Table of Contents
Rekishi no Nazo Kenkyū Kai, Sengoku Jidai no Butai Ura, Seishun Shuppansha, Tokyo, 2006 (The Japanese Historical Mystery Research Society, Behind the curtain of the warring states era, Seishun Publishing, Tokyo, 2006)


Rekishi no Nazo Kenkyū Kai, Sengoku Jidai no Butai Ura, Seishun Shuppansha, Tokyo, 2006 (The Japanese Historical Mystery Research Society, Behind the curtain of the warring states era, Seishun Publishing, Tokyo, 2006)

Part 1. Why did the Sengoku era occur?

There are numerous reasons as to why the era of the warring states (Sengoku era) came about, yet the main reason lies with the Muromachi Bakufu, which was the central institution of government at the time together with the imperial court. This government, when one compares it to the Kamakura Bakufu that preceded it and the Tokugawa Bakufu that succeeded it, was not particularly stable and was certainly unable to maintain its authority. The government which ought to have wielded power found itself devoid of that ability. There are two reasons why the Muromachi Bakufu was so ineffective. The first reason has to do with the formation of a basis for political authority. The Muromachi Bakufu was located in Kyoto, and from there it was supposed to govern the entire nation, yet it reality it had a number of shugo appointed to act in its place as `regional governors`. These shugo, through the aid of various local warrior families, then administered their territory. That is to say, the Muromachi era was one of the division of power with the regions. Hence the authority of the central government was already weak to begin with.
The other reason derives the shortcomings of the political system, namely the continuous series of conflicts that occurred within the central government. A typical example of this involves the assassination of the sixth shōgun Yoshi(mune) by the influential shugo Akamatsu Mitsusuke. The death of a shōgun by one of his councilors was an unprecedented event, which resulted in a loss of authority on the part of the shōgunate. In addition, the government had shown itself to be useless in the wake of a series of natural disasters and famines. The warrior families of the provinces gradually came to believe that they would be better off relying on their own abilities rather than submit to either the shugo or the bakufu. Commoners too came to follow those warrior leaders who were in close proximity to them which strengthened the idea of self-reliant political organization. This in turn created the era of `gekokujō` (or the lower strata of society overcoming the upper).(14)

When did the `Sengoku era` begin and when did it end?   

Common belief has it that the [Ōnin War] signified the beginning of the era of the warring states. This conflict, based on a dynastic feud over who should inherit the Muromachi bafukunate, was waged in Kyoto from 1467 until 1477. The result of this war saw Kyoto laid to waste and the gradual loss of authority on the part of the bakufunate. This violence then spread to the provinces, leading to the overthrow of shugo daimyō by shugo-dai and local residents in a world marked by [gekokujō]. This is how the Sengoku era began.
So when did it end? There are a number of theories on this. One states that it ended in 1568 when Oda Nobunaga entered Kyoto and installed Ashikaga Yoshiaki as a `puppet shōgun`. Another believes that it lasted until 1603 and the beginning of the Tokugawa Bakufu, which followed in the wake of the rule of Hideyoshi who himself succeeded to power after the death of Nobunaga in the Honnōji incident. Yet another extends the time frame further and puts the end of the Sengoku era with the fall of the Toyotomi house in the Osaka campaign (of 1615). If one accepts that the Sengoku era ended in 1568, then the reigns of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi are referred to as the `era of Azuchi Momoyama`, thus creating an entirely separate era altogether from that of the Sengoku. However one puts it, the era that Oda Nobunaga and Hideyoshi are so often depicted in through television dramas was the final stage of the age of the warring states.

What was the difference between “Sengoku daimyō” and “shugo daimyō”?

The main characters of the Sengoku era were the `Sengoku daimyō`. Oda Nobunaga, Ieyasu, Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin were all Sengoku daimyō. Yet this title is a mere nomenclature, as their position had no formal title. Before the age of Sengoku daimyō, the shugo daimyō held sway throughout the nation. The `Shugo daimyō` was an official position, which was acquired through the seizure of authority at the local level and its ratification by the central government.
So what was a `daimyō`? By the era of the Tokugawa, a daimyō was `a person in possession of over 10,000 troops`, which was in effect a form of criteria. Yet before this time there was no criteria, so a person who held some territory and who controlled the local populace could be called a `daimyō`.
The reason for the changes in the official shugo position which saw the rise of the daimyō lay in the fact that at the very beginning of the shugo era this title was transferable, yet it gradually became hereditary. At first this position held no more authority that the right to judge cases and act as a form of police force, yet the shugo eventually came to control the local taxation rate and thus took on real power through the seizure of almost all of the rights to their land. Although many of those who held the position of shugo eventually became daimyō, the title of shugo continued to exist as part of the central government`s organization, thus comprising one section of the apparatus of state. daimyō, on the other hand, were completely separate from the Bafuku. They either began in this manner, or they were influential warriors who deposed the shugo in their region and set themselves up as local daimyō. A majority those who could be described as Sengoku daimyō fell into the latter category.(16)

Why didn`t many shugo daimyō become Sengoku daimyō?

Amidst the many Sengoku daimyō, the Takeda of Kai, the Imagawa of Suruga, the Rokkaku of Omi, the Ōtomo of Bungo, and the Shimazu of Satsuma were all military families who changed from the position of shugo to that of daimyō, yet they were in the minority. Many Sengoku daimyō were either `shugo-dai`, appointed to their position by a shugo, or else they were influential local warriors who promoted themselves to this position. In this state of affairs, those at the bottom of society overturned those at the top, thus creating the era of gekokujō. The reason why so many shugo lost control of their territories lay in the fact that they weren`t based in or near their lands. Many shugo were either part of the Ashikaga government or else were influential warriors on the path to becoming councilors. At the same time as providing security for the shōgunate, they also performed their tasks as an important link in the Ashikaga`s system of government. In other words, whilst they acted as the rulers of their local territory they were also involved in formulating the policies of the central government. To put this in modern terms, it would be something like the governor of a certain prefecture performing a dual role as a member of parliament or else a minister of state. Such people are ordinarily based in Tokyo and thus remain at a distance from their constituents.
The fact that most of the shugo didn`t reside in their territories meant that those `shugo-dai` who they appointed to look after their estates began to take on real authority previously vested in the shugo. The shugo-dai were a substitute for the shugo, and there are many examples of them taking over responsibility from the shugo. Moreover, in the groups of warriors below the rank of shugo-dai, there were warriors who went the name of jitō, who overthrew the shugo-dai and took authority for themselves. For the shugo, who held power in name only, the loss of power by the Ashikaga Bakufu meant that they lost their rights over the law, and once order had collapsed, they lost all the practical authority that their name had once conveyed.(16-17)

What did the Muromachi Bakufu do during the Sengoku era?

