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"It's time for: Who's going to be the next shogun? Usually it's the shogun's kid, but the shogun doesn't have a kid, so he tries to get his brother to quit being a monk and be the next shogun. He says okay, but then the shogun has a kid. So now who's it gonna be? Vote now on your phones! And everyone voted so hard that the palace caught on fire and burned down (the shogun actually didn't care, he was off somewhere doing poetry).

And the whole country broke into pieces. Everyone is fighting with each other for local power, and it's anybody's game."

The Sengoku Period (戦国時代, Sengoku Jidai), or the "Warring States Period" (no, not that one) was a period stretching from the mid-fifteenth to the late sixteenth centuries. It is remembered as a time of bloody civil wars and political intrigue which paved the way for the rise of the modern nation of Japan. The last several decades in particular (known as the Azuchi-Momoyama Period) are regarded by many as some of the most crucial in Japanese history.

It is important to note that the Sengoku Period is usually not classified as a period of Japanese history in the same way that the Meiji or Nara Periods are. It is regarded foremost as a cultural period, a time of transition from Japan's medieval to the early modern age. Because it straddles several periods, the Period itself is generally placed within the context of the "official" historical periods it takes place in (Muromachi, Azuchi-Momoyama, and Edo). Dates for the exact start and end of the period are also debated: although it is traditionally marked by the Ōnin War in 1467, some mark the period's beginning in 1490 when the actual power of the Ashikaga was transferred from the shogun to Hosokawa Masamoto (the shogunal deputy and son of Katsumoto who was involved in the Ōnin War), and others mark it in 1491, when the Hōjō clan began to rise to power in the Kanto region. The end of the period is even more debated, with dates ranging from 1568 (Oda Nobunaga's capture of Kyoto and deposition of the Ashikaga) to 1615 (the Siege of Osaka).

The era stands out as an all-time low point for Japanese unity. Feudal lords were in a constant contest of power with one another, and many of the major historical events of this period were either caused by or resulted in chronic backstabbing. The political authority of the Emperor was also regarded by pretty much everyone as a joke, and he was really little more than a symbolic figurehead. However, even the aforementioned Ashikaga shogunate had very little power worth possessing, as most of it had been splintered among the daimyō. As a result, most daimyō were more concerned with controlling neighboring clans' territories and didn't even bother trying to conquer Kyoto. By 1500, daimyō were acting completely independently of the government. Major clans of this period include (but are not limited to): the Hōjō of Kanto, the Mōri of western Chūgoku, the Chōsokabe of Shikoku, the Shimazu of southern Kyūshū, the Date of Tōhoku, the Oda of Aichi, the Takeda of eastern Chūbu, and the Uesugi of Niigata.

Despite the constant warring, the Sengoku Period also saw a flowering of Japanese culture. The tea ceremony rose to prominence during this time, as did Noh theatre. Books, poetry, and music were widely diffused across the country by Zen Buddhist monks. Shinto, which had been nearly absorbed by Shingon Buddhism over the past few centuries, saw a revived interest that would make it rise to prominence as Japan's dominant religion in the centuries to come (eventually culminating in the rise of State Shinto). Economics also saw a boom during this time, with the daimyō seeking to bolster their armies and enrich their domains. The agricultural and mining industries both boomed, leading to a subsequent rise in commerce and trade. Port cities like Hyōgo (now Kobe), Hakata, Nagasaki, and Sakai became economic hubs. Even Kyoto, despite the ever-changing political powers-that-were leaving the city a wreck, was quickly rebuilt and became an economic and cultural center.

This was also the only time in pre-modern Japan that the country had any sustained interaction with the Western world. The arrival of Portuguese ships in 1543 began a span of time known as the Nanban trade period, which lasted nearly a century. Soon after the Portuguese ships arrived came the Spanish and the Dutch, though most trade happened through the Portuguese. note  The effects of this trade were substantial: Japan was introduced to European fabrics, glassware, clocks, tobacco, and most important for its time, firearms. Provinces which traded with the West gained a significant advantage in military combat with the introduction of the arquebus and the cannon, especially since most Japanese fortifications of the time were made of wood and stone. The effect of this trade was also significant enough that there are still loan words in Japanese of Portuguese and Dutch origin, such as "gomu" from "gom" (Dutch for "rubber" or rubber materials), "karuta" from "carta" (Portuguese for playing cards) and "pan" from "pão/pan" (Portuguese/Spanish for "bread", respectively). It also gave the Japanese both the name and the basic recipe for tempura (from Latin tempora for "time", a reference to the Lenten fasting season during which the Catholic Portuguese and Spaniards would often eat fried fish and vegetables because they could not eat meat and battered deep-fried fish/vegetables were traditional in Iberia).

As detailed elsewhere, this was also the time during which Christianity first reached Japan. The first contact was made through the Catholic missionary St. Francis Xavier,note who arrived with the Portuguese traders in 1549. The daimyō of southern Japan (on the island of Kyūshū), Otomo Sorin, saw an opportunity in Christianity to establish better trade relations with the Portuguese, and so most early missionary work — contrary to the usual form of the time — launched from the top and worked its way down to the commoners, rather than vice-versa (though the largest number of converts still came from the peasants). Nagasaki in particular was greatly affected by Christianity, as before the arrival of the Portuguese and the missionaries it was an insignificant fishing town. Thanks to increased trade between east and west, it gradually transformed into a major economic port and a Christian hub city in its part of the world. Ironically, the persecution and martyrdom of Christians several decades later was carried out primarily in Nagasaki — although when Christianity went underground in Japan, most of these "hidden Christians" ("kakure kirishitan") lived in Nagasaki.

