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PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 4:25 am    Post subject: Kamakura Era Resources Reply with quote

The Kamakura era is considered by most historians to have begun in 1185 with the defeat of the Ise branch of the Taira clan at the battle of Dan-No-Ura, establishing a new center of power at Kamakura under Minamoto Yoritomo. It ended in 1333 when supporters of Emperor Go-Daigo deposed the Hojo regency and briefly returned control of the country to the Imperial Court. For practical purposes, we’re expanding the Kamakura era to include the earlier Hogen and Heiji disturbances along with the Genpei War as these all had a direct impact on the formation of the Kamakura Shogunate (even though all are properly part of the Heian Era). The following is a short and simplified outline of this era.
Many of the most noteworthy and colorful events and figures in Japanese history populated the Kamakura era. The Genpei War (1180-1185) brought about the downfall of the powerful family of Taira Kiyomori and established the samurai as the rulers of the land, supplanting the Imperial Court. Minamoto Yoritomo became the first permanent Shogun (being granted that title in 1192) and effectively moved the seat of power from the capital of Heian-kyo to Kamakura, giving the era its name. Many historians consider the Genpei War to be more of a series of local conflicts than a true war, and most also believe the struggle was actually between the samurai and Imperial Court rather than between the Minamoto and Taira. Nevertheless, the exploits of Yoritomo’s brother Minamoto Kuro Yoshitsune and cousin Kiso Yoshinaka in battles such as Kurikara, Ichi-No-Tani, Yashima, and Dan-No-Ura became the stuff of legend in the Heike Monogatari, a hybrid of history and fiction about the Genpei War. Yoshitsune’s monk companion Benkei (who gets only one passing reference and a couple of name drops in the Heike Monogatari) and female warrior Tomoe (for whom little to no historical evidence points to having existed) found themselves transformed into heroes of epic stature in tales passed down over the years.
The Jokyu No Ran (AKA the Shokyu No Ran) in 1221 was a brief civil war that cemented the Hojo as the controlling force in the land. Ex-emperors Juntoku and Go-Toba became angry when the Hojo continued to run the government as regents (appointing Fujiwara Yoshitsune to take over the position of Shogun with Hojo Masako as his regent) after the last Minamoto Shogun was killed in 1219. They began to levy troops from the provinces to send against Hojo Yoshitoki. Yoshitoki decided to send a preemptive strike against Kyoto, defeating the forces of the ex-Emperors at Uji and Seta. The reigning Emperor Chukyo was deposed and both Juntoku and Go-Toba were exiled.
The Mongol Invasions of Japan took place in 1274 and 1281, giving us the celebrated Divine Wind-the ‘Kamikaze’ that was said to have saved Japan, destroying the Mongol/Chinese/Korean fleet in a huge storm. The financial stress put upon the Hojo regency by the Invasions resulted in discontent among many of the samurai who took part and were not rewarded, resulting in the Kemmu Restoration of 1333 where once exiled Emperor Go-Daigo re-established the power of the Imperial Court by destroying the Hojo regency. Go-Daigo was aided in his endeavors by Kusunoki Masahige, the samurai whose unswerving loyalty to the Emperor and tenacity in battle established him as a hero and state-endorsed role model in the Meiji era. Go-Daigo was to find that all samurai were not so loyal, as he shortly found himself under the control of his former ally Ashikaga Takauji-an uncomfortable situation resulting in the split of the Imperial Court into Northern and Southern factions. This led to Takauji being declared Shogun by "Northern" Emperor Komyo in 1338 and the beginning of the Muromachi era.

The following are some of the better books and web links available to aid in studying this fascinating era. I’ll be adding some of the more accessible Japanese works as well at a later date.


Thanks to board member Lord Ameth for letting us know about this search tool:

" 日本古典籍総合目録

This site allows you to search for any Japanese historical document (古典籍), and it will tell you which libraries in Japan have handwritten manuscript versions (写本) and which published anthologies or collections contain typed versions (活字版)."

