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Pop quiz – you find your significant other has, during their “hunting trips,” been cheating on you with another woman. Do you: a) Leave them quietly? b) Toss them to the curb? c) Try to work it out? d) Hire an army to reduce the other woman’s house to a pile of smoking rubble?
If you answered D, you have something in common with Masako Hojo, unofficial seventh shogun of Japan.
This was to be expected from her torrid relationship with her husband, Yoritomo. Both Masako and he had acted like horny teenagers from the get-go. For her part, she left her fiancee on the eve of their wedding night to be with Yoritomo, pissing off half of Japan in the process. As for Yoritomo, the man had a rightly-earned reputation as the bad boy of the Heian Era. His father had led a failed uprising against the government, and despite living in exile, Yoritomo was all but shouting from the rooftops that he intended to do so too.
Surprisingly, he actually did, and he did so well. Over the first several years of the marriage, Yoritomo crushed western Japan and became the fourth shogun in history. Simulataneously, though, he continued his horndog antics: while Masako was pregnant, he started cheating on her with several women, including one Lady Kame. It is at this point that Masako (with the aid of her family) got a small army to flatten Lady Kame’s house. She survived, somehow.
It should be noted: this was actually not that uncommon! Old wives would get revenge on new wives so often in olden Japan that there’s even a word for it: uwanari-uchi (literally “strike of the after-wife”, which sounds like the world’s most acrimonious ninja move). Traditionally, the wife’s family would be the one handing over a dowry in the marriage, so they had a lot riding on it. It was entirely sensible for families to band together in deterring husbands from straying, and thus them from losing power. So while, yes, it was an asshole move, it was also called playing the game. And Masako Hojo played to win.
And this was hardly the last time Masako openly defied her husband (you know, the most powerful man in Japan). When Yoritomo impregnated another lover, Masako ordered the woman dismissed and then run out of town. Later, Yoritomo started crushing on a court dancer named Shizuka Gozen, who didn’t want anything to do with him – and let it be known by publicly insulting him in poem form. This delighted Masako, and she took Shizuka under her wing, even trying to help her get out of town.
Some years after that, Yoritomo died in fairly klutzy fashion, by being thrown from a horse. This resulted in such a loss of face that rumors immediately started springing up that he’d actually been assassinated, or that a jealous Masako had somehow detached her spirit from her body and haunted him to death. That particular rumor got popular 500 years after his death, which shows just how long-lived Masako’s reputation was. The truth of the matter is that she probably loved him (possibly overly) intensely to the end of her days, but that doesn’t make for as good a story.
Immediately after Yoritomo’s untimely demise, Masako became a Buddhist nun, but she kept getting pulled back into politics. Her son Yoriie assumed power and started being a total dickbiscuit, killing people he didn’t like, seizing property, and playing sports (which, to read the accounts, was apparently a more grievous offense than the first two). When he made plans to murder a governor named Morinaga, Masako left her temple, stood in front of Morinaga’s house, assumed her best “come at me bro” stance, and said, “if you’re gonna kill him, you gotta go through me first.”
Masako stood in front of the house, assumed her best “come at me bro” stance, and said, “if you’re gonna kill him, you gotta go through me first.”
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when a bunch of dudes tried to kill both Masako and Yoriie. Seeing how utterly incompetent her son was at dispatching these weak-tea assassins, she stepped in to show him how it’s done. So she took control of the shogunate, obliterated the assailants, and made her son give up the claim to the throne. From there on, she ruled pretty much directly — despite the fact that she was, on paper, just a common nun.
She was a very successful leader. With the aid of her brother, she immediately quashed other claimants to the throne. When her brother died, she wiped out his remaining family as well (to be fair, they were kind of jerks). She established the Hojo dynasty, which survived for 100 years, an enormous length of time for the era. The Hojos only went down after a decade of simultaneous assaults from other samurai families, an invasion fleet sailed in from Korea, and the fucking Mongol Horde landed in Japan all at the same time.
I’ll leave you with an anecdote from late in her life: at one point, she was given an enormously high-profile award, made all the more impressive that she was only the second layperson to ever get it. When the emperor of the time set up an imperial audience to give it to her, she didn’t even show up. Instead she remarked that an old country nun had no use for such things, turned to go home, and presumably dropped the mic in the process.
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The image here is a bit of a mishmash of her life as opposed to any specific moment. Lot of little details, so you may want to click to embiggen the image.
- She’s dressed in nun robes, even though the destruction of Lady Kame’s house (depicted in the background) took place well before she ever became a nun. Really, I just wanted to draw a bald RP. Yay!
- You may note that Lady Kame (in purple) has blackened teeth and weird eyebrows. This was actually the practice at the time — fashionable Japanese women would blacken their teeth in a practice called Ohaguro, and totally eliminate (and then paint on) their eyebrows in a practice called Hikimayu.
- It takes place at sunrise, since Japan is the land of the rising sun (literally, nihon means “root of the sun”). And yes, that’s Mt Fuji in the background.
- The siege weapon being used by the excitable soldiers is a little-used mega-crossbow called an oyumi, which was sometimes used to sling rocks. Nobody is sure what they looked like, but this was the best depiction I could find. Japan never used catapults much, and didn’t start until a century or two after this. Mostly they used fire, but I’ve already drawnso many houses on fire, I wanted to mix it up a bit.
- According to a Japanese friend, the actual design of the house may be slightly off — she says the walls should be lower and the building shorter. It was a bit late for me to make the changes, though, so you’ll have to live with it. Hey, it’s free, what do you want?
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