As Japan entered the Middle Ages, political power shifted from the imperial court in Heian-kyo (Kyoto) to the Kamakura bakufu (military government) with the end of the Heian era and the establishment of the Kamakura era.

The post of "Emperor" itself never had any real power. The power had shifted from the “cloistered” (retired) emperors and the great clans such as the Fujiwara and Taira to the appointed military leader, Minamoto Yoritomo as the Seii-tai shogun, and his family.

The cloistered emperor Gotoba (1180-1239) tried to restore the system of power in cloistered emperors, but failed, and ended his days in exile on the Oki islands.

Following the Heian pattern of the throne, Gotoba became emperor when he was four years old and retired ten years later to increase his influence. Once he was emperor, he became a central figure in the courtly pursuits of poetry and art, commissioning and critiquing many great pieces of poetry of the time. Fujiwara no Teika was one of the retired Emperor's first subjects of patronage. The second monumental poetry anthology, the Shin Kokinshu, was compiled under his orders. For one of his own poems go here.

At the same time, he waged a political and military war against the Hojo regency to try and regain political power for the imperial court. He failed in this attempt and was consequently exhiled. In exile on the Oki islands, he wrote poetry for the Shin Kokinshu and finished editing and compiling the anthology.

Emperor Gotoba's life represents the transition era between the Heian era and the Middle Ages. During the Heian era the court had been the center of both political power and cultural refinement. However, during the Kamakura era, the imperial court was robbed entirely of its political power, yet remained the center of cultural refinement. Emperor Gotoba, in producing one of the finest poetry anthologies in Japanese history, yet suffering exile after attempting to regain power, exemplified the court's loss of political power during this transitional period.


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