Exploring the Bakufu

Many Westerners know the words “shogun” and “shogunate,” but fewer recognize “bakufu” – even though the concept is familiar.

Ichijō jirō tadayori notonokami noritsune by Katsukawa Shuntei (Image in public domain)

Bakufu” (幕府:ばくふ) is the Japanese term for the shogunate or, more specifically, the shogun’s government. The term translates “tent office” or “field headquarters” and implies a government of temporary duration.

The Japanese emperor originally established the shogunate on a short-term basis. The title “shogun” was given to military commanders who led campaigns on the emperor’s behalf. By the medieval period, however, the shogun became de facto ruler of Japan, and his “field headquarters” took on more permanent status.

The emperor remained the ruling monarch, but by the 12th century his power was more ceremonial than temporal.

The shogun and the bakufu had seized control of the country.

Throughout the medieval period, rival daimyo (essentially warlords) fought to control the shogunate, and the military government changed hands several times. Each new shogun was “approved” and appointed by the emperor, though in truth the office of shogun and control of the bakufu went to the man with the power (and intestinal fortitude) to seize and control Kyoto.

Warring daimyo play a major part in the Shinobi Mysteries, which take place at a time when Kyoto was under constant threat of attack. The bakufu features heavily in Book 2, Blade of the Samurai, which involves the murder of a government official.

Did you know about the bakufu? Do you know about any other “unexpected” turns in government structures? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!