Sushi Breaking Through to Breakfast Market Sushi

Sushi Breaking Through to Breakfast Market Sushi

Asuka and Nara periods

Iron helmet and armor with gilt bronze decoration, Kofun era, 5th century. Tokyo National Museum.

Following the Battle of Hakusukinoe against Tang China and Silla in 663 AD that led to a Japanese retreat from Korean affairs, Japan underwent widespread reform. One of the most important was that of the Taika Reform, issued by Prince Naka no Ōe (Emperor Tenji) in 646 AD. This edict allowed the Japanese aristocracy to adopt the Tang Dynasty political structure, bureaucracy, culture, religion, and philosophy.[3] As part of the Taihō Code, of 702 AD, and the later Yōrō Code,[4] the population was required to report regularly for census, a precursor for national conscription. With an understanding of how the population was distributed, Emperor Mommu introduced a law whereby 1 in 3–4 adult males was drafted into the national military. These soldiers were required to supply their own weapons, and in return were exempted from duties and taxes.[3] This was one of the first attempts by the Imperial government to form an organized army modeled after the Chinese system. It was called «Gundan-Sei» (軍団制) by later historians and is believed to have been short-lived.


The Taihō Code classified most of the Imperial bureaucrats into 12 ranks, each divided into two sub-ranks, 1st rank being the highest adviser to the Emperor. Those of 6th rank and below were referred to as «samurai» and dealt with day-to-day affairs. Although these «samurai» were civilian public servants, the name is believed[by whom?] to have derived from this term. Military men, however, would not be referred to as «samurai» for many more centuries.[citation needed]

In the early Heian period, the late 8th and early 9th centuries, Emperor Kammu sought to consolidate and expand his rule in northern Honshū, but the armies he sent to conquer the rebellious Emishi people lacked motivation and discipline, and failed in their task.[citation needed] Emperor Kammu introduced the title of sei’i-taishōgun (征夷大将軍) or Shogun, and began to rely on the powerful regional clans to conquer the Emishi. Skilled in mounted combat and archery (kyūdō), these clan warriors became the Emperor’s preferred tool for putting down rebellions.[citation needed] Though this is the first known use of the «Shogun» title, it was a temporary title, and was not imbued with political power until the 13th century. At this time (the 7th to 9th century) the Imperial Court officials considered them merely a military section under the control of the Imperial Court.

Ultimately, Emperor Kammu disbanded his army. From this time, the emperor’s power gradually declined. While the emperor was still the ruler, powerful clans around Kyoto (京都) assumed positions as ministers, and their relatives bought positions as magistrates. To amass wealth and repay their debts, magistrates often imposed heavy taxes, resulting in many farmers becoming landless.[citation needed]

Samurai on horseback, wearing ō-yoroi armour, carrying bow (yumi) and arrows in a yebira quiver

Through protective agreements and political marriages, they accumulated, or gathered, political power, eventually surpassing the traditional aristocracy.[citation needed]

Some clans were originally formed by farmers who had taken up arms to protect themselves from the Imperial magistrates sent to govern their lands and collect taxes. These clans formed alliances to protect themselves against more powerful clans, and by the mid-Heian period they had adopted characteristic Japanese armor and weapons, and laid the foundations of Bushidō, their ethical code.[citation needed]

After the Genpei war of the late 12th century, a clan leader Minamoto no Yoritomo obtained the right to appoint shugo and jito, and was allowed to organize soldiers and police, and to collect a certain amount of tax. Initially, their responsibility was restricted to arresting rebels and collecting needed army provisions, and they were forbidden from interfering with Kokushi Governors, but their responsibility gradually expanded and thus the samurai-class appeared as the political ruling power in Japan. Minamoto no Yoritomo opened the Kamakura Bakufu Shogunate in 1192.

Kamakura Bakufu and the rise of samurai

Samurai ō-yoroi armour, Kamakura period. Tokyo National Museum.

Originally the emperor and nobility employed these warriors. In time, they amassed enough manpower, resources and political backing in the form of alliances with one another, to establish the first samurai-dominated government. As the power of these regional clans grew, their chief was typically a distant relative of the emperor and a lesser member of either the Fujiwara, Minamoto, or Taira clans. Though originally sent to provincial areas for a fixed four-year term as a magistrate, the toryo declined to return to the capital when their terms ended, and their sons inherited their positions and continued to lead the clans in putting down rebellions throughout Japan during the middle- and later-Heian period. Because of their rising military and economic power, the warriors ultimately became a new force in the politics of the court. Their involvement in the Hōgen in the late Heian period consolidated their power, and finally pitted the rival Minamoto and Taira clans against each other in the Heiji Rebellion of 1160.

The winner, Taira no Kiyomori, became an imperial advisor, and was the first warrior to attain such a position. He eventually seized control of the central government, establishing the first samurai-dominated government and relegating the emperor to figurehead status. However, the Taira clan was still very conservative when compared to its eventual successor, the Minamoto, and instead of expanding or strengthening its military might, the clan had its women marry emperors and exercise control through the emperor.

The Taira and the Minamoto clashed again in 1180, beginning the Gempei War, which ended in 1185. Samurai fought at the naval battle of Dan-no-ura, at the Shimonoseki Strait which separates Honshu and Kyushu in 1185. The victorious Minamoto no Yoritomo established the superiority of the samurai over the aristocracy. In 1190 he visited Kyoto and in 1192 became Sei’i-taishōgun, establishing the Kamakura Shogunate, or Kamakura Bakufu. Instead of ruling from Kyoto, he set up the Shogunate in Kamakura, near his base of power. «Bakufu» means «tent government», taken from the encampments the soldiers would live in, in accordance with the Bakufu’s status as a military government.[5]

Over time, powerful samurai clans became warrior nobility, or «buke», who were only nominally under the court aristocracy. When the samurai began to adopt aristocratic pastimes like calligraphy, poetry and music, some court aristocrats in turn began to adopt samurai customs. Despite machinations and brief periods of rule by emperors, real power was then in the hands of the Shogun and the samurai.

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