The warring states Japan also known as the Sengoku period is a subject close to my heart and is a subject that I hold an immense interest in. I have shied away from writing an article on it out of fear of not doing it justice, as I am still an incompetent historian who needs a lot more experience under his belt.
To understand the causes of the warring clans it is necessary to have at least some idea of the government of Japan at the time. The Japanese “Warring States” as it is coined by many Japanese historians of today gets the title from its entirely unrelated Chinese counterpart “Warring States China”, also known as the “Sengoku period”. The Sengoku period (1467 – 1603) was at a time when the Japanese Emperor held all the power in the land and every clan head swore loyalty to him, the Emperor would delegate power to his Shogunate. The Shogunate was essentially a number of generals that the Emperor entrusted to oversee the military forces of Japan, but the evolution of the Japanese government saw the Shoguns (heads of the Military, or generalissimo) gaining more political, military and economic strength. The growth in the Shoguns strength is largely to do with the fact that Japan was in constant conflict as the Daimyo (local lords) would battle each other over lands loosely controlled by the Emperor, this was more intense the further away it was from the Capital. So it was essentially paramount to have a strong military body to maintain Japans questionable peace. The increased trade with China further intensified the fighting as many of the Daimyo would fight over trade routes. The battles intensified and upon 1467 the Onin War broke out, this civil war lasted 10 years and eventually spread nationwide.
The Onin War showed the weakness of the Emperor and his governance and conflicts had continued after the end of the Onin war but the next major scale war was to take place in Toga Province (North Central Japan, Modern day Ishikawa Province). The constant battles deprived the peasants of food and unrest amongst them led to revolts and uprisings becoming commonplace these uprisings, though many were put down rather easily. As were other revolts many in the Toga Province were easily put down, the unrest and anger of the people in Toga under Masachika’s rule led the people to take bold actions, such as not paying taxes and even seizing tax revenue and land. The leader of this was the Rennyo’s sons, Rennyo who was a Buddhist monk that practiced non-violence, protested to these conflicts and provocative actions but unlike, himself Rennyo’s sons Rengo, Renko, and Rensei were much more willing to take harder actions. Masachika who had quelled many of the previous rebellions was on march away from the province to aid another Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshihisa to put an end to a rogue Baron. Whilst Masachika was away the threes sons led troops, who were mostly angry peasant, farmers and lower nobility with little military experience which numbered between 100,000 and 200,000, upon hearing this Masachika quickly returned to his castle, though several other vassal families who were also discontented with his rule joined the rebels and surrounded his castle and set it ablaze. Masachika surrounded by flames had committed seppuku (Ritual suicide). After the fall of Masachika the Togo Province became known as the “Provine of the Peasants” and remained that way for almost a century.
The success of the peasants did not go unnoticed and many of the minor lords who were sworn to vassalage of higher aristocracy (more influential lords). This pattern of the lower usurping the higher is known as the Gekokujo which translates to “low conquers high.” The first major ronin of humble beginnings who had attained the title of Daimyo was that of Hojo Soun (originally Ise Shinkuro). Soun was under the employ of the powerful Ashikaga shoguns and enjoyed the connections that came with being associated with one of the great families. Later after Soun’s sister married into the well established Daimyo family of the Imagawa, one of the more powerful families under the Ashikaga banner. The death of the head family’s leader, Yoshitada Imagawa led to an internal dispute of succession by Yoshitada’s son, Ujichika Imagawa and his cousin Oshika Norimitsu. Norimitsu was ambitious and attempted to claim the position of head of the clan by warring with Imagawa, but with Soun (still Shinkuro at this time) mediating between the two, an unsteady and short-lived peace between them was formed. Eventually, Norimitsu had attempted to assassinate Imagawa, refusing to yield the position of head of the clan to him, whilst he was bathing in his mansion bath but was cut down by Soun, this granted the position of head of the clan to Imagawa. In gratitude of his feat Imagawa granted Soun control of the Izu province, Soun worked as a constable of Suruga under Imagawa and many warriors began following him, soon Soun had enough to become an independent leader, the new power of Soun allowed him, under his new name to form the Hojo clan. Soun’s power increased enough for him to defeat a rival lord at the castle of Arai, upon his victory Soun essentially became sole ruler of the Ize province. On his death, Soun left his lands to his son Ujitsuna who expanded the Hojo lands over Kanto and Awa. Soun is thought of as the first Sengoku Period Daimyo to have founded a clan that was not from, traditional aristocracy.
The next major highlight of the Sengoku Period was that of “The Miracle of Okehazama” in which Oda Nobunaga defeated Imagawa Yoshimoto’s army of 40000 troops. After securing his home province of Owari by defeating his brother in a succession war that lasted from 1551 to 1559 and uniting the Suruga, Mikawa and Mino provinces to secure Owari’s borders. The march to Kyoto by Yoshimoto was an attempt to oust Nobunaga and remove him from any power he had. Nobunaga had been manipulating Owari’s, Shugo Yoshikane Shiba, to broker peace with the other clans. The Shugo was essentially a governor or a commander and held sway in the runnings of the Shogunate. Nobunaga’s manipulation was an attempt to control the Shogunate by using Yoshikane Shiba. The Imagawa clan had been in secret contact with Yoshimoto for a while and had warned him of Nobunaga’s ambition. “The Miracle of Okehazama” was a battle in which Nobunaga could only muster a troop of 2000 to 3000 in response to Yoshimoto’s incoming army of 40000. Yoshimoto’s advance had met small skirmishes on the way to Kyoto but with his overwhelming forces had little trouble defeating them. Nobunaga’s advisers had planned to hold out the siege but Nobunaga refused the idea claiming that an offensive was the only way to stay the enemy and ordered a counter attack. During the counter-attack, Nobunaga had sent out scouts to observe the enemy, who had reported that the Imagawa army had been resting in a small narrow area of Dengaku-Hazama. Nobunaga had set up a bunch of straw dummies, with banners and spare helmets to create the illusion of a large army within Zensho-Ji (Zensho Castle) while Nobunaga had taken his small troop to an area not far from Yoshimoto’s main camp. Then in an evening after the immense heat had caused a large thunderstorm, with the raging downpour Yoshimoto’s troops took cover, during this time Nobunaga ordered his men to deploy and once the storm had ended he ordered the advance. The attack was so swift that it had caught Yoshimoto off guard, who thought it was just a brawl between his own troops, by the time Yoshimoto had realised it was an attack he had parried a spear and was killed by a second soldier with his sword. The death of Yoshimoto had sent confusion through the ranks that had led to the army falling to Nobunaga’s punitive force. This is usually where films, novels, and stories begin as this is arguably where the war changes from a medieval society and enters into a modern one
I had planned to cover the entirety of the Sengoku period, but, in the interest of keeping the article short and engaging, I will end it here. I hope that the article has stirred interest in the Sengoku period and if it has please drop a message. My main concern, though, in all honesty, is that I have done this subject justice and that you have enjoyed it.