Warring States

(The Age of the Country at War)


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Although the samurai warriors and their Bushido value system emerged as far back as the wars leading up to Minamoto Yoritomo's establishment of the Kamakura Shogunate in 1185, their role and status had evolved considerably by the time of the Age of the Country at War. By the time Will Adams (the real life character on whom the story of Pilot-Major John Blackthorne is based in Shogun) arrived in "the Japans" in 1600, Bushido, Zen and their accoutrements--notably seppuku--were part of the "way" of the elites. Follow these links (and the links within the links) to understand the state of affairs in Japan on the eve of its unification.


The Age of the Country at War marked the heyday of the samurai, still celebrated in 21st century Japan's popular culture. The present Hosokawa family can trace its roots to the Warring States period when it produced military figures and leaders, who were also proud of their skills in the arts and signature culture of traditional Japan, such as poetry and performing the tea ceremony with impeccable grace. Hosokawa Fujitaka (1534-1610) "was not only a warrior but also a highly refined scholar, famed for his achievements and patronage of Noh and music, as well as his devotion to the Way of Tea..." (Woodson ix). He served each of the great unifiers, Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. His successor, Hosokawa Tadaoki, fought heroically at the Battle of Sekigahara, which marked the end of the Age of the Country at War and the beginning of the Edo period.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosokawa_Fujitaka >
and Woodson

The samurai (and their daimyo overlords) produced a unique Japanese culture. "This elite warrior caste...[played] a central role in Japan's history and culture..." (Smith C23). The samurai "adhered to a strict code of honor built around loyalty, self-discipline, obligation, and the shame of failure" (Smith C23). The samurai followed the unbending principle to die rather than bring dishonor to his family, his clan, his daimyo lord, his emperor. Next to his two swords (one [katana]for slashing and one [tanto] for stabbing,) which he wore in his sash, the samurai's most highly prized possession was his suit of armor. "...[A]rms and armor of suitable grandeur and efficiency were required..." (Smith C23). The 16th century suit of armor shown here is made of iron, lacquer, leather, wood, paper-maiché, and silk; its distinctive deer horns made the warrior visible in the heat of battle.* Consider the level of technology that enabled Japanese artisans to produce a coat of armor that was also a work of art!

image source < http://www.metmuseum.org >

The Samurai Creed

I have no parents; I make the Heavens and the Earth my parents.
I have no home; I make the Tan T'ien my home.
I have no divine power; I make honesty my Divine Power.
I have no means; I make Docility my means.
I have no magic power; I make personality my Magic Power.
I have neither life nor death; I make A Um my Life and Death.
I have no body; I make Stoicism my Body.
I have no eyes; I make The Flash of Lightning my eyes.
I have no ears; I make Sensibility my Ears.
I have no limbs; I make Promptitude my Limbs.
I have no laws; I make Self-Protection my Laws.

I have no strategy; I make the Right to Kill and the Right to Restore Life my Strategy.
I have no designs; I make Seizing the Opportunity by the Forelock my Designs.
I have no miracles; I make Righteous Laws my Miracle.
I have no principles; I make Adaptability to all circumstances my Principle.
I have no tactics; I make Emptiness and Fullness my Tactics.
I have no talent; I make Ready Wit my Talent.
I have no friends; I make my Mind my Friend.
I have no enemy; I make Incautiousness my Enemy.
I have no armour; I make Benevolence my Armour.
I have no castle; I make Immovable Mind my Castle.
I have no sword; I make No Mind my Sword.


Another way of expressing the 15th century samurai creed:


From "The Zen Way to the Martial Arts"

Bushido, the "way of the samurai," or "way of the warrior" grew out of the fusion of Buddhism and Shinto. Below are the seven principles underlying the spirit of Bushido: Bu--martial arts; shi--warrior; do--the way.
It can be summarized in seven essential principles:

1. Gi: the right decision, taken with equanimity, the right attitude, the truth. When we must die, we must die. Rectitude.
2. Yu: bravery tinged with heroism.
3. Jin: universal love, benevolence toward mankind; compassion.
4. Rei: right action--a most essential quality, courtesy.
5. Makoto: utter sincerity; truthfulness.
ó. Melyo: honor and glory.
7. Chugo: devotion, loyalty.