The Muromachi Bakufu, founded by Ashikaga Takauji, began in 1336. The last Ashikaga shōgun, the 15th shōgun Yoshiaki, was banished from Kyoto in 1573 by Oda Nobunaga thus bringing the Muromachi era to a close. Essentially the Muromachi Bakufu lasted up until 1573, with the `Sengoku era` constituting a century of the latter half of the Muromachi Bakufu`s reign. Yet what did the Muromachi Bakufu do during the Sengoku era? To put things simply, one can say `they did nothing`. To put things another way, the Sengoku era began because the Bakufu was ineffective.
The Ōnin War, which occurred at the opening of the Sengoku era, was a dispute over succession to the head of the Bakufunate. Ashikaga Yoshihisa, who became the 9th shōgun in 1473 after the demise of his father Ashikaga Yoshimasa, worked hard to try to restore some of the authority that the Bakufu had lost, yet he died at the age of 25. The next candidate for the shōgunate was Ashikaga Yoshitane, who was promoted by Hino Tomiko. Yet Yoshitane defied Tomiko and the Hosokawa family of councilors and was thus incarcerated. Tomiko then turned her attention to Yoshizumi in the hopes of making him the 11th shōgun, yet Yoshitane was able to escape from his confinement, expel Yoshizumi and reclaim the shōgunate for himself. The shōgunate still wielded some authority at this stage despite the internal squabbling between its members. As Yoshitane and Yoshizumi both died without increasing the strength of the Bakufunate, Yoshiharu, the son of Yoshizumi, in spite of becoming the 12th shōgun in 1521, was expelled from the capital by shugo daimyō and ended his days wandering from place to place. The 13th shōgun Yoshi(mune) was an expert swordsman who attempted to revitalize the shōgunate through negotiations with powerful Sengoku daimyō such as Oda Nobunaga, Uesugi Kenshin, and Takeda Shingen, yet he was murdered in 1565 by Matsunaga Hisahide 
The 14th shōgun Yoshihide only ruled for a year (1568), becoming little more than a puppet for the Miyoshi Sanninshū who seized power from Matsunaga Hisahide in the Kinai region. The last shōgun Yoshiaki held that position through assistance he received from Oda Nobunaga, yet because he planned to overthrow Nobunaga he was banished from the capital, which brought about the collapse of the Muromachi Bakufu.(17-18)

Why did Sengoku daimyō covet Kyoto?

In a similar manner to the modern trend of businesses moving to Tokyo once they achieve a degree of success in their local area, the daimyō of the Sengoku era coveted the capital of Kyoto. In modern terms, to go to Tokyo is referred to by the name of `jōkyō`, yet in the era of the warring states to go to the capital was referred to by the name of jōraku (上洛). In order to rule the realm, one had to have control over the capital. This is a fundamental rule of power politics throughout the world, for those who held the capital would go on to become the next leader of the nation. In other nations, there are many examples of subjects overthrowing their king in order to found a new dynasty, after which they covet the capital. However in the case of Japan such examples do not exist. Instead of overthrowing the imperial family, a pattern emerged whereby the authority of the court would be used, orders would be issued in the name of the emperor, for this was how actual power was wielded.
Kyoto was not only the home of the court and the authority of the emperor. At the same time as being the focal point of the nation`s politics much like modern Tokyo, in order for it to become the centre of commercial life, Kyoto was home to a large merchant community on par with any in the world. The rice and grains market already existed before the era of the warring states, and a fisherman`s market had been formed near the riverbanks. To control Kyoto meant one would have a firm grasp of the economic axis of the nation.
In the large cities, where profits were made and the rights of the court were concentrated, information on new technologies was often revealed to the public. Building techniques, sword making, and musketry were all concentrated in Kyoto and Sakai. If one visited the capital, this type of information was readily available and easily obtainable.(19-20)

How were the councilor positions within Sengoku daimyō households organized?

Councilor positions within the Sengoku daimyō household were divided into 4 different types. The first was the `ichi zoku shū`, who had blood relations with the daimyō (they were also referred to as the `ichi mon zū`). Next came those councilors who had been serving the daimyō`s family for a long time – the `fudai shū`. Those among the next category had originally been rulers of territory in their own right, yet as the daimyō had seized that position from them they had become councilors to the daimyō – they were called the `koku shū`. Finally came those local samurai whose territory had been conquered or who had been raised in status – the `shin san shū`. All of these councilors in turn had their own councilors for support. To put this in modern terms, the company founders were known as the ichi zoku shū, those who had been there from the beginning formed the executive board, next came those who had been working at the company for a long time as common office workers, and finally came those employees from another company who had been acquired through a merger.
When the number of councilors was small, the daimyō himself would issue orders directly to each member and observe them. Yet as his territory expanded and the number of councilors increased, this direct form of contact disappeared. What then emerged was a form of pyramid organization, where those councilors of ability would be assigned a certain number of underlings. This was the system of `yoriko` and `yori(oya, or mi)`. The elder councilors would act as `yorioya`, with the younger samurai assigned the position of yoriko.
Using this system, beneath those councilors that the daimyō trusted came warriors who were directly affiliated with the daimyō, thus forming the basis of a military organization. Yoriko were in principle under the control of their yorioya, yet for all intents and purposes they were directly attached to their daimyō. In that sense they are similar to workers in modern companies. The average employee works underneath their manager`s supervision, yet they are not hired purely by their manager as many human resource systems are at work in this relationship.
Yorioya had subordinates directly affiliated with them, and those warriors chosen as yoriko had their own subordinates below them. The Sengoku daimyō organization was thus compiled using this complicated system of `employment relations`.(20-21)

How did Sengoku daimyō assemble their forces?

