Hōjō Masako

Hōjō Masako (北条 政子; 1157 - August 16, 1225) was a Japanese politician. The eldest daughter of Hōjō Tokimasa (the first shikken, or regent, of the Kamakura shogunate) and his wife Hōjō no Maki,

she was the sister of Hōjō Yoshitoki and wife of Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shōgun of the Kamakura period. She was also the mother of O-Hime, Minamoto no Yoriie and Minamoto no Sanetomo.

Scholars believe that she wielded significant power in the early years of the Kamakura period, reflected in her contemporary nickname of "shogun nun." She was the first shōgun of the Kamakura period.

Hōjō Masako Biography

Early years and marriage (1157-1182)

Hōjō Masako was born in 1156, the eldest child of Hōjō Tokimasa, head 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 conflict. In Kyoto, the capital of Japan, the Hōgen Rebellion was in full swing, where Emperor Toba and Emperor Sutoku were fighting for the throne.

The Hōjō family wisely chose to stay out of the rebellion, despite being descended from the Taira clan and thus related to the imperial family.

During the Heiji Rebellion, fought in 1159, the Taira clan, under Taira no Kiyomori, with the support of Emperor Go-Shirakawa defeated the Minamoto clan, under the leadership of Minamoto no Yoshitomo.

Yoshitomo was executed. Only three of his sons survived. Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Minamoto no Noriyori were forced into the priesthood, while Minamoto no Yoritomo, at the age of thirteen, was spared and sent into exile in Izu, in the domain of Hōjō Tokimasa . While this was happening, Masako was barely a child.

Masako married Yoritomo around 1177 against her father's wishes. In 1182 they had their first daughter Ō-Hime . That same year, a disillusioned Prince Mochihito, son of Emperor Go-Shirakawa, appealed to the remaining Minamoto members in Japan to overthrow the Taira clan.

Mochihito thought that the Taira clan had denied him the throne and offered it to Emperor Antoku. Yoritomo considered himself the head of the Minamoto clan and responded.

He had the full support of Hōjō and Tokimasa, not to mention Masako. Minamoto's stronghold was located in the city of Kamakura, east of Izu in Sagami Province.

Thus began the Genpei war between the Minamoto and the Taira. In 1180 Masako's older brother Munetoki was killed in the battle of Ishibashiyama and Yoshitoki became heir to the Hōjō clan.

In 1181 Taira no Kiyomori died, leaving the clan in the hands of his son Taira no Munemori. In 1182, Masako's brother Yoshitoki married, and in the same year, Masako and Yoritomo had their first child, Minamoto no Yoriie, who would be the heir.

The Genpei War and its consequences (1182-1199)

In 1183 Minamoto no Yoshinaka, rival and cousin of Yoritomo, took Kyoto, leading the Taira clan (and Emperor Antoku) towards Shikoku. Quickly, Emperor Go-Toba took over thanks to the Minamoto clan.

However, Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Minamoto no Noriyori, Yoritomo's half-brothers who had joined him, drove out Yoshinaka and executed him, and took Kyoto in Yoritomo's name.

In 1185 the Taira were completely defeated at the Battle of Dan-no-ura, and Minamoto no Yoritomo thus became the undisputed leader of Japan.

His new loyalty to his wife's family and his dislike of his brothers-in-law, as well as an internal power struggle raised by the three brothers, eventually led to the arrest and execution of Yoshitsune and Noriyori. Yoritomo even created new titles, such as shugo and jitō.

The capital was not moved to Kyoto, but remained in Kamakura, away from the court.

In 1192 Yoritomo was appointed shōgun by the cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa, who died later that year. He was now the most powerful man in Japan. The Hōjō clan shared that power.

In the same year, Masako and Yoritomo had another son, Minamoto no Sanetomo.

Death, Corruption and Family Conflict (1199-1205)

In 1199 Minamoto no Yoritomo died. He was succeeded by his son, the shōgun Minamoto no Yoriie . From the age of eighteen Hōjō Tokimasa had proclaimed himself shikken or regent for Yoriie.

Masako also had a strong position since her son became shōgun . Because her husband had died, she shaved her head and became a Buddhist nun, receiving a tonsure from the priest Gyōyū.

However, she did not settle in a monastery or convent and still became involved in politics. She, her father Tokimasa, and her brother Yoshitoki created a board of regents for the 18-year-old Yoriie, but the stubborn shōgun hated his mother's family and preferred his wife's family, the Hiki clan and his father-in-law Hiki Yoshikazu.

Hōjō Masako learned of the plot that Yoshikazu and Yoriie were hatching and turned his son over to Tokimasa, who executed Yoshikazu in 1203. Shōgun Yoriie, seriously ill, retreated to Izu Province and was killed in 1204 on Tokimasa's orders.

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, as he too belonged to the Hiki clan.

In 1203 Masako's other son, Minamoto no Sanetomo, became the third shōgun with Tokimasa as regent. Sanetomo was closer to his mother than his older brother was.

Masako, having heard rumors that Tokimasa was planning to execute Sanetomo and replace him with one of his allies, intimated Tokimasa to resign and retire to the priesthood or she would rebel.

Hōjō Tokimasa abdicated in 1205 and was sent to a monastery in Kamakura, where he shaved his head and became a monk, dying in 1215.

Last years (1205-1225)

Although Tokimasa had been ousted, the position of the Hōjō clan was still very strong. Masako's brother, Hōjō Yoshitoki, was able to serve as shikken for the shōgun Sanetomo, while Masako was in a powerful position as a negotiator with the court.

In 1218 she was sent by Regent Yoshitoki to ask Emperor Emeritus Go-Toba if Shōgun Sanetomo could adopt one of his sons as his heir, but Go-Toba refused.

In 1219 Shōgun Sanetomo was executed by his grandson, the youngest son of Minamoto no Yoriie, who was later captured by Hōjō troops and executed. In 1219 the Minamoto line became extinct.

Thus it was that Masako and the regent Yoshitoki appointed shōgun Kujō Yoritsune, otherwise known as Fujiwara no Yoritsune, a member of the Kujō clan belonging to the Fujiwara clan.

In 1221, Emperor Emeritus Go-Toba rebelled against the Hōjō clan, seeking to restore the emperor's power. Regent Yoshitoki and his eldest son Hōjō Yasutoki attacked Kyoto and managed to recapture the city and exile Go-Toba. Yoshitoki's seizure of power was known as the Jōkyū War of 1221.

In 1224 Hōjō Yoshitoki died suddenly and was succeeded by his eldest son Hōjō Yasutoki, grandson of Masako. The powerful Miura clan, led by Miura Yoshimura, attempted to overthrow Hōjō Yasutoki's rule, but Masako was quick to negotiate. The Miura were overthrown and Yasutoki became Hōjō regent.

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

Hōjō Masako Presence in mass culture

  • Yoshitsune - television series (2005)