The Fortress of Xie'e Wu Xing
By tradition, Nippon is ruled by the Emperor and his extended family, the Imperial Clan, who are descended from the Great Kami Goddess of the Sun, Amaterasu. The Emperor and his courtiers dwell in an immense estate in the center of the Holy City. Though the Imperial Clan holds no land, the Emperor theoretically owns all of the Empire. The landholders are his vassals, stewards of his holdings and generals of his armies.
This has not been the literal truth for centuries; the Emperor is little more than a figurehead, a ceremonial leader who presides over his court for tradition’s sake. In truth, the Clans rule Nippon, and the Shogunate rules the Clans. The Clans are extended noble families, each headed by a daimyo (lord) and his samurai (warrior retainers). Each clan is a largely autonomous organization, ruling over a specific province, their hereditary home and holdings. Almost every person in Nippon is born into a clan, and most remain loyal members for their entire lives. Only criminals, outcasts, and priests fall outside of clan auspices.
The individual who rules Nippon is the Shogun, the great general, highest-ranking “servant” of the Emperor. All of Nippon is his domain to defend from all threats, external or internal. By tradition, the shogun is the daimyo who wields the Taishodachi, the Grand General’s Katana. According to legend, this holy sword was given by the First Emperor to the greatest of his warriors. This samurai became the commander of all the armies of Nippon, and the high steward and protector of the Empire – the Shogun. Only the greatest warrior in all Nippon could wield the blade, and so it was passed to the son of the shogun, and then to his son, until a greater warrior came to challenge him.
Physical possession of the blade is a formality. Simply stealing the sword would not make one Shogun – indeed, it would dishonor the clan of anyone cowardly enough to do so. Traditionally, the sword can only change hands if given willingly by the reigning shogun as he dies. However, the shogun must give it willingly to one who defeats him in (honorable) single combat. In practice, this means that the title most often passes through clan heredity, or through violence. A would-be usurper must defeat the armies of the reigning First Clan to truly gain the title, and need only convince the reigning Shogun that his clan has no hope of victory, whereupon he’s apt to commit ritual seppuku rather than face the dishonor of defeat.
The Shogun’s clan, the First Clan, may command tribute of money, goods, or soldiers from any other clan. He commands the armies, gathers the taxes, and wields supreme executive power over the Empire. Of course, unless his clan has the power to enforce his will, a rival clan might not comply. Only the mightiest rulers of legend have ever commanded the full might of the Empire’s armies. Throughout recorded history, the clans have always warred amongst themselves, each vying to become the First and command the others.
No clan has the power to rule over all the Empire by itself. Only by arranging a strong military alliance with other clans can a shogun’s will be enforced. This alliance, called the Bakufu, is made up of the First Clan and all clans who have pledged their loyalty to the Shogunate. Seldom does the Bakufu consist of more than half of the clans of the Empire, but a weak Bakufu is easily deposed by their rivals.