Kamakura Shogunate

( 1185 - 1333 )

The Kamakura Shogunate represents "Japan's Japan," rather than a Japanese version of China.
During the declining years of the Sung Dynasty and Mongol threat to the "Celestial Kingdom,"
across the straits, Shogun Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199) and his successors forged the values and traditions
(centering on Shinto, Bushido, Zen) that came to characterize Japan right up to the 19th century Meiji Restoration.
During the Kamakura Shogunate, the samurai-daimyo elites "came into their own."

For more information, see


Yoritomo came to power after a prolonged period of civil war which has been immortalized in vivid scrolls from the 13th c.


A contemporary rendering of Minamoto Yoritomo, who forged the feudal system that would characterize Japan until the 19th century. The daimyo (great lords) and samurai (those who serve) knights provided what political security existed and defined the culture of traditional Japan. It was during the Kamakura Shogunate that the "Age of the Samurai" emerged (Woodson xiii,) for example, the tea ceremony.



The tea ceremony, with its Zen mystique, became an integral part of samurai discipline:

"Tea Ceremony"
By Deanne Jensen

At the "Glimpse of Japan" I went to a demonstration on how to perform a Tea Ceremony. Since the 16th century the manner of preparation in Japan has changed among developed schools that promoted chad, "the way of tea." The ceremony combines artistic creativity, religious nature, and social interchange. The tea for this ceremony was made by aging the tea leaves, fermenting them. Then they are pressed and ground into powder called macha, which is then added to hot water, poured into a kettle and ladled into a ceramic bowls. After the tea is mixed, it is ready to serve. The main or principal guest goes to the bowl, carries it back to his place; then, in a gesture of sharing, the guest turns the bowl clockwise until the face is on the opposite side: they are ready. It is, they say, "ofuku kagen wa" to which the guests reply "kekko de gozaimasu." With this ceremony usually dry sweets are served with this to provide a sweet taste, different from the tea. The sweet is usually eaten before the tea. This sweet higashi, usually made out of sugar and flour that are then pressed into a mold. As the presentation is coming to a close, the host says "oshimai ni itashimasu." This ceremony only occurs a few times a year on special occasions. The standard service, shogo no chaji" or noon tea"begins around noon and lasts for about four hours. Other times are dawn tea, morning tea, in the summer at 6 o'clock and at the winter after dinner. I went to "The Glimpse of Japan" and saw this ceremony performed. Everything that they did was perfect, the way they moved the ladle, how much water they took out and put in the kettle. It was facsinating to see how much effort and time that they spend on one thing and how important their culture is to them. You can see that most of all.


For more information on the tea ceremony, visit




Part of the Zen mystique and discipline of Kamakura samurai and daimyo included meditation in exquisitely constructed rock gardens such as the one at Ryoan-ji near Kyoto; although it was laid out in the 15th century, during the "Age of the Country at War," it represents the idea of the rock garden in its purest manifestation, which began in the Kamakura era.

(Turnbull 64)

Flower arranging, Ikebana, was another of the Zen aesthetic practices that helped--through a lifetime of discipline and training--
the samurai practitioner to reduce nature to its fundamental essence and "zap" him into satori, that state of perfect
(thought transient) enlightenment. "Ikebana is the art of association of ideas and impressions of nature
expressed through flowers. In Ikebana the elegance of a branch conveys the change of the seasons.
A single flower symbolizes nature. Bamboo symbolizes integrity since it doesn't bend.
The Amur Adoni represents good luck. The evergreen pine suggests the abode of a deity."


For more information on ikebana, visit


Haiku represented yet another Zen discipline practiced by the samurai of Kamakura and
Ashikaga and later Japan as they worked to discipline their mind-body-spirit to achieve satori.
An example of haiku in its Japanese and English rendering follows,
as well as illustration of how the haiku poem looks:

Their names I know not
But to every weed its flower,
And loveliness.

Na wa shirazu
kusa-goto ni
aware nari


For more on this fascinating topic, visit


Zen provided a unifying theme behind the tea ceremony, ikebana, haiku, and other aspects of the culture of the samurai elites


A samurai in his full regalia at the height of the Kamakura Shogunate


For more on the origins and history of the samurai, visit




and, the site below explains the weapons, their use, and Bushido to the samurai


I'm not sure how "into" the samurai, their mystique, their weapons, etc., you've become,
however, interesting source pages on Japanese swords are below



And then there were the expectations for females of the samurai class, even back as far as the Kamakura era. Women in the elites were expected to uphold the duty and honor of their family and class; some were trained in the female version of the martial arts and learned to fight with a long stick or pike called the naginata.
As Zen came more and more to define the samurai elites; even women seemed to play a role.

For women and Zen, visit



Buddhist worship in the Kamakura Shogunate continued to play a major role in Japan.

For more information on the founding of the Kamakura Shogunate and its institutions, visit





[ Welcome ] [ Asuka ] [ Nara ] [ Heian ] [ Kamakura ] [ Ashikaga ] [ Warring States ] [ Tokugawa ]
[ Meiji ] [ The Rising Sun ]


Turnbull, Stephen. The Book of the Samurai. London: Bison Books, Ltd., 1986.

Woodson, Yoko. Lords of the Samurai: The Legacy of a Daimyo Family.
San Francisco: Asian Art Museum, 2009.

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