Essays and Articles

Japanese Historical Chronology - Momoyama Period

Friday, September 25, 2015


This period of Japanese history was named after the castle of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) at Momoyama, Fushimi, near Kyoto. In this short, but significant period, the political order was transformed and Japan moved from the middle ages into the early modern era. The arts flourished, and wide contacts with the outside world brought a strong cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Japan's reunification after years of civil war was achieved by a succession of three great military leaders: Oda Nobunaga (1534-82), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). Nobunaga marched into Kyoto in 1568, ostensibly as a supporter of the Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki. However, he drove Yoshiaki from Kyoto in 1573, won the crucial battle of Nagashino (using muskets) and went on to control central Japan - 30 of the 68 provinces. The campaign was continued by Hideyoshi. He conquered Shikoku (1585), Kyushu (1587) and northern Japan (1591). Hideyoshi maintained control by forcing provincial lords from the countryside to live in castle towns. In his 1588 sword-hunt he confiscated arms from farmers, while his land surveys gave them security of tenure. The unsuccessful invasion of Korea ended with his death in 1598. Final supremacy was achieved by Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), after which he became Shogun and formulated a strong new political order, the bakuhan ('shogunate-domain' government).

The twin cultural symbols of the Momoyama period are the castle and the teahouse. The castles provided a background for lavish wall-paintings and fusuma-e (sliding-door paintings) by artists of the official Kanō school. By contrast the Tea Ceremony and its related arts emphasized the concept of wabi ('elegance in poverty') led by Hideyoshi's teamaster, Sen no Rikyū. The Namban ('southern barbarian') school depicted the many Europeans including merchants and missionaries who brought Christianity, western arts, and guns. There was also increasing trade activity with the east Asian mainland.

Ref: Excerpt obtained from The British Museum


Japanese Historical Chronology - Muromachi Period

Friday, September 18, 2015


"After defeating the Hōjō family in 1333, Ashikaga Takauji (1305-58) started to reorganize the government from his headquarters in the Muromachi district of Kyoto. He was made shogun in 1338, and the Muromachi period is also known as the Ashikaga period. For much of the period Japan was in a state of civil war.

The first two Ashikaga shoguns were weak, and the government was more a coalition of shogun and provincial governors (shugo). The powerful third shogun, Yoshimitsu (reigned 1369-95), forced the shugo to live in Kyoto, but often their inferiors seized power in their absence. Under the eighth shogun, Yoshimasa (reigned 1449-74), Kyoto was destroyed in the ōnin war (1467-77), which led to the Period of Warring States (Sengoku jidai). Many provincial warlords, the sengoku daimyō, built castles and competed ruthlessly with each other until Oda Nobunaga (1534-82) began the process of reunification.

Cultural developments were led by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who encouraged Nō and Kyōgen theatre and renga. The arts of Zen - ink painting, tea ceremony, garden design and flower arrangement, ikebana, - flourished but newer popular schools became influential. Europeans introduced Christianity in 1549, bringing yet more new ideas. Japan was developing a rich national culture which could be enjoyed by all".

Ref: Excerpt obtained from The British Museum



Japanese Historical Chronology - Kamakura Period

Friday, September 11, 2015


"Kamakura is a small coastal town about 400 kilometres east of Kyoto across a mountain range. During the Heike wars (1180-85) between the Taira and Minamoto clans, Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-99) chose Kamakura for his headquarters because of its remote position. He defeated the Taira in 1185 and was made the first Shogun in 1192. The Shogunate (warrior government) remained at Kamakura until the Ashikaga Shoguns took over in 1333.

There was an increase in popular forms of Buddhism, such as the Jōdo (Pure Land) sect which assured salvation to commoners. Zen Buddhism, with its attendant arts, took a firm hold on the samurai classes because of its emphasis on self-discipline and simplicity. Wooden sculpture, realistic portraiture and narrative painting all flourished".

Ref: Excerpt obtained from The British Museum


Japanese Historical Chronology - Heian Period

Friday, September 04, 2015


"Following the political and social problems of the preceding Nara period (710-794), Emperor Kammu (reigned 781-806) named his new capital Heiankyō (now Kyoto), heian meaning 'peace and tranquility'. The Heian period did see the flowering of courtly culture, centred on the emperor and nobility, in particular the powerful Fujiwara family, but it ended with the establishment of a military dictatorship.

With the decline of the Tang dynasty in the late ninth century, Japan greatly reduced contacts with China, and a characteristic native culture grew up centred on Heiankyō. The kana phonetic writing systems were created. These were widely used by women prose writers such as Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote Genji monogatari ('The Tale of Genji') in the early eleventh century. New gentler styles of sculpture developed, as well as new painting style known as Yamato-e ('Japanese-style pictures'). They showed seasonal events and courtly pastimes. Many emakimono ('narrative handscrolls'), byōbu ('folding screens') and fusuma ('sliding doors') were produced.

At first Japan still functioned under the Chinese-style ritsuryō system, but around the mid-tenth century local officials began to seize lands for themselves, thus reducing central government income and control. Imperial authority was diminished by powerful retired emperors and by regents of the Fujiwara family ruling on behalf of child emperors. In the provinces, and later in Kyoto itself, warrior leaders with their samurai followers began to challenge each other for dominance. Finally, in the Heike wars of 1180-85, the Minamoto family defeated the Taira. Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-99) established the Shogunate with its distinctive warrior culture. The Shogun ruled the country from Kamakura, while the emperors still reigned as figureheads in Kyoto".

Ref: Excerpt obtained from The British Museum