The Kenmu Restoration (建武の新政)

The Kenmu Restoration (kenmu no shinsei) refers to the period of direct Imperial rule (where the Emperor personally controls the government) initiated by Emperor Godaigo in the sixth month of 1333, as the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) collapsed; it can also refer to the administrative unit of Imperial rule.

The term 'Kenmu' derives from the era name established the following year, in 1334 (referring to the Kenmu era of unified Japan, not the later Kenmu era of the Northern Court). The days before the Second World War were referred to by some in Japan as a revival of the Kenmu era. In history courses of recent years, the term' direct Imperial rule of the Kenmu era' comes up often.

Emperor Godaigo attempted to rehabilitate the political power and influence of the Court through the return to direct Imperial rule, but his attempts left many in the samurai class in particular disgruntled, until in 1336 the most powerful member of the Kawachi-Genji (Minamoto clan), Takauji ASHIKAGA, became estranged from Emperor Godaigo, leading to the collapse of the Imperial government.

Stages of the Restoration

The downfall of the Kamakura bakufu

In the latter days of the Kamakura period, the government of the Kamakura bakufu was controlled in all but name by the tokuso (head) of the Hojo family; the naikanrei (inner administrator) Nagasaki clan held power at that time. The political situation had been unstable ever since the Mongol invasion, and due to this and other factors, criminals were active in several provinces, while the shogunate gradually found itself losing the support of the warrior class. In the Imperial Court, on the other hand, conflict had arisen between the Kameyama (Daikakuji) and the Gofukakusa (Jimyoin) branches of the Imperial line; a system of alternating Emperors from each lineage was in place, and in 1318 Emperor Godaigo of the Daikakuji lineage became Emperor, taking the Engi and Tenryaku eras, the reigns of Emperors Daigo and Murakami in the Heian period, as his ideal, he aimed in secret to overthrow the Kamakura bakufu.

As part of Emperor Godaigo's plan to topple the shogunate, he twice instigated anti-shogunal uprisings in the Shochu Disturbance of 1324 (the first year of the Shochu era) and the Genko Disturbance of 1331 (the first year of the Genko era). But in the aftermath of the Genko Disturbance, Emperor Godaigo was taken captive and exiled to the island of Oki, and the Jimyoin lineage, which had the backing of the Kamakura bakufu, was able to raise their candidate, Kogon, to the throne. However, those who had responded to Emperor Godaigo's call to strike against the shogunate like Masashige KUSUNOKI of Kawachi Province, Emperor Godaigo's own son Imperial Prince Morinaga (also known as Moriyoshi), who had returned to secular life after serving as head abbot of the entire Tendai sect, and Norimura (Enshin) AKAMATSU of Harima Province, who provided Morinaga support, continued to resist the shogunal forces; moreover, shogunal supporters like the gokenin (lower samurai warrior vassals) Yoshisada NITTA of Kozuke Province and Takauji ASHIKAGA of Shimotsuke Province eventually turned against the shogunate and joined the Imperial cause, gathering together a force from all the various provinces sufficient to topple the shogunate.

In 1333 Emperor Godaigo escaped from Oki island, whereupon he was met in Hoki Province by Nagatoshi NAWA; they went to Mount Senjo and began raising an army to strike down the shogunate. In Kyoto, Takauji ASHIKAGA's samurai destroyed the local magistrate at Rokuhara while Yoshisada NITTA mounted an attack against Kamakura itself; after Takatoki HOJO and the entire Hojo clan had been killed and (thereby) the Kamakura bakufu had been destroyed, Emperor Godaigo was met by Akamatsu and Kusunoki clans, and they all returned to the capital in triumph.

The era of direct Imperial rule begins
Emperor Godaigo declared both Emperor Kogon's reign and the Shukyo era name annulled, and announced that all imperial decrees signed by Kogon, or court appointments made by him, were invalid; he took the additional step of dismissing Fuyunori TAKATSUKASA from his position as kanpaku (chief advisor/Prime Minister).