The Sengoku Period is also the period which saw the rise of the shinobi — the Ninja. In reality, the ninja was never a crucial figure of Japanese history and only had any significance for a few decades of the Sengoku Period. Part of the problem is that there aren't many historical records of the ninja - really, we are not even exactly certain what their training was like. Most shinobi were from the lower class of society, so they were usually not skilled in tactics like a samurai would be - although some ninja were Rōnin (masterless samurai), so again, who knows? We do know that the center of their training was always operating in ways that kept them unseen and undetected. They were first and foremost mercenaries, employed by the different warlords for reconnaissance and espionage. Once the Tokugawa rose to power in the 16th century, combat was highly codified with a great emphasis on honor and fair play, and so the ninja (who fought in secrecy, using whatever worked to their advantage) fell out of favor.* Many fables were written about the ninja during the Meiji Restoration, which romanticized "classic Japanese" culture, and that is where the myths that a ninja could walk on water, turn invisible, control nature, and use "ninja weapons" and martial arts came from. Thus the ninja became popular again, but it was at this point mainly a cultural icon (a phenomenon comparable to the history of the cowboy in American culture).

The Sengoku Period is often dramatized in Japanese media due to its incredible historical significance. In addition to a large number of historical accounts and documentaries, the Sengoku Period is also the subject of numerous Jidaigeki, with its intricacy and intrigue providing a bounty of material for Japanese writers, poets, filmmakers, and animation studios. The lives, legacies, and personalities of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu in particular have been scrutinized, romanticized, deconstructed, and theorized over by countless scholars. A popular set of three haiku poems accurately summarizes each leader's personality as follows:

Nakanu nara, koroshite shimae, hototogisu. (If the cuckoo does not sing, kill it - Nobunaga.)

Nakanu nara, nakasete miyou, hototogisu. (If the cuckoo does not sing, coax it - Hideyoshi.)

Nakanu nara, naku made matou, hototogisu. (If the cuckoo does not sing, wait for it - Ieyasu.)

Another popular saying of the three goes: "Nobunaga pounds the national rice cake, Hideyoshi kneads it, and in the end Ieyasu sits down and eats it."

For more information about works which deal specifically with these three figures, check out their respective articles.

Of course, there are many other interesting historical figures besides these three which are worth reading up on, such as Date Masamune, Hattori Hanzō, and Saigō-no-Tsubone (Lady Saigō).

Below follows a more detailed breakdown of the Sengoku Period from start to finish.

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    Prelude — The Muromachi Period 

In 1338, Ashikaga Takauji seized control of Kyoto from the emperor of Japan and declared himself the shogun (roughly meaning "general", the position was comparable to a generalissimo, effectively a military ruler). This establishment of the Ashikaga shogunate marks the beginning of the Muromachi period of Japanese history,* so named because the new Ashikaga government was established in the Muromachi district of Kyoto.

The early Muromachi Period's strongest political figure was by far Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408), the third shogun in line. Yoshimitsu established trade relations with China, ended the warring between the rival Northern and Southern Imperial Courts, was a great patron of the arts, and gave the feudal landlords - the daimyō - greater control over their lands. Unfortunately, Yoshimitsu's successors gradually became weaker and weaker, further decentralizing the government's power and placing more power in the hands of the daimyō. The decline of Ashikaga authority is metonymically illustrated in two Zen Buddhist temples they patronized: the Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺, "Temple of the Golden Pavilion", built at the height of Yoshimitsu's authority and covered in gold leaf), and Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺, "Temple of the Silver Pavilion", commissioned by 8th Shogun Yoshimasa, but was never finished with its intended silver leaf coating due to his government's loss of resources and authority).note 

All of this gave pretext to the Sengoku Period, which is traditionally marked as beginning with the Ōnin War (1467-1477). The Ōnin War began as a relatively local conflict over the succession of the Ashikaga shogunate which escalated into a decade-long war between rivaling warlords vying to control the shogunate. In the end, Kyoto was left practically burned to the ground and the Ashikaga shogunate held power in name only. For many years after, rivaling daimyō would fight for control of the puppet government - although by this point, controlling the court meant very little anyway, as virtually all actual power had been fractured among the many daimyō across Japan. Despite efforts by the 13th Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiteru (1536-1565), to recapture the authority of his office, he would be forced to remain in a rubber-stamp position by the Miyoshi and Matsunaga clans. In his subsequent attempts to rally any major daimyo to succor his authority (be it the Takeda, the Uesugi and the Oda), his enemies eventually chose to assassinate him in 1565.

After several decades of a relative status quo of infighting, the Sengoku Period came to a head with the rise of three key figures who are some of the most important in Japanese history: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Since the bulk of this era's action can in some way be traced back to one of the three, most accounts of the Sengoku Period devote a lot of their time to studying these three figures. We'll focus here specifically on how each of these three men played a role in the period at large. For more personal information on each of the three as individuals, check their respective articles.

