6| Kamakura Period History 1192 – 1333 (鎌倉時代歴史)

 

0-timeline - size 24 Kamakura Period                                 The circle indicate the time we discuss in this section

The Kamakura period (鎌倉) was the golden age of sword making.  Many valuable swords we have now were made during the Kamakura period.  The war between the Genii clan and the Heishi clan demanded more swords and more swordsmiths in the late Heian period.

Through and after the Genpei-Gassen (源平合戦: The final battle between the Genji and the Heishi), sword-making techniques improved significantly.  Also, Emperor Gotoba at that time encouraged sword-making and treated swordsmiths respectfully.  As a result, swordsmiths in the Kamakura era created a large number of valuable swords.  Since the swords’ styles vary considerably, we usually categorize them into three chronological groups: swords in the early, the middle, and the late Kamakura period.

The name of the Kamakura period came from the name of a place, Kamakura, where the head of the Genji clan, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo (源頼朝), established a new government, Kamakura Bakufu (鎌倉幕府).

Kamakura Bakufu (鎌倉幕府)

At the end of the Heian period, the Genji and the Heishi (also called the Heike) were the two major powerful samurai groups.  After their first fight, the Heishi killed the Genji’s head and banished his young son, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo (源頼朝), to Izu Island.  For Kyoto people back then, Izu Island was such a remote place with limited transportation means.

The Heishi became the top of the society.  They were so powerful that it was once said, “If you are not a part of the Heishi, you are not a human.”   Such arrogant people, however, naturally created many enemies.

In the meantime, Yoritomo grew into a fine young man on the Island.  He met Hojo Masako (北条政子), a daughter of a small local official, Hojo Tokimasa of Izu Island, and married her.  Eventually, Yoritomo raised an army with the help of his wife’s family and his Genji relatives.  They attacked the Heishi, chased them away from Kyoto, and won the war.  This ended the Heian period.  It was 1185.

As a result, Yoritomo became the shogun in 1192, and the political and military power shifted from Kyoto to Kamakura.  It has been still debatable whether the beginning of the Kamakura period should be in 1185 or 1192.

The imperial court and aristocrats remained in Kyoto.   While Kamakura Bakufu (Government) had the military, police, and political power, the imperial court had the administrative authority.  Although they were like two big rivals, they controlled the country in different fields and kept the balance between them.

7 Taira_no_Kiyomori,TenshiSekkanMiei[1]
From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository Taira -no-Kiyomori, painted 14th century by Fujiwara Tamenobu, owned by Imperial Household Agency

 

7 Minamoto_no_Yoritomo
From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, painted 1178 by Fujiwara Takanobu owned by Jingo-JI shrine