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Shogun (将軍) is a common Japanese language term meaning the rank of general or generalissimo. Generally, though not technically, it is used in reference to western military leaders of past and present from, for example, Carl von Clausewitz and Erwin Rommel, to Tommy Franks.

In reference to Japanese history, Shogun is a contraction of the ancient and highest ranking samurai title Seii Taishogun (征夷大将軍), meaning "great generalissimo who overcomes the barbarians". The administration of a Shogun is called the shogunate.

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Seii Taishogun of Heian Period Japan (794 - 1185 AD)

Conquest of the Emishi

Originally, the Seii Taishogun title was given to military commanders during the early Heian Period for the duration of military campaigns against the Emishi who resisted the governance of the imperial court based in Kyoto. The most famous of these shoguns was Sakanoue no Tamuramaro who conquered the Emishi in the name of the emperor Kammu. Eventually the title was abandoned in the later Heian after the Emishi had been either subjugated or driven to Hokkaido.

Gempei War

However, in the later Heian one more, however short-lived, shogun was appointed. Minamoto no Yoshinaka was given appointed Seii Taishogun during the Genpei War[?] only to be killed shortly thereafter by his distant cousin Minamoto no Yoshitsune, brother of Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Seii Taishogun of Feudal Period Japan (1185 - 1868 AD)

Kamakura Shogunate

After the defeat of the Taira clan in the Genpei War in 1185, Minamoto no Yoritomo seized power from the emperor and became the dictator and de facto ruler of Japan. He established a feudal system of government based in Kamakura in which the military, the samurai, assumed all political power while the Emperors of Japan and the aristocracy in Kyoto remained the figurehead de jure rulers. In 1192 Yoritomo was awarded the title of Seii Taishogun by the emperor and the political system he developed with a succession of shogun at the head became known as a bakufu or Shogunate. From this point in history, all shogun that headed shogunates were by tradition descendants of the Minamoto princes, the sons of emperor Seiwa, and the title passed generation to generation to the eldest sons.

Kemmu Restoration

During the Kemmu Restoration[?] after the fall of the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, another short-lived shogun arose. Prince Moriyoshi[?] (also known as Prince Morinaga), son of the emperor Go-Daigo was awarded the title of Seii Taishogun and put in charge of the military. After Ashikaga Takauji[?], later founder of the Muromachi shogunate, rebelled against the emperor, Prince Moriyoshi was put under house arrest and killed in 1335 by Takauji's younger brother Ashikaga Tadayoshi[?].

Muromachi and Edo Shogunates

In Japanese history, besides Minamoto no Yoritomo whose Kamakura Shogunate lasted for for approximately 150 years, from 1192 to 1333, only Ashikaga Takauji[?] and Tokugawa Ieyasu, each being descendants of the Minamoto princes, were awarded the title of Seii Taishogun and established bakufu on their own right. The Ashikaga Shogunate lasted from 1338 to 1573, while the Tokugawa Shogunate lasted from 1603 to 1868.

The so-called Transitional shoguns of 1568-1598 were never given the title of Seii Taishogun by the emperor and did not establish bakufu, but did for a period hold power over the emperor and most/all of Japan.

The title Seii Taishogun was abolished during the Meiji Restoration in 1868, in which effective power was "restored" to the emperor and his appointees.

List of Seii Taishoguns

"Shogun" is also the title of a 1975 novel by James Clavell.

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