The title of Shōgun, which means literally "generalissimo,'' and which was destined to play such a momentous part in Japanese history, seems to have been first used in A.D. 813, when one Watamaro was appointed Sei-i Tai-Shōgun, that is, "Barbarian-subduing Generalissimo," to wage war against the Ainos in the north of the empire. The title was employed afterwards in similar cases from time to time. But Yoritomo, at the end of the twelfth century, was the first of these generalissimos to make himself also, so to say, Mayor of the Palace, and in effect ruler of the land. From that time forward, various dynasties of Shōguns succeeded each other throughout the Middle Ages and down to our own days. The greatest of these families were the Ashikaga (A.D. 1336-1570) and the Tokugawa (A.D. 1603- 1867). A concatenation of circumstances, partly political, partly religious, partly literary, led to the abolition of the Shōgunate in the year 1868. The Mikado then stepped forth again, to govern as well as reign, after an eclipse of well-nigh seven hundred years.
It has already been stated on page 236 that the name of the last of the Shōguns was Hitotsu-bashi. For him to have committed harakiri when the crash came (which was what many of his retainers expected), would have formed a dignified and memorable end to the Japanese feudal system. He preferred to live. After spending many years in retirement in a provincial town, he removed to the capital; and still later, when he was admitted to some function at the Imperial Court, his appearance there scarcely evoked an expression of surprise. To readers brought up in Europe, with its Carlists, its Bourbons, in old days its Stuarts, at all times its irreconcilables of various names and degrees, it would seem but natural that a party favouring the restoration of the Shōgunate should linger on to embarrass the new regime. This is not the case. Far-Eastern minds view these matters differently. Being matter-of-fact by nature, they accept the logic of events more easily and more absolutely than we do. In this part of the world, a lost cause does not simply fall:-it ceases to exist.
The practice of most modern writers on Japanese subjects- foreigners as well as natives-is to treat the Shōguns as usurpers. But surely this is a highly unphilosophical way of reading history. It is not even formally correct, seeing that the Shōguns obtained investiture from the Court of Kyōto as regularly as ministers of state have obtained their commissions in later times. We cannot undertake here to go into the causes that produced Japanese feudalism, with the Shōguns at its head. But if seven centuries of possession do not consitute a legal title, how many of the governments at present existing in the world are legitimate? And what test is there, or can there be, of the legitimacy of any government except the general acquiescence of the governed?
Book recommended - Brinkley Japan and China, Vol. IV. Chap. II., especially p. 33et seq., for curious account of female officialdom at the Shōgun's Court.