This can also be used to indirectly locate these works outside of Japan. Once you know the names of the anthologies and collections where these works have been reprinted, you can search the library database of your local University (or even a public library in a large city) to see what they might have available.


War tales are a combination of history and fiction, and therefore are not always reliable as sources. Look to the title endings-'Monogatari' is translated as 'tale', and as this implies, mixes fiction and legend with history. 'Ki' is translated as 'Chronicles' and these works are generally more reliable from a historical standpoint (with some notable exceptions such as the Gikeiki, the most unreliable of all the works listed here). However, they reflect the heart and soul of the Kamakura era. There are many variations of these works (as many as a hundred in the case of the Heike Monogatari)-you'll find multiple versions of each on, which is why I'm not listing specific editions (although kanji for each is presented for your searching convenience). I've tried to list when the work first appears. It should be noted that Hamuro Tokinaga is credited as authoring several of these works, but there isn't much proof for that, so I've listed him as 'attributed to'. Where an English language translation exists, it will be noted with a “*” after the Japanese. Helpful websites are also marked with an “*”.

Azuma Kagami (吾妻鏡 or 東鑑-mid to late 13th century, prepared by the Hojo, author unknown)-this is not a war tale per se, and for many years was considered to be an official history of the Kamakura era from 1180 to 1266. It was prepared by the Hojo regency beginning in the mid 13th century and was written to emphasize their role and legitimacy as regents. While it contains many actual events and existing documents, it also includes many that are outright fabrications. It remains a fascinating day-to-day account of the period.

*The Founding Of The Kamakura Shogunate, 1180-1185 (Columbia University Press-New York, NY 1960)-the standard English language work on the Genpei War.The first five books of the Azuma Kagami covering these years is translated here as well.

*The Azuma Kagami Account of the Shokyu War (Monumenta Nipponica 23, 1968) translated by William McCullough-a translation of book 25, which covers the year 1221 when the Shokyu War took place. You can find this for sale/download at JSTOR.

Gyokuyo (玉葉-late 12th and early 13th century)-'Leaves Of Jade', this is the diary of Fujiwara Kanezane, a celebrated court noble and is filled with news of the day and political dealings, and also discusses the Genpei War. Kanezane was supported by Minamoto Yoritomo and held the offices of Sessho, Dajo-Daijin, and Kwampaku.

Gikeiki (義経記-earliest surviving edition from 15th century, no known single author-it seems to be a compilation of several smaller works)-a very fanciful account of the life of Minamoto Yoshitsune, focusing on events that preceded and followed the Genpei War. Benkei becomes the true hero of the story halfway through.

*Yoshitsune (Stanford University Press-Stanford, CA 1990) translated by Helen Craig McCullough-translation of the above, with a brilliant lengthy forward that traces the evolution and amalgamations of the Yoshitsune legends through various media.

Gukansho (愚管抄-written in 1219 by monk Jien)-this was a seven volume history of Japan written by monk Jien, and the title translates as "The Jottings Of A Fool". Since Jien was commissioned by the Imperial Court to write this work, it is by its author's admission biased. However, the later volumes are among the more reliable sources from the Kamakura era and provided the basis for much of the Heike Monogatari.

Genpei Seisuiki (源平盛衰記-supposedly written in late 12th century and attributed to Hamuro Tokinaga, but not mentioned in other texts until the early Muromachi era-earliest surviving edition from Edo period), AKA Genpei Josuiki-longer and drier than the Heike Monogatari, but draws heavily on that work and is generally more historically reliable. It covers the 'rise and fall of the Minamoto and Taira' from 1160 to 1185.

Jokyuki (or Shokyuki)-(承久記) the story of the Jokyu No Ran, written in the 13th century by an unknown author.

*Shokyuki: An Account Of The Shokyu War Of 1221 (Monumenta Nipponica 19 #1/2 & #3/4, 1964) translated by William H. McCullough-an English translation of the above. You can find this for sale/download at JSTOR.

Soga Monogatari (曽我物語-late 14th century-early 15th century-likely written by Agui monks at Hakone Shrine)-the tale of the Soga brothers, who supposedly used the swords of Kiso Yoshinaka and Minamoto Yoshitsune to gain revenge on a traitorous family member (and attacking Minamoto Yoritomo in the process).

