Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Samurai (Page 1 of 3)

Episode 280 – The Fool of Owari, Part 1

This week, we turn to the life and legacy of the first of Japan’s three unifiers: the warlord Oda Nobunaga, who expanded his domains from part of a backwater province to 1/3rd of all Japan in just a few decades. Who were the Oda? Where did they come from? And how did Nobunaga go from a nobody to a major force in Japanese politics in just a few years?

Sources

Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi.

Lamers, Jeroen. Japonius Tyrannus: The Japanese Warlord Oda Nobunaga Reconsidered 

Lamers, Jeroen. The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga [Shinchou Kouki] of Ota Gyuichi

Images

Oda Nobunaga, who would start from nothing and rise to tremendous heights.

Kiyosu Castle, the base of Nobunaga’s branch of the Oda clan.

The location of Owari province.

A detail map of the Oda home region. Mino belonged to the Saito clan; Mikawa to the Matsudaira/Tokugawa; Totomi and Suruga on the right to the Imagawa, and Shinano would eventually become the heart of the Takeda lands.

The site of the former Iwakura Castle, which Nobunaga had destroyed to cement his hold on Owari.

An Utagawa school print of the Battle of Okehazama. Oda troops attack from the right; Imagawa Yoshimoto is on the left, fighting for his life.

Another print of Okehazama; Yoshimoto is the central figure in red (not that his armor is similar to the first).

Episode 277 – The House of Cards, Part 5

This week, we arrive at the end of the Ashikaga. What were the final 100 years of Ashikaga “rule” like, and what can we take away from exploring their time as rulers of Japan?

Sources

Berry, Mary Elizabeth. The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto.

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1334-1615.

Grossberg, Kenneth A. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

The Cambridge History of Japan, vol 3: Medieval Japan.

Images

A map of the major Sengoku Daimyo as of 1570. One of the major transitions of the late Ashikaga period was towards more centralized regional governments led by Sengoku warlords who presided over more centralized systems.

Ginkakuji, Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s retirement complex and personal buddhist temple. It is an example of wabi sabi aesthetics.

A map showing the territories of the Ouchi (red) and their march towards Kyoto in 1508. Though the Ouchi were successful in restoring Ashikaga Yoshitane to the post of shogun, in practice this reduced him to the position of puppet ruler.

The battle of Mikatagahara was a major defeat of Oda Nobunaga’s supporters (led by Tokugawa Ieyasu) by the Takeda. Defeats like this one convinced Ashikaga Yoshiaki to openly break with Nobunaga and attempt to defeat him on the battlefield. This did not work out for him.

Ashikaga Yoshiteru, the shogun who went down swinging. Despite his limited practical authority he was able to exercise substantial diplomatic influence in his time.

Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the final Ashikaga shogun, was deposed in 1573.

A 16th century wabi sabi tea bowl. Note the imperfections that prevent it from being perfectly round.

Episode 276 – The House of Cards, Part 4

This week, we do a deep dive on the life of Ashikaga Yoshimasa and the lead up to the Onin War, the conflict that traditionally marks the end of Ashikaga rule over Japan. But how fair is it to point to Onin as a break with the past?

Sources

Berry, Mary Elizabeth. The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto.

Keene, Donald. Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavillion: The Creation of the Soul of Japan. 

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1334-1615.

Grossberg, Kenneth A. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Images

Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the shogun who presided over the Onin conflict.

For long after the Onin War, the power politics surrounding it were a popular subject. Here, a kabuki play dramatizes the political cunning of Hosokawa Katsumoto, as he has a rival killed.

Hatakeyama Masanaga; his succession dispute with his adoptive brother will help spark the Onin War.

A marker showing the site of the first conflict between the two Hatakeyama brothers, which sparked the Onin war.

A rough breakdown of the sides of the Onin conflict as of 1467. Blue represents the Yamana-allied families, Yellow Hosokawa-allied ones, and Green families that switched sides. You can see that while not all of Japan got involved, the central third of the country was embroiled int he conflict.

One scene from the Onin War.

Another Onin War scene; note the foot soldiers (ashigaru), who were blamed for much of the destructive looting by kuge chroniclers.