    The Rise of Oda Nobunaga 
The first of Japan's three uniters, Oda Nobunaga, was born in 1534 in the Owari province (modern-day Aichi prefecture), possibly near the city of Nagoya. He was known in his youth for being strange and uncouth, though after the unexpected death of his father in 1551, he quickly proved his military chutzpah by killing his uncle and his brother, who challenged his right of succession. Nobunaga quickly reunited the Oda clan, and by 1559 - at the age of 25 - he had united the whole Owari province under his rule. Nobunaga quickly consolidated and expanded his power over the following decade. In the Battle of Okehazama, Nobunaga defeated the combined forces of the Imagawa and Matsudaira clans, which numbered about 40,000, with a force of only 3,000 by launching a surprise attack and using the poor weather conditions to his advantage. Breaking ties with the weakened Imagawa clan, the Matsudaira clan forged an alliance with the Oda, ending decades of hostility. Who was responsible for this alliance? Matsudaira Motoyasu, better known by his name later in life, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Several years afterward, Nobunaga further increased his power in the Siege of Inabayama Castle, where he took over the neighboring Mino province (modern-day Gifu), greatly extending the Oda clan's reach. At the conclusion of the battle, Nobunaga revealed his ambition for the first time: to conquer all of Japan.

With central Japan firmly under his control, Nobunaga took advantage of his strategically favorable position and set his sights on the capital city of Kyoto. In 1568, he marched on the capital and crushed all opposition. Nobunaga, of course, had no intention of serving the Muromachi shogunate and devoted his work instead to consolidating his territory in central Japan. He spent the next 5 years beating back the opposing daimyō who challenged his rule and had formed into an anti-Oda alliance. The deadliest of these opponents was the legendary general Takeda Shingen, who was said to have the most powerful army in Japan. Marching his army toward Nobunaga's home province of Owari, he easily stomped over Oda's allies and was practically at the front step of Owari when in 1573 he suddenly died of mysterious circumstances (theories range from assassination to stomach cancer). Takeda's forces lost their nerve and quickly retreated to the Kai province, thus saving Nobunaga from near-certain destruction.

    The Beginning of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period 
The years following Takeda's death officially mark the beginning of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period*, although realistically it began with Nobunaga's conquering of Kyoto in 1568. Shortly after Takeda Shingen's death, he also deposed Ashikaga Yoshiaki, ending the Ashikaga shogunate for good. Nobunaga steadily gained territory on both the western and eastern fronts, gradually expanding his rule and solidifying his reputation as a ruthless and undaunted adversary. This also carried over into the realm of politics: Nobunaga was overall pretty indifferent toward religion, but he recognized the threat that some of the wealthy and/or affluent Buddhist temples could pose a threat to his rule. He suppressed certain sects of Buddhism, especially the Jōdo Shinshū (True Pure Land) Buddhists, who participated in peasant uprisings against the samurai landlords during his rule. In order to overall reduce the power and influence of the Buddhist priests, Nobunaga actually lent support to the Catholic missionary efforts in Japan (at this time, Christianity was still tolerated in Japan). His leniency towards Christianity would unfortunately not be a sympathy shared by his successors - but that's a story for another day. Other innovations and advancements from Nobunaga include the better implementation of pikes and castle fortifications in warfare, as well as the introduction of firearms (brought over by the Portuguese traders) and firearm brigades. He restructured the warrior class system and appointed his retainers and subjects based on ability rather than rank and heritage, as was the common practice of the day. He also laid the foundations for some of the policies his successors would establish by building castle towns as economic centers, encouraging a transition from an economy based on agriculture to one based on manufacture.

Of course, Nobunaga still spent the better part of his time conquering Japan. By 1582, he had conquered the entire Kinai region (roughly equivalent to the modern-day Kansai region), the entire Hokurikudō region (along the Sea of Japan), the San'indō and San'yōdō regions (modern Chūgoku region), and roughly half of the Tōkaidō and Tōsandō regions. His territory spanned as far west and south as northern Kyūshū, as far east as the borders of the Kanto plain, and as far north as Shibata (along the western coast). From his home base of Azuchi castle, close to Kyoto, Oda began aggressively sending out his generals on campaigns to conquer the rest of Japan. Things seemed to be going pretty well, but it wouldn't last. One of Nobunaga's generals, Hashiba Hideyoshi requested reinforcements from Nobunaga for the Siege of Takamatsu Castle in the Chūgoku region. Nobunaga obliged and sent out most of the force he had with him, only leaving a few troops and his personal guard. Nobunaga had every reason to believe he was safe; after all, the biggest threats were at the borders of his territory, and he was at the heart of it. Another of Nobunaga's generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, seized this opportunity and marched on Azuchi castle, betraying his lord. Rather than surrender, Nobunaga committed seppuku (ritual suicide) as Akechi's men stormed the gates. Before dying, Nobunaga instructed his page, Mori Ranmaru, to burn the castle, so that his enemies could not take his head. His body was never found. After capturing Azuchi, Mitsuhide attacked Nobunaga's eldest son and heir, Nobutada, who also committed seppuku. This essentially guaranteed that Nobunaga wouldn't have a blood successor. The reasons for Akechi's betrayal and the circumstances of Oda Nobunaga's death are the subject of much speculation, debate, and conspiracy theory. Some say that Akechi had a grudge against Nobunaga; others say he wanted Japan for himself; some even say he was working together with some of Nobunaga's other generals. Whatever the circumstances, the fruit of Akechi's betrayal was even shorter-lived than Nobunaga. The most powerful man in Japan just died and left all his territory behind, and news like that spreads fast. What followed was a mad scramble by each of Nobunaga's retainers to assemble a power base and seize Nobunaga's legacy for themselves.