At the decisive Battle of Sekigahara the eastern army of the Tokugawa numbered some 75,000 troops, against which the western army of Ishida Mitsunari organized 85,000 troops. Yet the 160,000 or so samurai that were gathered at the historic event were not all part of a `standing army`. Most were, to put it in the modern sense, employed on a temporary basis, and those samurai who were `lifetime employees` were indeed few in number. Though the era of the warring states was that of a world engulfed in chaos, this did not mean that samurai would battle constantly throughout the year. As there weren`t many permanent soldiers, once a war began, the peasantry would be drafted in to act as troops.
As there was no `hello work` organization or job search magazine available, how did generals assemble an army? Obviously the head of the household did not go and directly recruit troops himself, rather the councilors of his household would scour their administrative zones and secure the requisite number of soldiers. Apart from the Oda household, most councilors in principle lived in their own regions. When war loomed, these councilors would take a portion of the farming population of their territory and head towards the main castle. When the war ended, troops would go back to their farms. When the next war broke out, those who did not go to the previous war would be sent instead. This was the system of recruitment.(21-22)

Why was such a large volume of gold and silver produced during the Sengoku era?

The era of the warring states was not one just of war and bloodshed, yet it was also an era that oversaw a financial and technical revolution, indeed it was a veritable `age of revolutions`. One example of this was the dramatic increase in the amount of silver and gold produced.
Since the beginning of time humans have been drawn to the glittering light that emanates from silver and gold. Valuable metals have been the manifestation of beauty and wealth. Yet such beauty has not been their only function. When scientific knowledge was scarce, people still knew and appreciated the unchanging nature of such metals whilst they fashioned them into different shapes. It is for that reason that humans demanded access to silver and gold. Before the Sengoku era, gold was mined in the interior of the islands, whereas silver was only taken from the mines at Tajima. Once the era of the warring states began, though, mountains of gold and silver were discovered in various places throughout the country. The cause of this breakthrough was the introduction of cupeling technology (using coal and ash together with bellows to create hotter temperatures with which to forge metal) which opened up new techniques for tempering gold and silver.
What this new technology brought was a breakthrough in mining capacity. Up until the Sengoku era gold had mostly been fashioned from silted gold (ie, gold found in sand), yet now gold could be taken from ore and rock as well. This new technology also meant that, in the case of silver, a composite of silver and lead would be made beforehand. In a coal fired kiln, air would be applied to this composite whilst the temperature was raised. The lead would eventually oxidize and be absorbed by the coal thus leaving behind pure silver. The same technique was applied to gold.(22-23)

What kind of camp formations were used in the Sengoku era?  

The generals of the Sengoku era waged war by leading armies numbering from hundreds to tens of thousands. Methods of organizing formations for their armies varied depending on the territory they were fighting in, and the difference in troop numbers between their own and their enemy`s armies. There were a variety of ways just to spread one`s troops out, and particularly talented generals would, after committing their shapes to memory, apply an appropriate shape depending on circumstances.
There were eight basic camp formations. When one had an advantage in numbers, one could choose a camp formation that resembles a crane spreading its wings. Using these wings, one`s army could surround and engulf the opposing army. For this reason this camp formation was called `the crane wing formation`.(23)
On the opposite side, if one had fewer numbers than the enemy, then it was common to take on a formation which resembled a perfect triangle. It had few men at the very tip, but as you went further into the formation gradually more troops would appear. This was known as the `fish formation`. If you had no idea how an enemy would move and needed to be able to adjust your formation fairly easily, you would take up a position like a flock of geese which, if seen from above, would appear to be set out along a diagonal line, hence the name of this formation:- `the geese row formation`. If you lined your forces up in a row to face the enemy as one long formation, this was called the `snake tail formation`. This formation was also taken as it could change quickly according to circumstance, hence if the rear was attacked the head could go to their assistance, and likewise if the head were attacked.
The `equal split formation` was used if it were necessary to divide the troops in half in order to attack in two directions simultaneously.  The so called `final formation` (haisui no jin) , which implied that if one was defeated in this position then all would be lost, was taken using a formation that resembled a crescent, hence its name of the `crescent formation`. If one expected to be attacked from all sides, then one would adapt the `perfect circle formation` so as to be able to meet any enemy with one`s forces positioned to cover all directions. If one had fewer numbers than the enemy but wanted to break through the enemy lines, then one would take the `arrow tip formation`.(23-24)

Why did Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu all emerge from the Tokai region?

Oda Nobunaga has been regarded as the master of the Sengoku era. After him comes Hideyoshi, and upon his passing, Ieyasu who overthrew the house of Toyotomi. All three of these men were different in temperament and character when they were born, yet they all had one thing in common – they were all from that area now known as the Tokai. Why was it that men from this region came to rule the entire land?
One advantage it had was in terms of its position. Kyoto had a number of renowned samurai living nearby as residents. Yet these men could not take hold of the nation, for as they were too close to the capital, and they knew that the Ashikaga Bakufu and the Imperial Court were relatively powerless. It never occurred to them that they might be able to use the authority of the court or bakufu to take hold of the nation. Moreover, the areas close to the capital were imbued with information that merchants and peasants could easily get hold of, hence it was hard to get them to act as instructed. For this reason, it was particularly troublesome to store one`s wealth in this region.
Well, what about those regions that were remote from the capital? There were famous generals such as Uesugi Kenshin in Echigo and the Shimazu in Satsuma, yet they did not go on to rule the nation. They were too far away from the centers of information and thus suffered from a lack of news. Their economies were also underdeveloped and comparatively poor in resources. On this point, the Tokai region, which was slightly removed from the capital, had an adequate amount of information, had a developing industry which contributed to the financial strength of the region, which is to say that the area had a good balance of crucial factors. So the fact that Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu were all from the Tokai was not an accident but rather an inevitability.(24-25)

How did Sengoku generals call a halt to fighting?

