北条早雲

Hōjō Sōun was a Japanese samurai who rose from obscurity to become one of the most powerful warlords in Japan. The founder of the powerful "Later Hōjō" clan that dominated the Kantō for a century, he is widely recognized by historians as the first true "daimyo."

Hōjō Sōun was born Ise Moritoki, and was known throughout most of his life as Ise Shinkurō, which is what we shall call him in this writeup. His origins were so obscure that nobody is really sure where he was born.

By the mid 15th century however, Shinkurō shows up in Kyoto, where he is said to have been training in Zen Buddhism under the monks at Daitokuji temple. He was then forced to flee the city during the Onin War (1467-1477), traveling to Suruga province with 6 followers to take refuge with his brother-in-law, the powerful lord Imagawa Yoshitada, who had married his sister.

When Yoshitada was killed in battle in 1476, a vicious succession dispute broke out between the supporters of his infant son Ujichika, and his cousin Oshika Norimitsu. Shinkurō took advantage of being perceived as an objective outsider to step in and broker a a peace between the two sides, increasing his prestige within the Imagawa band of retainers.

The peace was uneasy however, and finally in 1487 Norimitsu made another attempt to seize headship of the Imagawa, whereupon Shinkurō sided with Ujichika and killed Norimitsu. The grateful Ujichika then granted Shinkurō his own small fief centered around Kokukuji Castle, which guarded the border with Izu province.

Shinkurō bided his time for a while, and was a good little retainer, but then in 1493 he took advantage of chaos within the Ashikaga family which ruled Japan to march into Izu and conquer the province in an adroitly executed campaign, forcing the Ashikaga lord to flee for his life back to safe ground in Kai.

With his band now swelled with former Ashikaga retainers in Izu and his coffers filled with the wealth of a whole province, Shinkurō was really only a retainer of the Imagawa in name only at this point.

The following year Shinkurō expanded westward into Sagami province. When Omori Ujiyori, the lord of Odawara Castle, died suddenly in the 5th month of 1494, used famously used the pretext of a deer hunt to move his troops to Odawara and take the castle by surprise.

Making Odawara his base of operations, which would remain the center of his families holdings for the rest of their existence, Shinkurō gradually built up an alliance of disgruntled retainers of the Uesugi clan, and increasingly encroached on Uesugi holdings further west, finally capturing the old shogunal capital of Kamakura in 1512, by which time he was already 80 years old. Shinkurō finally passed away in 1519, at the age of 87 years.

Apart from his victories on the battlefield, Shinkurō was an able administrator, gaining favor with the peasants by reducing their taxes to only 40 percent of agricultural output (from as high as 75 percent). He is also remembered for "Lord Soun's Twenty-one Articles," a list of do's and don't's for his family retainers which remains an early and important example of a feudal house code.

Shikurō is also considered by historians to be the first true "Sengoku daimyo," as a self-made feudal lord who seized land in his own name without any special mandate from the shogun or the Imperial family. In this way, he is also a classic early example of the Sengoku trend of gekokujo, or "the low over throwing the high." His successors proved quite able, expanding his inital gains until they ruled the entire Kantō Plain, and got to be so powerful that they would only be finally overthown 75 years later by a massive alliance of almost all the other warlords in Japan.

Although today Shinkurō is remembered as "Hōjō Sōun," he never actually bore this name during his lifetime. It was a posthumous appelation given to him by his son Hōjō Ujitsuna, when Ujitsuna decided that the name "Ise" was not prestigious enough for such a powerful family, and changed the clan's name to "Hōjō" in 1523.

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