    The Succession of Toyotomi Hideyoshi 
The winner of this scramble for power was the previously mentioned general Hashiba Hideyoshi. In only the two weeks after Nobunaga's death, he made a truce with the clan he was currently fighting in the Chūgoku region, marched his army toward Azuchi to intercept Mitsuhide's, and defeated them in the Battle of Yamazaki. Now in a position of power, Hideyoshi secured his leadership by supporting Nobunaga's infant grandson as his successor and proposing a co-leadership to the Oda clan. This quickly turned into to open combat against the Oda clan, but Hideyoshi held his own: by 1584, he had ended all dissent and had secured all of the Oda domain as his own.

Like Nobunaga before him, Hashiba Hideyoshi had never attained the title of shogun. In fact, he wasn't even of noble background: he was a common foot soldier who gradually rose through the ranks. So in 1585, he adopted himself into the Fujiwara clan. The Imperial court also showered him with official titles, and in 1586, the court officially gave Hashiba Hideyoshi the name he is better remembered by: Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Thus began the second phase of Japan's unification. Oda Nobunaga had already accomplished a lot of the, shall we say, aggressive negotiations, which left Hideyoshi with reinforcing the foundation and tying up the loose ends. From his base of power in Osaka castle, Hideyoshi continued his conquest on the borders of his territory, capturing the northern provinces and Shikoku in 1583 and Kyūshū in 1587. In 1590, Hideyoshi defeated his last opponents, the Hōjō clan of the Kanto region (modern-day Tokyo), in the Siege of Odawara, becoming the first general to unite all of Japan under his rule.

Hideyoshi also enacted some heavy-handed policies to secure his rule. In 1587, he banned all Christian missionaries from Japan out of fear of possible dissent from the converted daimyō in Kyūshū. Since the daimyō who did convert mostly did so out of a desire for stronger trade relations with the West, there was little complaint among the higher-ups about this. Among the lower classes, however, there was considerable dissent, and to make an example, Hideyoshi executed 26 Christians (a mix of Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries) in 1597 in Nagasaki*. The next several decades would only become more and more difficult for the Japanese "Kirishitans", as they were called. Other precautions carried out by Hideyoshi included the destruction of many castles constructed during the Sengoku Period, the forbidding of samurai as active farmers (forcing them to move to castle towns), restrictions on inter-provincial travel, and the "Sword Hunt" of 1588, where he confiscated the weapons of all farms and religious institutions, only allowing members of the samurai class to bear arms. Hideyoshi's mindset was that more clearly divided social classes would be easier to control (taking their weapons away probably didn't hurt either). Not all of his policies were like this, however - some actually were positive, such as the banning of "unfree labor" (slavery). Hideyoshi also significantly balanced the power of the daimyō. He did this through the introduction of land and production surveys and a national census. Hideyoshi used these surveys to re-partition the land among the daimyō according to output of rice; provinces with greater yields of rice were given to his more trusted and higher-ranking daimyō. The positive effect of these policies were affirmed later on when, after taking over from where Hideyoshi started, Tokugawa Ieyasu would continue, consolidate and institutionalize many of them.

    Interlude — War with Korea 
Though considered an 'interlude', it was an expensive endeavour, consisting of the largest military mobilization in pre-modern Japanese history, and its first major naval buildup. This concentrated effort would not be repeated again until the first Sino-Japanese War.

Having united Japan and reorganized his infrastructure, Hideyoshi began turning his gaze across the sea and megalomaniacally boasted he would conquer the Ming dynasty in China, and move the capital from Kyoto to Beijing. Though it was speculated that his ulterior motive was to exhaust the excessive military buildup resulting from continuous warfare that only recently concluded, which was taking a toll on the economy. Thus in 1590, Hideyoshi officially requested safe passage to China through Korea. However, Korea refused Hideyoshi's demands, and so from 1592 to 1598 Japan engaged in a sporadic series of invasions of Korea (known there as the Imjin War). Hideyoshi had a strong start - in 1592, he sent 200,000 men to capture Seoul, which they did in a matter of weeks. Kato Kiyomasa even managed to cross the Yalu into Manchuria, but was quickly routed by his Jurchen opposition. Realizing the Japanese army was ill-suited to engage in open-field warfare, Kato Kiyomasa retreated back to Korea, thus marking Manchuria the furthest destination ever reached by the Japanese army during the Imjin War. News of Korea's debacle soon reached the Ming court, and in the following year, the Chinese army poured into Korea. The Chinese and its Korean allies soon recovered Pyongyang, and followed up with a march directly to Hanseong (modern day Seoul). After recovering Hanseong, the allied armies forced the Japanese to pull back, but the latter remained steadfast in their defenses, and attempted to force a stalemate. The war then entered into a period of truce when both Chinese and Japanese delegations, excluding the Koreans, negotiated peace-terms. Unfortunately, Hideyoshi's subordinate, Konishi Yukinaga and Chinese negotiator Shen Weijing conspired to meddle in the diplomatic process by forging correspondences. The result angered both sides, and another war soon became inevitable. A second invasion was then attempted in 1597. In both instances, Japan made decent territorial gains on land, and the Korean forces overall had great difficulty defeating the Japanese head-on. However, the Koreans were skilled in guerrilla warfare, and they used it to great effect: folks ranging from common citizens to aristocrats to warrior monks were arranged into guerrilla militias known as "righteous armies" which engaged in raids and surprise attacks on the Japanese. The Koreans were also effective at cutting off Japan's supply lines; special mention goes to Korean naval general Yi Sun-sin, who beat back the Japanese navy on multiple occasions despite being outnumbered, sometimes vastly so (the most famous of these instances being the Battle of Myeongyang). As the war dragged on, Chinese reinforcements continued flowing into Korea, and the Japanese were gradually beaten back. The Japanese made a final stand at the Battle of Sacheon in 1598. Japanese forces clashed with Ming Chinese and Joseon Korean forces until all parties had been beaten to exhaustion. Japanese forces managed to hold its position for a while, but realized it was only time before the entire army would be surrounded, trapped and eventually destroyed. The Japanese forces then proceeded to conduct an orderly retreat, and in 1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi passed away, thus ending the Korean campaign.