*The Tale of the Soga Brothers (University Of Tokyo Press-Tokyo, Japan 1987) translated by Thomas G. Cogan-translation of Soga Monogatari.

Taiheiki (太平記-completed around 1374, with the original book of twelve chapters by monk Kojima of Mt. Hiei and the two later books added by monks Echin and Gen'e)-the original book covers the events leading up to the Kemmu Restoration of 1332, ending with Go-Daigo being restored to power, but the latter two books cover events from then until 1368.

*The Taiheiki (Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc-Rutland, VT 1987) translated by Helen Craig McCullough-a translation of book one, the original twelve chapters that take things up to 1332. Again, McCullough provides copious historical notes and information.

Heike Monogatari (平家物語-earliest surviving edition from 1309, but likely begun in late 12th century with the first version probably appearing no later than 1221-attributed to Hamuro Tokinaga but the earliest version was probably penned by Fujiwara No Yukinaga under the guidance of monk Jien)-the epic work that covers the Genpei War of 1180-1185, focusing on the downfall of the Taira clan. The Heike Monogatari might have begun as the Jisho Monogatari, and perhaps was as small as three chapters in its original form (it now has 12). Fujiwara Kanezane's diary Gyokuyo is also thought to have supplied much of the original source material.

*Heike Monogatari-A. L. Sadler's full translation in a downloadable PDF file through the courtesy of the University of Oregon

*The Tale Of The Heike (Stanford University Press-Stanford, CA 2005) translated by Helen Craig McCullough-an excellent translation with copious historical footnotes and explanations.

*The Tale Of The Heike (Viking Adult-New York, NY 2012) translated by Royall Tyler-while McCullough's translation is more accessible for beginners, Tyler's recently published translation of the Heike is excellent as well. Instead of the straightforward prose of McCullough, Tyler presents it in spoken dialogue, recitative, and song (aria) form, so that it more resembles the Heike as it was performed by biwa hoshi. This makes it a much more artistic and grandiose read than McCullough's, just like a semi-fictional 'war tale' should be.

*Heike Monogatari Podcast Site-download or listen to 12 hours or so of the Heike Monogatari (in Japanese). The reader is exceptionally good, with a voice well suited to the material. Thanks to board member Shikisoku for coming up with this!

Tale Of The Heike Website-an excellent English language website that provides background, images, musical accompaniment, and links for studying the Heike Monogatari.

Heiji Monogatari (平治物語-late 12th century, attributed to Homura Tokinaga)-an account of the 1159 rebellion against Emperor Nijo and former Emperor Go-Shirakawa led by Fujiwara Nobuyori and Minamoto Yoshitomo. Taira Kiyomori stopped this one as well.

*Translations From Early Japanese Literature (Harvard University Press-Cambridge 1964) edited by Edwin O. Reischauer and Joseph K. Yamagiwa-this work has a partial English translation of the Heiji Monogatari (Book 1 and about half of Book 2).

*Heiji Disturbance Scroll-Thomas Conlan has prepared a website that presents the Heiji Disturbance scroll in color.

Hogen Monogatari (保元物語-either between 1190-1219, or after 1230, attributed to Homura Tokinaga-began to be mentioned in other texts in 1297 with the earliest surviving edition from 1318)-an account of the 1156 disturbance where the forces of ex-Emperor Sutoku clashed with new Emperor Go-Shirakawa over the Imperial succession. Forces of the Minamoto and Taira were to be found on both sides, but Taira Kiyomori came away the big winner by supporting Shirakawa.

*Hogen Monogatari: Tale Of The Disorder In Hogen (Cornell University East Asia Program-Ithaca, NY 2001) by William R. Wilson-a short but sweet translation of the above.

*Before Heike And After: Hogen, Heiji, Jokyuki (Arthur Nettleton Books, 2012) by Royall Tyler-this amazing book collects translations of the Hogen Monogatari, Heiji Monogatari, and Jokyuki (Shokyuki). It's the first time the Heiji Monogatari has been fully translated into English, and best of all, the book is only $12!


