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Japanese Encyclopedia: Shogun (Military General)

Japanese Encyclopedia: Shogun (Military General)

Translated by Verity Lane

Written by MATCHA

2016.01.07 Bookmark

This series of articles aims to explain difficult terms to overseas tourists. Here we feature "Shogun", the top class Japanese feudal lords of Japan.

The term shogun 将軍(しょうぐん) is one of the military titles, referring to a commander who leads his troops.
It is said that the first shogun in Japan was appointed temporarily, and was one of the four shoguns who appear in the Chronicles of Japan. This book, known as Nihonshoki in Japanese, is the oldest history book in Japan, and was completed in 720 A.D.From the 14th century aristocracy (and after the era of the samurai), the emperor was appointed as the abbreviated term Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians(※1). By the end of the Samurai rule in the 19th century, the title of State Affairs came into existence.
※1...Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians: This was one of the newly established governmental positions that were not regulated by law.Japan diplomatically became a sovereign state.

The Unique Tokugawa Shogunate


Photo By Rita Willaert

From 1603 began a time known as the Edo Period, which was under control of the Tokugawa Shogun for more than 250 years. During this period, the leadership passed from its founding leader, Ieyasu, to it's final leader Yoshinobu - a succession of 15 leaders in total. Out of this group of shoguns, the founder, together with the 3rd leader (Iemistu), 5th leader (Tsunayoshi) and the 8th leader (Yoshimune) can be heralded as the most known shogun among the Japanese.
Ieyasu ended the long period of Warring States, and created the Edo shogunate which united the country.(※2)Iemitsu was the shogun who implemented various policies(※3), such as national isolation (※4) and regulations for military houses (Buke Shohatto). Yoshimune was a wise ruler who practiced frugality, achieved economic recovery, and advanced government reform. He is often made the hero in Japanese period dramas.
※2...Edo Shogunate (Edobakufu): This is the organization that dealt with shogun state affairs during the Edo Period.
※3...Regulations for Military Houses (Buke Shohatto): This law was set up so that the Edo Shogunate could regulate feudal lords (daimyo) from the Samurai Class.
※4...National Isolation (Sakoku): Also known as the period of isolation, during this time Japanese people were prohibited from making overseas voyages, and trading with countries other than Holland, China and Korea. This was to maintain the feudal system that the Edo Shogunate had put in place.

Despite Abolition, the Word "Shogun" is Still Going Strong


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The title of "shogun" ceases to exist in the Japan of today, but it remains a familiar term.
The expression "winter shogun" (fuyu-shogun) is used in weather reports during the winter period. It alludes to the personification of a harsh winter, indicating a cold air mass from Siberia that moves periodically south.

The Japanese expression "yami-shogun" means "power behind the throne". It refers to somebody who has a large amount of control behind the establishment's back. For example, if the president ceases to be at the forefront of the company, this person can direct the employees from behind the scenes, practically grasping all the power in their hands.

This expression is not related to humanity, but there were several race horses which left amazing legacies, such as Hashiru-shogun and Tenjin-shogun. Just including the shogun name raised people's hopes of a top position.

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