Lesson 10: Japanese History 2

(Citation from Kenneth G. Henshall ”A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower” Macmillan Press 1999)




  When Genghis(チンギス) Khan(ハーン)’s grandson Kublai(フビライ) (1215-94) came to power as Emperor of Great Mongolia in 1260, the Mongol Empire already covered Korea, northern China, and indeed much of Eurasia. Kublai’s next main target was southern China, the base of the Sung() forces. However, he also turned his attention to Japan. In 1268 he sent a letter to the King of Japan threatening invasion if the Japanese did not recognize Mongol overlordship(宗主権) and agree to submit tribute(貢物) to him. The Japanese authoritiescourt and shogunate alikeignored this and subsequent(その後の) letters, but nevertheless the shogunate put the coast of northwestern Kyushu, where any attack was expected to occur, on military alert.

  The first attack came in November 1274. As expected, it came in northwest Kyushu. On this occasion Kublai sent about 900 vessels from Korea carrying some 40,000 men. They landed at Hakata, and the invaders immediately forced the Japanese defenders(防衛軍) inland(内陸に). However, instead of pressing on, that night the Mongol forces returned to their ships. Shortly afterwards these suffered extensive damage, along with considerable loss of life of those on board, when a violent storm blew up. The invaders withdrew to Korea, their numbers reduced by a third.

  The Japanese were alarmed(不安を感じて) at their own inferiority(劣勢) in terms of weaponry(兵器類) and cavalry(騎馬隊) tactics, and strengthened their preparations for an expected second attack.

  The Mongol invasion force of June 1281, which again landed at Hakata, was much larger. It comprised no fewer than 4,400 warships and 140,000 men. By this stage Kublai had secured victory over the Sung in 1279, becoming founder of a new dynasty(王朝) of rulers of China. He also suffered the insult of having his envoys(使節) to Japan beheaded(斬首する) in 1275 and again in 1279. This time he was serious.

  But, large as the Mongol forces were, they were met with staunch(頑強な) resistance and were unable to secure a real foothold(足がかり). Reinforcements(増援部隊) arrived a few weeks later from southern China, but, just as the invaders were planning a massive combined assault, another storm blew up in the form of a typhoon and destroyed most of their fleet(艦隊). Once again they were forced to withdraw, this time with more than half the lost.




 Dissatisfaction towards the Hojo shogunal regents(執権) came to a head under the unusually assertive(独断的な) emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339). Acceding() to() the() throne() in 1318, he was determined to re-establish direct imperial rule. He was inspired in this by the former emperor Go-Toba, who had shown a similar resolve(決意)albeit(〜にもかかわらず) unsuccessfully100 years earlier.

 Go-Daigo tried twice to challenge the shogunate, in 1324 and 1331, but failed on both occasions. Like Go-Toba before him, he was banished(追放する) to the Oki Islands. However, unlike Go-Toba, Go-Daigo soon managed to escape, and succeeded in mustering(召集する) considerable support in the western part of main land.

  In 1333 the Kamakura shogunate sent one of its ablest(有能な) general Ashikaga Takauji (1305-58), to deal with the situation. Takauji, the young head of a branch of the Minamoto family, was an opportunist(日和見主義者). Realizing that he and Go-Daigo had considerable military might between them, he turned traitor(反逆者) to the shogunate and, declaring his support for Go-Daigo, attacked the shogunal offices in Kyoto. Within weeks another powerful young general of Minamoto descendent(末裔), Nitta Yoshisada (1301-38), also rebelled(反逆する) against the shogunate and destroyed its base at Kamakura.

  A new era was nigh(間近な).




 Unlike the Minamoto and Hojo before him Takauji preferred to establish the shogunate in Kyoto, and it was eventually located in the Muromachi area of the city. Administratively(行政上), he used many of the existing structures and offices, such as the jito and shugo.

  However, his relationship with the shugo was problematic, for he had neither land to offer as reward nor the personal charisma of Yoritomo. That is, he could neither buy nor command(起こさせる) their loyalty. Some of the shugo were arguably as powerful as he himself was. Takauji and most of successors(後継者) also proved to be poor leaders, and exercised little real control. Disputes, even within the shogunate itself, were numerous. In one such dispute Takauji arranged the murder of his own brother Tadayoshi(1306-52), continuing the tradition of family first when it came to eliminating(除く) enemies.

  With a few exceptions, actual shogunal power declined steadily with the passing of time. Powerful shugo families such as the Hosokawa, who often occupied the position of shogunal() deputy(), exerted great influence on the shogunate. One shugo family, the Yamana, controlled no fewer than eleven of the sixty-six provinces of their day.  

