Chris Bovberg: The Jôkyû Disturbance of 1221, A Case Study of Warrior Government

10:30-11:00 Chris Bovberg, University of California Berkeley

“The Jôkyû Disturbance of 1221, A Case Study of Warrior Government”

My dissertation investigates the early development of “warrior government” in the Kamakura bakufu (1180-1333) by examining key turning points. I attempt to identify what this construction, “warrior government,” signifies. What did it mean to be a “warrior”? What did their organization do? How did it relate to, complement, or stymie the court government? How do these questions inform our conception of the “medieval” period? I argue that to better understand how new military and police positions and powers were developed and incorporated into Japanese governing structures, a greater focus on the process of the expansion of authority is necessary. I contend that the bakufu was a dynamic institution, changing to adapt to new circumstances and crises as they arose, while remaining, at least conceptually, under the umbrella of the court government. This process was driven by personality, events, and other uncoordinated forces, as bakufu leadership sought solutions to the problems in front of them, not as a military takeover. The Jōkyū Disturbance (1221) is a salient example of a turning point in this development. Bakufu forces emerged victorious over the royal coalition, but it faced increasingly serious challenges after the battle was won. Power vacuums emerged at the center and local levels of government, sporadic episodes of violence continued across the countryside, and confusion and uncertainty threatened the stability of the established order. And yet, even though the bakufu was militarily unrivaled, it expanded only to the point of overcoming these difficulties – it never eclipsing or replacing royal authority. For example, it established new law enforcement officers to keep the peace while issuing new laws to establish their agents’ civil accountability, rather than using the power it had amassed to simply aggrandize the position of its own regime. In short, despite its unprecedented expansion, it remained fundamentally conservative.  Kamakura extended its reach across the country, but did so to preserve the status quo of the rest of the systems and institutions under the tennō’s government. This demands that we rethink the standard narrative of “warrior rule” and common conceptions of a separate “warrior” establishment and instead consider Kamakura administration as defying easy categorization.