The Famous Feudal Lords of Japan: Daimyo

Feudal Japan has got to be one of the more famous periods in time for Japan because of all the shifts in power and historic events that happened prior and during this period. Power was the name of the game then and considering all the strategic movements and the struggling to gain and keep power, it is completely understandable why people would be interested in knowing more about this version of Japan. It lasted for centuries so it is obvious that this system worked well for quite a time. With that being said, if you are interested in knowing what made this system tick and what eventually made it fail, you will enjoy this read.

Photo by National Museum of Denm

The Daimyo of Japan: The Definition and History

As you all may already know, when discussing events of the past or, in this case, periods of the past, it is important to look at the periods prior to it because it shows how things changed from period to another. The period prior to the time of Feudal Japan or the Edo period is known as the Azuchi-Momoyama period but the build-up for the Edo period roots as far as the Muromachi period.

Photo by The British Library

It reaches as far back as the Muromachi period because this was the point in time where the shugo existed. The shugo was a title given to officials whose roles in society were to act as governor or protector of a certain land. They were directed appointed by the Shogun, who then the military dictator of Japan. The shugo is believed to be the role where the daimyos originated from because their responsibility and goals were very much alike. The difference between the two would only be that the daimyos, or feudal lords, came to be because the shogun began to take power by controlling lands instead of just governing the land for the shogunate.

The major events in this period happened when a man named Oda Nobunaga made his move and started to attempt to unify the whole of Japan with an iron first. He is considered to be one of the three unifiers of Japan, alongside retainers, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you do not know, retainers are what they called the samurai who used their skills as a warrior or a hunter to help their lords or daimyos with their goals.

Oda started off as a daimyo but eventually gained enough power to successfully overthrow the influence and power of the Ashikaga shogunate in the year of 1573. This overthrow was made possible because the system in Japan then was heavily reliant on loyalty. Before daimyos came to be, control was being implemented with centralized master-vassal systems which made it hard for masters to keep an eye on their vassals.

Because of this weakness, the system was changed to the one that incorporated the use of daimyos to micromanage the lands of their lords. The same problem presented itself once again and this time around, the uprising daimyos became successful with all the power they had gained. With this success, the period of the Azuchi-Momoyama came to be.

The Azuchi-Momoyama period is known to be the years wherein political unification was achieved and eventually ushered in the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate. Before the rise of the Tokugawa shogunate though, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi had gained control over the chaos that was created with the downfall of the Ashikaga shogunate or Ashikaga bakufu.

During this period, Japan flourished in the arts and cultural activities. Scholars say that it was the time when Japan transitioned into the early modern era from the medieval era due to the growth in the Japanese society and culture. The name of the period itself comes from the success of the people who ushered in the era because this period is named after the castles that Nobunaga and Hideyoshi were able to establish due to their victories. Azuchi was the name of Nobunaga’s castle while Momoyama was the name of Hideyoshi’s castle.

This time was not all sunshine and rainbows for Nobunaga and allies though because they had a scary encounter with a man named Takeda Shingen who nearly ousted Nobunaga and company before they even gained complete power. Nobunaga and company had been losing the battle they refer to as the Battle of Mikatagahara and just when Takeda and his forces were to finish their mission, Takeda suddenly died for unknown reasons. There were many speculations as to why Takeda died but regardless of the reason, this shook Takeda’s forces to the core.

With the leadership of Takeda Shingen, Nobunaga and company were able to bounce back and eventually turn the tide around to bring in the said Azuchi-Momoyama period to Japan. There were daimyos who still resisted the influence and control of the Oda banner but they were too far away from Kyoto to make a significant difference. With this being the case, Japan unified under the Oda banner.

Many other moves were made by Oda’s successor, Hideyoshi, after the mysterious death of Oda Nobunaga. After more war and battles under the rule of Hideyoshi, the Edo period came as Tokugawa Ieyasu handled the reins. In Japanese history, this period lasted from the year of 1603 to 1868 with the Tokugawa shogunate in power.

Ieyasu successful united the whole of Japan with his victory in the Battle of Sekigahara because his victory in that battle signified his virtual control of the entirety of Japan. Learning from the betrayals done to his mentors, he immediately fortified his power by getting rid of opposing forces and increasing the trust and loyal of his allies in him by spoiling them with power and riches from their victories.

