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Minamoto no Sanetomo

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  • Born: 1192
  • Died: 1219/1/27
  • Japanese: 実朝 (Minamoto no Sanetomo)

Minamoto no Sanetomo was the third shogun of the Kamakura shogunate. The second son of Minamoto no Yoritomo and Hôjô Masako, he succeeded his brother Minamoto no Yoriie to become shogun on 1203/9/7. Sanetomo was famously assassinated by his nephew Minamoto no Kugyô in 1219. Though many historians have described Sanetomo as a weak, ineffective, or soft shogun, or as merely a puppet of the Hôjô, like most such assessments, arguments have been made against this representation as well.

According to some records, officials or leaders of the Kamakura shogunate misled the Imperial Court into naming Sanetomo "shogun" even before Yoriie's death. Others suggest that Yoriie simply stepped down and allowed himself to be succeeded by Sanetomo. Sanetomo celebrated his genpuku (coming of age) roughly one month later.

Sanetomo married Bômon Nobuko, a daughter of Fujiwara (Bômon) Nobukiyo. He received tutoring in poetry from Fujiwara no Teika. Fond of poetry and culture, he invited Kamo no Chômei to court in 1211. Sanetomo is also known for his support of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

In 1205, rumors that Hôjô Tokimasa was planning to have Sanetomo killed and replaced by Hiraga Tomomasa ended in Hiraga being killed and Tokimasa being forced to step down as regent (shikken), going into exile in Izu province.

At some point, Sanetomo came to be advised by Chen Heqing, a Chinese merchant who was involved in the reconstruction of Tôdaiji. Chen suggested to Sanetomo that he was the reincarnation of a famous Chinese Buddhist priest of the past and that he should travel to China; though Sanetomo commissioned the construction of a ship for this purpose, it ultimately proved to not be seaworthy, and so Sanetomo never made the journey.

The year 1213 saw another disturbance, as Wada Yoshimori led a force in attacking the shogun's mansion, as well as those of some of his closest relatives and chief officials. This event, known as the Wada Conflict or Wada Disturbance, ended with the uprising being suppressed, however, without Sanetomo or any of his closest relatives or advisors being killed.

Sanetomo's famous assassination took place at Tsurugaoka Hachimangû, where the shogun and numerous members of his court had just completed a court ceremony. Sanetomo's nephew Minamoto no Kugyô famously hid behind a massive gingko tree just to the side of the main stairs of the shrine, springing out to attack Sanetomo. While some accounts make no mention of Sanetomo's guards or retinue otherwise, even those which do make no mention of how the assassin was able to attack and kill the shogun so quickly and easily without having to go through his guards. In a complex series of events, Kugyô was killed shortly afterwards.

Following Sanetomo's death, his mother Hôjô Masako - sometimes known today as "the Nun Shogun" - became de facto ruler, taking no official title but overseeing governance and administration until Kujô Yoritsune, a court noble from Kyoto, was named shogun in 1226.

Preceded by:
Minamoto no Yoriie
Kamakura Shogun
1203-1219
Succeeded by:
Kujô Yoritsune
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