What was life like in Japan 1185 until 1336?
Taken from Jacaranda History Alive 8 for the Australian Curriculum, page 228:
'The twelfth century as a very unstable time in Japan. The Minamoto family had become the most powerful daimyo clan in Japan, but their power was challenged by the Taira clan. A series rebellions, followed by civil war from 1180 to 1185, led to ultimate vicotry by the Minamoto family, who then proceeded to destroy the Taira clan. A famous historical account of the civil war period, The Tale of the Heike, was written by a number of different authors and is considered one of the great works of Japanese literature.'
In 1192, Minamoto no Yoritomo, the head of the Minamoto clan, was appointed as shogun, with the responsibility of leading the Japanese armed forces. He set up his government in Kamakura, which is approximately 50 kms south of modern-day Tokyo. This shogunate was important as it saw real power pass from the emperor to the shogun, and represents the beginning of the shogunate, or feudal period of Japanese history, which lasted for the next 700 years. During this time, emperors were restricted to ceremonial and religious duties, while the shoguns and their samurai warriors ruled.
The Kamakura shogunate ruled for nearly 150 years, and brought political stability to Japan. During this time, China was the most significant threat to Japan -- Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor of China, demanded that Japan become a tributary state. When the shogunate refused, Kublai Khan sent his army via Mongol ships in 1274 and 1281, to invade Japan. On both occasions, the ships were sunk by typhoons, leading the Japanese to believe that their country was protected by kamikaze (divine winds). However, the shogun could not afford to pay the samurai who fought the Mongols, and waited for an opportunity to overthrow the shogunate.