After returning to the capital, Godaigo entered the throne room on Tomikoji hill and repudiated Kogon's imperial rank, ushering in a new era of direct Imperial rule (and of his own second ascension, he insisted that he was not "returning to the throne" but rather had continuously been ruling since 1318); in Kyoto, Takauji ASHIKAGA, who with Imperial Prince Morinaga had directed the attack on Rokuhara, requested more troops from all the various provinces, and by paying and supplying the samurai that came to the capital, Takauji assumed military command over the government of Kyoto. On the fifth day of the sixth month, Takauji was appointed the Chinjufu shogun ("Commander-in-chief of the Defense of the North"), and he was awarded one character from out of the Emperor's real name (Takahara), thereby changing the "Taka (高)" in his own name to the Emperor's own "Taka (尊)." Because Imperial Prince Morinaga, who was on his guard against the considerable might of Takauji and the rest of the Ashikaga clan, had gone off to Mt. Shigi and began acting to hem in Takauji's power, on the twenty-third day of the sixth month, Emperor Godaigo made Imperial Prince Morinaga the Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") as part of a compromise plan between the two of them.

On the fifteenth day of the sixth month, Emperor Godaigo promulgated a decree ordering the restoration of all the old fiefs, and he continued promulgating several more commands including a decree to confiscate the lands of the jiryo, one ordering the seizure of all territories held by enemies of the Court, and one ordering retrials for poorly judged cases; these decrees made the Emperor's judgments, in the form of Imperial orders, absolutely vital in matters of land ownership, lawsuits, and more. In the seventh month an order for the various provinces to supply an average level of relief was promulgated; enemies of the Court were defined as limited to only the Hojo clan, and relief for their fiefs was left up to the provincial governors of the various provinces.

Offices were established for the keeping of records and the distribution of rewards, and in the ninth month an office for the deciding of miscellaneous appeals was also established. In order to spread Imperial control throughout the area from the Kanto to the Tohoku regions, in the tenth month the Emperor made Akiie KITABATAKE, the son of his close associate Chikafusa KITABATAKE, the Chinjufu shogun and Protector of Mutsu Province; Chikafusa and Akiie obeyed the will of Imperial Prince Yoshinaga (later Emperor Gomurakami) and were dispatched to Mutsu Province, thereby establishing the office of shogun (general) of Mutsu, and in the twelfth month Takauji's younger brother, Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA, obeyed the Imperial order of Emperor Godaigo's son Imperial Prince Narinaga and was dispatched to Kamakura, where the office of shogun of Kamakura was established.

In the first month of 1334, the ceremony of the investiture of the Crown Prince was held, and Imperial Prince Tsunenaga (whose mother was Yasuko ANO) was chosen as Crown Prince. The era name was also changed to "Kenmu." Also in the first month, plans were released for new taxes, including a 5% tax to fund construction on the Emperor's own palaces within the Daidairi, the Imperial Palace complex, and a land survey was carried out. Plans were laid to issue new paper money called "chohei" (mulberry paper notes) and new coins, and in the third month there is a record of an Imperial decree to issue kenkon tsuho ("circulating treasures of heaven and earth"), but it cannot be confirmed whether these kenkon tsuho ever in fact existed. It was right around this time that due to these new decrees, the Court started receiving a flood of land-related problems as well as court cases and requests for rewards, and chaos caused by conflicts of authority between the mechanisms of the newly established Records office and so forth began to arise; the fact that the new government was beset with problems had come to light very quickly.

In the fifth month, the roles and responsibilities of the honke and ryoke within the shoen system were abolished. A decree commanding benevolent rule was promulgated, and temples and shrines were ordered to free the territories under their control from the system of support by the Bureau of Divinities or the provincial governments. Moreover, ten legal provisions were established to govern the court proceedings for the office responsible for deciding miscellaneous court cases. Dismissed from his position as Shogun and having lost his influence over the Kenmu administration, Imperial Prince Morinaga was accused of plotting to overthrow Takauji through force of arms, so in the tenth month he was seized and exiled to Kamakura. In the twelfth month, new lords of the eight ministries were appointed in a reshuffle of the bureaucracy that paid no attention to conventions of family status.

