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Sengoku Period

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  • Dates: 1467 to late 16th or early 17th century
  • Japanese: 戦国時代 (Sengoku jidai)

The Sengoku (lit. "warring states") period was a period civil war starting with the beginning of the Ônin War in 1467. Scholars differ on the exact dates, however. Some cite 1568, when Oda Nobunaga entered Kyoto, as marking the end of the Sengoku period, while others consider the end to be 1573, coinciding with the last Ashikaga shogun, and the end of the Muromachi period. Others still cite 1600 (Tokugawa victory at the Battle of Sekigahara), 1603 (the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate), or 1615 (the defeat of the Toyotomi clan in the Osaka Campaigns), as marking the end of war, and the beginning of the Pax Tokugawa.

This period of chaos overlaps with the late Muromachi period, and with the entirety of the Azuchi-Momoyama period.

History

The Sengoku period is characterized by the rise of the daimyô in the countryside, while the power of the Ashikaga shogunate in the capital waned. As the shogunal court grew more insular, the shugo in the provinces lost their authority. Local lords - sometimes the vassals of the shugo - rose to fill the void, becoming the new daimyô. In the mid-16th century, samurai constituted roughly 7-8% of the total population of around 10 million;[1] this has been contrasted with a figure of members of the "feudal class" comprising only 0.25% of the population of medieval England.[2]

Lesser houses would enter into vassalage under these new local powers, entering into a new age of feudalism. Disputes regarding resources or territories could lead to armed conflict between local lords and their allies.

During this period, there would be many more changes. Portuguese would land at Tanegashima, eventually bringing guns and Christianity to Japan. As the daimyô grew stronger, many invested heavily in the expansion of the productive capacities of their territories, building irrigation networks or other public works in order to increase the amount of rice or other commodities produced, and thus increasing tax revenues, in order to fuel their military efforts. Over the course of the 16th-17th centuries, the total arable land in Japan may have increased by as much as a factor of three.[3]

In these tumultuous times, some of the local daimyô became even more ambitious, looking to install their own rule over the country. Three of these daimyô would eventually succeed in uniting the country--Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Society & Economy

Most of the ten million or so people in the Japanese archipelago in the 16th century lived in relatively small villages; most of Japan's more major cities only began to transform into major urban centers in the early 17th century. Agricultural production and maritime activity such as fishing are generally quoted as the chief economic activities in these villages, though many also featured elements of craft/artisan production, shipping, or other business. Most villages consisted primarily of thatched-roofed homes, more numerous and expansive on the plains and shores, and smaller and more scattered in the mountains. Of what they produced, the amount given as tax or rent to landlords or higher authorities (kenmon) varied widely, but on average was somewhat above 30%. Of the remainder, much was bartered or sold; though less commercially vibrant and interconnected than in the Edo period, Sengoku Japan was not a world of purely, or chiefly, subsistence living, and most villagers engaged in at least some kind of trade.[4]

Most villages had one or more prominent families which hereditarily, or by virtue of wealth, land, leadership skills, or by some other means came to serve as de facto political leaders. Many enjoyed some formal recognition from or relationship with the local authorities (a Buddhist temple, samurai lord, or other "authority" over that area, known as a kenmon), and organized public works projects, oversaw tax collection and delivery, and/or provided aid to their fellow villagers in time of famine or the like; in exchange, these families received rent, or some other sort of payments, from villagers. The degree of dominance of such families varied, of course, from village to village and region to region, and many villages practiced a more egalitarian form of mutual governance, without any particular families emerging as dominant.[5]

References

  • Sansom, George. A History of Japan 13334-1615. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963.
  • Hall, John Whitney. Government and Local Power in Japan 500 to 1700: A Study Based on Bizen Province". Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966.
  1. Conrad Totman, Early Modern Japan, University of California Press (1993), 11.
  2. Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, Second Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 59.
  3. Eiko Ikegami, Bonds of Civility, Cambridge University Press (2005), 35.
  4. Totman, 11-12.
  5. Totman, 13.


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Muromachi Period
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Edo Period
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