Hōjō Masako

Hōjō Masako by Kikuchi Yōsai (菊池 容斎)
In this Japanese name, the family name is Hōjō.

Hōjō Masako (北条 政子, 1156 – August 16, 1225) was a female political leader, and the eldest daughter of Hōjō Tokimasa (the first shikken, or regent, of the Kamakura shogunate) by his wife Hōjō no Maki. She was the sister of Hōjō Yoshitoki, and was married to Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura period. She was also the mother of O-Hime, Minamoto no Yoriie and Minamoto no Sanetomo, the second and third shoguns.

Early life to marriage (1157–1182)

Hōjō Masako was born in 1156, daughter of Hōjō Tokimasa, leader of the influential Hōjō clan of Izu province, and his wife, Hōjō no Maki. Masako's parents were still in their teens, and she was raised by many ladies-in-waiting and nannies. Masako was born into a world of war and strife. In Kyoto, the capital of Japan, the Hōgen Rebellion was in full spring, where Cloistered Emperor Toba and Emperor Sutoku warred over who would be the next emperor. The Hōjō family wisely chose to stay out of the rebellion, even though the Hōjō family, Masako's lineage, was descended from the Taira clan and thus was related to the imperial family.

During the Heiji Rebellion, fought in 1159, the Taira clan, under Taira no Kiyomori, with the support of Cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa defeated the Minamoto clan, under the leadership of Minamoto no Yoshitomo. Yoshitomo was executed, while his sons and daughters were either executed or sent to nunneries. Only three of his sons survived. Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Minamoto no Noriyori were forced into priesthood, while Minamoto no Yoritomo, at the age of thirteen, was spared and sent to exile in Izu, the domain of Hōjō Tokimasa. While this was happening, Masako was barely an infant. The Taira under Kiyomori now were in successful control of Japan.

Masako had an elder brother Munetoki, and in 1163 a younger brother, Yoshitoki, was born. She later would have yet another brother, Hōjō Tokifusa, and another sister, whose name is lost to history. Masako was instructed in horseback riding, hunting, and fishing and she ate with men rather than with her mother, sister, and other women of the household.

Masako married Yoritomo.[1][2] In 1182, they had their first daughter, Ō-Hime. In the same year, a disillusioned Imperial Prince Mochihito, who was the son of Cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa and thought the Taira had denied him the throne to offer the throne to Emperor Antoku, who was half Taira himself, called the Minamoto members remaining in Japan to overthrow the Taira. Yoritomo who considered himself the head of the Minamoto, responded. He had the full support of the Hōjō and Tokimasa, not to mention Masako. The Minamoto center was at the city of Kamakura, to the east of Izu in Sagami Province.

Thus, the Genpei War, the final war between Minamoto and Taira had begun. In 1180, Masako's elder brother Munetoki was killed at Battle of Ishibashiyama and Yoshitoki became heir of Hōjō clan. In 1181, Taira no Kiyomori died, leaving the Taira in the hands of Taira no Munemori, his son. In 1182, Masako's brother Yoshitoki married, and that same year, Masako and Yoritomo had their first son, Minamoto no Yoriie, who would be the heir.

The Genpei War and its aftermath (1182–1199)

In 1183, Minamoto no Yoshinaka, Yoritomo's rival and cousin, took Kyoto, driving the Taira (and Emperor Antoku) to Shikoku. Quickly, Emperor Go-Toba was installed by the Minamoto. Nonetheless, Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Minamoto no Noriyori, Yoritomo's half brothers who had joined Yoritomo drove Yoshinaka out and executed him, and took Kyoto in the name of Yoritomo (and the Hōjō.)

By 1185, the Taira were completely defeated at the Battle of Dannoura. Munemori was executed, while the remaining Taira either were executed or drowned, including the young Emperor Antoku. Minamoto no Yoritomo was now the undisputed leader of Japan. Hōjō Masako and her family had stood by Yoritomo through it all. She rode with him on his campaigns and was never defeated in battle.[3]

His new allegiance to his wife's family and her dislike of her brothers-in-law as well as an internal power struggle brought up by the three brothers eventually resulted in the arrest and execution of Yoshitsune and Noriyori. Yoritomo even created new titles, such as shugo and jitō, which Hōjō Tokimasa received approval from Cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa in Kyoto. The capital was not moved to Kyoto, but remained in Kamakura, away from the court.

In 1192, Yoritomo was named Shogun by Cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa, who died later that year. He was now the most powerful man in Japan, and gave that power over to Masako as well. The Hōjō clan shared in that power. That same year, Masako and Yoritomo had another son, Minamoto no Sanetomo.

