& THE SO-CALLED
WARRING STATES OF JAPAN
|CLICK HERE IF YOU'RE WONDERING WHY THE REST OF THE JAPANESE ACCEPTED THE HEGEMONY OF THE WARRIOR CLASS||CLICK HERE FOR "BUSHIDO" OR THE SAMURAI CODES|
* Oda Nobunaga constantly never got interested in acquiring Imperial titles at all. But he did accept, reluctantly, the title of 'Minister' in 1578. He handed down a letter of resignation 3 weeks later. He accepted the title just for courtesy's sake. "It isn't worth a dime in battle anyway," he said. So Oda was the only de facto and de jure ruler of Japan who was 'untitled'. There had been many who exercised governance without any title before, but those did it illegitimately -- without a public recognition by the Emperor. Oda's case was the only one in the history of Japan. Emperor Ogimachi clearly let it be known that Oda was the equivalent of a Shogun at the time, yet Oda himself never took up any title.
That 'S' word actually meant no such a thing as 'dictator', 'supreme ruler', or such, even if some viewpoints might render certain shogunates as embodiments of things like those. The term 'bakufu' means 'curtain' governmental agency, in this case not of a bamboo but iron curtain (click here for origins of this term); obviously a derogatory term originated in the circles where the shogunate was the butt of every private joke. So it can't be applied to call the Japanese shogunates unless you mean exactly what it was meant to mean.
Let's get down to the brass tacks.
The Empire of Japan was initially ruled by, of course, its Emperor (or occasional Empress).
Since the Emperor or Empress was unworldly -- the unbroken single lineage of the Japanese Imperial Family from the Goddess of the Sun renders stuff like warring and politicking kind of unbecoming -- he or she got to appoint sheer mortals to political posts to do the governance for real. Hence Ministers were given a certain (good) amount of delegated authority. The most critical jobs in Medieval Japan were, as a matter of course, Minister of War, Minister of Domestic Biz (I mean internal management of the country), and Minister of the Imperial House (which means he was in charge with the Emperor and his family in persons). The latter was no part-time gig, because any power-hungry warlord who was able to get the Emperor and symbolic imperial paraphernalia was automatically gaining control over Japan.
So it was up to this Minister to bless the most powerful warlord of the time, by releasing an Imperial Decree (that's how Emperors spoke to anyone outside his Palace, those days) stating that Lord So-and-so has thereby been named as this-or-that high imperial officer. This was based on the most sensible and practical consideration, namely that you better not risk pissing off a man with a hundred thousand soldiers solidly behind him (click here for story and pictures of how Japanese warlords got their armies, and what they did with them).
In 1336, the Hojo (of Taira descent) clan fought against the Ashikaga (Minamoto) clan over whose candidate it was that was to be Emperor -- and none relented. The war went on until 1392, when the Hojo 'Emperor' handed over all the insignia to the one backed up by Ashikaga.
By the year 800, the Imperial family had gotten itself enlarged beyond the main tree's capacity to house them all, so naturally princes and such dispersed and made family branches under other names their imagination was capable of conjuring up (mostly names of places).
The strongest and largest of these families became clans. Clans craved territories, so they waged war against each other. The chief of every clan became a warlord.
How did Japan slip into the 'Warring States' period ('sengoku' in Japanese) then?
It all started with the Hojo-Ashikaga war over political brokerage that I've just mentioned, and reached its boiling point in 1467 with the Onin war when Japan was supposed to be under the rule of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490, a Minamoto descendant), after which the ruler of the tiny islands was in actuality Chaos.
People fortified their houses, and before you knew it all of them had been transformed into fortresses. They still would fight for the Emperor (to 'chastise the barbarians', for example), but they also snatched every chance to enlarge their rice-producing territories, gulping their weaker neighbors'.
But you have to halt here for a sec for reality check.
None of the warlords in 'Warring States' period declared his territory as an independent country, and none of them claimed to be an Emperor of the domain under his rule. What has been referred to as 'states' in this warring period were none of such things if you take the term in its commonest sense. There were Provinces, there were Governors, and all those were official. In one province, there were usually more than a couple of warlords, and over several provinces an overlord. And yet they didn't kill Governors -- who were appointed by the Shogun and confirmed by the Emperor -- for fun. (Click here for story and pictures of relations among warlords, overlords, emperors and shoguns in this powergame).
The picture of the Japanese Empire was nonetheless scary when wars had been in everybody's daily schedules. Though it left the empire itsef uncut, there were no less than 260 independent domains all over the little islands we call 'Japan' today; not to mention the number of localized petty rural warlords and mobile organized groups of bandits.
between 1467-1477 flung Kyoto
into unspeakable horrors;
Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki who took up the title after his brother Yoshiteru was murdered in 1568 was a homeless nomad, seeking temporary sanctuary with friendly warlords whom he never lost a chance to agitate to start another war for the seriously ailing shogunate. The list of candidates the Shogun would try to talk over to war included the warrior-monks of Mt. Hiei, Nara, and such (click here for story and pictures of these Buddhist warrior-monks). Then in 1573 Oda Nobunaga (a Taira) ended the Ashikaga shogunate's era for good, and started to unite the provinces he could subdue, until his death in 1582. In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ruled over most of the conquerable areas of Japan. In 1603 Tokugawa Ieyasu (Minamoto) established his clan's shogunate. In 1868 Emperor Meiji abolished the feudal system and the last Shogun retired to oblivion. But all this took a long time; when Shoguns were still around there was feudalism in its best of health.
The most powerful warlord of the day, then, would be offered certain long titles which would test the nerves of the court's master of ceremony during imperial sessions.
