The is a period in Japanese history of near-constant civil war, social upheaval, and political intrigue from 1467 to 1615. The Sengoku period was initiated by the Ōnin War in 1467 which collapsed the feudal system of Japan under the Ashikaga Shogunate. Various ''samurai'' warlords and clans fought for control over Japan in the power vacuum, while the ''Ikkō-ikki'' emerged to fight against ''samurai'' rule. The arrival of Europeans in 1543 introduced the arquebus into Japanese warfare, and Japan ended its status as a tributary state of China in 1549. Oda Nobunaga dissolved the Ashikaga Shogunate in 1573 and launched a war of political unification by force, including the Ishiyama Hongan-ji War, until his death in the Honnō-ji Incident in 1582. Nobunaga's successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi completed his campaign to unify Japan and consolidated his rule with numerous influential reforms. Hideyoshi launched the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592, but their eventual failure damaged his prestige before his death in 1598. Tokugawa Ieyasu displaced Hideyoshi's young son and successor Toyotomi Hideyori at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and re-established the feudal system under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Sengoku period ended when Toyotomi loyalists were defeated at the siege of Osaka in 1615. The Sengoku period was named by Japanese historians after the otherwise unrelated but similar Warring States period of China.Sansom, George B. 2005. ''A History of Japan: 1334–1615''. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Publishing. Modern Japan recognizes Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu as the three "Great Unifiers" for their restoration of central government in the country.


During this period, although the Emperor of Japan was officially the ruler of his nation and every lord swore loyalty to him, he was largely a marginalized, ceremonial, and religious figure who delegated power to the ''shōgun'', a noble who was roughly equivalent to a general. In the years preceding this era, the shogunate gradually lost influence and control over the ''daimyōs'' (local lords). Although the Ashikaga shogunate had retained the structure of the Kamakura shogunate and instituted a warrior government based on the same socio-economic rights and obligations established by the Hōjō with the ''Jōei'' Code in 1232, it failed to win the loyalty of many ''daimyō'', especially those whose domains were far from the capital, Kyoto. Many of these lords began to fight uncontrollably with each other for control over land and influence over the shogunate. As trade with Ming China grew, the economy developed, and the use of money became widespread as markets and commercial cities appeared. Combined with developments in agriculture and small-scale trading, this led to the desire for greater local autonomy throughout all levels of the social hierarchy. As early as the beginning of the 15th century, the suffering caused by earthquakes and famines often served to trigger armed uprisings by farmers weary of debt and taxes. The Ōnin War (1467–1477), a conflict rooted in economic distress and brought on by a dispute over shogunal succession, is generally regarded as the onset of the Sengoku period. The "eastern" army of the Hosokawa family and its allies clashed with the "western" army of the Yamana. Fighting in and around Kyoto lasted for nearly 11 years, leaving the city almost completely destroyed. The conflict in Kyoto then spread to outlying provinces. The period culminated with a series of three warlords Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu who gradually unified Japan. After Tokugawa Ieyasu's final victory at the siege of Osaka in 1615, Japan settled down into over two-hundred years of peace under the Tokugawa shogunate.


The Ōnin War in 1467 is usually considered the starting point of the Sengoku period. There are several events which could be considered the end of it: Nobunaga's entry to Kyoto (1568) or abolition of the Muromachi shogunate (1573), the siege of Odawara (1590), the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603), or the siege of Osaka (1615).


The upheaval resulted in the further weakening of central authority, and throughout Japan, regional lords, called ''daimyōs'', rose to fill the vacuum. In the course of this power shift, well-established clans such as the Takeda and the Imagawa, who had ruled under the authority of both the Kamakura and Muromachi ''bakufu'', were able to expand their spheres of influence. There were many, however, whose positions eroded and were eventually usurped by more capable underlings. This phenomenon of social meritocracy, in which capable subordinates rejected the status quo and forcefully overthrew an emancipated aristocracy, became known as , which means "low conquers high". One of the earliest instances of this was Hōjō Sōun, who rose from relatively humble origins and eventually seized power in Izu Province in 1493. Building on the accomplishments of Sōun, the Hōjō clan remained a major power in the Kantō region until its subjugation by Toyotomi Hideyoshi late in the Sengoku period. Other notable examples include the supplanting of the Hosokawa clan by the Miyoshi, the Toki by the Saitō, and the Shiba clan by the Oda clan, which was in turn replaced by its underling, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a son of a peasant with no family name. Well-organized religious groups also gained political power at this time by uniting farmers in resistance and rebellion against the rule of the ''daimyōs''. The monks of the Buddhist True Pure Land sect formed numerous ''Ikkō-ikki'', the most successful of which, in Kaga Province, remained independent for nearly 100 years.