Death, corruption, and familial strife (1199–1205)

In 1199, Minamoto no Yoritomo died. He was succeeded as shogun by his son, Minamoto no Yoriie. Since he was only eighteen, Hōjō Tokimasa proclaimed himself shikken or regent for Yoriie. Masako also had a strong position since her son was shogun. Since her husband was dead, she shaved her head and became a Buddhist nun, receiving a tonsure from the priest Gyōyū. However, she did not take up residence in a monastery or a nunnery, and still involved herself in politics. She, her father Tokimasa, and her brother Yoshitoki created a council of regents for the eighteen-year-old Yoriie, but the headstrong shogun hated his mother's family and preferred his wife's family, the Hiki clan, and his father-in-law, Hiki Yoshikazu.

Hōjō Masako overheard a plot that Yoshikazu and Yoriie were hatching, and turned in her own son to Tokimasa, who did not hurt Yoriie but had Yoshikazu executed in 1203. Now, Shogun Yoriie was very sick and retired to Izu Province. He was murdered in 1204, no doubt by Tokimasa's orders. Masako had not been aware of this. During the murders and purges of the Hiki clan, Minamoto no Ichiman, Yoriie's eldest son and heir and Masako's grandson, was also executed since he was part Hiki himself.

In 1203, Masako's other son by Yoritomo, Minamoto no Sanetomo, became the third shogun with Tokimasa as regent. Sanetomo was closer to his mother than his elder brother was, and still a child when appointed shogun, by contrast his brother, who was forced to abdicate as shogun was now an adult. Nonetheless, Masako and Yoshitoki, the heir to the Hōjō, were angry with their father, especially after their mother, Hōjō Maki, died in 1204. Masako's sister's husband, Hatekayama Shigetada, was wrongfully executed on Tokimasa's orders even after Yoshitoki, Masako, and Tokifusa told Tokimasa he was not guilty of the "treason" charges. Hōjō Tokimasa was by 1205 the most powerful man in Kamakura.

Masako heard rumors that Tokimasa was planning to execute Sanetomo and replace him with one of his allies, so Masako and Yoshitoki immediately ordered Tokimasa to step down and go into priesthood or they would rebel. Hōjō Tokimasa abdicated in 1205, and was sent off to a monastery in Kamakura, where he shaved his head and became a monk, dying in 1215.

The later years (1205–1225)

Hōjō Masako's tomb at the Jufuku-ji, Kamakura, Japan.

In 1205, Minamoto no Sanetomo was shogun, and even though Tokimasa had been ousted, the position of the Hōjō was still secure. Masako's brother, Hōjō Yoshitoki, had succeeded as shikken for Shogun Sanetomo, while Masako was in a powerful position as a negotiator with the court. In 1218, she was sent by Regent Yoshitoki to ask Cloistered Emperor Go-Toba if Shogun Sanetomo could adopt one of his sons, such as Imperial Prince Nagahito as an heir. Go-Toba refused.

In 1219, tragedy struck. Shogun Sanetomo was executed by his nephew, the younger son of Minamoto no Yoriie, who later was caught by Hōjō troops and himself executed. In 1219, the Minamoto line became extinct. It was being decided who the next shogun would be, and Masako and Regent Yoshitoki finally decided on Kujō Yoritsune, otherwise known as Fujiwara no Yoritsune, who was not an adult, but a baby, and also not a Hōjō nor a male-line Minamoto, but rather, a member of the Kujō clan, which was part of the Fujiwara clan. Yoritsune's grandmother has been a niece of 1st Shogun Yoritomo. He was still a figurehead for the Hōjō, also later in his adulthood.

In 1221, Cloistered Emperor Go-Toba rebelled against the Hōjō, trying to restore power to the emperor. Regent Yoshitoki and his eldest son and heir, Hōjō Yasutoki, attacked Kyoto, and managed to regain the city and exile Cloistered Emperor Go-Toba. This was known as the abortive Jōkyū War of 1221.

In 1224, Hōjō Yoshitoki died of a sudden illness. He was succeeded by his eldest son and heir, Hōjō Yasutoki, Masako's nephew. Of course, the powerful Miura clan, led by Miura Yoshimura, attempted to topple the Hōjō government of Regent Yasutoki, Masako, and Shogun Yoritsune, but Masako rushed to negotiate. The Miura were put down, and Regent Yasutoki became Hōjō regent.

Finally, in 1225, Hōjō Masako died at the age of 69. Due to her true example of cloistered rule, she was known as the ama-shogun, or the "nun-shogun".

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hōjō Masako.


  1. Sato, Hiroaki (1995). Legends of the Samurai. Overlook Duckworth. p. 147-148. ISBN 9781590207307.
  2. Sansom, George (1958). A History of Japan to 1334. Stanford University Press. p. 371. ISBN 0804705232.
  3. Jones 1997, pp. 37–38


External links

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