The new government collapses

In the fifth month of 1335, the Zo dairi kojisho ("the office for the oversight of construction projects on the Imperial palace") was created in order to plan and execute construction projects for the Imperial palace. In the sixth month (under the old lunar calendar) it came to light that the Court noble Kinmune SAIONJI, who served as Kanto moshitsugi (a mediator position between Court and shogunate) and was related to the Hojo clan, and other nobles sheltered Yasuie (Tokioki) HOJO, younger brother of Takatoki HOJO, and that in obedience to the will of Emperor Gofushimi of the Jimyoin lineage, a conspiracy had been formed to overthrow the new government. Kinmune failed his attempted assassination of Emperor Godaigo and was subsequently executed, but Yasuie escaped and began calling together the remnants of the Hojo's military forces from all over the land.

Even after the collapse of the Kamakura bakufu, several provinces, especially those for which the Hojo clan formerly held the governorships, arose in counter-rebellion, and in the seventh (lunar) month, in Shinano Province (modern-day Nagano Pref.), Tokiyuki HOJO, the orphan of Takatoki HOJO, and his uncle Yasuie HOJO raised an army and captured Kamakura; Tadayoshi and the others were driven out, and the Nakasendai rebellion (so named because it took place between the old regime, the Hojo, and the new, the Ashikaga) began. Takauji requested from Emperor Godaigo that he be appointed Seii taishogun and sotsui hoshi (Inspector General) in order to suppress Tokiyuki's rebellion, but Emperor Godaigo side-stepped these requests and appointed Imperial Prince Narinaga Seii taishogun. When Takauji set out to suppress the Hojo army despite not having obtained an Imperial decree, Emperor Godaigo belatedly appointed him seito shogun (literally, "general who subdues the eastern barbarians"). Takauji, after destroying Tokiyuki's army, violated Emperor Godaigo's order to return to the capital and installed himself in Kamakura instead; having become alienated from the new government, he showed his disaffection by bestowing unique rewards on the officers and men who had fought with him to put down the rebellion, and by willfully seizing the territory of the Nitta clan in the Kanto (eastern Japan). Takauji next insisted that Yoshisada NITTA, shoji (chief) of the mushadokoro (the Imperial bodyguards) and the one who possessed the greatest military strength of all the samurai not yet estranged from the Emperor, was only pretending to support the Emperor and was secretly plotting against him, requesting that Emperor Godaigo let him suppress Yoshisada.

Emperor Godaigo refused this demand by Takauji, and in the eleventh month he commanded Yoshisada to send his army out to hunt down Takauji; but the Nitta army was defeated, and in the first month of 1336 the Ashikaga army entered the capital. Emperor Godaigo fled to Mt. Hiei, but in the interim the armies of Akiie KITABATAKE, who had marched down from the north, and Yoshisada joined forces temporarily and, combined, were able to drive the Ashikaga army from the capital. That same year, the Ashikaga army once again marched east towards the capital from Kyushu, and having obtained an Imperial edict from retired Emperor Kogon of the Jimyoin lineage, in the fifth month they crushed Emperor Godaigo's loyalist forces at the battle of the Minato river; in obedience to retired Emperor Kogon, they entered the capital and thus marked the downfall of the new government, after just two and a half years.

Takauji, after entering the capital, had Kogon's younger brother Komyo installed on the throne, creating the Northern Dynasty (of Japan). In the ninth month, Emperor Godaigo appointed Imperial Prince Kanenaga Seisei taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the western barbarians") and dispatched him to Kyushu, while Yoshisada NITTA went into Hokuriku (the region north-northeast of Kyoto) in obedience to Imperial Princes Tsunenaga and Takanaga. In the eleventh month, Emperor Godaigo descended from Mt. Hiei and made peace with the Ashikaga faction, handing over the three Imperial Regalia to Emperor Komyo, but in the twelfth month he escaped from Kyoto and fled to Yoshino, whereupon he established the Yoshino Court (the Southern Dynasty), claiming that the Regalia he had passed to Komyo were fakes and insisting that he himself was the only legitimate Emperor. With this, the period of two opposing courts, the Yoshino (Southern) Court and the Court in Kyoto (of the Northern Dynasty), began; the struggles between the Northern and Southern Ccourts were to continue for over 60 years, until the two courts were finally unified in 1392.