Episode 275 – The House of Cards, Part 3

This week we turn away from politics to discuss religion, art, and the economy during the age of the Ashikaga. Why is this era such a moment of societal flourishing despite the constant warfare and instability of Ashikaga rule?

Sources

Collcutt, Martin. Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan. 

Adolphson, Michael S. The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sohei in Japan.

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1334-1615.

Parker, Joseph D. Zen Buddhist Landscape Arts of Early Muromachi Japan.

Lu, David J. Japan: A Documentary History, vol. 1. 

Grossberg, Kenneth A. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Images

A Noh performance. Note the mask, the musical performers behind the actor, and the fan in the actor’s hand — all hallmarks of Noh.

The gardens of Tenryuji.

A Noh stage; this should help you get a sense of the unusual layout of Noh performances.

Autumn landscape by Sesshu Toyo, c. 15th century.

Images of warrior monks were popularized during the Edo period, with depictions of historical figures like Musashibo Benkei (shown here with his friend Minamoto no Yoshitsune) becoming extremely common. In practice, few monks were actual warriors — instead, monastic armies consisted mostly of lay people hired to defend monasteries.

A mon (a type of coin) from the Muromachi period. The expansion of coinage helped grow the economy of the Muromachi era substantially.

Plum Tree Screen door by Kano Sanraku, c. 18th c. The Kano school emerged in the Muromachi period, and dominated the painting scene in Japan for the next several centuries.

 

Episode 274 – The House of Cards, Part 2

This week: war in the Ashikaga age. Plus; the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu is generally considered the zenith of Ashikaga prestige, but why was his power built on such shaky foundations? Once the Ashikaga had seized control of Japan, how did they go about actually governing it?

Sources

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1334-1615. 

Conlan, Thomas. State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan

Conlan, Thomas. The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth Century Japanese Warfare.

Grossberg, Kenneth. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Mass, Jeffrey. The Bakufu in Japanese History.

Images

Nasu no Yoichi from the Heike Monogatari. Attempts to live up to feats of heroes like Yoichi were the driving force behind Muromachi period battles.

A scene from the Taiheiki; note that each warrior is individually labeled. This print is from the Edo era, but the Taiheiki text it is lifted from mimics the Heike Monogatari in prizing individual accomplishment as the hallmark of the samurai.

Kinkakuji, the “retirement home” of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Built as a Buddhist temple in the style popular on the Chinese mainland.

Ashikaga Yoshinori; chosen by lot to be shogun, he was probably the last person of real competence to hold the post.

Episode 273 – The House of Cards, Part 1

This week we start a multipart series on the Muromachi period and the reign of the Ashikaga family. How did they come to power? Why is their government generally described as so weak? And how, despite that weak government, did they win a 60 year war for control of Japan?

Sources

Conlan, Thomas. State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan

Conlan, Thomas. The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth Century Japanese Warfare.

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1333-1615.

Grossberg, Kenneth. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Mass, Jeffrey. The Bakufu in Japanese History.

Images

Ashikaga Takauji dressed in the style of his class for battle.

This map gives you an idea of the relative proximity of the two courts. Despite this, Yoshino’s mountainous location made it hard for the Ashikaga to take militarily.

The Yoshino palace. Even this photo gives you an idea of the difficulty of the terrain.

The Hana no Gosho, or palace of flowers on Muromachi Ave in Kyoto. This was the center of Ashikaga power, and the place from which we get the name “Muromachi Period.”

Kusunoki Masatsura (son of Masashige) defeating the armies of Ashikaga Takauji. Woodcut from the Edo period by Kuniyoshi.

The death of Kusunoki Masatsura at the Battle of Shijo Nawate. After decades of war, fewer and fewer samurai were willing to keep fighting for the south, and eventually Masatsura’s own brother would become a leading advocate for peace.

Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third Ashikaga shogun and the one to end the war. Note the shaved head and Buddhist prayer beads; we’ll have more to say about his religion later.

Go Kameyama, the final emperor of the Southern Court. Today, the Imperial Household Agency and the Japanese government recognize the southern line as legitimate even though the current emperors are descendants of the northern branch.

Episode 264- The Man of Legend

This week, we cover the story and legacy of the great warrior Kusunoki Masashige. Why does he have the unique distinction of a statue on the grounds of the emperor’s palace in Tokyo? What do we actually know about him?