Even in today`s world, it is much harder to end a war than to begin one. How did the generals of the Sengoku era end their fighting?
Firstly, taking territory did not mean completely destroying one`s opponent, laying his land to waste and slaughtering all of his peasants. If two sides continued fighting so that both were exhausted in strength, then a new enemy might appear, in which case there was a strong possibility that this new enemy might take all the spoils with little effort. If two sides fought until it was clear which was the victor, then messengers would be dispatched and new borders drawn up. If both sides were satisfied that there would be no subsequent invasions and that their status was secure, then the war would come to an end. In the end, a war over territory was not about “who is right” but was instigated for purely profit driven reasons – ie “I want that land”. If conditions could be hammered out, then an accord could be made to cease hostilities.
If an agreement was reached, then oaths would be exchanged. Yet the guarantee that their articles would be adhered to was no more valid that the paper it was written on, hence both sides never knew when the other might betray his oath. Hence the often used practice of having one`s offspring marry and declaring the children to be the responsibility of both houses – in other words, solidifying relations. Hostages might also be exchanged. Such exchanges thus brought things to a close.(25-26)

Did “Bushidō” exist during the Sengoku era?

“Bushidō means to discover the way of death” – so says a famous passage from the Hagakure, the treatise on Bushidō. Yet this book was written after the nation had been pacified, in the midst of the Edo period (around 1716). During the Sengoku era this concept of Bushidō did not exist. In fact, Bushidō came about precisely because samurai were no longer involved in warfare.
In the Sengoku era, samurai had no other path but unrestrained fighting. However after the Summer Campaign of Osaka, in the midst of a world at peace, warriors began to lose their identity as battlefield soldiers. Thus a demand arose for a way of life for warriors that would encompass moral teachings on behaviour. This was the purpose of Bushidō.
So, was there really no such thing as Bushidō during the Sengoku era? There was no written volume such as the Hagakure, and it would be safe to say that there was no pure form of philosophy or morals based around the way of the warrior. However, there was a common aesthetic that stated that “this is what a warrior is”. For example, “an accumulation of warrior valor and heroism” (in other words, strength). “able to conquer fear” and “aware of shame”. This “shame” means not acting in a foolish manner, not showing cowardice, in sum protecting one`s honour. Consequently, even if one disagreed with one`s lord and decided to forsake him and join the enemy, this was not shameful, for you would have overcome any cowardice and acted in a manner befitting a samurai of the Sengoku era.(27)

What methods of seppuku were used by Sengoku generals?

Many generals who were defeated in battle ended their lives by committing seppuku. Seppuku was a unique characteristic of Japan`s past which already existed by the Heian era.
Seppuku could be performed according to a number of different methods. The formal method of seppuku involved cutting across the stomach and then down from the sternum in a cross-shaped pattern – thus this method was called the `cross shaped belly`. In order to perform this method, one needed to have a fair degree of strength and forebearance. As a consequence of the difficulty of performing the formal method, a simpler method was devised which involved cutting a single line across the stomach – the “single line belly” – which became the standard form of seppuku. There were other methods, such as the T shaped cut known as the `odd shaped cross` and a cut that ran vertically downwards from the bellybutton called the `southern belly`.
Though a samurai might perform seppuku, he would not die straight away, hence those with the strength left would grab hold of their entrails, pull them out of the wound, and show them to all those who had gathered around. In the Sengoku era this was deemed to be an act of beauty, however in the peaceful Edo era such an act was deemed too unsightly, hence it became standard to have an executioner stand next to the condemned, who would then cut off their head and thus end their life.
Thus there were many different ways to commit seppuku, as the Frenchman Francois Carron noted towards the end of Edo era when he reported that there were around 50 different ways of cutting the belly.
Seppuku also involved drama. Shibata Katsuie, after being defeated by Hashiba Hideyoshi, set fire to the keep of his castle of Kita no shō, and committed seppuku after first killing his wife O-ichi. After dispatching his wife, Katsuie faced the army of Hashiba, stating defiantly “Watch my death, and speak of it to generations to come” whereupon he grabbed hold of and exposed his entrails.
In the case of Shimizu Munehisa, the owner of Takamatsu castle in Bichū who was forced to give up his life as a condition of surrender to the army of Hashiba, after boarding a boat floating on the lake surrounding the castle he committed suicide. This was thought to be a particularly beautiful form of death, and became a model method of seppuku.
Tanba Nagahide, who served both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, suffered badly from gall stones in his old age. As he grew weaker, he decided to commit seppuku. Cutting open his belly, he pulled out the stones. After saying “so it`s you who`s been causing me so much pain” he smashed the stones and then promptly expired.(28-29)

To what degree was Christianity prevalent in Japan during the Sengoku era?  

The number of Christian followers in Japan today shows that there are approximately five hundred thousand Catholics, three hundred thousand Protestants, and approximately thirty thousand Eastern Orthodox believers, thus making a total of eight hundred and thirty thousand. In Japanese history, there has been no other era apart from the Sengoku in which the number of Christian followers surpassed more than 1 per cent of the population. This has been called “the 1 per cent wall”. In short, when comparing populations, the Sengoku era saw the largest number of Christian followers in Japanese history.
In 1549, St Francis Xavier of the Jesuit Society arrived in Japan, and started about his proselytizing mission to a country that had no knowledge of Christianity at all. The man who allowed such missionary work to continue was one Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga was quite intrigued by the western culture that the missionaries brought with them, and thus permitted them to continue their activities. As a result, when Nobunaga died at Honnōji in 1582, there were around 150,000 Christians in the nation. In 1600 (the year of the Battle of Sekigahara), 300,000 troops took part in the epic struggle. The population of Japan at the time was around 18 million, which meant that in terms of percentages 1.7% of all Japanese were Christian devotees. Moreover, this number did not mean that Christians were spread out across the country. Only those areas that had received the most proselytizing had the most followers, those being the area around Kyoto, one part of Kyushu, and part of modern Yamaguchi prefecture. Christianity in the Sengoku era was, therefore, a fairly limited “regional religion”.(29-30)

Why did Christianity spread so quickly?

