Japanese bakufu is a loanword from Chinese. The Chinese original is mu4-fu3., literally "tent office".

The mufu in its oldest usage was the field office of a commander during a military campaign. It is known in this sense in the Han dynasty. Beginning in the Three Kingdoms period it began to refer to the collective group of subordinate officials attached to an army commander, and the Japanese usage evidently builds on this.

Beginning in the Song dynasty and into the Ming and Manchu periods, mufu became increasingly non-military in sense. It could refer to any low-ranking officials under a prefect, and eventually any local dignitary without official status.

Mu "tent, screen" has certain related political connotations in Chinese.

  • Nei4-mu4 "within the tent" is used in the sense "inside news".
  • Mu4-hou4 "behind the screen" means "behind the scenes", in reference to hidden political power, much as in English we talk about "the power behind the throne".

The word mufu also appears in Chinese descriptions of the Japanese bakufu dating from Meiji times.

Several noders have written to request that I add Unicode to this or my other write-ups, and one has even offered to help convert my big5 entries to Unicode. I appreciate these good-natured suggestions. But it is not as simple as you might think. My operating system does not support Unicode, and I simply cannot spare the considerable time that would be necessary to upgrade. In addition, my small but comfortable Mac now has as much RAM as it will hold, and I will probably need a faster CPU, a larger hard drive, and more RAM in order to upgrade comfortably to Jaguar. A number of the applications I use, including NisusWriter and iCab, as well as the large number of home-made fonts I must use in my work, occupy a great deal of RAM and eat up a lot of space on my disk. And I am quite sure that I do not want to add any coding I can't actually read and verify for myself. Unicode is quite ugly if you can't read it as it's intended to be read. So please try to understand my situation. I have, however, removed the big5 coding that was originally here. When I am eventually able to upgrade to a fancier machine, I will begin going through old nodes and adding Unicode. But it just isn't feasible for me now.