were sent to Kamakura but executed en route, and the various other ministers close to the retired emperor were banished and dispersed throughout the country or kept under house arrest. Furthermore, a great many samurai and gokenin of the capital faction, including Motokiyo GOTO, Tsunetaka SASAKI, Michinobu KONO, and Chikahiro OE, were purged from rank and position and exiled.

After the rebellion, Yasutoki, Tokifusa, and the other high commanders of the shogunal army stayed at Rokuhara in the capital, keeping watch over the Imperial Court and assuming command of the warriors from the western provinces. In place of the Protectors of Kyoto, the Court now had to accept the surveillance of the newly established Commissioner of Rokuhara, and shogunal control over Court affairs, even up to and including matters of Imperial succession, became much stronger.

Roughly 3000 different territories were confiscated from capital faction nobles and samurai, divided up and given to gokenin that supported the shogunate, and a great many new supplementary jito (estate steward) positions were created.

Effects of the rebellion
As a result of the Jokyu Rebellion, the relative political positions of the Imperial Court and the shogunate did a complete about-face. The shogunate began to watch the Imperial Court closely, and became able to intervene even in matters of Imperial succession, while the Court became hesitant to cross the shogunate, henceforth asking their opinion on all serious matters facing the country.

Moreover, having obtained quite a number of estates in the west of Japan confiscated from nobles and samurai of the capital faction, Yoshitoki HOJO awarded a great many of them to those gokenin who had distinguished themselves during the war, and consequently strengthened the relationship of trust between the Hojo clan and the gokenin; continuing on from the opening days of the Kamakura bakufu, many such gokenin moved out to the western provinces to oversee their new lands, meaning the shogunate's control even over the kinai region (the five provinces adjacent to Kyoto) was strengthened.

Historical records
History books
"Gukansho," by Jien. One theory holds that Jien wrote this book in order to convince the retired Emperor Gotoba to give up his plan to attack the shogunate.

The "Azuma Kagami," (Mirror of the East), a multi-author compilation. A semi-official record of events connected to the Kamakura bakufu.

War Chronicles
"Jokyu ki," (Chronicle of the Jokyu Era), two volumes in total. A war chronicle that records the events of the Jokyu Rebellion. It asserts that the cause of the rebellion was the retired Emperor Gotoba's lack of virtue. There are many variant editions.

Historical tales
"Rokudai shojiki"(Record of the Triumphs of Six Imperial Generations): it claims the Jokyu Rebellion was a result of the fact that the retired Emperor Gotoba was an immoral 'wicked king.'

"Masu kagami" (The Mirror of Increasing): conveys anecdotes about the aforementioned Yoshitoki and Yasutoki HOJO and about the retired Emperor Gotoba's state and demeanor in exile on Oki island.