The Sengoku Period – Era of Significance and Prominence

The Sengoku Period

Among the most prominent periods of Japan’s history was the Sengoku period. It was a time in the country’s history that was significantly notable due to social upheavals, close consistent military rivalries, clashing of swords, and political intrigues.

The Sengoku period was a century-long era of continuous political upheaval in Japan. It lasted from the years 1467 to 1600 A.D starting from the Onin Wars throughout the country’s reunification around the year 1598. This was a lawless time of civil war. The feudal lords battled with each other in endless rivalry for power and land. Though these fighting political entities were simply domains, the Sengoku era was often referred to as the Warring States period of Japan.

Onin War

In the years 1467 to 1477, the Onin War was a civil war that occurred during the Muromachi period. It began due to a conflict that was specifically rooted in economic distress. It was also enhanced by a conflict over Shogunal continuation. This, in turn, was regarded as the beginning of the Sengoku period.

The Hosokawa family of the east and their allies, battled with the Yamana family of the west. They fought continuously for 11 years all over Kyoto. This left the beautiful city devastated and almost in ruins. The conflict eventually expanded to the outlying provinces in the area.

The period climaxed with three prominent warlords who gradually unified the country. These warriors were Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. After the final victory of Tokugawa in the year 1615 at the siege of Osaka, the country settled and somehow enjoyed a few centuries of peace under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate.


The Sengoku period was a time when constant conflicts occurred. Though wars did not happen on a daily basis. Much older authorities who have been supported by the Muromachi Bakufu, started becoming ineffective. This was because powerful individuals rose to govern over new territories. This is referred to as the Gekokujo – a social inverted order when the low people of society reigns over the elite. During this time, the Sengoku Daimyo also appeared. They were the Japanese territorial lords during this era.

Sengoku Period

Rise of Oda Nobunaga

One of the well-known and powerful Daimyo of history was Oda Nobunaga. He attempted to unify the country during the late Sengoku era, and was able to successfully gain control over most of the Honshu area.

By the year 1573, Oda was able to obliterate the Tendai Buddhists’ sect at Mount Hiei. He destroyed the association of the Azai and Asakura clans who threatened his Northern flank. Plus, he successfully avoided a confrontation with Takeda Shingen, who died due to an illness as his troops were on the verge of defeating Tokugawa.

Even after the death of Takeda Shingen, there were still a number of powerful Daimyo who were powerful enough to oppose Oda. The only issue was that they were not located close to Kyoto to pose as a political threat to the warlord. With that, it appeared that the country’s unification under his rule was just a matter of time.

Ishiyama Hongan Ji War

Sengoku Daimyo were not the only opponents of Oda, but also the supporters of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism who participated in Ikko Ikki.

Their leader was a monk named Kennyo, and his fortress was able to endure Oda’s attacks for ten continuous years. Yet by the eleventh year, Oda was able to obliterate him. Yet due to the riot he caused, the warlord’s territory was heavily damaged. The long war between the two was referred to as the Ishiyama Hongan Ji war. To suppress Buddhism, Oda Nobunaga greatly supported Christianity and with that, European missionaries introduced a variety of cultures and products to Japan. These included new food, astronomy, new drawing processes, medical science, geography, as well as new printing methods.

Japan’s Unification 

Akechi Mitsuhide – from the Public Domain

After almost more than a century of political struggles and warfare, Japan was on the brink of unification because of Nobunaga Oda. He appeared from obscurity in Owari province to rule over central Japan. However, in the year 1582, the warlord himself fell victim to the disloyalty of Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his own generals. While Kyoto was under attack, it is said that Oda committed suicide by seppuku; however, this was not proven since other stories claim that his cause of death was due to the coup attempt that was executed by Akechi.

