Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 01:15 pm
It is thought that the Japanese archipeligo was first inhabited as long ago as 50,000 years. Archaeology reveals micro-blade stone tools, an attribute of sophisticated stone knapping in the Paeleolithic period of any civilization. In the period of, roughly, 13,000 to 300 BCE, the inhabitants (very likely the direct ancestors of the current inhabitants, with the exception the large northern island of Hokkaido, homeland of the Ainu) were hunter-gatherers who supplemented their diet with inshore and lake and river fishing and fish-trapping. They developed a distinct form of pottery, known as Jomon, the name of which is leant to the entire era--the earliest Japanese era is known as the Jomon Period. In the island of Hokkaido, cord-marked pottery of the Jomon style and the evidence of wide-spread, regularly organized hunting and gathering does not appear in the Archaeological record until roughly 8000 BCE.


Jomon period pottery.

In the period 300 BCE to 300 CE, widespread agriculture first appears in Japan (by archaeological evidence, it becomes common in roughly 100 BCE). (There is some archaeological evidence of the cultivation of plants, and some disputed claims of the domestication of animals in the Jomon period--all of a nature to suggest that attempts to introduce such innovations from the Asian mainland met an indifferent response.) This period is known as the Yayoi, and new types of pottery appear, along with sophisticated means of storing rice, which appears to have come into cultivation within a very short period of time. The evidence of long-standing communication with the Korean penninsula suggests that as novel attributes of civilization were devised in Korea, or introduced there from elsewhere in east Asia, they were quickly communicated to Japan. One attribute of Japanese culture which is a constant throughout history, to the present day, is the rapid adoption and adaption of new ideas. For whatever one may allege about the inventiveness of the Japanese, their ability to refine and perfect artifacts and techniques is attested to by the archaeological record well back into the late Jomon period.

The immediately succeeding period is known as the Kofun period. This is the period in which literacy becomes widespread, and can be considered the beginning of the historical age in Japan. Archaeology remains an important investigative tool for this period, but it is considered historical archaeology, as opposed to speculative archaeology. In about 300 CE, in the Yamato region of the nation (southwest central Honshu--the "main island"--roughly equivalent to the modern Nara prefecture), a political power center arose, largely with the consent of the clans. (The clan structure seems to have been in place well before this era, although there is dispute as to whether clearly defined clan political boundaries were in place in the Jomon period, and if not, when the clan polity arose in the Yayoi period.) The politically powerful were buried in large tombs, known as kofun--hence the name of the period.


It is in this Kofun, or Yamato period, when a quasi-unified state was acheived for central and southern Honshu, and for the island of Kyushu, that the Emperor first appears. Originally, the imperial seat moved frequently from one population center to another, which some scholars believe suggestive of clan struggles to dominate the Yamato polity through control of the Emperor. The historical record asserts that the Soga clan took political control of Yamato Japan, and the Emperor was relegated to the role of political figurehead and "high priest" (priest is not actually a Japanese concept) of the Shinto rituals. Close relations with Korea resulted in the introduction of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism into Japan, of which the later was the most pervasive influence, being actively promoted by the newly arising aristocracy of the clans--and Prince Shotoku was in particular credited with the promotion of Buddhism. From the Nihongi, the earliest extensive historical document in Japanese history:

The great cultural hero of early Japanese history was the Imperial Prince Mumayado no Toyotomimi who, with the ruling name Shotoku, became regent under his mother, Empress Suiko. His greatest legacy to Japanese history was the Seventeen Article Constitution which spelled out the philosophic and religious principles on which Japanese Imperial government would be based. In line with his foundational role in Japanese political identity, his birth, like that of Buddha, is a miraculous birth: born without pain, he speaks as an adult from the moment of his birth.

Shotoku obviously was quickly elevated to the dignity of semi-mythological being in the eyes of the Japanese. His formalization of imperial ethics and procedure, for whatever the reliability of his hagiography, were very real, however, and informed the mechanism of the Japanese polity until the mid-19th century. The influence of the Soga clan begins to wane immediately at this time, and the traditional date for the introduction of Buddhism--538 CE--is also given as the end of the Kofun or Yamato period, and the end of the power of the Soga clan. Although there is little evidence of any wide-spread strife such as characterized the warring states and the autumn periods in early Chinese history, there was a definite hiatus of concentrated power for more than a century. In 645 CE, Nakatomi no Kamatari established the authority of the Fujiwara clan, which endured for more than three centuries, until the rise of the militaro-social phenonmenon of the Samurai in the eleventh century.


A set of Samurai armor from the "classic period" of the Bushi.

