Why did the shoguns never try to make themselves Emperor?

…which would be basically what happened in China and most other places most of the time

If we are to believe Karel Van Wolferen in The Enigma of Japanese Power, it is because having a powerless figurehead goes right back to the beginnings of recorded Japanese history.

It occurs to me that maybe they were satisfied with the next best thing, which was to marry their daughters into the family and so ensure that the Emperor had at least some of the same blood (is that what the NHK jidaigeki drama Atsuhime is about?? I find it so dull that I lose concentration after 5 minutes)



  1. crella said,

    January 13, 2009 at 9:02 am

    The Emperor is supposedly descended from a god, so a mere mortal cannot become Emperor. Kind of a nifty way of cutting off all attempts to take the office over eh? ;-) Declare oneself a god…

  2. crella said,

    January 13, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Sorry for a second post…Atsuhime was about her assuring the survival of the Tokugawa clan when they relinquished power, when the country was opened. They could have easily all been slaughtered…she was responsible for making sure the hundreds of people who lived in Edo castle all had homes, could keep their possessions, etc. That’s the capsule version :-)…she was known as a very bright person with a real understanding of politics.

  3. Tornadoes28 said,

    January 13, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Since the emperor had been around for over a thousand years made it hard to eliminate. Also, although the shoguns were the supreme warlord, their power was never absolute, even during the Tokugawa period. Japan was controlled by dozens of other regional warlords, daimyo, some were also very powerful such as the Shimizu of Satsuma. The shogun legitimated their power through the emperor. Without this, the other daimyo would not have complied.

  4. Zheng said,

    December 12, 2009 at 9:03 am

    One glaring omission from this site is the rape of Nanking which has been wiped from the history books in Japan and remains a stigma in Japanese life – people forbidden to speak of it for fear of losing jobs etc. until the Japanese and the rest of the world are made fully aware of this massacre perpetrated on instructions from the Royal Family (Prince Asaka – who died peacefully in his sleep in the nineties) how can anyone accept these barbarians into the world forum – they remain a curiousity yes -as your site displays – but more so a disgusting joke of a nation.

  5. alexcase said,

    December 12, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Actually, I have dealt with WWII atrocities generally, can’t really find a way of changing Nanking specifically into an interesting Why…? question (which all questions on this blog are). While it has been denied by some politicians (mainly people who have said outrageous things about all kinds of stuff, to be fair) and whitewashed from textbooks (but find me a country where history isn’t mainly about boosting national pride), it is in no way true that you can lose your job by talking about the Rape of Nanking (as is true about talking about the Armenian genocide in Turkey), and books on it are freely available in major bookshops in Japan in English and Japanese.

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