    The Boiling Point 
Korea was abandoned, but with the death of Hideyoshi, Japan now had a much bigger problem on its plate: who would succeed Hideyoshi? Hideyoshi had attempted to rectify this problem himself after the birth of his son Hideyori by banishing his nephew (and heir) Hidetsugu to Mt. Kōya and ordering him to commit seppuku in 1595. He then mercilessly killed 31 of Hidetsugu's family members in Kyoto, including women and children. Afterward, he assembled a Council of Five Elders to govern Japan as regents for his son, hoping that the balance of power between his five most powerful daimyō would prevent any conflict until his son came of age. It didn't work.

The presence of Hideyoshi and his brother Hidenaga had managed to keep fighting to a minimum so far, but the death of Maeda Toshiie (the oldest and most respected of the five regent generals), and only a year after the death of Hideyoshi himself, led to infighting among the remaining four. Of these generals, Tokugawa Ieyasu was the most powerful and influential. He had fought under both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in battle before they rose to power — and when they did, he became one of their most powerful generals and trusted allies. So the other generals' lack of trust in Ieyasu was perhaps understandable (his capture of Hideyori's home of Osaka castle after Hideyoshi's death probably didn't do much for him either), but on the other hand, apparently he was given privilege by Hideyoshi to not deploy his own troops even when Hideyoshi was deploying his, and during the Korean Invasion, Ieyasu just stayed in Japan. Since the campaign ended disastrously and left a bitter taste to the Toyotomi clan overall, Ieyasu received favor for not sending his men to unnecessary death. Unfortunately, this mistrust continued to escalate, with general Ishida Mitsunari (who was not one of Hideyoshi's five regent generals) accusing Tokugawa of being unfaithful to Hideyoshi's wishes. Mitsunari planned an attempt on Tokugawa's life, but when Ieyasu's generals learned of this and informed Tokugawa, Tokugawa himself protected Ishida from accusation*. Tokugawa put the blame on the Toyotomi loyalists, including the deceased Maeda's son, Toshinaga. In defiance, one of the three regents, Uesugi Kagekatsu, began amassing his military. Ieyasu demanded an explanation before the Emperor, and Uesugi's chief adviser countered with accusations and mockery of Tokugawa's own defiance of Hideyoshi's rules. Furious, Ieyasu amassed his supporters and began marching north on the Uesugi clan. Ishida, seeing an opportunity, amassed Toyotomi's own allies and prepared an offensive on Tokugawa and his supporters. Upon returning to his home base in Edo, Tokugawa learned of the situation and decided to deploy his troops.

    The Battle of Sekigahara 
Thus began the most important battle in Japanese history: the Battle of Sekigahara. The two sides were split into the Toyotomi loyalists (headed under Ishida and known as the "Western Army") and Tokugawa's supporters (headed under Ieyasu himself and known as the "Eastern Army"). The two armies numbered close to 200,000 men in total, with the Western Army numbering 120,000 and the Eastern Army numbering 75,000*.

Ishida marched his troops from Osaka toward Gifu Castle, intending to use it as a staging area for when he would inevitably attack Kyoto. Since Tokugawa was marching from Edo in the east, there were only two main roads available to him, both of which also converged on Gifu Castle. Unfortunately for Ishida, he was delayed in reaching Gifu, as he was busy trying to capture Fushimi Castle, which was a halfway point between Osaka and Kyoto. By the time Ishida captured Fushimi and reached Gifu, Tokugawa's forces had arrived and taken the castle, forcing Ishida's troops to retreat. The Western Army marched southwest through inclement weather and stopped in Sekigahara, tired from the day's journey and with gunpowder wet from the rain.

Tokugawa had been trailing Ishida up to this point. On October 20th, he learned of the Western Army's position in Sekigahara and marched his forces in. Though Tokugawa had the advantage of marching under better weather, it was very foggy, and at dawn on the next day (October 21st) his advance guard ended up smacking into Ishida's army. Both sides panicked and withdrew, bracing their armies for battle. By 8 AM, the fog had cleared. Both sides issued last-second orders and the battle began.

Fukushima Masanori, the leader of Tokugawa's advance guard, charged from the left flank along the Fuji river into the Western Army's right-center. The ground was wet and muddy from the previous day's rain, so the fighting quickly devolved into chaos. To support the attack, Tokugawa then ordered attacks from his right and center on the enemy's left. In response, Ishida ordered his general of the unscathed center flank to support the right, but his general refused, as daimyō only obeyed the orders of respected commanders, which Ishida was not.

The Eastern Army's advance guard was gaining ground and pushing into the enemy's position, but this left them exposed from the side, and just across the Fuji river were more Western forces under the command of Otani Yoshitsugu. Otani was supported from the rear by Kobayakawa Hideaki, who was positioned on Mount Matsuo.

