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Sessho and Kanpaku

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  • Japanese: 摂政・関白 (sesshou, kanpaku), 摂関 (sekkan)

Sesshô and kanpaku[1] refer to imperial regents; the sesshô served as regent for an emperor in his minority (i.e. before he was old enough to rule on his own), while a kanpaku served as regent for an adult emperor. These positions were particularly influential during the Heian period, and were for a time in the 10th-11th centuries dominated by members of the Fujiwara clan, who exerted considerable political influence as regents. However, the posts continued to exist through the Edo period, albeit becoming largely honorary or ceremonial.

Fujiwara no Yoshifusa was the first imperial regent to not be from the imperial family himself, though the terms sesshô and kanpaku were not yet in use. Fujiwara no Mototsune, some time later, would be the first officially appointed kanpaku.

For a time in the mid-to-late Heian period, the Fujiwara dominated these regency positions, and also employed political marriages to ensure that nearly every emperor of the time had a Fujiwara grandfather and Fujiwara father-in-law. Members of the Fujiwara clan frequently pressured emperors to retire quite young, and to bring underage heirs onto the throne, ensuring greater powers for the regent. Further, Fujiwara grandfathers or fathers-in-law often selected the regents. This shifted when Emperor Shirakawa, upon his retirement in 1086, insisted on naming his successor's regent, and on continuing to exert influence otherwise, thus marking the beginning of the Retired Emperor or Insei period, in which Retired Emperors vied with the Fujiwara clan for power, with the former quickly coming out on top.

By the early 13th century, a set of five branch families of the Fujiwara, known as the Gosekke (lit. "Five Se[sshô] Houses"), alternated control of the regency. These five families, the Konoe, Ichijô, Nijô, Kujô, and Takatsukasa, continued to dominate the position well into the Edo period.[2]

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a notable exception, one of the very few not of Fujiwara descent to be named regent. He was adopted by Konoe Sakihisa, however, in order to lend legitimacy to his appointment. For Hideyoshi, this was largely a symbolic title, but an important one, legitimizing his rule. He passed on this title to his nephew Toyotomi Hidetsugu in 1592. After the fall of the Toyotomi clan, the Gosekke resumed their domination of the regency.

List of Regents

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References

  • Evelyn Rawski, Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross-Border Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2015), 155-156.
  1. Sometimes spelled kampaku, reflecting the phonetic change when ん ('n') precedes certain sounds, such as ぱ ('pa'). The spelling in Japanese kana spelling remains unchanged, however; this is merely a change of pronunciation.
  2. Cecilia Segawa Seigle, "Shinanomiya Tsuneko: Portrait of a Court Lady," in Anne Walthall (ed.), The Human Tradition in Modern Japan, Scholarly Resources, Inc. (2002), 6, 14.
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