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Japanese (Kamakura period) - 1185-1333

external image 180px-Kongorikishi_statue_from_14th_century_Japan.jpgA wooden statue dating back to the Kamakura shogunate

external image japan-map-zoom-c-encarta2.gif Map of our homeland

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Culture & Technology

In the Kamakura period, we employed a more decentralized system of administration, in contrast with our Nara and Heian predecessors. Because of this decentralized government, much of the shogunate's power was in the hands of regional lords and samurai. Samurai were the professional soldiers of our society, who were important in the political and military affairs of our society. Samurai were mounted warriors, who used technologies such as katanas (Samurai swords) and horses in their distinct warrior style. They worked for the provincial lords, and were supported by the lords, allowing them to commit to training in fighting, warriorship, and martial arts. During the Kamakura period, we placed great emphasis on the discipline and warriorship important to the militarized society. In these medieval times, we strayed from the Chinese system of dynastic bureaucratic centralization; however, we still took many of our influences from China during this period, such as Confucian ideals, Buddhism, and the writing system.
external image jt_katana.jpg A katana, a Japanese sword used by samurai during the Kamakura shogunate

Military Invasions

During the time of the Kamakura shogunate in our country, the Mongols were a powerful and threatening force in Asia. They had already taken over China and several other lands to estabish a vast empire. They sent several threats to our administrators, but we refused to pay tribute to their empire or to the new Yuan Dynasty. In 1274, the Mongols mounted a massive invasion, in which 23,000 soldiers came on 600 ships, and fought against the highly skilled samurai. The Mongols were defeated by us because of a kamikaze (a divine wind, in the form of a typhoon which struck the Mongol ships), and this was also the result of the second Mongol invasion. Although we were never defeated and taken over from these powerful barbarians, the Mongols severely damaged our economy, simce we had to raise taxes and expenses to fight a war against the invaders. This was the beginning of our shogunate's downfall, as we continued to decrease in economic power, until the shogunate was weak enough to be taken over by the Emperor Go-Daigo in 1333.

Religion

Under the militaristic and unsettled Kamakura shogunate, we Japanese began to turn to the increasingly popular religion of Buddhism. The teachings of salvation in Buddhism, and the teachings of morality in the Zen school of thought, were embraced by the lower classes and the military especially. During our shogunate, Buddhism began to take a strong hold in Japan, as it coexisted with our traditional Japanese religion of Shinto, which is a form of animism. While we practiced several different types of Buddhism during this time period, the two most popular sects of Buddhism were Zen Buddhism, and the sect of Jodo-shu.

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1274 - First Mongol invasion - Kamikaze: The Mongols have been threatening our country, and they have just launched a massive attack with their powerful ships and a huge force of soldiers. The Chinese and Mongol soldiers arranged in tight units, which was frightening to the samurai, who mainly fight one-on-one. Despite the odds, somehow the honorable Japanese prevailed against the barbarians. The Shinto leaders have ascribed this victory to the kamikaze, referring the the "divine wind" of the typhoon which devasted the hundreds of ships at sea, and keeping us and our bakufu in safety. This is just further proof to the spiritual leaders that heaven is on our side, and intends to keep the Kamakura shogunate strong against our rivals.

1333 - The Kamakura period ends: About fifty years against the last Mongol invasion of 1281, our government has fallen into political and economic ruin. The expenses of the Mongol war hurt our economic systems, and the debts we owed to soldiers and the increased taxes for defense weakened our government severely. At this point, the Kamakura bakufu is in such economic ruin that it is being taken over by an emperor, Go-Daigo. Hopefully, this imperial leadership will be short-lived. In any case, our shogunate, based on the ideals of decentralized rule and giving medieval Japan the gifts of Buddhism from China and the powerful samurai class, is coming to an end.

1192 - The Bakufu: Minamoto Yoritomo has established a new shogunate in our home country of Japan. This new rule, which Yoritomo terms the bakufu, is a movement away from the dominance of the emperor and the court, and into the medieval era of Japanese rule, in which more decentralized rule will reduce the stature of the emperor and his institutions. The new bakufu is centered at the city of Kamakura, where the shogun established the bakufu at his homeplace. This new government will give power to the military institutions such as that of the samurai, and the emphasis on military ststus and morality will lead to the popularity of Buddhism increasing in this period.

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Bibliography

Bentley, Jerry H., and Ziegler Herbert F.. Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

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