58| Second part of — 22 Sengoku Period History (戦国時代歴史) 

Chapter 58 is a detailed part of chapter 22 Sengoku Period History.  Please read chapter 22 Sengoku Period History before reading this chapter.

0-timeline - size 24 Sengoku Period
        The circle indicate the time we are discussing in this section

Chapter 22 Sengoku Period History explained how we separated the timeline based on political history and sword history.  The center timeline above shows the Sengoku Period (戦国時代) ends in 1596 for sword history.

1596 is the beginning of the Keicho (慶長) era.  The swords made in and after the Keicho era is called Shin-to (new sword), and swords before the Keicho era is called Ko-to (old sword).  Therefore, the beginning of the Keicho era is the dividing line.  The swords made during the Keicho time is technically Shin-To, but they are sepecially called Keicho Shin-To.                                                                                                                                                                                        22| Sengoku Period History (戦国時代歴史) described the overview of the Sengoku Period.  At the beginning of the Sengoku Period, 30 or so small Sengoku Daimyos fought fiercely with each other.   They allied with a neighboring territory on and off and sometimes betrayed each other.  The stronger daimyos took over  weaker one’s territories.  Little by little, the number of daimyos became smaller.  The names of known powerful daimyos are Imagawa Yoshimoto (今川義元), Takeda Shingen (武田信玄), Uesugi Kenshin (上杉謙信), Hojo Soun (北条早雲), Oda Nobunaga (織田信長),  Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉).  Their final goal was to defeat others and advance to Kyoto (京都) to be the supreme political power.

Oda Nobunaga (織田信長) defeats Imagawa Yoshimoto in Okehazama (桶狭間)

Around 1560, Imagawa Yoshimoto (今川義元) controlled a significant part of  Suruga (today’s Shizuoka prefecture.  See the map below for the location).  He was a powerful Sengoku Daimyo who was big enough to be the top ruler of the country.

Imagawa clan decided to advance his army toward Kyoto to take over the governmentHe took 25,000 men troop with him.  On his way up to Kyoto, they need to pass Owari (尾張: Aichi prefecture today.  See map below for the location), Oda Nobunaga’s territory.

Oda Nobunaga (織田信長 ) was still a young man who had much less means than Imagawa Yoshimoto.  It was quite apparent that there was no chance for Oda Nobunaga to beat Imagawa.  He had just become the head of Owari after his father’s death.  Also, at that time, Nobunaga was called the “The idiot of Owari” because of his eccentric behaviors (he was actually a genius).

Not too many people had much confidence in him.  Among  Oda vassals, some insisted on just staying inside the castle instead of going out and fighting since Nobunaga managed to gather only 3,000 men.  But in the end, to everyone’s surprise, the Oda side won.  Here is how it happened.

While Imagawa Yoshimoto was advancing, Nobunaga scouted which route Imagawa would take.  Imagawa’s side was sure to win this easy battle since the Oda clan was small, and the head of the clan was an idiot.  Imagawa troops decided to stop and rest in a place called Okehazama.   The road going through Okehazama was long and narrow.  Knowing Imagawa troop would come this way, Nobunaga sent out his men disguised as farmers and offered food and sake to Imagawa soldiersWhile they were having a good time, Oda Nobunaga made a surprise attack on the Imagawa troop.  On top of that, all of a sudden, it began raining heavily.  The rain was so heavy that the Imagawa troop even could not  see the Oda troop was coming.  In the end, Imagawa Yoshimoto was killed by the Oda side in the battle.  After this, the Imagawa clan declined.

59 Okehazama drawing

Bishu Okehazama Gassen (備州桶狭間合戦) by Utagawa Toyonobu (歌川豊信)   Public Domain (http://morimiya.net/online/ukiyoe-big-files/U896.html)

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Oda Nobunaga(織田信長) and Akechi Mitsuhide(明智光秀)

After the battle of Okehazama, the Oda clan grew bigger rapidly.  Oda Nobunaga became the primary power.  While his reign he did several cruel things like burning Enryaku-ji Temple (延暦寺) and killing many people, including ordinary people,  yet his economic measures encouraged commercial activities.

Things were going somewhat smoothly for Nobunaga late in his life.  But in 1582, Nobunaga was killed by his own top vassal, Akechi Mitsuhide (明智光秀), at Hon’nou-ji (本能寺) Temple in KyotoNobunaga was 49 years old.

There are a few theories about why Akecdhi attacked and killed Nobunaga, but we don’t know what exactly happened. One speculation is Akechi had a grudge against Nobunaga.  There were many incidents Nobunaga mistreated Akechi.  Another is that Akechi saw a chance to attack Nobunaga (Nobunaga was with a very few men on that day) and took the opportunity.  The other is then Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki (足利義昭) ordered Akechi to kill Nobunaga since Akechi had once worked under him.  Shogun Yoshiaki was afraid that Nobunaga became too powerful.  More theories go on.  We don’t know the real reason; we still debate over it.  It is one big mystery of Japanese history.

