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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

And Go Daigo sent a rescript to Yoshisada in Echizen


now became the rendez-vous of Imperialists from the home provinces, and Go-Daigo sent a rescript to Yoshisada in Echizen, authorizing him to work for the restoration.

Thus commenced the War of the Dynasties, known in history as the Conflict of the Northern and Southern Courts, terms borrowed from the fact that Yoshino, where Go-Daigo had his headquarters, lay to the south of Kyoto. Hereafter, then, the junior branch of the Imperial Family will be designated the Southern Court and the senior branch will be spoken of as the Northern Court.

The struggle lasted from 1337 to 1392, a period of fifty-five years. Much has been written and said about the relative legitimacy of the two Courts. It does not appear that there is any substantial material for doubt. Go-Daigo never abdicated voluntarily, or ever surrendered the regalia. Before his time many occupants of the throne had stepped down at the suggestion of a Fujiwara or a Hojo. But always the semblance of free-will had been preserved. Moreover, the transfer of the true regalia constituted the very essence of legitimate succession. But these remained always in Go-Daigo's possession. Therefore, although in the matter of lineage no distinction could be justly set up between the Northern and the Southern Courts, the collaterals of legitimacy were all with the latter.

Of course each complied with all the forms of Imperialism. Thus,

whereas the Southern Court used the year-name Engen for 1336-1339, the North kept the year-name Kemmu for two years, and as there were different nengo names for half a century, a new element of confusion was added to the already perplexing chronology of Japan. In administrative methods there was a difference. The Northern Court adhered to the camera system: that is to say, the actual occupant of the throne was a mere figurehead, the practical functions of Government being discharged by the cloistered sovereign. In the Southern Court the Emperor himself, nominally at all events, directed the business of administration. Further, the office of shogun in the Southern Court was held generally by an Imperial Prince, whereas in the Northern Court its holder was an Ashikaga. In brief, the supporters of the Northern Court followed the military polity of the Bakufu while the Southern adopted Imperialism.


As the question at issue lay solely between two claimants to the succession, readers of history naturally expect to find the war resolve itself into a campaign, or a succession of campaigns, between two armies. Such was by no means the case. Virtually the whole empire was drawn into the turmoil, and independent fighting went on at several places simultaneously. The two Courts perpetually made Kyoto their objective. Regardless of its strategical disadvantages, they deemed its possession cardinal. Takauji had been more highly lauded and more generously rewarded than Yoshisada, because the former had recovered Kyoto whereas the latter had only destroyed Kamakura. Thus, while Go-Daigo constantly struggled to capture Kyoto, Komyo's absorbing aim was to retain it. This obsession in favour of the Imperial metropolis left its mark upon many campaigns; as when, in the spring operations of 1336, Yoshisada, instead of being allowed to pursue and annihilate Takauji, was recalled to guard Kyoto, and when, in July of the same year, Kusunoki Masashige was sent to his death rather than temporarily vacate the capital. It must have been fully apparent to the great captains of the fourteenth century that Kyoto was easy to take and hard to hold. Lake Biwa and the river Yodo are natural bulwarks of Yamato, not of Yamashiro. Hiei-zan looks down on the lake, and Kyoto lies on the great plain at the foot of the hill. If, during thirteen generations, the Ashikaga family struggled for Kyoto, they maintained, the while, their ultimate base and rallying-place at Kamakura, and thus, even when shattered in the west, they could recuperate in the east. The Southern Court had no such depot and recruiting-ground. They had, indeed, a tolerable place of arms in the province of Kawachi, but in the end they succumbed to topographical disadvantages.

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