In less than half a century after the arrival of St Francis Xavier, Christianity had secured some 300,000 followers. Why did this faith spread so rapidly?
In Japan before this time, there were two main faiths - the practice of Shinto, carried on since ancient times, and Buddhism that had been brought across from China. From this background both gods and buddhas had become mixed until some truly unique Japanese religions had emerged. Then along came Christianity, whose ideas were steeped in western philosophy that was completely different to the ideology of the East. To put things simply, Christianity did not only teach about religion, it also conveyed scientific information such as astronomy and taught about technology. Such figures as Nobunaga had received a globe of the earth as a present, and it is said that upon looking at the gift Nobunaga realized the excellence of western civilization. Until this time no Japanese person could explain why the sun came up in the morning and set in the evening, yet the missionaries could.
Christianity explained in detail how the heavens and earth began and how things would end. This was, as far as the Japanese were concerned, a completely new form of belief not found in either Shinto or Buddhism.
As for why Christianity spread so quickly, one cannot overlook the brilliant contribution made by the missionaries of the Jesuit Society and others. The missionaries resolved to convert the daimyō, hence before they taught the populace, they had convince the daimyō, who sat at the top of the social scale, to undergo baptism and become believers. After receiving the permission of the daimyō, the missionaries could begin converting the masses, for if it was good enough for the ruler of the domain to convert to, then it was good enough for all. Hence this is turn led to mass conversions of both retainers and the populace. Thus in areas that had Christian daimyō, the rate of conversion rose expedentially. Though the reason why daimyō chose to convert may have been related to the fact that they had been won over by the teachings of Christianity, a more pragmatic reason was because conversions meant that they could secure rights to trade with the foreigners.(30-31) 

Is it true that during the Sengoku era Japan was the world`s largest arms trader?

The Sengoku era of Japanese history coincided with the European age of discovery and the Ming dynasty of China, and thus occurred during a time in which trade flourished. As in the example of Rusonsuke Zaemon, who has been depicted as a leading character in television dramas, there were quite a few merchants conducting trade with South East Asia. Yet what was it that they were trading?
At first the most commonly traded commodity was weaponry. Not only did Japan have excellent swords, armour, and helmets as well as the tradition and technology behind them, despite the fact that muskets had first been introduced to Japan from the West, Japan had rapidly developed as a manufacturing nation for such weapons and hence came to export them to other countries.
In 1597, during the rule of Hideyoshi, an Italian priest by the name of Caretti left details of such weaponry in a letter…” In Japan, there are all sorts of weapons, for attack as well as defence. I believe that this nation has more weaponry than any other in the world”.
Moreover, until Japan was closed off to the outside world during the era of Sakoku that defined the Tokugawa period, the nation experienced an extraordinary era of trade and wealth. There were reputedly 3,000 Japanese in the Philippines alone, and in other nations throughout the Asian region such as Cambodia and Vietnam, a total of around 10,000 Japanese worked as traders.(31-32)

Where is “Momoyama” that is referred to in the historical period of “Azuchi Momoyama”?

The era that followed the fall of the Muromachi period is known as Azuchi Momoyama. It was a thirty year period lasting from the expulsion of the last Ashikaga shōgun Yoshiaki until the founding of the Edo bakufunate under Tokugawa Ieyasu, and is also referred to as the era of `Otoyo (hō)`. To put this another way, the era of “Oda and Toyotomi” was the era of “Azuchi Momoyama”.
The last castle that Oda Nobunaga built is situated in modern day Azuchi in Shiga prefecture, and thus provides an easy reason as to why the era of Nobunaga was named after this site, however why was Toyotomi`s era referred to as `Momoyama`?
The Momoyama described in history books refers to Fushimi Castle, the place where Hideyoshi spent his last remaining years (located in the southern Kyoto suburb of Fushimi). There were peach tree forests all around the area of the castle, hence the reason for the name. However, while Hideyoshi was still alive, nobody referred to the place as Momoyama. It wasn`t until the Meiji era that both Fushimi castle and Momoyama came to refer to the same thing.
The term `Momoyama era` itself did not derive directly from Meiji era historical studies, but from art and architectural history. This is because the gorgeous art and buildings produced during the era seem to perfectly fit the image of `Momoyama`. Eventually the term was appropriated by Meiji historians and then used to differentiate between eras.
There are scholars who believe it is particularly strange to refer to the era by the title Momoyama as it did not exist at the time events surrounding Hideyoshi are described and that it would be better to refer to the name used by Nobunaga himself. There are also those who believe that it would be better to ascribe the latter years of Hideyoshi`s life to residence in Osaka rather than Fushimi. If this view is accepted, the era may be referred to as Azuchi Osaka.(32-33)

What were Sengoku daimyō fighting for?

What were so many daimyō fighting for during the Sengoku era? This was obviously the era of gekokujō, an age that granted a chance for anyone to rise to become ruler of the nation, and that all aspired to such hegemony, or so the story goes in historical novels. daimyō like Oda Nobunaga who harbored such thoughts were few and far between. Most daimyō did not think about wanting to rule over the entire realm, merely to protect their single piece of it.
Although one speaks of gekokujō, as far as shugo were concerned, the position of shugodai had changed, and as far as the shugodai were concerned, the people had changed. Those who coveted the title of shōgunate and ministerial positions did not emerge until after the appearance of Oda Nobunaga.
So why did so many battles occurred over such a large area? The main reason for this stemmed from a desire to expand ones` territory. So why did daimyō wish to expand their territory? The reason, it seems, was in order to secure food resources. At the time there were a continuous series of natural disasters, which brought on the threat of starvation.
The major role played by regional leaders was the securement of food for the population of their lands. As neither the shugo nor the Bakufu made any effort to relieve their suffering, the shugodai and local populace themselves had to take action to ensure they had something to eat. If a leader could not secure such resources, then he would be replaced by one who could.
Hence if a daimyō believed that his lands were insufficient to support the population, he had no choice but to attempt to take them away from a rival. By doing so, he would increase his territorial control and increase the ability of his lands to produce enough food for the population, both hallmarks of a good leader.(33-34)

What type of beauty was the “Sengoku beauty”?

