This section is a continued part of 17|Nanboku(Yoshino) Cho Period History (1333-1392) . Please read Chapter 17 before reading this section.
The red circle above indicates the time we discuss in this section
The Nanboku-cho period (1333 – 1392) was between the fall of Kamakura Bakufu and the beginning of the Muromachi Bakufu. It was the time when the North Dynasty and the South Dynasty co-existed at the same time. Right around the time of the Mongolian Invasion, Emperor Go-saga passed away without deciding the next emperor. Because of that, his two heirs and their family lines, the Daigakuji-to (大覚寺統) line and the Jimyoin-to (持明院統) line, alternately took the emperor position after Emperor Go-saga‘s death. This system was politically precarious. On top of that, many inconvenient problems happened; for example, while one emperor was still very young, the next-in-line emperor died young from a head injury when he was playing on a slippery stone.
At a time like this, Go-daigo (後醍醐天皇) became the emperor. He was put on the throne as a temporary emperor until young emperors grew up. Around this time, the power of the emperors was declining. The Kamakura Bakufu (government) controlled the emperors. After the Mongolian Invasion, even though typhoons chased Mongolian troops away, Kamakura Bakufu was in financial trouble because of the cost of war. Many Samurai who fought during the Mongolian Invasion did not receive any rewards nor got paid for the expense they incurred themselves. They were also in trouble financially. All these problems piled up, and people resented the Kamakura Bakufu.
Emperor Go-daigo did not want to stay as just a filler emperor. He decided to remain as an emperor himself and decided to attack the Kamakura Bakufu. For some reason, the Kamakura Bakufu found out about the plan. Emperor Go-daigo somehow managed to avoid being accused as an instigator. After this happened, the Kamakura Bakufu appointed another heir for the next emperor. But Go-daigo insisted on remaining as an emperor. He planned another attack one more time. This time, he had carefully planned and allied with prominent, powerful temples in Yamato (Nara today) since the Kamakura Bakufu did not control them. Refer, 15| The Revival of Yamato Den（大和伝復活）and 49| Part 2 of — 15 The Revival of Yamato Den (大和伝復活) .
This time again, the rebellion plot came to light. Go-daigo sneaked out of Kyoto and fought against the Kamakura army. Go-daigo’s army had fewer soldiers than the Kamakura army, but several groups opposing the Kamakura Bakufu rose from various places throughout Japan. Eventually, Go-daigo was captured and sent to Oki Island (the same place where Emperor Go-toba was sent).
Even so, the Kamakura Bakufu still had to fight against other uprising groups. One of the famous rebels was Kusunoki Masashige (楠正成). Go-daigo’s son was also actively fighting against the Kamakura Bakufu and managing to ally with more groups.
More and more people wanted to overthrow the Kamakura Bakufu. Even Ashikaga Takauji (足利尊氏), one of the Kamakura Bakufu’s top men who fought against Emperor Go-daigo, betrayed the Kamakura, and changed sides, and became the emperor’s ally. In the meantime, Go-daigo escaped from Oki Island. More and more uprisings against the Kamakura Bakufu emerged from everywhere. Eventually, the main political center called Rokuhara Tandai (六波羅探題) of the Kamakura Bakufu fell. Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞)*, who was another uprising group attacked Kamakura and won. The Kamakura Bakufu fell in 1333.
Emperor Go-Daigo started a new political system called Kenmu no Shinsei (建武の新政). This new system was a disaster. He made a great effort to make things right, and changed the old political system drastically. But this political reform created a big commotion. It was not good for anybody, and nobody would gain anything. Ashikaga Takauji (one of the prominent people of merit) and his men did not receive any high-ranking jobs. His new reform was very idealistic and too far advanced for the time. It was too disadvantageous for the noblemen. His new policy only invited chaos and corruption.
Now Ashikaga Takauji turned against Go-daigo and defeated him. Go-daigo left the Imperial Palace and opened a new government in Yoshino, the south of Kyoto. Therefore, it was called the Southern Dynasty. Meanwhile, Ashikaga Takauji set up a new emperor, Emperor Komyo (光明), in Kyoto, and established the North Dynasty. This is how the North and South Dynasties came about.
Two dynasties co-existed for about 60 years. Little by little, many samurai groups moved under the North Dynasty, and after Go-daigo and his several key men passed away, the South Dynasty became weakened. Eventually, the South Dynasty accepted the offer from the Ashikaga side, and the North and the South united in 1392. During all those fights between the emperor and Kamakura Bakufu, the sword style changed to broader and longer, like 3, 4, or 5 feet long. Later, most of the Nanboku-cho (the North and South Dynasties) style long swords were shortened.
Kibamusha (騎馬武者蔵) This portrait was once believed to be Ashikaga Takauji, but now some claim otherwise. “Public Domain” owned by Kyoto National Museum
*Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞)
When Minamoto no Yoritomo opened the Kamakura Bakufu, he chose the Kamakura area as the center of the Bakufu because mountains surrounded Kamakura on three sides, and one side faced the ocean. That means it was hard to be attacked and easy to protect themselves. And they made seven narrow, steep roads through mountains called Kiri Toshi (切り通し) connecting with several major cities. Those seven roads were the only ways to go out and to come into Kamakura.
When Nitta Yoshisada tried to attack Kamakura, he first tried to attack through the land road but failed. So, he approached the town from the ocean side, but the cliff sticks far out to the ocean, making it impossible for them to pass. The legend says that when Nitta Yoshisada came to the area called Inamura Gasaki (稲村ヶ崎), he threw his golden sword into the ocean and prayed. Then the tide went out, and all the soldiers could go around the cliff on foot. They charged into Kamakura, and the Kamakura Bakufu fell. There are several different views on the story. Some scholars say that is not true, some say it happened, but the date was wrong, some say unusual ebb tide occurred that day, and so on.
Today, Inamura Gasaki, a part of the Shonan (湘南), is one of the favorite dating spots for young people in the evening. The evening scene of Inamura Gasaki is beautiful. The sunset from Inamura Gasaki toward Enoshima (江の島；a small island with a shrine on the hilltop) is gorgeous. My parents’ house used to be above the cliff in the vicinity called Kamakura-yama, overlooking the ocean.
Inamura Gasaki Photo is “Creative Commons” CC 表示-継承 3.0 File: Inamuragasaki tottanbu.jpg Public domain