The Samurai (also known as Bushi) were originally a warrior class, and were primarily used as privately employed mercenaries by the great clans. The Samurai were in existence as early as the Yamato period, but it is not until the Heian period at the dawn of the ninth century that the basically Confucian code of the Samurai, the Bushido, with it's stress on personal loyalty and a fanatical dedication to concepts of honor were first systematically exploited for political purposes. By the eleventh century, the Fujiwara had lost their influence, and another hiatus of political power ensued, until the rise of the Taira and Minamoto clans, clans organized on a military basis, and reliant upon the increasing fanaticism of the Bushi in competing bids for the supreme power in Japan. In 1185, Minamoto Yoritomo definitively defeated the Taira, and as supreme military commander--Shogun--became the ruler of most of what is modern Japan. However, the Minamoto failed to establish a successful dynasty, and the subsequent Muromachi Period (1333 - 1573) saw many clans competing for dominance, and reliant upon the Samurai or Bushi class to provide the military means for the accomplishment of their ambitions. Japan was then truly sunk into a warring states period, every bit as intense and destructive as that which had taken place in China thousands of years before.

And it is from this point, that i will take up my tale . . .
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Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 02:01 pm
What tale?
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Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 03:32 pm
The tale of Nobunaga's ambition . . . stay tuned, we'll be right back after these messsages . . .
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Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 04:51 pm
In the early 14th century, the Emperor Go-Daigo, relying upon the support of powerful Bushi leaders, re-established imperial power in Kyoto in 1333. The old imperial administration, however, had been inefficient and corrupt, and had long passed its ability to administer the islands effectively in the face of population growth and the rising power of clan leaders using Bushi warriors. In 1336, Ashikaga Takauji, who had previously lead imperial forces, turned on Go-Daigo, and ran him out of Kyoto. Go-Daigo established a new capital south of Kyoto, and Ashikaga used the scion of another branch of the imperial family, involved in a succession dispute since the days of the Emperor Go-Saga more than sixty years previously. In 1338, Ashikaga declared himself Shogun (supreme military commander) and established a relatively efficient bureaucracy in the Muromachi district of Kyoto. His government and this entire period of of Japanese history took its name from that District--the Muromachi period. Although the southern court frequently succeeded in capturing Kyoto and putting it to the torch, the more efficient administration of the northern court of the Ashikagas prevented the southern court from solidifying their conquests and establishing their authority. Finally, in 1392, the southern court capitulated, and the imperial court was reunited in Kyoto, and the succession dispute was ended, with the Ashikaga shogunate still secure. The Ashikaga's administrative efficiency had lead to both manageable population increase and encouraged improvements in agriculture which supported the new population. New social classes emerged from the need to create an efficient administration, as sort of nascent middle class. The Ashikagas established a healthy trade with Ming China, and a small but wealthy consumer economy emerged.


The Shogun, Ashikaga Takauji.

But in the 15th and 16th centuries, the influence of the Ashikaga shoguns and the government in Kyoto declined, and eventually became impotent. Their very success was their undoing, as the more efficient administration and the rise of a small commercial, administrative and military middle class made it possible for the old clans to reassert local authority while providing the goods and trade demanded by the Samurai class. The large-holding clans had many of them become military families, ji-samurai--the clan leaders created themselves a new class of rulers, the Daimyos. Long cooperation with the Ashikaga provincial constables gave them the expertise they needed to supplant the Shogun's officials, and the Bushido, the code of the Bushi, or Samurai, tended to accumulate military loyalty with those who dispensed the largesse necessary to attract and keep militarily capable officers--that is to say, the Samurai devoted themselves to local Daimyo they recognized and knew well, rather than a distant Shogun whom they mistrusted. Often described as feudal lords, i think the term an inappropriate imposition of a European concept. While it is true that successful Samurai officers were granted incomes (calculated in koku, or "bushels" of rice, levied from the local harvest, or promoted to hatamoto and given control of and a percentage of the tribute of a district, these men did not hold the lands themselves as of right, which is the key characteristic of the European feudal system. They could be dismissed, they could be ordered to commit seppuku upon an accusation of cowardice or military incompetence, they could be turned out of their livings and their districts upon the death of a Daimyo without a secure succession, or the defeat of the Daimyo in warfare. They could become ronin, to lurk in in the hills as bandits, or to humble themselves to other Samurai or Daimyos, seeking employment. These Daimyo exerted control over the provinces of Japan, and fought the civil wars known as the Sengoku jidai, a new warring states period. In the northeast, the clans Takeda, Uyesugi and Hojo became the most powerful from their military success, cotrolling lesser Daimyo through intimidation. In the southwest, the Ouchi, Mori and Hosokawa held sway.


A view of Kyoto from the Meiji period, mid-1850's.

In 1542, the Portugese first established trading depots in Kyushu at Nagasaki, and Jesuit missionaries were not far behind them. Francis Xavier arrived in 1548, and in 1549-50, he undertook a mission of conversion in Kyoto. Although not successful in converting the imperial family or the shadow administration of the now impotent shogunate, nevertheless, Christianity became yet another pawn in the struggle for dominance. The great Daimyo of the West were avid for the trade goods of the Europeans . . . and for their firearms.