In the months leading up to the battle, Tokugawa approached multiple daimyō from the Western Army and promised them land and pardon after the battle if they should switch sides. Kobayakawa was one of the daimyō Tokugawa approached, and he agreed to defect. Unfortunately, he did not keep to his word during the battle and instead remained neutral, not attacking either side. As the fighting dragged on, Ieyasu grew impatient and ordered musket fire on Kobayakawa as an ultimatum. Kobayakawa made his choice and defected to the Eastern Army. He ordered his 16,000 men to charge Otani's army, which you'd think would do a lot of good... except that Otani had a lot of men with a lot of dry gunpowder. His men simply turned their guns around and shot most of Kobayakawa's force dead.

Fortunately, the attack was not completely in vain. Otani was already engaged with several other Eastern armies, and Kobayakawa's army ended up being enough to overwhelm Otani's defenses. Seeing this, several more Western generals quickly defected mid-battle*, thus turning the tide in the Eastern Army's favor. Fukushima and Kobayakawa began to press deep into the Western Army's exposed right flank toward the center. Ishida sounded the retreat and retracted what was left of his army to Mount Nangu, where he was betrayed again by one of his generals. The Western Army fell apart, and the Battle of Sekigahara was won.

The Battle of Sekigahara was the culmination of the political turmoil of the Sengoku Period - both on a literal and metaphorical level. It's easy to draw parallels between the decades of warlords backstabbing and changing sides on one another and the events of Sekigahara, where so many forces changed sides - even in the middle of battle - that some had no idea who they were fighting for or against. Amusingly, both sides also had forces which didn't participate in the battle because they arrived too late. If each side had been backed by their full host, who knows how the battle would have turned out?

Tokugawa rounded up the fleeing generals and publicly executed Ishida Mitsunari (among others). The Toyotomi loyalists greatly lost their support and prestige and scattered. Immediately after the battle, Tokugawa redistributed all of the country's land, giving more important and wealthier territories to the daimyō he deemed more loyal to him. Some daimyō, including some from the Western Army, had their territory untouched; others had virtually all their land taken away. Out of the many families/clans coming out of this battle, three would be noteworthy:

  • The Mori, widely agreed to be one of the biggest losers (having nominally led the Western Army apart from Ishida) had most of their Sengoku-era holdings seized. They would settle in Choshu, nursing grudges and plans of rebellion against the Tokugawa for centuries;
  • The Shimazu of Satsuma, whose distance from the mainland gave them the opportunity to foster cultural, economic and social independence from Tokugawa control; and
  • Descendants and retainers of the Chosokabe of Tosa, who would be displaced by the Tokugawa-loyalist Yamauchi clan and treated as second-class citizens.

Three hundred years later, Rōnin and other samurai from Choshu, Satsuma and Tosa would be largely responsible for the Meiji Restoration.

    Aftermath - The Edo Period 
In 1603, at the age of 60, Tokugawa Ieyasu was appointed shogun by the Emperor, becoming the first shogun since the deposition of the Ashikaga in 1573. He had outlived all of the other great men of his time, and could finally rule a united Japan, unchallenged. The beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate marks the beginning of the Edo Period of Japanese history, named after the city of Edo, which Tokugawa made the new capital - you know it today as Tokyo. Most historians mark the end of the Sengoku Period here, but just for completion's sake...

Tokugawa Ieyasu abdicated in 1605, retiring soon after ascending to the shogunate, according to custom. He passed the rule down to his son (which also had the effect of securing a peaceful succession). Tokugawa just had one more matter to settle. He rounded up his troops one last time and marched on Osaka Castle in 1614. Osaka Castle was the home of Toyotomi Hideyori, Hideyoshi's rightful heir. Tokugawa laid siege to the castle until it burned to the ground in 1615, taking the last of the Toyotomi bloodline with it and thereby ending the last possible opposition to his rule, though notably, Tokugawa came into near death when a certain general under Hideyori, Sanada Yukimura, made a mad charge singlehandedly towards his camp and stepped a bit too close to deal the finishing blow to Tokugawa. Luckily for Tokugawa, Sanada's endurance reached his peak that after he declared that he's too tired to fight anymore and then either collapsed out of fatigue and died from his wounds, or Tokugawa's bodyguards came to the rescue and struck him down. Regardless of that, Tokugawa praised Sanada's burning warrior spirit and dubbed him Japan's #1 soldiernote .

Tokugawa himself died the next year (either of cancer or syphilis), leaving behind the beginnings of Japan's third, final, longest-ruling, and most powerful shogunate.

Some important historical names include:

Works set in this time period include:

