An Ancient Japanese legend tells of the reactions of three great men when presented with a bird who would not sing. The first of these goes by the name of Oda Nobunaga. When presented with the soundless bird, he simply snarled and told him, “Little Bird, if you do not sing, I shall kill you.” The second man, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, took a different approach. He stated, “Little bird, if you do not sing I will make you sing.” Finally, it was the turn of Tokugawa Ieysu. When he spoke his voice was gravelly and firm, “Little bird, if you do not sing I shall wait for you to sing.”
These three men are known as the three great unifiers of Japan. Without their accomplishments, Japan would not be the way it is at present.
It began with the Yamato period in 300 AD. In this time, the Kanji language was developed and Confucianism became ingrained in Japanese culture. The political system and art styles were borrowed from the Chinese and this influence continued throughout the Nara period beginning in 710 AD. It was then that Japan established it’s first capital located in the city of Nara. Buddhism flourished during this period along with the Chinese language and the political system, which increasingly resembled that of the Chinese.
With the arrival of the Heian era, the capital was moved once again – this time to Kyoto. Japan was at its peak; houses and estates got grander, the lives of courtiers got better, and for the first time, the country began to move away from the Chinese system of doing things.
With the development of greater properties came the necessity to protect them. An elite group of warriors were hired to do so, protecting the daimyo, the Japanese equivalent of lords, from harm.
The emperor began to choose his favorite bands of Samurai, which resulted in attacks from the less preferred, Minamoto clan lead by Minamoto Yoritomo. After a time of vicious altercations, Minamoto was victorious against the Taira and the Heian period abruptly ended. Yoritomo started the Kamakura age and took hold of the government as a shogun, commander of arms, despite the emperor’s continuous reign.
From here forth this change in the system prevails: the shogun running the country and the emperor essentially becoming a figurehead. Another important event is the continuous rise of the Samurai classes until they were regarded as having the highest-ranked profession. They developed the code of Bushido at this time, closely resembling the Chivalry code of Medieval Europe.
In 1333 after the death of Yorimoto Japan broke, in many ways, into chaos. Innumerable battles were held over the title of shogun whilst cultural pastimes such as Zen gardens and origami prospered. In 1467 the Onin war broke out and the central government was destroyed. During this time of chaos, it was Oda Nobunaga who came forward and reunified the country. By the time he died he had conquered over one third of the lands.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi takes over at this point; he had been Oda’s first in command for the length of his rule. Hideyoshi, suspicious of the Europeans and their territorial ambitions, takes it upon himself to order the missionaries out of Japan and ban foreigners from visiting the country At this point, Toytomi is fearful of attack from his first in command, Tokugawa Ieysu, and sends him to the near abandoned region of Edo (modern day Tokyo) out of fear. Tokugawa being as strategic as he was, managed to turn the ransacked mess into an impenetrable fortress and through a civil war, took control of Japan.
Tokugawa separated the country’s denizens into four ranks: the samurai, the farmers, the artisans, and the merchants. In addition to this, he managed to govern the most peaceful time in feudal japan, spanning 73 years. Eventually the Era ended, as all great ages do- although, that does not stop it from being one of the greatest periods of rule in the world.
So please, feel free to weave your way through our collection of studies and articles on this era. We hope you find them as interesting as we do.