In 1534, a lesser clan leader, a regional Daimyo, Oda Nobuhide, had a son at Shobata castle, in the Owari district northeast of Kyoto. He named this new son of the Oda clan Nobunaga. This is the tale of the ambition of Oda Nobunaga, and where it would lead Japan.
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Merry Andrew
Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 05:07 pm
Patiently waiting for the next installment. When does Tokugawa [Sp?] appear?
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Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 06:06 pm
Merry Andrew wrote:
Patiently waiting for the next installment. When does Tokugawa [Sp?] appear?

Damn it, MA, don't jump the gun. Matsudaira Motoyasu and Oda Nobunaga formed an alliance in 1561. Matsudaira Motoyasu would later take the name Tokugawa Ieyasu. But that ain't come around on the guitar yet, so just keep yer shirt on . . .
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Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 11:01 pm
First, two notes about this narrative: The Japanese sources which i have consulted to "fact-check" this narrative refer to the areas i will name both as districts, and provinces--i will use province as i believe it will give the English speaker an accurate picture of the type of region to which i refer. I believe most English speakers would consider a district to be a rather small area--while there were only about fifty such regions in the three southern islands of Japan in the 16th century, much more provinces than districts.

The second point is about the term "Nobunaga's ambition." This expression has become a commonplace in the history of this era in Japan. It is used in songs and plays from the era, in the titles of books, and even in popular contemporary video games. It is such a stock phrase in Japanese history, that i'm enjoying myself by deploying it here.



The Ujikami-jinja Shinto shrine at Kyoto.

Oda Nobuhide was, ostensibly, the Daimyo of Owari province. However, to his north was the wealthy and powerful province of Mino, controlled by the Daimyo Saito Dosan. To the east, the powerful leader of clan Imagawa, Imagawa Yoshimoto, controlled Mikawa, Totoumi and Suruga provinces. The area of Ise, Owari, Mikawa, Totoumi and Suruga, from southwest to northeast, represents the east central coastal region of the main island of Honshu--the Pacific coast--and Owari corresponds to the area around the modern Japanese city of Nagoya. Across the mountains to the southwest of Owari and Ise lay the province of Oumi, and the ostensible capital at Kyoto on the southern end of Lake Biwa. To the west of Ise lay Yamato, the home of the Japan's earliest governments at the very beginning of the historical era, the Kofun period. Owari was at the southwest end of an agriculturally rich area bewteen Kyoto and the mountainous regions to the northeast where the clans Takeda and Uyesugi held sway--clan Hojo, although still militarily powerful, was then in its decline.

Nobuhide could, therefore, just manage to hold his own against the Imagawa threat to the east, but he could not seize the northern marches of Owari, where clan Saito held sway from their base in Mino--largely because of constant feuding within clan Oda. The agricultural and commercial wealth of Mino was greater, and clan Saito long a powerful and competent power in this most important region. But Nobuhide was politically adroit (a trait which, although not immediately evident in Nobunaga, would prove to be his greatest asset in his short but amazing career)--he married his adolescent son Nobunaga to Saito Dosan's daughter in 1549, overcoming Dosan's misgivings, as Nobunaga had a reputation as a hellion, what we might call a juvenile deliquent. With the northern marches, a rich region, now in hand, Nobuhide was now able to quell the rivalry within clan Oda, and turn to the east to confront Imagawa and his powerful forces in Mikawa.


A near-contemporary Japanese image of Imagawa Yoshimoto.

Mikawa rankled under the Imagawa domination from Totoumi to the east. The clan Matsudaira was not militarily powerful, but respected and influential in Mikawa. Matsudaira Hirotada had spent his life battling both clan Oda and clan Imagawa, to keep Mikawa free. In 1543, his son Takechiyo was born. Hirotada faced the same situation as Oda Nobuhide--he represented on faction of clan Matsudiara, that which preferred alliance with clan Oda, the other faction of the clan betting on the power of Imagawa. Quixotically, Hirotada went against the wishes of his branch of the clan and decided to joing with Imagawa. Shortly after Nobuhide had made his alliance with the powerful Saito Dosan, he managed the greatest coup of his career--he captured the boy Matsudaira Takechiyo as he was being sent to Imagawa as a hostage. But his glory was to be short-lived, in 1549 he died, leaving his eldest son, Nobuhiro in charge. Matsudaira Hirotada had died shortly before, and now both clan Oda and clan Matsudaira were effectively leaderless. Imagawa Yoshimoto struck quickly, and sending Imagawa Sessai into Mikawa, that province was overrun, and Owari invaded. Sessai defeated Oda Hobuhiro, and secured the person of Matsudaira Takechiyo, who was removed to Totoumi, where he grew up in exile. The resentment of clan Matsudaira simmered, and the factions were now unified, apprehensive about the loss of support from clan Oda, and growing to hate the pretensions of clan Imagawa.


This image of Nagoya Jyo--Nagoya castle--is of an ancient Owari fortess of clan Oda preseverd to the present day.

