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Bakufu (幕府) originally described the dwelling and household of a shogun, but in time it came to be generally used in Japanese to describe the system of government, a feudal military dictatorship, exercised by the shoguns (implying literally "tent government", or military rule), and this is the meaning that has been adopted in English. An alternative term is shogunate.

The system of bakufu was originally established under the Kamakura bakufu by Minamoto no Yoritomo. The military wing of the government came to dominate the civil (imperial) government, so that while the Emperors of Japan still technically led the government, all practical (and especially military) power rested with the shogun and the daimyo. The system was essentially "feudal" in nature, with lesser territorial lords pledging their allegiance to greater ones. Samurai were rewarded for their loyalty with land, which was in turn handed down and divided among their sons.

Three primary bakufu periods are usually identified, each centered around a family which tended to dominate the position of shogun during that regime. In the Japanese language, the time period of each regime is named after the capital of the bakufu. The Ashikaga and Tokugawa bakufu can also be (and usually is) named in this fashion.

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