After this happened, the news was relayed to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a counterpart of Akechi under Nobunaga.  At that time, he happened to be in  Bicchu (備中, Okayama prefecture today), which was about 230 KM (143 miles) away from Kyoto (See the map below).   Hideyoshi quickly returned to Kyoto with his troop to fight against Akechi and killed him.

Here is another mystery.  The time between Nobunaga was dead, and the time Akechi was killed by Hideyoshi was only ten days.  Hideyoshi was 230 KM (143 miles) away.  That means in 10 days, Hideyoshi received the information of Nobunaga’s death, hurried back 230 KM (143 miles) to Kyoto with his troop, and fought against Akechi and killed him.   Their means of transportation at the time was minimal.  Even though Hideyoshi had a communication route established between Nobunaga’s inner circle all the time, it is an amazing speed.  There are  also speculatiions that Akechi and Hideyoshi were behind together or some other secret plot behind the incidents..

After Hideyoshi killed Akechi, Hideyoshi cleverly maneuvered his way up to the top of the power.  While he was in charge, he mined a large amount of gold from the gold mines he possessed.  There is a record stating that Hideyoshi buried a vast amount of gold somewhere.  But we never found it yet.

Hideyoshi was a poor farmer’s son who became the most perwerful man in the country.  His success story fascinates the Japanese.  Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu are the three most depicted subjects on TV programs and movies.  After Hideyoshi died naturally, Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun, and the Edo period started.

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22| Sengoku Period History (戦国時代歴史)

0-timeline - size 24 Sengoku Period

The circle indicate the time we are discussing in this section

The above timeline shows two red circles.  In political history, the Sengoku period (戦国時代) is a part of the Muromachi (室町) period, which is shown on the third line.   However, in the sword history, we separate the Muromachi period and the Sengoku period (Warring States period), shown on the centerline.  In sword history, we divide the time this way because, in those two periods, the sword style changed, and the environment of sword making also changed.

After the Onin-no-Ran (応仁の乱) had started (discussed in 20|Muromachi Period History(室町歴史) , the beautiful capital city, Kyoto (京都 ) was in a devastating condition.  The shogun’s (将軍) power reached only to the very limited small area.  The rest of the country was divided into 30 or so small independent states.  The heads of those independent states were called Shugo Daimyo (守護大名).  They were initially government officials, who had been appointed and sent there by the central government.  Also, powerful local samurais often became the head of those states.  They fought against each other to take over other’s land.  During the Sengoku period, vassals would kill his master and stole his domain, or farmers would revolt against their lords.  A state like this is called “Gekoku-jo (lower class samurai could overthrow the superior).”

This is the time of the Warring States called the Sengoku period.  The head of a state was called Sengoku Daimyo (戦国大名: warlord).  The Sengoku period lasts about 100 years.  Little by little, powerful states defeated less powerful ones after long hard battles and gained more territory.  Thirty or so small countries became 20, then ten and so on.  Eventually, a few dominant Sengoku Daimyo (warlord) were left.  Each daimyo of those states tried to fight his way up to Kyoto and unite the country.  The first one who almost succeeded was Oda Nobunaga (織田信長).  However, he was killed by his vassal, Akechi Mitsuhide (明智光秀), but shortly after, Akechi was killed by his colleague, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉)

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated Akechi Mitsuhide and his troop and a few more significant warlords, he almost completed uniting Japan.  Yet, Hideyoshi had one more rival to deal with to complete his job.  That was Tokugawa Iyeyasu (徳川家康).  Now, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were the last contenders for the top position.  Both knew that their opponents were smart and able.  Any wrong move on either part would be a fatal mistake.  So, they decided to keep an amicable co-existing relationship on the surface for a while.  Though Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried to make Tokugawa Ieyasu his vassal, Tokugawa Ieyasu somehow maneuvered to avoid that.  In the mind of Tokugawa Iyeyasu, since he was younger than Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he knew that he could just wait until Hideyoshi‘s natural death.  At that time, he could destroy Hideyoshi’s heir.  And that happened eventually.  

After Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa Ieyasu fought Hideyoshi’s vassals and won at the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い) in 1600.  Then, in 1615, at the battle of the Osaka Natsu-no-Jin (大阪夏の陣), Tokugawa won against Hideyoshi’s son, Hideyori’s army.  After this, the Toyotomi clan ceased to exist entirely, then the Edo (江戸) period started.  The period is called the Edo period because Tokugawa Ieyasu lived in Edo, current Tokyo (東京). 

*The Sengoku period is often depicted in TV dramas and movies.  People who lived through the Sengoku period had a tough time, but it was the most exciting time for making TV shows and movies.  The life of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and, Tokugawa Ieyasu is the most favorite story in Japan.  Especially the story of Toyotomi Hideyoshi is one of the most popular ones.  His background was a poor farmer, but he eventually became the top ruler of Japan.  That is one fascinating success story.

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