The structure of the new Imperial government
Central Institutions
The Department of State (under the Ritsuryo system)
The Eight Ministries
The various government offices and officials
The Records Office
The Records Office had its origin in the Heian-era Office of Records for Land Deeds to Shoen established by Emperor Gosanjo in 1069 in an attempt to wrest back control over land ownership from the Fujiwara line of regents and advisors; it was set as the highest and most powerful branch of the central bureaucracy in the Kenmu government. The Records Office was revived by Emperor Godaigo during the era of direct Imperial rule; under the Kenmu government, in addition to examining the records for all the shoen, it was also responsible for settling general legal disputes. Its members included Masashige KUSUNOKI, Nagatoshi NAWA, and Kanemitsu IGA.

The Rewards Office
The Rewards Office handled the conferral of honors and awards to those who had participated in the campaign to overthrow the Kamakura bakufu. The Records and Rewards offices were both investigative organizations, reporting on the precedents and different viewpoints in order to pass down judgments on each individual governmental matter; such judgments then came before Godaigo, who issued a settlement for each in the form of an Imperial command.

The Office for Deciding Miscellaneous Appeals
This office had jurisdiction over land-related questions, and took over for the mass of hikitsuke (courts of enquiry) of the Kamakura bakufu. It was established with an organizational structure of from four to eight sections varying by region; each would be in session on even- or odd-numbered days only. Many talented men were appointed from both the nobility and the warrior class to serve as members, the most notable of whom, aside from the nobles, were those from the Uesugi clan, a vassal of the Ashikaga family, and Takauji ASHIKAGA's steward Ko no Moronao, as well as some from the Nikaido clan, former bureaucrats in the Kamakura bakufu.

The Mushadokoro (The Imperial Bodyguards)
A troop of guardsmen and bodyguards for the Emperor. Yoshisada NITTA was appointed their chief; they were made to fight against Takauji.

Kubodokoro

Local branches of the government
The General's Outpost in Mutsu (in the Ryozen machi, in Date gun of modern-day Fukushima Pref.)
Imperial Prince Yoshinaga was the eponymous general; the father-son duo of Chikafusa and Akiie KITABATAKE were tasked with supporting the outpost.

The General's Outpost in Kamakura
Imperial Prince Narinaga was the general of this outpost, which Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA (Takauji's younger brother) was charged with supporting.

Protectors and Provincial Governors

Rewards/Those Serving in the Government
Takauji was given the official ranks and titles of Chinjufu shogun and Commander of the Left Inner Palace Guards, and honored by being allowed to use the "Taka (尊)" character from Emperor Godaigo's own personal name (Takaharu (尊治)), letting him change the meaning of his name Takauji, from "high lineage/clan" to "exalted lineage/clan" (the original "taka" (high (高)) from Takauji's name had been bestowed on him by Takatoki HOJO). Takauji's younger brother Tadayoshi was appointed Leader of the Horsemen of the Left. Imperial Prince Morinaga had desired the position of Seii taishogun, and was in fact temporarily appointed as Shogun, but in 1334 he lost his standing, was imprisoned in Kamakura, and was divested of his position as Shogun.

Among the nobility, the so-called 'Three Latter-day Fusas,' Sadafusa YOSHIDA, Nobufusa MADENOKOJI, and Chikafusa KITABATAKE, along with Tadaaki CHIGUSA and Kiyotada BOMON were all appointed to important posts, while talented men in retired Emperor Gofushimi's administration were also put to use according to their abilities. Among the warrior clans, notable were Masanari KUSUNOKI, Nagatoshi NAWA (Protector of Hoki), and Chikamitsu YUKI (these three, with Tadaaki CHIGUSA, were called "the three trees (ki) and one grass (kusa)"); moreover, other talented men, both noble and non-noble, including the esoteric monks Monkan and Enkan of the Shingon sect, actively served in the government as well.

Takauji, however, did not assume an official post in the new government, despite being rewarded, due to Emperor Godaigo's policy of valuing merit and distinguished service above all. This refusal to serve is said to be part of his effort to draw a line between him and Emperor Godaigo's new government. The subsequent state of affairs was called a 'Takauji-less' state.

