IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > E. East Asia, c. 1500–c. 1800 > 4. Japan, 1542–1793
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1493)
4. Japan, 1542–1793
1542 or 1543
Portuguese aboard a Chinese vessel landed near the island of Tanegashima, off the southern coast of Kysh. They introduced the musket, which soon modified Japanese warfare. Other Portuguese ships followed and entered into trading relations with the lords of western Japan.  1
Francis Xavier (1506–52), the famous Jesuit missionary, introduced Christianity into Japan, proselytizing among the feudal domains of the west and also in Kyoto, but with little success. On the whole he was well received, and in some cases the feudal lords even encouraged conversions in the hope of attracting Portuguese trade. But the doctrinal intolerance of the missionaries soon earned them the bitter enmity of the Buddhist clergy and led to proscriptions of the new religion in certain fiefs. Xavier left behind two Jesuits and the Japanese converts who formed the nucleus of the new church.  2
ODA NOBUNAGA (1534–82) seized Kyoto and set up a puppet shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki (1537–97, r. 1568–73). Lord of the provinces of Owari, Mino, and Mikawa east of Kyoto, Nobunaga had acted in response to a secret appeal from the emperor. This daring blow gave him all but total control of central Japan.  3
The process of political disintegration had already run its course by the period of national unification, or Azuchi-Momoyama period, and in these few decades, through the efforts of three great leaders, the nation was again united as the periphery was gradually subjugated by the military hegemons of the capital region. This was unquestionably one of the most dynamic epochs of Japanese history. “Japanese pirates” were at their height and were active even in Thai and Philippine waters. Korea was invaded on two separate occasions. Closer contacts with the Asian mainland and with Europeans resulted in an influx of new intellectual and artistic currents. Buddhism was in decline and its monasteries were being deprived of their military power, but militant Christianity was at its peak in Japan, and lay learning was revived after the years of warfare. New skills and new products from the West profoundly affected the economy of the land, and in those years of relative peace Japan's wealth and productivity expanded rapidly. The private-customs barriers that had hampered trade were abolished, and the old monopolistic guilds (za) for the most part came to end.  4
The artistic and intellectual spirit of the period contrasted sharply with what it had been in the Ashikaga era. It was a more exuberant, expansive age. Earlier Zen-inspired stress on refinement and simplicity gave way to shows of great pomp and to ostentatiousness. Architecture, for example, demonstrated a love of gorgeous design and majestic size. Castles and palaces rather than monasteries were the typical structures of the day.  5
Nagasaki was opened to foreign trade by the local lord, mura (sometimes dated 1567 or 1568). This small fishing village soon became Japan's greatest port for foreign commerce.  6
Nobunaga destroyed the Enryakuji on Mount Hiei, thus eliminating the most powerful of all the monasteries as a military force. In these same years he also waged usually successful wars against other Buddhist groups, especially the militant cliques of the True Pure Land sect (Ikk sect), as in the siege of their central monastery, Ishiyama honganji, in Osaka (1570–80). Nobunaga's violent opposition to Buddhism as an organized political force finally broke the temporal power of the monasteries.  7
Nobunaga set to work on the Azuchi castle on the shores of Lake Biwa. This was the first great castle of Japan and heralded the beginning of several decades of widespread castle building. Azuchi was destroyed at the time of Nobunaga's death.  8
TOYOTOMI HIDEYOSHI (1536–98), Nobunaga's brilliant, lowborn general, conquered much of western Japan from the Mri family in the name of Nobunaga.  9
The death of Uesugi Kenshin (1530–78), together with the earlier demise of his great enemy, Takeda Shingen (1521–73), removed two formidable rivals of Nobunaga in eastern Japan.  10
The conversion of tomo Srin (Yoshishige, 1530–87), a powerful lord of Kysh, to Christianity gave the foreign religion a greater foothold on that island, where it had become quite strong since the conversion of some lesser lords of the western littoral, such as mura (1562) and Arima (1576). The Christians, who were for the most part confined to the fiefs with Christian lords, were estimated at 150,000 in 1582.  11
Nobunaga was killed by a discontented general, Akechi Mitsuhide (1526–82). Hideyoshi returned from his western campaigns and destroyed Mitsuhide. A contest for power with the remaining members of the Oda family, supported by TOKUGAWA IEYASU (1542–1616), one of Nobunaga's vassal lords in eastern Japan, brought about the elimination of the Oda, and an understanding was reached with Ieyasu.  12
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.