When one speaks of the beauties of the Sengoku era, typical examples include Oda Nobunaga`s younger sister Oichi, Oichi`s daughter (     ) who became one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi`s concubines, and Hosokawa Gracia, the daughter of Akechi Mitsuhide. There was quite a difference between these beauties and women thought of as beautiful in the modern age.
For example, when one looks at a portrait of Oichi, who was regarded as a great beauty of her age, she exhibits a tiny mouth on an extremely pale face. Her eyes are very small and accentuated by single thin lines for eyebrows, and her hair is long and black. She is, in sum, a representation of a Heian era beauty.
In reality, the definitions of culture used during the Sengoku era were synonymous with the culture of the capital, hence the ideal of female beauty was influenced by the culture of Kyoto. Though the capital had been laid waste by many wars and strife, no change occurred to the idea of beauty that stemmed from the Heian era, hence the daimyō of the Sengoku era sought out women who personified such ideals.
A typical example is that of Takeda Shingen. He was well known for his love of women, and although it is said that his concubine quarters were filled with beauties, the woman he chose for a wife, Sanjō Fujin, was even more stunning than his concubines.
She was the daughter of the Minister of the Left, Sanjō Takeyori, and was thus a daughter brought up in the proper manners of Kyoto. This woman, so representative of the beauty of the Heian era, captured the heart of Shingen.
During the Sengoku era, Hideyoshi was also reknowned for his love of women, particularly the daughters of famous households. In his concubine quarters he had both Yodogi, who combined the blood of both the Oda and Asai households, and Matsu no Maru, from a very famous household of Kyoto. Hideyoshi thus also favoured those women who represented Heian beauty and who possessed the blood of famous families.(34-35)

What did the daimyō of the Sengoku era think of the shōgun and the court?

With the creation of the Kamakura Bakufu, the authority of the nation was divided between the court and the bakufunate. At the risk of overgeneralization, the court held the vestige of authority, whilst the bakufu held the power to enforce their authority. This was a system quite different to that of the triumvirate (division of state between the court, the parliament, and the church) system of early modern Europe. It was, in essence, a division of power unique to Japan. Yet by the Sengoku era, both the court and the bakufunate had lost a lot of their authority. As such, what did the daimyō inhabiting the various regions of the nation (together with the power to rule those regions independently) think of the shōgun and the emperor?
Most Sengoku daimyō had reached their position without any ties to either the bakufunate or the court. Yet in order to rule over territory, a leader needed not only military strength, but he also needed some type of right to show that he had legitimate claim to rule. This is why so many warriors coveted official positions, for it meant they would be given a duty by the court, and would have official approval to rule their territory.
Yet warriors could not force the court to do their bidding. In order to receive an official position, a warrior had to go through the authority of the bakufunate, for a rule of protocol stated that any position from the court had to be delivered via the Bakufu. To receive a position meant that one had to have the Bakufu`s seal confirming the appointment, for again protocol demanded that both the court and the bakufunate approve of the decision. Once this had been done, the daimyō or warrior had to show deference to the court and Bakufu for being granted the position. This meant paying money to both arms of government. One could say that this was the tax on the income of the daimyō.
Until the time of the 13th shōgun Yoshi(aki?), this rule had been handed down and retained its effectiveness, hence daimyō could not afford to ignore the Bakufu. As daimyō were hard headed, one can`t really say that they were sincerely grateful towards either the court or bakufunate, yet in order to use the document granted to them, they could not ignore either institution of government.(35-36)

Why was the tea ceremony so popular during the Sengoku era?

The name so often associated with the culture of the Sengoku era is that of Sen-Ri-Kyū. He was the very first proponent of the tea ceremony incorporating `wabicha` (tea of `lithe yet melancholy grace`. He was much sought after by both Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, yet as his life met such a dramatic end through his death via seppuku, it has become the theme of many a novel and movie.
Sen-Ri-Kyū took the very ordinary act of drinking tea, a mere `drink` itself, and raised it to the level of an artform. Yet in the background to such activity, warriors had a particular affinity for hot tea and stored it for their own use. Yet the real reason for the growth in the popularity of the tea ceremony lay in the fact that persons of influence had taken such an interest in it and created an art form from it.
Hence why did men who were associated with violence and power come to enjoy the tea ceremony so much? The most prominent reason was because these `violent` men wanted to rid themselves of that very image, that of barbarity and viciousness. For warriors, although they might seize power through using their strength and might in arms, it was the court, in sum the aristocracy, that would confirm their place. These courtiers were not militarily powerful, yet they had decorum and manners. In order to be able to discuss matters with the aristocracy, the warriors had to learn etiquette. In the age of Sengoku, the symbol of that etiquette was the tea ceremony.(37)

The tea ceremony also had a way of refreshing the minds of those who practiced it. Amidst constant warring and battles, warriors too wanted time out to be able to relax their bodies and minds. Within the tea ceremony, just one bowl is passed around between the participants, thus increasing the level of `connection` between the participants. During an era when betrayal and backstabbing were a common occurrence, the tea ceremony was a means to confirm mutual ties or loyalties.(37)

Part 2: The secrets of Nobunaga・Hideyoshi・and Ieyasu –

Why did Nobunaga succeed to the head of the household, despite the fact that he wasn`t the eldest son?