The way of the samurai is imperative and Practice, in the body, through the unconscious, is fundamental to it, thus the enormous importance attached to the learning of right action or behavior.

Bushido has influenced Buddhism; Buddhism has influenced Bushido; the elements of Buddhism found in Bushido are five:

Pacification of the emotions;

Tranquil compliance with the inevitable;

Self-control in the face of any event;

A more intimate exploration of death than of life;

Pure poverty.


Based on Bushido and samurai values described above, which they assiduously cultivated and inculcated in their followers, the three great unifiers, Oda Nobunaga (left) Hideyoshi (below,) and Tokugawa Ieyasu used the chaos of the Age of the Country at War to forge a new Japan. They took advantage of the breakdown of social order, the plethora of ronin, or unattached samurai, the landless peasants (whom they absorbed into their armies as infantry pikemen or ashigaru ["lightfoots,"] and finally of the Europeans' guns-trade-Christianity.

Hideyoshi, a peasant who rose to be dictator of Japan, was the second of the great unifiers. Once he achieved power (though he could never be be emperor or shogun,) he re-established the feudal order and hierarchy that the long civil wars had pulverized. He disarmed the peasants in a "sword hunt" and tied them to the land in a census. He hoped, upon his death, that his young son, Hideyori, would succeed to the shogunate, but he did not take into sufficient account the ambitions of his comrade-in-arms, Tokugawa Ieyasu.


Tokugawa Ieyasu, who "ate the rice," founded the shogunate or bakufu that would rule Japan until the 19th century. He first served under Nobunaga and then Hideyoshi, indeed pledging to support Hideyoshi's son Hideyori, though that turned out not to be the case. In 1600, Tokugawa led his samurai against Hideyori and the Council of Five Elders. Tokugawa's great victory, and the unification of Japan, were achieved at the Battle of Sekigahara, considered a turning point in Japanese history. As a "heroic founder," Tokugawa's armor has been preserved for posterity.

image source (Turnbull 83)

Meanwhile, the arrival of the European--that is, the Jesuits, with their Christianity, trade, and guns--had a major impact on Japan during the Age of the Country at War. The advent of infantry, muskets, and particularly of heavier artillery necessitated alterations in traditional Japanese architecture, leading to several decades of castle building by the chief and rival daimyo. Matsumoto Castle (on the left,)


Fushimi Momoyama Castle ( left) was built in the late 16th century, and Hideyoshi built a fortress for himself at Osaka at about the same time (right.)

(castle graphics, Turnbull 106-107)

The final unifier, Tokugawa, built his keep, Nagoya Castle, where the Owari branch of the family lived until the Meiji Revolution, 1868. According to Bentley and Ziegler, with reference to the unification of Japan, "Oda Nobunaga planted the rice, Hideyoshi reaped the rice, and Tokugawa Ieyasu ate the rice!"

(Turnbull 119)

One of Tokugawa's allies in the unification of Japan was Honda Tadakatsu (seen in a scroll painting, left, in his full samurai regalia, complete with deer antlers.) He earned praise and fame as the "Samurai among Samurai" ("Honda Tadakatsu). In addition to serving Tokugawa and fighting along side him at the Battle of Sekigahara, Honda cemented his ties with the shogunate by arranging for his granddaughter to marry Tokugawa's grandson. However, Honda had a difficult time adjusting to the o-p-u of the Tokugawa bakufu. For life and society under the Tokugawa Shogunate, proceed to the next page.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Tadakatsu >

*do you see where the creator's of Darth Vader's outfit found their inspiration?

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"Honda Tadakatsu." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Tadakatsu >

"Hosokawa Fujitaka." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosokawa_Fujitaka >

"Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868." The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.
images available online. < http://www.metmuseum.org >

Smith, Roberta. "Wise Warriors, Artfully Attired." The New York Times Weekend Arts.
Friday, October 23, 2009.

Turnbull, Stephen. The Book of the Samurai. London: Bison Books, Ltd., 1982.

Woodson, Yoko. Lords of the Samurai: The Legacy of a Daimyo Family. San Francisco:
Asian Art Museum, 2009.

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