  The main exception to weak shoguns was probably Yoshimitsu. He not only ‘reunited’ the dual courts, but also attempted to curb(削る) shugo power by the ancient Yamato state method of giving many of them court posts, obliging them to reside in Kyoto where he could keep a watchful eye on them. In order to strengthen his own personal power he created position of ‘retired shogun', which he himself occupied in 1395 after abdicating(位を譲) in() favor(て退任) of(する) his 9-year old son. He then had the world-famous Golden Pavilion built in Kyoto, in the lavish(豪勢な) style of the palaces of retired emperors of old.   




 A divided land is an easily conquered land, but fortunately for Japan the European powers of the day seem to have had no interest in attempting to conquer it. True, Columbus had set out to pave the way for exploitation(開拓) of the fabled(伝説的な) riches of Marco Polo’s Cathay(キタイ、中国の別称) and Cipangu(ジパング), but had been sidetracked(横道にそれる) along the way by the discovery of the New World. This new land had riches of its own. Moreover, it promised to be more easily conquered and exploited than Japan, tiny and peopled with ferocious(残虐な) warriors.  

  And before long, the country was anyway to be reunified. This was largely due to the cumulative(累積的な) accomplishments of three successive military leaders: Oda Nobunaga (1534--82), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98), and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616). Each had their own method, reflecting their personality. There is a well-known saying in Japan that if a song-bird would not sing, Nobunaga would kill it, Hideyoshi would persuade it to sing, and Ieyasu would simply wait for it to sing.

  Nobunaga was a daimyo from Owari Province. An astute(抜け目のない) tactician, he rose from relatively minor status to considerable power through a number of victories over rival daimyo. One of his most important victories was that over the forces of Imagawa Yoshimoto (1519-60) at the Battle of Okehazama in 1560, when his vastly outnumbered(数で勝る) troops succeeded in surrounding the Imagawa forces.

  In 1568 Nobunaga successfully seized Kyoto in support of Ashikaga Yoshiaki (1537-97), one of the claimants(要求する者) to the position of shoguna position still held, albeit nominally(名目上は), by members of various branches of the Ashikaga family. Yoshiaki was duly(正当に) installed as shogun. However, it was obvious from the outset(発端) that it was Nobunaga who was the real power. He even publicly issued directives and admonishments(忠告) to Yoshiaki.  Then, just five years later in 1573, Nobunaga drove him out of the capital for allying(同盟する) with the Takeda family, traditional enemies of the Oda.

  His ultimate aim was inscribed on his personal sealA Unified Realm under Military Rule. He achieved about half of this aim before his life was cut short in an appropriately violent way, in 1582, on a campaign against the Mori family in western Japan. Ironically for a man who burned temples, he was trapped inside a burning temple, Honnoji, after one of his officers, Akechi Mitsuhide (1526-82), turned against him. It is possible he simply burned to death, but likely that he chose to kill himself first.

  Nobunaga's plan to unify the land was carried out further by his retainer(家臣) Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  

  Upon Nobunaga’s death Hideyoshi pursued and defeated his lord’s attacker Akechi Mitsuhide. He then made peace with the Mori family.

  Thanks to Hideyoshis various victories and policies, and thanks to the legacy of Nobunaga's achievements, by the early 1590s the reunification of the country was more or less complete. It still needed, of course, to be consolidated(強化する), and preferably(できれば) under Hideyoshi himself. There had to be constant vigilance(警戒) against any threat to this aim.  

  Hideyoshi’s world was not big enough for him, and he envisaged(心に描く) the conquest of China to establish a pan(アジア)-()Asian(またがる) empire. As the first phase of this grand scheme his forces invaded Korea in 1592, but were driven back by combined Korean and Chinese forces. His campaign(軍事作戦) had not been helped by his own failure to set foot in the field(戦場). He tried again 1597, but this campaign too was abandoned(放棄する), for Hideyoshi died from illness in September 1598.  

  Three years prior to his death, with a view to ensuring continuity of Toyotomi hegemony Hideyoshi had established a council of five of Japan’s greatest daimyo, the Five Great Elders. One of these was Tokugawa Ieyasu.

  From his deathbed Hideyoshi implored(懇願する) the Five Great Elders to look after his infant heir(相続人) Hideyori (1593-1615), and they promised to do so. However, upon his death the promise was not kept by Ieyasu and a dispute arose over who was to be Hideyoshi’s successor. Ieyasu prevailed(優勢である). In the Battle of Sekigahara in October 1600 he triumphed over those who fought in the cause(〜のために) of Hideyori.

  Was this to be the final civil war? Was the national unity so hard won by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi now to be lost, or would Ieyasu be able to maintain control and stability? Time was to tell.