In Owari, clan Oda faced a similar situation. The factionalism which had threatened the clan under the strong leadership of Nobuhide disappeared under the weak leadership of Nobuhiro as it became apparent to clan Oda that they faced oblivion. Because Nobunaga had played the deliquent for so long, and had behaved badly at the funeral of his father Nobuhide, the third son Nobuyuki became the hope of the clan. When Imagawa Sessai had defeated the Oda, Nobuhiro had been made a hostage, and Nobunaga, just seventeen, had been obliged to agree to Imagawa terms to secure the release of his elder brother, then the clan leader. Nobunaga's position has sunk as low as it could possibly have reached. Imagawa Yoshimoto was astute, and Matsudaira Takechiyo was well treated, and well raised. When he reached his majority in 1556 (with his father dead, such an early entry in to manhood was not considered unusual in Japanese society of the time--parallels in European history are numerous). He changed his name to Matsudaira Motoyasu, and his release from Imagawa control was secured on the basis of his agreement to lead the forces of Mikawa into Owari against clan Oda. At Terabe, Motoyasu defeated the forces of clan Oda and won a name for himself. When Oda Nobuhiro died shortly after, although the clan favored the younger Nobuyuki, Nobunaga made himself the clan leader by relying on the support of the Saito clan of Mino, and old retainers of his father who demonstrated better judgment about the character of the claimants to clan leadership. Largely, Owari and clan Oda disapproved of the choice, but with the old Daimyo's best military men at his back, Nobunaga made good on his claim.

Meanwhile, on the strength of Motoyasu's new-found military fame and the dominance of the men of Mikawa in Imagawa's western army, clan Matsudaira demanded greater autonomy. As Imagawa held Motoyasu's wife and family hostage, he agreed. In 1560, Imagawa Yoshimoto finally succumbed to hubris, and marched with what was then a fairly large army--perhaps as many as 20,000--on Kyoto itself. Matsudaira Motoyasu and the men of Mikawa succeeded immediately in their first mission, taking the gateway fortress of Marune. But Motoyasu held back, in line with the sentiment of the Mikawa contingent, and Imagawa Yoshimoto was defeated in a very bloody battle at Okehazama, and died on the field. The great power of Imagawa in Japan plummeted, but their hold on Mikawa was still secured through hostages, not the least of whom were Motoyasu's wife and family. In 1561, therefore, Motoyasu concluded a secret agreement with Oda Nogubnaga to ally against the forces of Imagawa and the province of Totoumi. Motoyasu proved his loyalty to his new ally by taking the Imagawa fortress of Kaminojo, and taking hostage the commander, Udono Nagamochi. Imagawa Ujizane, who had succeeded his father Yoshimoto, was far less politically astute, and decided that clan Udono were more important vassals, and, incredibly, released the Matsudaira and Mikawa hostages in return for the release of Udono Nagamochi. In a single stroke, Motoyasu had achieved freedom of action and secured the complete loyalty of the military men of Mikawa. This he cemented by leading them in a pacification of Mikawa, and the distribution of land and castles.


This castle, one of the Takeda castles in the region to the northeast of Owari and Mikawa, is a better representation of a strong military outpost.

Oda Nobunaga remained a cypher, and seemed the junior partner in the relationship. It seemed that Matsudaira Motoyasu was more the prop for Nobunaga than the reverse. Oda, however, was quietly eliminating powerful rivals in clan Oda, by assassination more often than outright conflict, and by redistributing lands and castles to his father's former officers, much as Motoyasu was doing in Mikawa.



All of this would nothing more than a dull and confusing story of petty clan warfare on the Pacific coast of Japan . . . were it not for Nobunaga's ambition . . .
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Samaire A
Reply Mon 28 Nov, 2005 07:59 pm
that part of Japanese history is quite interesting.
But it's a pity he died on his way in 1582.
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Merry Andrew
Reply Mon 28 Nov, 2005 09:55 pm
I'm a-gonna save this whole thread when you're done with it, Set. Most concise, yet all-inclusive, recap of the Shogunate period in Japanese history I've read yet.
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Reply Mon 28 Nov, 2005 10:10 pm
You are both very kind for your remarks. That last post required about four hours of my time. I think i'll need about three or four more to cover Nobunaga, and then another four or five for Ieyasu, plus at least one, maybe two, on life in Japan in the 16th century, and relations with the Portugese and the Christians--so it will still take me awhile to finish this.
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Reply Tue 29 Nov, 2005 10:43 am

A warrior of clan Takeda, from the early 16th century.