Sources

McCullough, Hellen Craig (translator). Taiheiki: A Chronicle of Medieval Japan

Sato, Hiroaki. Legends of the Samurai.

Brownlee, John S. Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945

Images

The Siege of Chihaya, as depicted in an Edo period print by Ichijusai Yoshikazu. Despite his ultimate defeat, Masashige’s stand here was the start of his legend as a valiant warleader.

The siege of Akasaka Castle.

The battle of Minatogawa, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Another scene from Utagawa’s rendering of the battle of Minatogawa.

The aforementioned statue

Episode 250 – Today is the Victory

This week, we take on the legend of Miyamoto Musashi. How is it that a person we know very little about came to be a legend? Could it be, perhaps, that the very fact that we know so little about him for sure is part of the allure of his legend?

Sources

Tokitsu, Kenji. Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings.

Kane, Lawrence. Musashi’s Dokkodo. 

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan

Images

Musashi wielding two weapons, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

A self-portrait attributed to Musashi.

A monument to the Musashi-Sasaki Kojiro duel on Ganryujima.

The entrance to Reigando, the cave Musashi retired to at the end of his life.

Musashi’s grave in Kumamoto.

Musashi fighting the whale, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Mifune Toshiro as Miyamoto Musashi in the samurai trilogy. Note the two swords.

Ichioji, Kyoto. This temple, supposedly where the final battle between Musashi and the Yoshioka school took place, now has a monument to the fight.

Episode 241 – All in the Family, Part 3

This week, we conclude our up close look at the Shimazu family and Satsuma domain with a consideration of how the domain fit into Edo society, and its position in modern Japan.

Sources

Sansom, George. A History of Japan, vol 3

Beasley, W.G. The Collected Writings of W.G. Beasley

Hall, John Witney, et al., editors. An Institutional History of Early Modern Japan.

Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan.

Images

Sekisho (checkpoints) like this one dotted Tokugawa Japan. This particular example is from Honshu, but the basic principle is the same — the gate allows for controlled access, giving samurai officials a chance to inspect traveler’s documentation.

A marker for one of the old sekisho in Kagoshima itself.

Today it’s a trendy tourist area, but in the early Edo Period, Bonotsu, just a short distance northwest of Kagoshima, was home to a Chinatown from which an illicit smuggling operation of Chinese goods into Kagoshima was operated.

Zusho Hirosato (Shouzaemon), who rescued the Shimazu clan’s finances from near disaster.

The Japanese government and the Kagoshima prefectural government run a museum dedicated to the history of Satsuma and the Shimazu — the Shokoshuseikan, shown here.

Kagoshima today — a modern city with a very distinct regional identity.

Episode 240 – All in the Family, Part 2

This week, we cover the sengoku era history of the Shimazu clan, and their meteoric ascent from  minor lords to major ones in the span of a few decades. Plus, the Tokugawa and the Shimazu, the role of sugar in the Shimazu clan’s fortunes, and the invasion of the Ryukyu islands. It’s a packed episode!

Sources

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, Vol 2. 1334-1615

Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai Capture a King: Okinawa, 1609.

Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai: A Military History.

Also, while researching the grounds of some of the castles mentioned in this episode, I came across this fascinating blog that is worth a look.

Images

Shimazu Yoshihiro, the 17th Shimazu family head. Under his generalship, and then his leadership as daimyo, the Shimazu became a major force in Japanese politics.

The Battle of Mimigawa (1578). The crushing defeat of the Otomo clan signaled the rise of the Shimazu as major contenders to rule Kyushu.

Part of the remnants of the earthworks of Kakuto castle.

An armor set which belonged to Shimazu Yoshihiro.

The old provinces of Japan. Satsuma province is at the very bottom (no. 63). Neighboring Osumi (64) was occasionally under Shimazu control as well prior to the Sengoku period.

Compare this map to the locations of Satsuma and Osumi in the previous one and you can see how far the Shimazu came by 1584.

The remnants of Nakijin castle, wiped out in the one major engagement of the Okinawan campaign.

The gravestone of Jana Ueekata, the onl Okinawan to refuse to sign the final treaty of subordination.

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