Shogun (将軍, shōgun, Japanese: [ɕoːɡɯɴ] ; English: /ˈʃoʊɡʌn/ SHOH-gun) was the title of the military dictators of Japan during most of the period spanning from 1185 to 1868. Nominally appointed by the Emperor, shoguns were usually the de facto rulers of the country, though, during part of the Kamakura period, shoguns were themselves figureheads. The office of shogun was in practice hereditary, though over the course of the history of Japan several different clans held the position. Shogun is the short form of Sei-i Taishōgun (征夷大将軍, “Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians”), a high military title from the early Heian period in the 8th and 9th centuries; when Minamoto no Yoritomo gained political ascendency over Japan in 1185, the title was revived to regularize his position, making him the first shogun in the usually understood sense.
The shogun’s officials were collectively referred to as the bakufu (幕府, “tent government”); they were the ones who carried out the actual duties of administration, while the Imperial court retained only nominal authority. The tent symbolized the shogun’s role as the military’s field commander but also denoted that such an office was meant to be temporary. Nevertheless, the institution, known in English as the shogunate (English: /ˈʃoʊɡəneɪt/) persisted for nearly 700 years, ending when Tokugawa Yoshinobu relinquished the office to Emperor Meiji in 1867 as part of the Meiji Restoration.
The term shogun (将軍, lit. “army commander”) is the abbreviation of the historical title “Sei-i Taishōgun” 征 (sei, せい) means “conquer” or “subjugate,” and 夷 (i, い) means “barbarian” or “savage.” 大 (dai, だい) means “great,” 将 (shō, しょう) means “commander” and 軍 (gun, ぐん) means “army.” Thus, a literal translation of Seii Taishōgun would be “Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians.”
The term was originally used to refer to the general who commanded the army sent to fight the tribes of northern Japan, but after the twelfth century, the term was used to designate the leader of the samurai.
The administration of a shogun is called bakufu (幕府) in Japanese and literally means “government from the maku [ja].” During the battles, the head of the samurai army used to be sitting in a scissor chair inside a semi-open tent called maku that exhibited its respective mon or blazon. The application of the term bakufu to the shogun government shows an extremely strong and representative symbolism.