In 16th century Japan, the economic system, the system of commercial trade, the social system, the military system--all aspects of the culture were referential to the personal power of the lord whom one served. As the rather confusing narrative of the rise of Matsudaira Motoyasu and Oda Nobunaga demonstrates, all such relationships were fluid, and the individual's personality and abilities determined more than anything else the loyalties which that individual could command. This period is often referred to as the feudal period, and the system in place is often referred to as feudalism. But those are European concepts, and the analogy breaks down completely with any detailed study of the political and social history of Japan. A weak king in Europe was a king nonetheless, and political and social intrigue revolved around that fact. Most monarchs and aristocrats held their land as of right, and even the failure to defend one's territory militarily did not necessarily vacate the claim. But the concept of political and military power in 16th century Japan (and for much of the millenium which had lead up to that period) was such that "might makes right" was enshrined, and no permanent rights in land or authority were recognized. Retainer is as good a description as one can have of the powerful members of the Bushi (or Samurai) who served any particular lord, and their loyalty was completely contingent upon the continuing benefits of service, and the continuing competence of the rule of the individual served. Therefore, Oda Nobuhide could not quell discontent and opposition within clan Oda so long as the northern marches of Owari remained in the control of clan Saito. Matsudaira Hitotada decided to adhere to and support Imagawa Yoshimoto, despite the opposition of much (likely most) of the population of Mikawa and almost all of clan Matsudaira--consequently, his authority was diminished, and wasted away to nothing in the years when his son came of age in Imagawa captivity. Matsudaira Motoyasu demonstrated himself to be militarily competent, to be a clever negotiator, which, along with successful deceit was a highly respected trait--his coup in securing the release of his family and the Mikawa hostages in exchange for the single Udono retainer of the Imagawa Daimyo raised his stock in clan Matsudaira and Mikawa in general enormously. For these reasons, the tenuous grip on authority which Oda Nobunaga was able to exercise in the early 1560s makes all the more remarkable his later and sudden rise to near supreme power in Japan. A look at how life was lived in Japan in that era is therefore in order.


This is an image of a gold coin is that of the coinage of clan Takeda, from late in the 15th century. This coin is one ryu, about 15 grams, or half an ounce. Clan Takeda, ruling from the small and somewhat poor province of Kai, also controlled the province of Shinano to the north, a modestly wealthy province, but also the richest gold producing region in Japan.


The economic standard of Japan in that era was the koku--variously translated in Japanese sources as a "bushel" or a "bale" of rice, it represented the amount of rice which an adult would need to live on for one year. (Many modern sources seem to agree that this was equivalent to about 180 litres of rice.) Although what the exact amount would be might vary somewhat from region to region, it is unlikely that there was as much of a variation as that between units of European coinage at that time. If a Daimyo in the island of Shokaku spoke of a village of one thousand koku, the worth of that village would be apparent to someone living many hundreds of miles away in northern Honshu. At that time, the agricultural sophistication of the Japanese peasant was such that the islands could feed themselves--but just barely. Therefore, local or regional surpluses or shortages could cause the price of rice to fluctuate wildly, with the highest prices offered reaching as much as three times that of the lowest prices. Speculation was common, although it was more like gambling--even a minor Bushi officer could likely command sufficient "tribute" from "his" village to play the market a little--success could mean a temporary affluence, or at least an ostentation which sould suggest wealth, even if more apparent than real.


Rice stalks stacked to dry in a field in contemporary Japan--method has changed little over the centuries.

The Japanese are an amazing nation if one considers the simple question of rice. For the millenium from the late Yamato period to the period under consideration here, the population of Japan rose to the limit of the capacity to produce rice. This balance was maintained without significant famines, and a lot of the reason was the ethos which the Japanese developed at all levels of society. Noting was wasted, the rice stalks (or rice "straw") was as assiduously collected, and used to produce a wide variety of products from sandals woven or rice straw to paper for the most delicate works of caligraphy. The rice as food was never to be wasted, and great value came to be placed on self-discipline, self-denial and frugality. Although rice was delivered by the farmers as "tribute," there was rarely much of a surplus in the islands as a whole, and what there was in the way of surplus was carefully preserved. One significant archaeological find in the pre-history of Japan was the remarkably carefully designed storage for rice--above ground in some cases, carefully lined when "in-ground" or underground, with detailed attention paid to keeping out both moisture as well as insects and rodents. Long before merchants began to proliferate with the robust trade carried on with Ming China during the Ashikaga shogunate, rice factors had become an important independent class in Japan. Almost all of the speculation in the rice market was the exchange of existent wealth, and the eventual destination of almost all rice was someone's belly, within the year suceeding the harvest.


This image of a contemporary handcart in use in China gives a good idea of the princple form of transport used in Japan in the 16th century.

In both Sun Tsu's The Art of War and Caesar's Gallic War Commentaries the importance of logistics is stressed, and Caesar begins the account of each campaign with a notice of the measures he took to secure grain for the legions. In Japan, it was impossible to wage warfare on any sustained basis or for any large force without first carefully husbanding rice and providing for its transport. The need to secure one's logistical support had a more profound effect on regional warfare in Japan than would have been the case in Europe. During the wars of the Reformation, Charles V with his armies of Spanish tercios could neglect to pay his men, and then simply stand aside while they pillaged for their pay. The army would feed off the countryside, and the peasants be damned. The Japanese, however, tended to leave peasants unmolested. Any large force in Japan in this era depended in large measure on peasant levies to supply the infantry (usually pikemen), and everyone understood the necessity to leave the farmer in peace to assure the harvest. When Matsudiara Motoyasu joined Imagawa Yoshimoto's expedition against Kyoto, he lead his men from Mikawa to the assault of one of the mountain "barrier fortresses" of Oumi. But he did not then proceed to Kyoto to join Imagawa in the battle which would cost that Daimyo his life. This can be seen not only as a policy decision on his part, but as well, a realistic appreciation of the need to get his Mikawa peasants home as soon as possible, with as few casualties as possible, to assure his future influence and prosperity. It is doubtful that Imagawa would have provided all or even any of the rations which Matsudaira would have needed for his forces--returning home after a quick success not only burnished his glory, it kept down his costs, enabling him to secure the loyalty of his retainers and the peasants through his largesse.


