Sengoku period

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The Sengoku period (戦国時代 Sengoku jidai?, c. 1467 – c. 1573) is a period in Japanese history marked by social upheaval, political intrigue and near-constant military conflict that – like its otherwise unrelated ancient Chinese namesake – is also known as the Warring States period.[1] It came to an end when all political power was unified under the Tokugawa shogunate.[2][3]

Although the Ashikaga shogunate had retained the structure of the Kamakura shogunate and instituted a warrior government based on the same social economic rights and obligations established by the Hōjō with the Jōei Code in 1232,[clarification needed] it failed to win the loyalty of many daimyo (local warlords), especially those whose domains were far from the capital, Kyoto. As trade with China grew, the economy developed, and the use of money became widespread as markets and commercial cities appeared. This, combined with developments in agriculture and small-scale trading, led to the desire for greater local autonomy throughout all levels of the social hierarchy. As early as the beginning of the 15th century, the suffering caused by earthquakes and famines often served to trigger armed uprisings by farmers weary of debt and taxes.

The Ōnin War (1467–1477), a conflict rooted in economic distress and brought on by a dispute over shogunal succession, is generally regarded as the onset of the Sengoku period. The "eastern" army of the Hosokawa family and its allies clashed with the "western" army of the Yamana. Fighting in and around Kyoto lasted for nearly 11 years, leaving the city almost completely destroyed. The conflict in Kyoto then spread to outlying provinces.[2][4]

The period culminated with a series of three warlords, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who gradually unified Japan. After Tokugawa Ieyasu's final victory at the siege of Osaka in 1615, Japan settled down into several centuries of peace under the Tokugawa Shogunate, and entered into an era called "Sakoku".

Gekokujō[edit]

The upheaval resulted in the further weakening of central authority, and throughout Japan regional lords, or daimyo, rose to fill the vacuum. In the course of this power shift, well established clans such as the Takeda and the Imagawa, who had ruled under the authority of both the Kamakura and Muromachi bakufu, were able to expand their spheres of influence. There were many, however, whose positions eroded and were eventually usurped by more capable underlings. This phenomenon of social meritocracy, in which capable subordinates rejected the status quo and forcefully overthrew an emaciated aristocracy, became known as gekokujō (下克上?), which literally means "low conquers high."[2]

One of the earliest instances of this phenomenon was Hōjō Sōun, who rose from relatively humble origins and eventually seized power in Izu province in 1493. Building on the accomplishments of Sōun, the Late Hōjō clan remained a major power in the Kantō region until its subjugation by Toyotomi Hideyoshi late in the Sengoku period. Other notable examples include the supplanting of the Hosokawa clan by the Miyoshi, the Toki by the Saito, the Shiba clan by the Oda clan, which was in turn replaced by its underling, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a son of a peasant with no family name.

Well organized religious groups also gained political power at this time by uniting farmers in resistance and rebellion against the rule of the daimyo. The monks of the Buddhist True Pure Land sect formed numerous Ikkō-ikki, the most successful of which, in Kaga Province, remained independent for nearly 100 years.

Unification[edit]

After nearly a century and a half of political instability and warfare, Japan was on the verge of unification by Oda Nobunaga, who had emerged from obscurity in the province of Owari (present-day Aichi Prefecture) to dominate central Japan, when in 1582 Oda himself fell as victim to the treachery of one of his own generals, Akechi Mitsuhide. This in turn provided Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who had risen through the ranks from ashigaru (footsoldier) to become one of Oda's most trusted generals, with the opportunity to establish himself as Oda's successor. Toyotomi eventually consolidated his control over the remaining daimyo and, although he was ineligible for the title of Seii Taishogun because of his common birth, ruled as Kampaku. During his short reign as Kampaku, Toyotomi attempted two invasions of Korea. The first spanning from 1592-1593 was only partially successful, and the second beginning in 1594 enjoyed much success until Toyotomi's call for retreat from Korea on his deathbed in 1598.

When, in 1598, Toyotomi died without leaving a capable successor, the country was once again thrust into political turmoil, and this time it was Tokugawa Ieyasu who took advantage of the opportunity.[3]

Toyotomi had on his deathbed appointed a group of the most powerful lords in Japan — Tokugawa, Maeda, Ukita, Uesugi, Mōri — to govern as the Council of Five Regents until his infant son, Hideyori, came of age. An uneasy peace lasted until the death of Maeda Toshiie in 1599. Thereafter, Ishida Mitsunari accused Tokugawa of disloyalty to the Toyotomi name.

This precipitated a crisis that led to the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, a battle occurring simultaneously with the Siege of Ueda, with the land of Japan divided east, where Tokugawa laid in wait, and west, where Ishida's forces operated. Generally regarded as the last major conflict of the Sengoku period, Tokugawa's victory at Sekigahara effectively marked the end of the Toyotomi reign, the last remnants of which were finally destroyed in the Siege of Osaka in 1615.

Tokugawa Ieyasu received the title Seii Taishogun in 1603, and abdicated in favour of his son Tokugawa Hidetada in 1605 (while retaining real control himself), to emphasize the family's hereditary hold on the post; he thereby established Japan's final shogunate, which lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Notable people[edit]

Japan in the late 16th century
Gun workman, Sakai, Osaka
Ōzutsu (Big Gun)

Daimyo[edit]

The contrasting personalities of the three leaders who contributed the most to Japan's final unification—Oda, Toyotomi, and Tokugawa—are encapsulated in a series of three well known senryū:

  • Nakanu nara, koroshite shimae, hototogisu (If the cuckoo does not sing, kill it.)
  • Nakanu nara, nakasete miyou, hototogisu (If the cuckoo does not sing, coax it.)
  • Nakanu nara, naku made matou, hototogisu (If the cuckoo does not sing, wait for it.)

Oda, known for his ruthlessness, is the subject of the first; Toyotomi, known for his resourcefulness, is the subject of the second; and Tokugawa, known for his perseverance, is the subject of the third verse.

Other notable daimyo include:

Bronze statue representing Takeda Shingen (left) and Uesugi Kenshin (right). Nagano, Japan

In popular culture[edit]

The Sengoku period has been used as the setting for a myriad of books, films, anime, and video games. It also bears some parallels with the American westerns; Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, for example, was remade in a western setting as The Magnificent Seven.

The anime and manga series InuYasha is set in this period (with some time travel to and from the contemporary era) but it mostly focuses on folklore-inspired fantastic characters and plots.

The computer games Shogun: Total War and Shogun 2: Total War are set during the Sengoku period. The game allows for the player to choose between several clans vying for the Shogun's seat of power. Amongst these are the famous clans Tokugawa, Oda, Hojo and Takeda.

The computer game Sengoku Rance created by AliceSoft, is a parody game set during the Sengoku period in which the player tries to unify japan. There is also a free for all mode where the player can choose to play as one of nineteen factions.

The tokusatsu series Kamen Rider Gaim is heavily inspired by the Sengoku Period, both in the series plot (About various dance groups fighting for dominance) and theme (With their transformation device being called "Sengoku Driver", among other references)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sansom, George B. 2005. A History of Japan: 1334-1615. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Publishing.
  2. ^ a b c "Sengoku period". Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2012. OCLC 56431036. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  3. ^ a b "誕". Kokushi Daijiten (in Japanese). Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2012. OCLC 683276033. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  4. ^ "Ōnin War". Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2012. OCLC 56431036. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Muromachi period
History of Japan
Sengoku period
1467–1573
Succeeded by
Edo period
1603–1868