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Ambition of Oda Nobuna
  • Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales
  • Battle Girls: Time Paradox
  • Batman Ninja: Albeit a version of Sengoku era Japan filled with advanced technology through the presence of Batman and his rogues' gallery.
  • Brave10
  • Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: The story for the most part takes place in the Taisho Period, where the protagonist Tanjiro Kamado and the main character assembly are set; however, events of great importance that shaped current affairs took place in the Sengoku Period, so a few flashback sequences harken back to it, those are: the story of Yoriichi Tsugikuni, the legendary demon slayer that almost killed the series main villain Muzan Kibutsuji, and Yoriichi founding the Breathing Styles, forever changing the ways demon slayers could fight, growing stronger than ever before, posing a real threat against demons from that point in history and onwards.
  • Dororo: The original manga and anime have many comedic anachronisms, but the 2019 anime removes them and turns the story into a serious historical Low Fantasy.
  • Two of the three main protagonists of Drifters are samurai from the Sengoku period who were transferred to a fantasy setting at time of death: The Hero Shimazu Toyohisa is a samurai of Satsuma Domain, while The Smart Guy is Oda Nobunaga himself, who died about twenty years before Toyo. (The third member of the Power Trio is Nasu no Yoichi, who lived several centuries earlier.)
  • The Hakkenden
  • Inuyasha: Modern-day Japanese teenager Kagome Higurashi falls down a well behind her family's temple and ends up in the Sengoku Period. The time period mostly just provides a backdrop for her adventures with the half-demon title character and their True Companions, with battles between warring states sometimes giving a reason for hostile demons to show up.
  • Mirage of Blaze
  • Ninja Girl & Samurai Master
  • Nobunaga Concerto is about a boy from the modern world who is sent to the past. He becomes Nobunaga, while the real Nobunaga becomes Akechi Mitsuhide.
  • Nobunaga no Chef
  • Ōoku: The Inner Chambers: while most of it is set in the Jidaigeki, it does briefly flash back to the tail end of this period during the Reverend Kasuga's early life which shaped her future role as the instigator of the El Cid Ploy that kicks off the manga.
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Puppet Princess: A 40 minute OVA adapted from a manga set in this era, with the added twist that the warring feudal lords have access to giant deadly mechanical puppets.
  • Sengoku Strays
  • Sengoku Youko: A manga set in the late Muromachi period but more focused on the world of the katawara (i.e. gods and youkai) than human politics of the time. Notable exceptions are an arc where the protagonists work with Yoshiteru Ashikaga (portrayed as an extremely cool man with knowledge of the supernatural), and a montage in the epilogue where the King of the Katawara receives reports on figures like Nobunaga and Hideyoshi as they come to power.
  • Stitch & the Samurai (yes, that Stitch)
  • Sword of the Stranger
  • Tono to Issho



    Live-Action TV 
  • 25 out of 62 (as of 2023) of the annual NHK Taiga Drama series focuses specifically on the Sengoku Period. Some notable series would be the following:
    • Dokuganryū Masamune (独眼竜政宗, 1987), with Ken Watanabe in the starring role of Date Masamune.
    • Takeda Shingen (武田信玄, 1988), about the eponymous "Tiger of Kai"
    • Kasuga no Tsubone (春日局, 1989), about the Lady Kasuga, who served as a matronly influence during the reign of third Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu.
    • Nobunaga: King of Zipangu (信長 KING OF ZIPANGU, 1992), while centrally about Oda Nobunaga, also deals with how Japan opened to the world during the time period.
    • Hideyoshi (秀吉, 1996), starring Naoto Takenaka as the future Taiko. The piece was supposedly designed to appeal to 1990s-era Salaryman, casting Hideyoshi as the archetypal Self-Made Man.
    • Mori Motonari (毛利元就, 1997), which tells the story of how Motonari rose from obscurity to head one of the most influential clans of the time.
    • Aoi Tokugawa Sandai (葵 徳川三代, 2000), the first Turn of the Millennium series. Notable as the first series ever to be broadcast in HD, as well as having three central characters (i.e. Tokugawa Ieyasu, his successor Hidetada, and his grandson Iemitsu).
    • Toshiie to Matsu (利家とまつ~加賀百万石物語~, 2002). A tale detailing the life and romance of Maeda Toshiie (a lifelong ally of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi), as well as his Lady of War wife Matsu. The first Taiga drama to have its own page on TV Tropes.
    • Musashi (武蔵 MUSASHI, 2003), about the eponymous legendary swordsman.
    • Komyo ga Tsuji (功名が辻, 2006). Centering on Lady Chiyo, the wife of then-minor daimyo Yamauchi Kazutoyo, and how they navigated the politics of the period to rise as trusted castellans under Ieyasu.
    • Fūrin Kazan (風林火山, 2006). Based on a novel by Yasushi Inouenote . While the central character is samurai strategist Yamamoto Kansuke, his pivotal role as Takeda Shingen's strategist sees him at the center of the latter's rivalry with Uesugi Kenshin, culminating in the Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima. The story also has a Courtly Love subplot between Shingen, Kansuke and the former's concubine Lady Yu. Probably best known for GACKT's well-received turn as Kenshin himself.
    • Tenchijin (天地人, 2009). Told from the perspective of Naoe Kanetsugu, the understudy of Uesugi Kenshin. Can be seen as an Uesugi-side counterpart to Fūrin Kazan and its focus on internal clan politics.
    • Gō: Hime-tachi no Sengoku (江〜姫たちの戦国〜, 2011). Can be seen as a Gender Flip genre version of 2000's Aoi Tokugawa Sandai for The New '10s, being a series with three major characters: Lady Chacha/Yodo (concubine of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and mother of his ill-fated heir Hideyori), Lady Hatsu (wife of Kyogoku Tadatsugu) and the titular Lady Gō (wife of Tokugawa Hidetada and mother to Iemitsu). All three were sisters and daughters of Lady Oichi, Nobunaga's sister—whose elimination of her husband took them to three different roads.
    • Gunshi Kanbei (軍師官兵衛, 2014). Headlined by Junichi Okada of V6, the story focuses on Kuroda Kanbei, infamous strategist who served/worked with all three of the unifiers: Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. Coincidentally, Naoto Takenaka, the headliner of 1996's Hideyoshi, reprises the same role—but not shying away from the paranoia and tragedy of Hideyoshi's latter years, which can make the series a curious Stealth Sequel.
    • Sanadamaru (真田丸, 2016). Named after the barbican held by legendary samurai Sanada Yukimura during the Siege of Osaka, the series itself serves as an ensemble story about generations of the Sanada clan. Screentime focus is distributed between Yukimura himself (under his Real Life name Nobushige), his father Masayuki (who served the Takeda before being forced to strike out on their own), and his elder brother Nobuyuki (who took the Tokugawa side and was forced to fight against him).note .
    • Naotora The Lady Warlord (Onna Jōshu Naotora, おんな城主 直虎, 2017). Telling the tale of Ii Naotora, matriarch of the Ii clan who eventually gained fame as Tokugawa Ieyasu's long-standing retainers.
    • Kirin ga Kuru (麒麟がくる, 2020). The first to premiere in Japan's Reiwa period and to be shot in 4K resolution, giving center-stage to the most notorious traitor of the period: Akechi Mitsuhide.
    • Dōsuru Ieyasu (どうする家康, 2023). An updated retelling of the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu, spanning from his youth to his rise to power. Notable for casting Arashi member Jun Matsumoto as Ieyasu, as well as returning previous Taiga drama leads Junichi Okada (of Gunshi Kanbei) as Oda Nobunaga, as well as Kenichi Matsuyama (of Taira no Kiyomori) as Honda Masanobu.