This modern recreation (note that the rider wears glasses) could stand for the image of the Daimyo travelling his province, with his officers walking at his side.

Neither livestock for slaughter nor beasts of burden were common in Japan (and hence, the reliance upon handcarts). Horses were an expensive import, and were not commonly used as beasts of burden--in the warring states period their military value when combined with the expense of obtaining and maintaining cavalry remounts meant that almost all horses in Japan were used for that military purpose. What limited arable land might be available for producing fodder was not going to be dedicated to that purpose just so a minor samurai or a peasant wouldn't have to walk. Only the higher ranking officers and the Daimyo and his immediate household retainers of high rank could expect to ride into battle. The highest levels of society and wealthy merchants might use carriages--but once again, horses were too expensive and fodder too much of a demand on the limited agricultural resources for this to be common. In all things, the successful Japanese lord paid heed to the need for moderation and the careful deployment and use of resources. The image should be emerging of the need for a successful Daimyo to be the master of many talents, or to effectively secure and retain the services of those who could supply such needs.


A modern recreation of a traditional Japanese carriage.
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Reply Thu 1 Dec, 2005 01:31 am

A rather fanciful modern image of Nobunaga as Samurai warrior, inspired by 16th Century artistic style in Japan.

I've already discussed the Bushi, or Samurai class, but some further remarks are in order. Mid-sixteenth century Japan had a population of approximately 30,000,000--a tribute to the management of their agricultural resources. Of that number, no more than (and perhaps not as many as) 2,000,000 were of this class. When one takes into account the female portion of that population, as well as the males too young for active campaigning (it would be rare indeed for a male of that class to consider himself too old for that), and finally the relatively large number employed in administrative posts, the number available for active military service in the armies more than forty major Daimyos was sufficiently small that peasant levies for the infantry and for "support services" (principally for transport, and the preparation and distribution of rations) were a necessity. (There were more than 250 Daimyo in Japan at the time--but only slightly more than forty of them rose to the level of great lords, controlling at least one province--a few might lay claim to more than one, but the trials already described in Mikawa under Imagawa domination show that few lords would necessarily be equal to such a task.) Although upwards of half a million Samurai class men of an age for campaigning would be available, a very large proportion were involved in administrative functions, the Daimyo having used their personally loyal retainers to replace the functions of the "constables" of the Ashikaga Shugunate in the Muromachi period. These men would be engaged in policing; the collection, recording and redistribution of the agricultural production of a province; in the administration of justice; in the administration of towns and cities; in the command of permanent garrisons. As was the case with the feudal levy in Europe, this meant that the campaigning season was restricted by the need to leave farmers undisturbed during planting season and the harvest. It also meant that the expensive cavalry could be the deciding factor in battles, as the infantry could be unreliable except under the best of leadership.


A Japanese image of a Samurai warrior from the "Edo period."

So when considering the importance of the Bushi, it is important to look beyond the battlefield to the functions of the "court." A competent and generous Daimyo who carefully chose which retainers were put in positions of responsiblity would be more certain of an effective administration, which meant more wealth accumulated, and might mean more wide-spread support outside the clan and the Samurai class. A high degree of intelligence and technical skill was called for in the flood-control system. Flooding could wipe out the rice crop and any large-scale fodder growing operations to support horses. Controlled "flooding" was a necessity for the cultivation of the rice. With the threat of earthquake a constant in Japanese life, the effective Daimyo's administration needed to be prepared for disaster relief and fire-fighting. With both ninja and the Amida Tong (an organized crime syndicate, originally from China, ostensibly deriving from Buddhism, but dedicated to assassination) available for covert operations, effective policing was also a necessity. All of which should point to the many talents which the effective overlord would need to master, or to assure that his collective retainers could deal with. At the very least, a Daimyo had to be a shrewd and effective judge of character to attain and maintain power.



A modern image of a rice paddy on Kyushu, immediately after the spring planting--still performed by hand. This is as it has appeared for millenia.