This gave Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Oda’s trusted generals, the chance to rise and eventually establish himself to become one of Oda’s successors. He was able to centralize his control over the present Daimyo and eventually ruled as Kampaku. Toyotomi was not eligible to hold the title Sei Taishogun due to his common birth. In 1598, Hideyoshi fell which caused Japan to face political turmoil once more. This was the time when Tokugawa Ieyasu took advantage of the situation.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a distinguished and important Daimyo, general, warrior, samurai, as well as a politician of the Sengoku era. He was regarded as the second great unifier of Japan. He succeeded his former lord, Oda Nobunaga, and was able to end the Sengoku period. The time of his rule was usually referred to as the Momoyama period and was named after his castle. After Toyotomi’s death, his younger son, Hideyori, was displaced as ruler by Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Hideyoshi was known for numerous cultural legacies: one would be the restricting rule that allowed only the samurai warriors to carry Katana y Wakizashi set known as Daisho. He also funded the construction and restoration of a number of temples that still stand in today’s city of Kyoto. Hideyoshi also ordered the invasion of Korea in the years 1592 to 1598.

Tokugawa Ieyasu

He was known as the founder and the first shogun of Japan’s Tokugawa Shogunate. He was able to effectively establish rule of the country from the Battle of Sekigahara until the Meiji Restoration. Ieyasu served as an ally of Nobunaga then to Hideyoshi, but eventually turned into the dominant Daimyo in the Kanto area of Eastern Honshu. He was provided with the village town of Edo which served as his headquarters.

Following the death of Hideyoshi in the year 1598, Tokugawa moved to Osaka then claimed that he was to protect Hideyoshi’s widow and son, the young heir Hideyori. His further actions created great resentment with the other generals of Hideyoshi since Tokugawa even sent letters to numerous Daimyo, seeking allegiance with them. Generals and warriors who were loyal to Hideyoshi and his family started fearing Tokugawa and his plans of positioning himself to become shogun. This caused war to trouble the country yet again.

The Sengoku Period

Battle of Sekigahara

On the 21st of October, 1600 was the decisive battle of Sekigahara. It preceded the Tokugawa Shogunate’s establishment. Ieyasu took about three more years to build his position of power but Sekigahara was referred to as the unofficial start of the Tokugawa Bakufu. This was the very last Shogunate that had control over the country.

In June of the year 1600, Tokugawa and his allies attacked and defeated the Uesugi clan. They were accused of planning to rebel against the Toyotomi administration. Before Tokugawa arrived at the Uesugi territory, he received information that Ishida Mitsunari had moved against Tokugawa. He then held a meeting with the Daimyo which eventually led them to follow Ieyasu. He was able to lead most of his army to the western portion of Kyoto. In the late summer, Ishida’s forces were able to capture Fushimi.

The Battle of Sekigahara was the most important and biggest battle in the feudal history of Japan. It started on the 21st of October in 1600 where a total of 160,000 well-equipped Samurai warriors faced each other in battle.

This war ended with the complete victory of the Tokugawa army. The Western Block was eventually crushed. In just a few days, Ishida and other western nobles were captured then killed. With that, Tokugawa Ieyasu became Japan’s de facto ruler.

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Battles During the Sengoku Period

There were numerous battles during the Sengoku period. These included different types of wars, armed conflicts and battles that were almost comparable to that of the Battle of Sekigahara. This was generally a decisive battle since it was able to divide Japan’s forces into two.

Based on the total number of battles and conflicts during this period, most of them were exchanges of private wars and skirmishes. These were also mostly executed by neighboring rivals, usually within the vicinity of their territory’s borders, or locations that they could easily influence.

Aside from using power and attacks against the armed forces of the enemies, the conflicts during the Sengoku Period were also involved with tactics such as Karibataraki. It was sending off a small group of soldiers to the enemy’s base to cut wheat and rice and return with these. It was also referred to as Aotagari – cutting off rice crops while these were still green. These acts were done to decrease the food supply of the enemies. It resulted in the rise of conflicts, as well as large-scale battles during this era.

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