Even towards the end of the Sengoku era, time and again during the period of gekokujō the phenomenon of great exploits by the first generation is scattered to the winds by their children and descendants. Equally, whereas the first generation must strive hard just to become rulers of their province, the 2nd and 3rd generations start out already in possession of a province. It is this generation that can then consider uniting the nation.
Oda Nobunaga did not belong to a generation that became a daimyō by their own force of arms. He was born as a legitimate son of the lord, and when the lord died, he inherited the title.
Or did he? While it seems that Nobunaga had no real difficulties succeeding to the head of the household, the truth is that he was involved in a succession dispute with his brother, and eventually managed to be confirmed by the Oda house.
First of all, he was not the eldest son of his father, Nobuhide. Just to clarify matters, Nobuhide had 25 children, of which 13 were boys. Nobunaga was the third son. Since time immemorial, the eldest male heir to the ruler of a household would succeed to the head of that household – this was a basic but fundamental principle. So how did Nobunaga manage to become head of the Oda clan?
The main reason lay in the fact that Nobunaga`s two elder brothers were not legitimate sons of Nobuhide (they were concubine`s children). Nobunaga was the first child born to Nobuhide`s legitimate wife. In the Oda household, it wasn`t the order male heirs were born in but their blood ties to their mother that mattered most, hence Nobunaga was raised as the legitimate heir to Nobuhide.
However, after the death of Nobuhide, a succession dispute broke out. This was not between Nobunaga and one of the illegitimate children, but between himself and his younger brother Nobuyuki, who himself came from the same womb as Nobunaga. There were many supporters of Nobuyuki in the household, who presented a threat to Nobunaga. Nobunaga eventually implicated his brother in a plot and had him assassinated, and thus was able to secure his position as heir.(40-41)

What type of eating habits did Nobunaga have?

When a person became a daimyō, one would think that they would be able to eat lavishly everyday, yet Nobunaga`s style of eating would have more in common with the busy office workers of the modern period. As he only possessed a temporary military force, this meant there was no time for taking things easy or enjoying oneself. From what we know of Nobunaga`s eating habits, it appears that he often ate `foods accompanied by hot water`, which is to say, he ate foods like O-chazuke. One eats this mainly by shoveling it into one`s mouth quickly, yet to Nobunaga this constituted a meal. For ordinary in-between meals, he ate roasted miso paste. Hence his tastes were fairly simple. And they were quite salty.
As for other foods, it appears that Nobunaga did not enjoy the trend among aristocrats of eating foods with light flavours, but quite enjoyed heavy flavours. Of course, he was not alone in enjoying such tastes. Many Sengoku era generals enjoyed foods that were heavily salted, which may have been one of the reasons that led to their early deaths. Even if they didn`t die on the battlefield, they often ate highly salty foods very quickly, thus maintaining eating habits that were bad for their constitutions. There are many instances of generals dying from strokes and heart disease brought on by high blood pressure.
Folklore has it that Nobunaga was a particularly heavy drinker, yet historically this does not appear to have been the case. Rather, Nobunaga appeared to have a taste for sweets. He was quite happy to receive from Flores gifts such as Portuguese cake, and was also fond of dango.
When trade with Europeans reached its apex, Nobunaga did eat some European dishes, although it appears that he did not particularly like their taste. As Nobunaga possessed a character that was interested in all new things, he would try any new foods brought to him out of curiosity, yet they didn`t become part of his regular meals. What we can say about Nobunaga is that he was not a man to confine himself to a particular type of food.(41-42)

Why did Nobunaga declare all markets free from taxation?

Nobunaga was not only a strong military leader, he also possessed great talent with finance. In the midst of the economic policies enacted by Nobunaga, which could truly be described as revolutionary, there existed the `rakuichi rakuza` (free market and free guild system). The ichi referred to the markets, whereas the `za` referred to an independent group of primary producers and industry. Before the age of Nobunaga, any business affiliated with a `za`, or guild, could not trade freely, for all profits were the monopoly of the za. The introduction of the Rakuichi rakuza made such guilds redundant and introduced a free market economy to Oda territories.
As a result of this, those persons not affiliated with guilds could sell their wares freely, and taxes, which had been heavy up until this point, were lightened. This system of `laissez faire` thus spread, and with it its ideas of liberal trade.
As a result of the existence of such an institution, the guilds lost their reason for existence, and the rule of the local landlord became somewhat more powerful. For those members of the guilds who had reaped profit from the existence of their monopoly, obviously they were not so interested in the usage of free markets, yet new merchants were particularly happy, and flocked to the castle towns that sprung up around Nobunaga`s territories. After this occurred, the castle towns grew in wealth, and became centres for the collection of goods and information. This laissez faire attitude towards economics thus brought about a much more profitable period for the towns concerned.
Yet the idea of free markets and free guilds was not of Nobunaga`s making, but had appeared somewhat earlier under the Rokkaku family of Ōmi and the declaration of a free market in the town below Kannonji castle. Nobunaga took this idea and expanded it to its limits. With the victories of Nobunaga providing inspiration, more daimyō from across Japan adopted the system, and thus the sphere of laissez faire grew to cover the realm.(42-43)

Why did Nobunaga burn down Enryakuji?

In a world beset by conflict, it was a matter of course that one would seek various means to cut down one`s opponents. However, there was one act that most believed went beyond the limits of acceptability – that act was Nobunaga`s destruction of Enryakuji.
It is said that around 3,000 people - monks, women, and children included - were killed during the attack. As such, it was the most merciless act of the Sengoku era. To put this in modern terms, a great majority of those killed were so-called `non-combatants`. 
There is one theory that Akechi Mitsuhide was never able to reconcile himself with this act, and thus set out to betray Nobunaga. It seems there were many other leaders within the Nobunaga camp who wanted to put this incident behind them. Hence why did Nobunaga decide to destroy this religiously significant symbol, this `holy ground` of Tendai Buddhism?
Most of the conflict that broke out during the Sengoku era occurred because of disputes over territory and the expansion of authority, yet the attack on Enryakuji was not done out of any concern over land. Nobunaga loathed the medieval authority possessed by `abstract` Buddhist forces, and so decided to attack the very centre of this phenomena (according to one theory). Yet things were not quite so simple. Geographically, Enryakuji was very close to the capital, hence if they were not brought to heel, Nobunaga would never be able to enforce his authority throughout the realm. Moreover, Hiei-zan Enryakuji was an ally of Nobunaga`s foes Asakura Yoshikage and Asai Nagamasa. Hence militarily, Enryakuji was an obvious opponent. Enryakuji was not simply a temple, but was also a large scale shōen owner with a large army of its own – indeed, it was very much an independent nation in its own right. As far as Nobunaga was concerned, Enryakuji was a nation opposed to him and in possession of authority based on edicts of previous generations. To remove this, a very thorough policy of eradication was necessary so that it might not challenge Nobunaga again. (43-44)

Why did Nobunaga move from castle to castle so often?