It is estimated in that in the Tokugawa Shogunate (after the period we are discussing), the average annual rice production was twenty-five million koku. As has already been mentioned, a koku was sufficient to feed one adult for one year. With a population of 30,000,000 in Japan at that time, even after factoring in the number of children in the population, it ought to be evident that there would be little surplus in any given year. AS was true in Europe until well after the French revolution, starvation stared the peasants in the face in any year of a bad harvest. Therefore, effective agriculture and effective storage were crucial. I've already mentioned that, unlike Europe, the Japanese were careful not to harm the farming peasants in their wars. In fact, the farmers were held in higher esteem than anyone except the Samurai class. But rice culture is back-breaking work, and the "tribute" demanded by the Daimyo was usually on the order of 50%. In bad years, only the more astute Daimyo might reduce their demands, and to meet the need to assure the livelihood of their principle retainers, that would mean that they would need to redistribute rice in the countryside after the traditional tribute had been collected. Few Daimyo were sufficiently provident to have laid in the necessary stores for such a distribution of largesse to the farmers, and although prohibited by custom or law from leaving the land, farmers or their sons might flee to the larger cities, seeking anonymity in the crowd, in hard times. The alternative was to slowly starve while others around them ate.


The final resting place of Masamune, arguably the most famous of Japanese swordsmiths (14th Century).

Crafstpeople and merchants were often indistinguishable, as the craftsman stood to gain the most by selling his own production without a middleman. The only large, exclusively mercantile classes were the rice factors and the sellers of silk. Although technically being of very low status, good craftsmen were appreciated for the products which were in demand by the Samurai class--with swordsmiths accorded the highest regard. Merchants were socially viewed with a scorn similar to that which aristocrats in Europe have been famously known for--but just as in the European situation, their crucial economic function trumped mere snobbery. This became more the case during the Muromachi period immediately preceeding the period under discussion, as a lively trade was opened and maintained with Ming China. The arrival of the Portuguese in Kyushu heightened the value of trade--they were far more efficient at transporting goods by sea than the Chinese smugglers (Imperial regulation prohibited Chinese from trading overseas--technically, any Chinese sailing with goods to another country was a criminal). They also worked another revolution in trade. They had started a small scale trade in opium in China. Officially, the Chinese only accepted silver in payment for their goods--Chinese smugglers had always made the Japanese pay through the nose. The Portuguese could offer silk and silk cloth at much lower prices, because they purchased with a mix of opium and silver, and they already understood the commerical value of "dumping," i.e., intentionally undercutting your competitor to drive them out of business, even if it lower one's profit. Silver had long since been mostly mined out of known sources in China--Japan was, relatively speaking, awash in silver--by Chinese standards, at least, Japanese silver ought to have been cheap. The Portuguese understood the equation right away, and took advantage of it. They also introduced a new line of products to Japan which were to have a profound influence, especially in the life of Oda Nobunaga--gunpowder and firearms. Firearms had appeared in Japan via China quite a long time before the Portuguese arrived, but they were firelocks of the lowest quality, frequently exploded when one attempted to use them, and had garnered a bad reputation for black-powder weapons among the Samurai. The Portuguese offered a better quality product, and cannon as well--Nobunaga was to be the first to recognize this, understanding not only the quality of the weapon available, but its potential if intelligently used by an army in the field.


The Japanese view of Europeans is not necessarily one which would flatter.


Religion never played the role in Japan that it did in Europe. The arrival of Buddhism did not unseat Shinto, and, officially at least, Shinto took no notice of Buddhism. Which is not to say that there was no controversy, and no strife. Apart from the Amida "Buddhists" already mentioned, Buddhist monastaries in Japan often took politically militant positions, and sought to influence secular events. In particular, the temple on Mount Hiei near Kyoto was a force for strife in Japanese society. Founded by a Chinese monk late in the eighth century, and only modestly endowed initially, it became influential for a rather perverse reason. In the last decade of the eighth century, the Confucian emperor, Kammu, moved the capital to Kyoto, precisely because he found the influence of the Buddhists annoying. He unwittingly set the stage thereby for the rise to an overweening power by the unprepossessing monastary associated with the temple on Mount Hiei. Kammu decided he liked Saicho, the Chinese Buddhist who had established the temple, and sent him to China in the early ninth century for further study, with the result that Saicho brought back to Japan the teachings of the Tien T'ai school of Buddhism, known in Japan as the Tendai. The adherents were often militant proselytisers, and they spread through administrative positions in the Imperial court, and later became the most influential group in the Muromachi district during the Ashikaga Shogunate. The best of the Mount Hiei monks likely remained near the temple--but by the time that Nobunaga rose to power, there were literally thousands of these Mahayana Buddhists throughout Oumi, working assiduously to maintain their influence despite the collapse of the Ashikaga Shogunate. Many of these monks had become Sohei, warrior monks. In 1571, Nobunaga burned the Mount Hiei temple to the ground, and proscribed the Mahayana Buddhists.


Nothing remains of the temple destroyed by Nobunaga--this shrine is of much later date, but is still the object of pilgramage by modern Buddhists.