The political system of this period eventually turned into what historians call bakuhan which are a mix of the terms bakufu and han. Bakufu referring to a shogunate-like system and han referring to domains or land. To put it simply, Ieyasu had power over all regions and his daimyos had power over their specific regions. The land redistribution during this time gave the Tokugawa around seven million koku and other benefits that were essential in the continuous growth of their power.

The completion of the feudal hierarchy is marked by the establishment of the various classes of daimyos. The closest to the Tokugawa house or family was the class known as the Shinpan. The majority of shinpan were direct relatives of Ieyasu. The class following the shinpan is the fudai class. This class is made up of those people who showed sincere and true loyalty to Ieyasu so they were rewarded with han or areas near the Tokugawa holdings.

As time passed, the birth of a third class became inevitable and this class was known as the tozama. The tozama were made up of former opponents who turned into new allies. Because they once stood at opposing standpoints, they are the least trusted by the shogunate. Because they are least trusted, they were meticulously managed, generously treated, and placed in areas or sections of Japan that were nearest to the archipelago to avoid any other rebellion from them.

When the period of the Meiji Restoration came, the daimyos along with the kuge form the aristocracy called Kazoku. It was during this period that the han or domains were abolished and prefectures of the modern day came to be the division of land in Japan. Daimyos were not banned from ruling as people with great position in the government and proof of this is Morihiro Hosokawa who was a descendant of the daimyo named Kumamoto but still ended up being a prime minister of Japan for some time.

Facts about the Daimyo and the Connection with Naruto

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The daimyos have a connection with the anime called Naruto because they are depicted in Naruto with great preciseness. From their responsibilities to the actions they take, it’s like they were based from real daimyos in historic times. An example of similarities would be how the daimyo in Naruto is seen as the leader of the country or village. They are responsible for all decisions to be made regarding a certain area of the whole, much like the regions that the daimyos in real like ruled in the Edo period.

It is not popularly known but there is actually a code of laws established to regulate the daimyo houses. This code affected things like marriage, dress code, private conduct, and much more. This also entailed the number of troops allowed to be handled or controlled by certain daimyos. This code also required the feudal lords to live in Edo for a certain amount of time before they can go back to their respective regions.

The other things that this code prohibited for the daimyos are the construction of ships that can travel the ocean as well as the restriction to have only one castle per domain or han. All these laws were obviously made to prevent mistakes from the past to happen again. The Tokugawa even made sure to weaken the wealth accumulated by the daimyos while strengthening their wealth through the imposition of taxes for the daimyos.

The Significance of Having a Great Daimyo that cannot be explained in a Sentence

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The significance of having a great daimyo can be seen in how Nobunaga and company were able to turn the world upside-down, in a sense. By trusting the mind of the great person and daimyo named Oda Nobunaga, they were able to go from being servants to having servants. So many changes were brought by one man who had a dream and using the right moves in the right moments lead that man to get everything he wanted and more.

A great daimyo cannot be defined by a particular set of traits because the times of existence had great effects on the success of a daimyo. What this means to imply is that a person can have all the right assets and traits to turn the world around like Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu did but if you cannot maximize what you have, it most likely will not result in the same result that Nobunaga and company got. Everything did not align for them. They planned thoroughly and executed their plans at the right time. They acknowledged the importance of timing to the effectiveness of the plans they made to achieve their goals.

In a way, being a great daimyo had a lot to do with the sharpness and brilliance that a mind can possess. If you think about it, everyone then had the same tools to make the change they envisioned. The only difference was that some people did not just stop with having a dream. The people who realized this were the ones to go beyond dreaming and made a plan with specific goals they follow and were so determined to fulfill. In short, if there is one thing that a great daimyo should have, it would be the ability to manipulate in any scenario. By having the ability to manipulate, you can avoid war while still exerting your influence through the hearts and loyalties that you have gained with your dream, passion, and power.

Overall, daimyos can be seen as underdogs that won the war. No one saw them coming to power that way they did and those that did rise up from being feudal lords to lords of the whole of Japan were the ones smart enough to avoid mistakes from the past. Those are the type of people with minds that are skilled both strategically and ideologically because that is the only way a person can win on the battlefield and off the battlefield. The rise of feudal lords in Japan signify that great minds can change the world and this concept is still very true in the world today. In a sense, daimyos still exist in the world today, they just go by different titles or names and use different methods and techniques to beat obstacles and ultimately gain what they want for the world.