The Fall of Kamakura

Kamakura (鎌倉) in Kanagawa Prefecture is a peaceful coastal town about an hour from Tokyo. Minamoto Yorimoto (1147–1199) was the founder and first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate. Japan’s seat of  military government was based in Kamakura; rule continued for more than a century under the Minamoto shogun and then by the Hōjō regents.

On 3 July 1333, Nitta Yoshisada, a loyal supporter of the Southern Court of Emperor Go-Daigo, seized Kamakura from the Hōjō clan. Accounts of the tragic Hōjō defeat record that 900 Hōjō samurai and three Regents committed seppuku at Tōshō-ji, their family temple. Almost the entire clan vanished in one event. The city was in ruins and many of the temples were burned to the ground. Even ordinary citizens of Kamakura followed suit in a mass seppuku: an estimated 6,000 died by their own hand. Five hundred fifty-six skeletons from that period were recovered in 1953 during excavations near Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū’s Ichi no Torii in Yuigahama. Most likely, they died violent deaths from the hands of Nitta’s men.

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San no Torii at Kamakura. | KCP Flickr

The fall of Kamakura marked the beginning of a violent and chaotic era known as the Muromachi period. The decline of Kamakura was slow; it was known as the capital of the Kantō region which dominated the east of Japan and lasted almost as long as the shogunate regime.

The destruction of Kamakura did not stop with wars. In 1868, during anti-Buddhist violence (haibutsu kishaku) that followed after the official policy of separation of Shinto and Buddhism (shinbutsu bunri), more temples in the city saw major damage. Many of the temples and shrines had to give away some of their treasures, affecting their cultural heritage and value.

When the railroad reached  Kamakura in 1890, it allowed visitors access to see and appreciate the beauty and history of Kamakura. Many of the temples that were built centuries ago have been restored.

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KCP Spring 2015 students at Kamakura. | KCP Flickr

Kamakura’s beautiful cultural assets are popular among visitors today. Kamakura’s history and heritage, once lost, have been rebuilt now and proudly stand as a testament to Japan’s history.

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KCP students enjoy the beach at Kamakura. | KCP Flickr

Join KCP Spring 2015 students as they visit Kamakura. Visit our photo album at KCP Flickr.