Sunday, 17 May 2015
I let the sand flow through my fingers, one more time. A volcanic cone hung in the distance, and Enoshima floated offshore. The scene had been a popular ukiyo-e woodblock subject during the Edo period. Hiroshige and Hokusai had both included it in their 36 Views of Mount Fuji. There have been some changes. The palequins and fishermen and kimono clad women with umbrellas, sailboats and horses and low tide shellfish collecting have become microwave towers and power poles, but the mountains in the background are the same.
“So whose bodies and swords were coming up through the sand all those years?” Robyn asked.
“Yoritomo’s inlaws.” I said. “In 1192, his Kamakura Bakufu ‘tent government,’ assumed military and political control of the country. Yoritomo was officially designated shogun by the Imperial Court and, without other any surviving clans to challenge his feudal hereditary dictatorship, appointed his vassals as provincial administrators, and his samurai clans as buke warrior nobility, the source of all real political power, and only nominally obedient to the court aristocracy. As Yoritomo’s authority depended on their strength, he went to great lengths to establish and define samurai privilege; no one could call himself a samurai without his permission.
The sword came to have great significance in samurai culture. A man’s honor resided in his sword, and their craftsmanship, carefully hammered blades, gold and silver inlay, and sharkskin handgrips, became an art.
While the autonomy of the Kamakura Shogunate was destined to last 141 years, surpassing the technical capital of Japan politically, culturally and economically, Yorotomo’s rule would only last for six years. In 1198, at the age of 51, he died of a fall from his horse, and his Minimoto dynasty was to end almost as quickly and unexpectedly as it had started.
Shogun succession followed the rule of the first legitimate son. Yoritomo had two. The first, Yoriie, only 17 when his father died, became a puppet ruler under the regency of his maternal grandfather, Hōjō Tokimasa. It was the beginning of the Hōjō clan’s assumption of Kamakura power, and the annihilation of other competing related families, like the Hatakeyama, the Hiki, and the Wada. When Yoriie plotted to retake control, he was deported down to the Izu Peninsula, and his wife and 6 year-old son murdered.