The Rise of the Military Class
Under the early courts, when military conscription had
centrally controlled, military affairs had been taken out
hands of the provincial aristocracy. But as the system
after 792, local power holders again became the primary
military strength. Shoen holders had access to
as they obtained improved military technology (such as new
methods, more powerful bows, armor, horses, and superior
and faced worsening local conditions in the ninth century,
service became part of shoen life. Not only the
but also civil and religious institutions formed private
units to protect themselves. Gradually, the provincial
was transformed into a new military elite based on the
the bushi (warrior) or samurai (literally, one who
The Bushido Code
, ch. 8).
Bushi interests were diverse, cutting across old
structures to form new associations in the tenth century.
interests, family connections, and kinship were
military groups that became part of family administration.
large regional military families formed around members of
aristocracy who had become prominent provincial figures.
military families gained prestige from connections to the
court and court-granted military titles and access to
Fujiwara, Taira, and Minamoto were among the most
families supported by the new military class.
Decline in food production, growth of the population,
competition for resources among the great families all led
gradual decline of Fujiwara power and gave rise to
disturbances in the mid-tenth and eleventh centuries.
the Fujiwara, Taira, and Minamoto families--all of whom
descended from the imperial family--attacked one another,
control over vast tracts of conquered land, set up rival
and generally broke the peace of the Land of the Rising
The Fujiwara controlled the throne until the reign of
Go-Sanjo (1068-73), the first emperor not born of a
since the ninth century. Go-Sanjo, determined to restore
control through strong personal rule, implemented reforms
Fujiwara influence. He also established an office to
validate estate records with the aim of reasserting
control. Many shoen were not properly certified,
landholders, like the Fujiwara, felt threatened with the
their lands. Go-Sanjo also established the Incho, or
Office of the
Cloistered Emperor, which was held by a succession of
abdicated to devote themselves to behind-the-scenes
insei (cloistered government).
The Incho filled the void left by the decline of
power. Rather than being banished, the Fujiwara were
retained in their old positions of civil dictator and
the center while being bypassed in decision making. In
of the Fujiwara were replaced, mostly by members of the
Minamoto family. While the Fujiwara fell into disputes
themselves and formed northern and southern factions, the
insei system allowed the paternal line of the
family to gain influence over the throne. The period from
1156 was the age of supremacy of the Incho and of the rise
military class throughout the country. Military might
civil authority dominated the government.
A struggle for succession in the mid-twelfth century
Fujiwara an opportunity to regain their former power.
Yorinaga sided with the retired emperor in a violent
battle in 1158
against the heir apparent, who was supported by the Taira
Minamoto. In the end, the Fujiwara were destroyed, the old
of government supplanted, and the insei system left
powerless as bushi took control of court affairs,
turning point in Japanese history. Within a year, the
Minamoto clashed, and a twenty-year period of Taira
began. The Taira were seduced by court life and ignored
the provinces. Finally, Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-99) rose
headquarters at Kamakura (in the Kanto region, southwest
Tokyo) to defeat the Taira, and with them the child
controlled, in the Genpei War (1180-85).
Data as of January 1994