Jeffrey P. Mass-Mass was the preeminent scholar of the Kamakura period outside of Japan and was a major influence on the careers of most of today's top scholars in the field. He was that rarest of species, an academic that wasn't afraid to change his theories and positions when faced with new evidence-many of his later books take his older ones to task! We'll go into more detail on Mass's individual works later, but the link will give you a head start on them. All you need to know is that if it's by Mass, it'll be thought-provoking and excellent.

Battles Of The Samurai (Arms And Armour Press-London, United Kingdom 1987) by Stephen Turnbull-one of the ubiquitous Turnbull's better efforts, there are fairly detailed chapters detailing the battles of Kurikara and Kamakura.

Cambridge History Of Japan Volume 3: Medieval Japan (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom 2003) edited by Kozo Yamamura-This is the best source in English for a detailed and insightful analysis of the political, cultural, and religious machinations of the Kamakura Era. It features a line up of some of the most renowned scholars in the field of Japanese history. Unfortunately, the price tag is as high as the quality-but it’s worth every penny. The last section of Volume 2: Heian Japan (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom 1999) edited by Donald H. Shively and William H. McCullough also has much information in the last section on the background and causes of the Genpei War.

Early Samurai AD 200-1500 (Osprey Publishing-London, United Kingdom 1989) by Anthony J. Bryant-a good source for a short history of the times but especially for the descriptions and illustrations of arms and armor of the era.

The First Samurai (John Wiley & Sons, Inc-Hoboken, NJ 2008) by Karl Friday-while taking place in the Heian era, this account of Taira Masakado’s rebellion provides much valuable information on the development of the Taira family. It’s also a great read.

From Sovereign To Symbol: An Age Of Ritual Determinism In Fourteenth Century Japan (Oxford University Press, Oxford UK 2011) by Thomas Donald Conlan-an excellent look at the Nanboku-chō period of the 14th century in English, it explores how Shingon Buddhism made ritual one of the major factors contributing to the war's length and also helped to lay the groundwork for 'loyal service' rather than 'reward' becoming the prime motivator for the warrior class. He does this largely through the lens of two important religious figures, Kitabatake Chikafusa and Sanbo'in Kenshun, and how they made Shingon (rather than Zen, the school to which it's traditionally ascribed) the guiding principle behind the rise of the Ashikaga Shogunate.

The Gates Of Power (University Of Hawai'i Press-Honolulu, HI 2000) by Mikael S Adolphson-extremely useful in studying how the Buddhist factions of Kyoto and Nara interacted with the warriors and Imperial Court, particularly in their impact on the Taira.

A History of Japan To 1334 (Stanford University Press-Stanford, CA 1999) by George Sansom-although the information is dated in places, Sansom’s work remains a valuable reference work and is readily available.

In Little Need Of Divine Intervention (Cornell University East Asia Program-Ithaca, NY 2001) by Thomas D. Conlan-a look at the history of the Mongol Invasion scrolls and the events that spawned them. Takezaki Suenaga commissioned these scrolls to highlight his exploits during the invasions in hopes of gaining a reward from the government. Conlan’s analysis of the different versions of the scrolls along with their alterations, additions, and resequencing over the centuries is nothing short of fascinating. The scrolls are recreated in black and white in their entirety, along with variations. Conlan’s reinterpretations of the invasions themselves are also must reading.

*Mongol Invasion Scrolls-there’s also an exceedingly well-done companion website to this book that has four different versions of the scrolls in full color, with side by side comparisons and a guided tour.

Japan's Medieval Population: Famine, Fertility, And Warfare In A Transformative Age (University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, HI 2006) by William Wayne Farris-a fascinating book that explores the huge population increase in Japan between 1150 and 1600 (where the number of people tripled) with a heavy emphasis on the economic, societal, and cultural factors behind it.