The original lands of the Oda family were found in eastern Owari province. The first castle that Nobunaga lived in was known as `Nagoya` (那古野) castle. It is said that it occupied what is now the site of the `Ni no Maru` (Second Tower) of modern Nagoya castle. Nobunaga`s father, Nobuhide, took this castle from the previous lord of Owari, Imagawa Ujitoyo.
Nobunaga was born in this castle in 1534 (although another theory states that Nobunaga was born in Owari Chōhan castle). Ordinarily, a daimyō-to-be would spend most of his early life in the territory in which he was born, yet Nobunaga was an exception. He was almost continuously moving from one place to another. For example, up until his teenage years Nobunaga spent his time at Nagoya castle, then in 1555 he moved to Seishū castle. The Oda family concurrently abandoned Nagoya castle. During the ten years or so that he was in Seishū castle, the province of Owari was united. In 1563, just before he set out on his campaign to conquer Minō province, Nobunaga moved to Shō (ko) bokuzan castle.
Shōbokuzan castle was a new castle built on flat ground. In addition, a castle town sprang up around it, for not only had the Oda`s retainers travelled from Seishū, but so had the artisans and tradesmen. From this base at Shōbokuzan, Nobunaga set out to attack the Saitō family of Minō. The only problem was, the Saitō castle of Inabayama was located on top of a mountain and was thus difficult to attack. After a number of attacks were repelled, the castle was finally taken in 1567 through the efforts of Kinoshita (藤) Kichirō (who afterwards would become Toyotomi Hideyoshi). Nobunaga decided to make this new castle his base, and renamed it `Gifu`.  
The final move was to the castle at Azuchi. It took seven years to construct, with building finally completed in 1576.
This was manner in which Nobunaga often moved around from one castle to another. The reason he did this was because he (and his family before him) wished to live in conquered territory, and because he wished to be at the front line of any attack. The change in living quarters was thus one manifestation of Nobunaga`s desire to unite the provinces under his rule. (44-46).

Why did Oda Nobunaga, who was aiming to impose the rule of `Tenka Fubu`, decide to build his residence at Azuchi?

Oda Nobunaga lost his life at Honnōji in Kyoto, yet that was a place for temporary lodging. Nobunaga`s regular `residence` was the castle of Azuchi. There are a number of riddles surrounding Nobunaga`s death, with the disappearance of Nobunaga`s corpse and the burning down of Azuchi castle as the two the most difficult to solve. One theory has it that Mitsuhide, after killing Nobunaga, was expected to declare himself the ruler of the nation. In order to prevent this from happening, the castle was set alight and burnt to the ground.
The era of Nobunaga is known as `the era of Azuchi`, yet Nobunaga only lived in this castle for a mere three years. The castle itself was completed in 1576, yet Nobunaga did not take up residence in it until after 1579. He then met his death at Honnōji in 1582. Azuchi itself is a town on the shoreline of Lake Biwa. Now it is a small town, yet before Nobunaga built his castle there it wasn`t particularly prosperous either. The main reason why Nobunaga decided to build his castle there was because of its convenience for transport. By crossing the lake, one could arrive in the capital in a day. It was also close to Nobunaga`s home base of Gifu. Moreover, Nobunaga was an enemy of the Ikkō ikki of the Hokuriku and Ishiyama Honganji in Settsu. In order to cut off ties between these two, it was necessary to cut the transport road between the Hokuriku and the capital in half. In order to prepare for fighting against strong opponents such as Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, Azuchi was well placed to control the flow of traffic along the Hokuriku road and the Chūsan road. (46-47)

Why didn`t Nobunaga build a castle in Kyoto?

1568 marked the year in which Nobunaga made Ashikaga Yoshiaki the shōgun, thus securing his own hold on power. This was right after Nobunaga had conquered Minō, changed the name of Inabayama castle to Gifu, and made this his residence. However, despite travelling to the capital, Nobunaga himself did not stay there for long periods of time, and made Gifu his home base. He attempted to control Yoshiaki from a distance, yet as he did not possess modern forms of communication, Gifu was too far from the capital, hence the need to move somewhere closer to Kyoto. This is one reason why Nobunaga decided on Azuchi has a place for another residence, yet wouldn`t it have been better for him to build his castle in the capital itself? If he wished to show that he was in charge of the nation, building a castle in Kyoto would have made that a lot more obvious, wouldn`t it?
Nobunaga did not build a castle in Kyoto, neither did he build an `alternative residence`. He often stayed at temples in the capital, which is how he met his fate at Honnōji. It was thought that he did this in order to save on the cost of building a residence, yet this probably wasn`t Nobunaga`s sole intention. As he was prepared to repair the Dairi and Gosho for the imperial court, he could have easily built himself an abode in the capital.
There are a number of scholars who believe that Nobunaga did not wish to made Kyoto the centre of his political power because of its association with the fallen Muromachi bakufunate and because it served as the focal point for the authority of the aristocratic houses, who had held such authority since the Heian era.
It would be more plausible to believe that Nobunaga wanted to build a new castle and a new town in an entirely unknown area, with no past to haunt it. This would then serve as the basis for a new capital of Japan.(47-48)

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© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in December 2011