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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Appeared at the Kamakura Court in a magnificent costume


before had there been such encroachment upon the prerogatives of the Crown. We have seen that, in the centuries antecedent to the Daika (A.D. 645) reforms, the sovereign's contact with his subjects had been solely through the medium of the o-omi or the o-muraji. By these, the Imperial commands were transmitted and enforced, with such modifications as circumstances might suggest, nor did the prerogative of nominating the o-omi or the o-muraji belong practically to the Throne. The Daika reforms, copying the Tang polity called into existence a cabinet and a body of officials appointable or removable by the sovereign at will, each entrusted with definite functions. But almost before that centralized system had time to take root, the Fujiwara grafted on it a modification which, in effect, substituted their own family for the o-omi and the o-muraji of previous times. And now, finally, came the Minamoto with their separate capital and their sei-i tai-shogun, who exercised the military and administrative powers of the empire with practically no reference to the Emperor. Yoritomo himself was always willing and even careful to envelop his own personality in a shadow of profound reverence towards the occupant of the throne, but he was equally careful to preserve for Kamakura the substance of power.


Yoritomo lived only seven years after he had reached the summit of his ambition. He received the commission

of sei-i tai-shogun in the spring of 1192, and, early in 1199, he was thrown from his horse and killed, at the age of fifty-three. He had proceeded to the pageant of opening a new bridge over the Sagami River, and it was popularly rumoured that he had fallen from his horse in a swoon caused by the apparition of Yoshitsune and Yukiiye on the Yamato plain and that of the Emperor Antoku at Inamura promontory. Just twenty years had elapsed since he raised the Minamoto standard in Sagami. His career was short but meteoric, and he ranks among the three greatest statesmen Japan has ever produced, his compeers being Hideyoshi and Ieyasu.


Japanese historians have written much about this illustrious man. Their views may be condensed into the following: Yoritomo was short in stature with a disproportionately large head. He had a ringing voice, gentle manners, an intrepid and magnanimous heart, profound insight, and extraordinary caution. The power of imposing his will upon others was one of his notable characteristics, as was also munificence to those that served him. Retainers of the Taira or of the Minamoto--he made no distinction. All that swore fealty to him were frankly regarded as go-kenin of the Bakufu. Estates were given to them, whether restored or newly bestowed, and they were treated much as were the hatamoto of the Yedo shogunate in later times. He spared no pains to preserve Kamakura against the taint of Kyoto's demoralizing influences. The bushi of the Kwanto were made the centre of society; were encouraged to observe the canons of their caste--frugality, loyalty, truth, valour, and generosity--canons daily becoming crystallized into inflexible laws. When Toshikane, lord of Chikugo, appeared at the Kamakura Court in a magnificent costume, Yoritomo evinced his displeasure by slashing the sleeves of the nobleman's surcoat. Skill in archery or equestrianism was so much valued that it brought quick preferment and even secured pardon for a criminal.

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