Kamakura:Fact And Legend (Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc-Rutland, VT 1995) by Iso Mutsu-much like Japan And Her People, this work was written by a Western woman living in Japan in the early twentienth century. It gives a unique perspective on the city of Kamakura and the history surrounding it-valuable as a indicator of the state of Japanese scholarship of the time.

Samurai, Warfare And The State In Early Medieval Japan (Routledge-New York, NY 2005) by Karl F. Friday-an in depth look at how warfare was conducted in the Heian, Kamakura, and Nambokucho periods.

Selling Songs And Smiles:The Sex Trade In Heian And Kamakura Japan (University Of Hawai'i Press-Honolulu, HI 2007) by Janet R. Goodwin-because the samurai weren’t fighting all the time. A look into the social aspects and mores of the day.

State Of War (Center For Japanese Studies, The University Of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI 2003) by Thomas Donald Conlan-an excellent work focusing on the warfare of the 1300’s, and how it was substantially different than the so-called ‘samurai ideal’.

Swords, Oaths, And Prophetic Visions (University Of Hawai'i Press-Honolulu, HI 2006) by Elizabeth Oyler-an in-depth and illuminating look at several notable episodes of the Genpei war and how they were chronicled in different media (written, spoken, performed, etc). It also shows how the accounts changed and evolved over the years to reflect the different values of the eras they were passed down through.

The Teeth And Claws Of The Buddha (University Of Hawai'i Press-Honolulu, HI 2007) by Mikael S Adolphson-while this covers monastic warriors and sohei throughout Japanese history, there are large sections dealing with their impact on the political landscape during the Kamakura era.

Warrior Rule In Japan (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom 1996) edited by Maruius B. Jansen-this is a digest version of Cambridge History 3, and much more affordable.

Warriors of Japan As Portrayed in the War Tales (University of Hawai'i Press-Honolulu, HI 1994) by Paul H Varley-just what it says, a well written work that examines how the war tales reflected samurai ideals, realities, and the values of the day.

Weapons & Fighting Techniques Of The Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD (Amber Books Ltd, London UK 2008) by Thomas Conlan-a large coffee table book with copious illustrations and photos, this was designed for the mass market but nonetheless is the single best source on weapons systems of the samurai and how they evolved over time to fit their particular era. It also features a fresh look at the Battle of Nagashino.


There’s been a few entertaining works of fiction based on the Genpei Wars and Mongol Invasions. Here are some of my favorites:

The Heike Story (Tuttle Publishing-North Clarendon, VT 2004) by Eiji Yoshikawa-the celebrated author of Taiko and Musashi here takes on the years leading up
the Genpei war, as seen through the experiences of Taira no Kiyomori (the book was the basis of NHK's 2012 Taiga drama).

Genpei (Tom Doherty Associates LLC-New York, NY 2000) by Kara Dalkey-a more characterization-driven and fanciful account of the Genpei war.

Memoirs of the Warrior Kumagai (Tuttle Publishing-North Clarendon, VT 2006) by Donald Richie-an historical novel based around the incident at the battle of Ichi-No-Tani occuring between Taira Atsumori and Kumagai no Jiro Naozane

Shike:Time Of The Dragons (Jove Publications, Inc-New York, NY 1981) & Shike:Last Of The Zinja (Jove Publications, Inc-New York, NY 1981) by Robert Shea-a two paperback set that changes the names of the principals of the Genpei Wars. Here, Benkei is Jebu and Yoshitsune is Muratomo Yukio. It plays fast and loose with historical fact, putting them in every Kamakura era situation possible including the Mongol Invasions. It even has a sequence of their adventures in China fighting the Mongols, and Jebu ends up being part of the Illuminati. Despite all this, it’s immensely entertaining cheesy action.

The Sword Of Hachiman (AKA Children Of Hachiman) (Zebra Books, New York, NY 1982) by Lynn Guest-an excellent historical novel based on the Genpei War and its personalities. Very history-intense but still a good and engaging read.

We'll also be adding some more works on the 'non-elite' aspects of the era, books that go into more detail as to economics and day-to-day culture.

If anyone has books or good sites to add to the list, feel free to PM me with them.
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