    Video Games 
  • The Summer arc of AIR
  • Assassin's Creed: Shadows is set in this period where you either play as Nobunaga's vassal, Yasuke, or the shinobi Assassin, Naoe Fujibayashi, the fictional daughter of Nagato Fujibayashi.
  • One of the mods that came bundled with Civilization III's second expansion pack, Conquests, is called "Sengoku: Sword of the Shogun," and is more or less Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A Daimyo Is You. Unite Japan and become Shogun.
  • Conqueror's Blade's Season XVI: Sengoku is set during this period, complete with all kinds of Japanese-themed units, maps, and cosmetics.
  • Demon Chaos is set in this era, starring a powerful wolf warrior by the name of Inugami sent to purge demons that are invading the mortal realm.
  • Europa Universalis IV covers this era in its time frame with a special shogunate mechanism. Any daimyo who manages to capture Kyoto will reign as the shogun, those who are successful enough can unify Japan.
    • A popular Game Mod for Europa Universalis III features a series of scripted events designed to simulate the politics of Japan in this era.
  • Fate/Samurai Remnant features the early years of the Edo period, set just after the death of Miyamoto Musashi and featuring his adoptive son, Miyamoto Iori, as the Player Character. The fact that Iori is an emerging swordsman in the aftermath of the period is a source of frustration for him, which is further fed by his encounter with the best of Japanese history's warriors (as well as a few foreign ones) as Servants. The Shimabara Rebellion (where scores of Japanese Christian perished) also serves as the Freudian Excuse of the Tragic Villain Chiemon.
  • Guwange is only specified as being in the late Muromachi Period, but that overlaps with the Sengoku Period.
  • Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming is set in a fantastic world, but its "Sengoku 30" DLC scenario is, as the name would suggest, based on this era. Taking place on the continent of "Zapan", it has the hero aid Commander Tokuga in fighting off the evil Warlord Hideo.
  • Ikemen Sengoku
  • Inindo
  • Ninja Taro for the Game Boy (Japanese title: Sengoku Ninja-kun)
  • Nioh is set in the final years of the Sengoku period with the story focusing on William Adams, one of the very few Westerners to become a samurai.
  • Nioh2 takes place more towards the middle of the conflict as it primarily follows the exploits of Kinoshita Tōkichirō, later known as Hideyoshi and his friend-turned-enemy the player character. Uniquely, its DLC goes backwards in time, first to the Genpei War, then the Late Heian period, then the Early Heian Period.
  • Nobunaga's Ambition
  • The Onimusha series, which showcases several historical figures and events from the period amidst a larger storyline involving a war between two demon clans.
  • Pokémon Conquest, is Nobunaga's Ambition with Samurai Warrior characters...And Pokemon
  • Samurai Warriors, effectively a version of Dynasty Warriors set in the Sengoku era instead of Imperial China.
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice may be set in a fantastical version of the late Sengoku with immortal ninjas, magical prosthetics, and giant snakes, but the actual politics of the era loom large in the background, with the main antagonist primarly motivated by his desire to protect his clan from the encroaching forces of the Tokugawa (referred to only as "The Interior Ministry").
  • Sengoku, a real-time-with-pause strategy game focused on the plots and intrigues of the era. A Spin-Off of Crusader Kings II.
  • Sengoku Ace series, set in Sengoku era mixed with Steampunk and Magic elements.
  • The Sengoku Basara series can be described as Samurai Warriors running on a mix of Anachronism Stew and Rule of Cool, bringing forth concepts such as Honda Tadakatsu as a giant robot man.
  • Sengoku Rance... also theoretically.
  • Sengoku Night Blood is this if everyone were Vampires, Werewolves, and more.
  • Sengoku IXA, an obscure Japanese web-based strategy game where you play as a Feudal Lord who rule a city, build the facility, grow crops, train troops and recruit heroes to become your war general. Every player character is a retainer of a clan which you choose at the beginning, and every week these clans will be set in a war field where you battle players from other clans. They will try to take each other forts and camp and win the war. No western localization has been made ever since, though an Indonesian game developer briefly collaborated with Square Enix to make their own localization until it's closed down for one reason or another.

    Western Animation 
  • The short Australian CGI spoof Samurice.

Alternative Title(s): Sengoku Jidai