My personal hero Oda Nobunaga from the Taira family-tree was never given the title with the word 'Shogun' anywhere. What was given to him was the title that means 'Minister of the Interior', and so on (one person usually got several titles tailing his name, if he was powerful enough and/or staying so long enough). As Minister, Oda had the right to appoint people to lesser posts, the most important of which was the Governor of Kyoto -- because the Emperor stayed in this city and you by now know why someone had to look after him.
All other warlords who were beaten by Oda, and all of those who were not but didn't catch the Emperor's (or his Ministers') eye, were just called 'Lords' -- which means each and every one of them was a ruler and possessor of a province (a 'daimyo', in Japanese), which, as is always the case in feudalism, included the denizens within (that's the difference between today's term 'citizen' from the ancient word 'subject').
A Japanese warlord could be just any of your nextdoor chum, provided he was able to muster enough arsenal and men to use them and has snatched some territory for himself (more precisely, for this is a country where family is above all, for his clan). Even if His Lordship happened to be a descendant of some deceased Emperors or Princes of the Blood, so in other countries he would have been addressed to as a Duke, it didn't automatically mean a domain was available for him. He would have wished that he were belonging to England. (Click here for story and pictures of what you'd need to be a Japanese warlord.)
Appointments to lucrative political jobs were managed by the Emperor's decrees. The most powerful Lord of the day, like Oda in 1570's, had the right to write a petition addressed to the Emperor, asking for a title for someone he knew. Oda wrote such memorials in favor of Tokugawa Ieyasu, his ally at the time, who was a descendant of the Minamoto clan, traditional rival of Oda's own Taira clan.
When Oda was Minister, the Shogun was from the Ashikaga clan, an absolutely headaching crybaby named Yoshiaki. The Ashikagas were descendants of the Minamotos. De facto, Oda was the power to reckon with. But the law said even Oda had to answer to the Shogun, because as Minister (for 3 weeks) and as an overlord (for the rest of his life) he had two superiors -- the Emperor and the Great General, even though the latter only got the awesome title via his DNA alone (it was a title conferred to people for their real deeds and merits, but unfortunately it was also hereditary). Ashikaga Yoshiaki was the last Shogun of his clan. As usual, the brilliant history of a clan ended with a wholesomely incompetent weakling.
Oda Nobunaga, as far as historical records go, didn't crave imperial titles and never coveted the address of 'Shogun'. If he did, maybe he couldn't get it anyway, because he came from the Taira stock. Only those with the blood of Minamoto and Fujiwara could aspire to become Shogun, whatever the reason was (just intriques around the court, the Taira's utter defeat at Dan no Ura, the Hojo clan's stuff, and so on -- see the previous page).
In other words, the usual rap of 21st century videogamers that tell of "the three Shoguns" of 16th century Japan has its foundation laid in absolute neverland. Any mention of more than one Shogun on any single date on the Japanese calendar is, I'm so sorry to say, bull.
All through the 'Warring States' or 'sengoku' period of Japanese history, there was only one Shogun each time around, and they all came from the Ashikaga clan.
The Ashikagas were the ones who started the so-called 'Warring States' period. The end of the 'Warring States', according to most historians, was when Oda Nobunaga kicked Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki out of the Nijo Palace of Kyoto and didn't bother to put someone else on the seat and didn't take the seat himself either. This was 1573.
But the real-life war wasn't over just because historians say it was. Wars kept raging on in Japan until the Osaka castle was turned into debris by the Tokugawas in 1615.
& Rap © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001,
Sources I tapped for this page: Nihon Shakai no Kazoku teki Kosei (Tokyo: 1948); Kono Shozo, Kokumin Dotoku Yoron (Tokyo: 1935); Anesaki Masaharu, Nichiren, the Buddhist Prophet (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1916); Robert Cornell Armstrong, Light from the East, Studies of Japanese Confucianism (University of Toronto, Canada, 1914); Sasama Yoshihiko, Nihon kassen zuten (Yuzankaku, 1997); William Aston, Shinto: The Way of the Gods (London: Longmans, Green, 1905); Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946); Charles Eliot, Japanese Buddhism (London, 1935); Futaki Kenichi, Chuusei buke no saho (Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1999); Kiyooka Eichii, The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi (Tokyo, Hokuseido Press, 1934); Konno Nobuo, Kamakura bushi monogatari (Kawade shobo shinsha, 1997); Nukariya Kaiten, The Religion of the Samurai (London: Luzac, 1913); A.L. Sadler, The Beginner's Book of Bushido by Daidoji Yuzan (Tokyo: Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, 1941); Satomi Kishio, Nichirenism and the Japanese National Principles (NY: Dutton, 1924); Suzuki D.T., Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture (Kyoto: The Eastern Buddhist Society, 1938); Henri Van Straelen, Yoshida Shoin (Leiden: Brill, 1952); Robert Bellah, Tokugawa Religion; Masaaki Takahashi, Bushi no seiritsu: Bushizo no soshutsu (Tokyo: Tokyo daigaku, 1999); Paul Akamatsu, Meiji 1868, Revolution and Counter-Revolution (Allen & Unwin, 1972); Nitobe Inazo, Bushido, The Soul of Japan (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1970); Paul Varley and Ivan Morris, The Samurai (Weidenfeld, 1970); Nakane Chie, Japanese Society (Tokyo, Tuttle, 1973); Inoguchi and Nakajima, The Divine Wind: Japanese Kamikaze Force in World War II (Hutchinson, 1959), Seki Yukihiko, Bushi no tanjo (Tokyo: NHK, 2000); Amino Yoshihiko, ed. Edojidai no mikataga kawaruho (Tokyo: Yosensha, 1998).