After nearly a century of political instability and warfare, Japan was on the verge of unification by Oda Nobunaga, who had emerged from obscurity in the province of Owari (present-day Aichi Prefecture) to dominate central Japan. In 1582, Oda was assassinated by one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, and allowed Toyotomi Hideyoshi the opportunity to establish himself as Oda's successor after rising through the ranks from ''ashigaru'' (footsoldier) to become one of Oda's most trusted generals. Toyotomi eventually consolidated his control over the remaining ''daimyōs'' but ruled as ''Kampaku'' (Imperial Regent) as his common birth excluded him from the title of ''Sei-i Taishōgun.'' During his short reign as Kampaku, Toyotomi attempted two invasions of Korea. The first attempt, spanning from 1592 to 1596, was initially successful but suffered setbacks from the Joseon Navy and ended in a stalemate. The second attempt began in 1597 but was less successful as the Koreans, especially their navy, led by Admiral Yi Sun-Sin, were prepared from their first encounter. In 1598, Toyotomi called for retreat from Korea prior to his death. Without leaving a capable successor, the country was once again thrust into political turmoil, and Tokugawa Ieyasu took advantage of the opportunity. On his deathbed, Toyotomi appointed a group of the most powerful lords in Japan—Tokugawa, Maeda Toshiie, Ukita Hideie, Uesugi Kagekatsu, and Mōri Terumoto—to govern as the Council of Five Regents until his infant son, Hideyori, came of age. An uneasy peace lasted until the death of Maeda in 1599. Thereafter a number of high-ranking figures, notably Ishida Mitsunari, accused Tokugawa of disloyalty to the Toyotomi regime. This precipitated a crisis that led to the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, during which Tokugawa and his allies, who controlled the east of the country, defeated the anti-Tokugawa forces, which had control of the west. Generally regarded as the last major conflict of the Sengoku period, Tokugawa's victory at Sekigahara effectively marked the end of the Toyotomi regime, the last remnants of which were finally destroyed in the siege of Osaka in 1615.

Notable people

Three unifiers of Japan

*Oda Nobunaga *Toyotomi Hideyoshi *Tokugawa Ieyasu The contrasting personalities of the three leaders who contributed the most to Japan's final unification—Oda, Toyotomi, and Tokugawa—are encapsulated in a series of three well known ''senryū'': *''Nakanu nara, koroshite shimae, hototogisu'' (If the cuckoo does not sing, kill it.) *''Nakanu nara, nakasete miyō, hototogisu'' (If the cuckoo does not sing, coax it.) *''Nakanu nara, naku made matō, hototogisu'' (If the cuckoo does not sing, wait for it.) Oda, known for his ruthlessness, is the subject of the first; Toyotomi, known for his resourcefulness, is the subject of the second; and Tokugawa, known for his perseverance, is the subject of the third verse.

See also

* History of Japan * List of daimyōs from the Sengoku period * List of Japanese battles * Horses in East Asian warfare * Warring States period – a similar period in Chinese history * Crisis of the Third Century – a similar period in Roman history * Zemene Mesafint – a similar period in Ethiopian history from the early 18th century until the reign of Tewodros II in the mid–19th century * Kabukimono



* * * * * Jansen, Marius B. (2000). ''The Making of Modern Japan''. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. /. . * *

External links

Sengoku Period - Ancient History Encyclopedia

Samurai Archives Japanese History page

held in Gifu Prefecture, 2000–2001 *

{{Authority control Category:Muromachi period * * * * * Category:1460s establishments in Japan Category:1467 establishments in Asia Category:1573 disestablishments in Japan Category:Wars of succession involving the states and peoples of Asia