Emperor Godaigo's Policies

Emperor Godaigo's conception of politics is encapsulated best by his speech, recorded in the "Baishoron" (a war chronicle of the Nanboku period): 'Even the examples and precedents of today were once new principles.
Our new principles will form the precedents for tomorrow.'

In the beginning, the new government did not have any separate government by retired emperors, nor did it make the usual appointments of regent, chief advisor, or Seii taishogun, instead aiming to centralize all political power; superficially, the government was dressed in the guise of a restoration to direct Imperial rule, but in fact it was a government set on a truly progressive course, one that rejected the old principle of putting precedent first. Emperor Godaigo and his vassals had considerable interest in China and were influenced by Neo-Confucian (the Song-period teachings of Chu Hsi) arguments of ruler and ruled and of moral duties, and it is thought that they were trying to set up a dictatorship comparable to the Song-era administration.

The 'Kenmu' era name, established in the first month of 1334, was the era name chosen in China in the twenty-fifth year of the later Han dynasty, when Liu Xiu (Emperor Guangwu) destroyed Wang Mang and restored the Han dynasty to power; he went against precedent, and despite the fact that it was the fifty-eighth year of the sixty-year cycle and it was taboo to use the character "mu" (samurai) in that year, he overcame the resolute opposition of the nobility and selected 'Kenmu' as the era name anyway.

In the eighth month of 1334, as a criticism of the new government, a satire of the government called "Scribblings by the Nijo Riverbed" was published. Criticism of the new government was not limited to warrior families and commoners, however; in 1338, before Akiie KITABATAKE led his army out, he remonstrated with Emperor Godaigo about the failures of the new government, and his father Chikafusa KITABATAKE's "Shokugensho" as well as other nobles' diaries record comments critical of and indicating their dissatisfaction with the government, showing that later on, even nobles like the Kitabatake father-son duo, who fought to oppose the Northern dynasty, did not fully support the new government.

Contradictions in the new government
The Kenmu administration was characterized by impatience and, being unable to provide a solution to the complicated land-related lawsuits with which they were plagued, was beset by confusion. This characterization is also recorded in the "Scribblings by the Nijo Riverbed."

Over and above the fact that to the samurai, who had owned the lion's share of land throughout the country, having the Emperor assert direct control over that land was entirely unprecedented, Emperor Godaigo's government was also impetuous, ensuring that it would not receive the support of the samurai class. Those who were amply rewarded for their meritorious contribution to the shogunate's defeat--Takauji ASHIKAGA, Yoshisada NITTA, Masashige KUSUNOKI, etc.--were only a tiny fraction of those who fought, and Norimura (Enshin) AKAMATSU, who had joined the struggle to overthrow the shogunate from the very beginning, was forced to forfeit his Protectorship of Harima Province, and the chaos caused by situations, like when a single plot of land found itself with multiple owners, showed the unfairness of the system to reward distinguished service against the shogunate, making it likely that discontent against the new government was strong right from the beginning; but Emperor Godaigo's vassals Sadafusa YOSHIDA and Tadaaki CHIGUSA were made to take the blame for this situation and were driven out of office and forced to take the tonsure. There were also some, like Fujifusa MADENOKOJI, who despaired of the administration and chose to take the tonsure.

Because talented men were appointed to office without regard to class differences between nobles and samurai or the presence or absence of specific abilities, the administration fell into extreme chaos. In rural areas, as well, having the position of the provincial governor, working to revitalize the officers of the Ritsuryo system who had become mere empty figureheads, coexisting with the Protectors and jito (estate stewards), who had been part of the system of government by the samurai clans since the founding of the Kamakura bakufu, revealed the contradictions of the new government right from the beginning.

Moreover, the assessing of a new 5% tax to fund construction at the Imperial palace complex and the abrupt economic policy decisions to mint a new coinage, issue new paper notes, etc. only exacerbated the chaos facing the economy, already exhausted due to the just-ended war against the shogunate.

Historical sources
"Kenmu Nenkanki" (a record of the Kenmu era)
"Kenmu Nenchu Gyoji" (books about annual events of the Imperial court)
"Taiheiki" (Record of the Great Peace)