With the Portuguese came Christianity. Although the Jesuits came with the Portuguese, and convinced the Japanese to prohibit any other religious orders in Japan, some Portuguese and Spanish monks managed to get into Japan and spread their own versions of "the Word." The Jesuits showed little interest in proselytizing, other than among the highest orders of the Samurai and the Daimyo (a sensible policy, if left unchallenged, it might have resulted in a large number of Christian Japanese). But the monks who entered Japan on an ostensibly illegal basis, proselytized among the farmers and the craftsman classes, and the result was often strife between them and their Buddhist or Shinto neighbors. This disgusted many of the Daimyo and Samurai, who considered that all strife should be limited to their own internecine squabbles. The eventual result was the complete prohibition of Christianity in Japan.
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Reply Mon 5 Dec, 2005 06:32 am

A contemporary image of Portuguese "barbarians" in Nagasaki.

The Portuguese traders and Jesuits gave a name to the era in which they had influence in Japan, and the region in which they operated--the Nanban, meaning southern barbarian. The name is sometimes applied to the period of their influence in Kyushu (at Nagasaki) and southern Honshu (at Sakai--an important port in the previous Ming trade), and was also used contemptuously by contemporary Daimyos to refer to those who had adopted western customs or had converted to Christianity. The Jesuits tended to convert by insinuation rather than enthusiastic proselytizing, and were devoted to intellectualism, so that their converts were usually of the higher levels the Samurai and among some of the Daimyos. Their successes were in Kyushu and southern Honshu, and to a lesser extent, in Shikoku. Both Nobunaga and Motoyasu lived in a region of Honshu in which the "southern barbarians" were viewed with suspicion, and the Christians were held in contempt. The European Christians most likely to be seen were renegade monks, and were viewed contemptuously for their filthy personal appearance and habits, and for their demeanor. That they were willing to move among the lowest, most despised classes, and that they welcomed martyrdom (seen as a sign of poor mental health) only increased the contempt with which they were viewed. Militant Buddhism also viewed the Christians with alarm, and actively campaigned against their creed and their activities. For many in Japan who already viewed the militant Buddhists as an unacceptable social and political factor, the arrival of Christians and the consequent turmoil represented a dangerous precedent. To the extent that militant Buddhism was a relatively recent phenomenon, they were correct in viewing the influence of religious dogmas in Japanese society as a novelty, and felt justified in condemning it. The eventual effect of active Christian proselytizing and what was seen as consequent strife was the severe restriction of foreigners in Japan and the proscription of Christianity during the Tokugawa Shogunate.


A nineteenth century European style engraving of Uyesugi Kenshin.

A final note on sects is in order, and proves to be the most crucial. There was yet another Buddhist sect, the Ikko-Ikki (usually simply referred to as the Ikko sect), who were more militant yet than the Mahayana Buddhists. The latter, were, after all, only protecting the influence they had gained through their association with imperial administration in the Muromachi period. The Ikki were a militant sect of warrior monks who, with the great growth of their influence in the 15th century, had taken sides is the political struggles of the great Daimyos, and, in particular, the struggle between clans Takeda and Uyesugi. They had created mass appeal through their acceptance of accolytes without a requirement of long study, asceticism or withdrawl from the world. Believers in the Amida Buddha, they were not, however, members of the Amida sect which had come from China, and who were associated with assassins. (It might help to point out that Amida is simply a term for the most "enlightened" or paramount form of the Buddha--its association with assassins and warriors monks is purely a result of the peculiarities of the Buddhist adherents of China and Japan who went in such directions.) "Ikki" means a league, an inoccuous enough definition, but it can also mean a mob or a riot, and the double entendre was neither a coincidence nor was it obscure to contemporaries. The Ikko often used mob violence by peasants as a political tool, and this becomes crucially important at the end of the period of their influence, when such mob violence (firmly associated in the minds of Samurai as the characteristic of the Ikko sect at that point) was directed against any influence or innovation of the "southern barbarians" (whom we would know as Westerners). In particular, the center of the ferment against foreign influences, directed at Daimyos seen as enemies of Ikko-Ikki, was Ishiyama Honganji, a great fortress. Kosa, often called Honganji Kosa, was the abbott of the great monastary fortress, and would defend it against Nobunaga, calling upon his relation by marriage, Uyesugi Kenshin, for aid. Ikko adherents from far and wide were called to the defense, but the Ikko had sufficiently alienated the Daimyos that their appeals fell on deaf ears, and peasants who might have rallied to the Ikko cause were unable to join together--the popular movement fell apart in the face of Daimyo and Bushi opposition. Bothe Takeda Shingen and Uyesugi Kenshin, the natural enemies of Oda Nobunaga and Matsudaira Motoyasu, were willing to stand aside, or even to aid in the destruction of the Ikko.


The Ishiyama Honganji fortress was later restored, but without its great walls.


But this is the period in which Nobunaga's ambition began to assert itself, the period in which Nobunaga suddenly began to display his mature personality after so many years of youthful and contrary self-indulgence. Nobunaga was to demonstrate clearly a very un-Japanese trait--the ability to stand outside his culture, and to view it dispassionately, taking the best tools available to him in both Japanese culture and European trade and ideas to further his ambition.
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