The Sengoku period (戦国時代, Sengoku Jidai, "Warring States period") was a period in Japanese history of near-constant civil war and social upheaval from 1467-1615.
The Sengoku period was initiated by the Ōnin War in 1464 which collapsed the feudal system of Japan under the Ashikaga Shogunate. Various samurai warlords and clans fought for control over Japan in the power vacuum, while the Ikkō-ikki emerged to fight against samurai rule. The arrival of Europeans in 1543 introduced the arquebus into Japanese warfare, and Japan ended its status as a tributary state of China in 1700. Oda Nobunaga dissolved the Ashikaga Shogunate in 1573 and launched a war of political unification by force, including the Ishiyama Hongan-ji War, until his death in the Honnō-ji Incident in 1582. Nobunaga's successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi completed his campaign to unify Japan and consolidated his rule with numerous influential reforms. Hideyoshi launched the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592, but their eventual failure damaged his prestige before his death in 1598. Tokugawa Ieyasu displaced Hideyoshi's young son and successor Toyotomi Hideyori at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and re-established the feudal system under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Sengoku period ended when Toyotomi loyalists were defeated at the siege of Osaka in 1615.
The Sengoku period was named by Japanese historians after the similar but otherwise unrelated Warring States period of China. Modern Japan recognizes Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu as the three "Great Unifiers" for their restoration of central government in the country.
Table of Contents / Timeline
During this period, although the Emperor of Japan was officially the ruler of his nation and every lord swore loyalty to him, he was largely a marginalized, ceremonial, and religious figure who delegated power to the shōgun, a noble who was roughly equivalent to a general. In the years preceding this era, the shogunate gradually lost influence and control over the daimyōs (local lords). Many of these lords began to fight uncontrollably with each other for control over land and influence over the shogunate.
Beginning of Ōnin WarJapan
A dispute between Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sōzen escalated into a nationwide civil war involving the Ashikaga shogunate and a number of daimyō in many regions of Japan. The war initiated the Sengoku period, "the Warring States period". This period was a long, drawn-out struggle for domination by individual daimyō, resulting in a mass power-struggle between the various houses to dominate the whole of Japan.
End of Onin WarKyoto, Japan
After the Ōnin War, the Ashikaga bakufu completely fell apart; for all practical purposes, the Hosokawa family was in charge and the Ashikaga shōguns became their puppets. The Hosokawa family controlled the shogunate until 1558 when they were betrayed by a vassal family, the Miyoshi. The powerful Ōuchi were also destroyed by a vassal, Mōri Motonari, in 1551. Kyoto was devastated by the war, not really recovering until the mid-16th century.
Kaga RebellionKaga, Ishikawa, Japan
The Kaga Rebellion or Chōkyō Uprising was a large-scale revolt in Kaga Province (present-day southern Ishikawa Prefecture), Japan, in late 1487 through 1488. Togashi Masachika, who ruled Kaga Province as shugo, had been restored to power in 1473 with aid from the Asakura clan as well as the Ikkō-ikki, a loose collection of lesser nobility, monks, and farmers. By 1474, however, the Ikkō-ikki grew discontent with Masachika, and launched some initial revolts, which were easily quelled. In 1487, when Masachika left on a military campaign, between 100,000 and 200,000 Ikkō-ikki revolted. Masachika returned with his army, but the Ikkō-ikki, backed by several disaffected vassal families, overwhelmed his army and surrounded him in his palace, where he committed seppuku. The former vassals of Masachika granted the position of shugo to Masachika's uncle Yasutaka, but over the next several decades, the Ikkō-ikki increased their political hold on the province, which they would effectively control for almost a century.
During the 15th century in Japan, peasant revolts, known as ikki, became much more commonplace. During the turmoil of the Ōnin War (1467–1477) and subsequent years, these rebellions increased in both frequency and success. Many of these rebels became known as Ikkō-ikki, a collection of peasant farmers, Buddhist monks, Shinto priests, and jizamurai (lesser nobles) who all espoused belief in the Jōdo Shinshū sect of Buddhism. Rennyo, the Hongan-ji abbot who led the Jōdo Shinshū movement, attracted a large following in Kaga and Echizen Province, but distanced himself from the political goals of the ikki, advocating violence only for self-defense or defense of one's religion.During the mid-15th century, a civil war broke out among the Togashi clan over the position of shugo.
Hōjō Sōun seizes Izu ProvinceIzu Province, Japan
Battle of IdanoMikawa (Aichi) Province, Japan
Portuguese GunsTanegashima, Kagoshima, Japan
Siege of Kawagoe CastleRemains of Kawagoe Castle, 2 C
This was part of a failed attempt by the Uesugi clan to regain Kawagoe Castle from the Later Hōjō clan. This Hōjō victory marked the decisive turning point in the struggle for the Kanto region. The Hōjō tactics which said to be "the one of the most notable examples of night fighting in samurai history". This defeat for the Uesugi would lead to the near-extinction of the family, and with Tomosada's death, the Ōgigayatsu branch came to an end.
Tripartite pact among Takeda, Hōjō and ImagawaSuruga Province, Shizuoka, Jap
The Imagawa, Hojo, and Takeda clans met at the Zentoku-ji temple in Suruga province and established a peace treaty. The proceedings were moderated by a monk named Taigen Sessai. The three daimyo agreed not to attack each other, as well as made agreements on support and reinforcements if necessary. This agreement was held together by three marriages - Hojo Ujimasa married the daughter of Takeda Shingen (Obai-in), Imagawa Ujizane married a daughter of Hojo Ujiyasu, and Takeda Yoshinobu had already married the daughter of Imagawa Yoshimoto in 1552, further strengthening ties between the Takeda and the Imagawa. Due to these agreements, the three daimyo were able to focus on their own goals without fear of attack.
Battle of OkehazamaDengakuhazama, Owari Province,
In this battle, the heavily outnumbered Oda clan troops commandeered by Oda Nobunaga defeated Imagawa Yoshimoto and established himself as one of the front-running warlords in the Sengoku period. The Battle of Okehazama is regarded as one of the most significant turning points in Japanese history. The Imagawa clan was greatly weakened and would soon be destroyed by its neighbors. Oda Nobunaga gained greatly in prestige, and many samurai and minor warlords (including Imagawa's former retainer, Matsudaira Motoyasu, the future Tokugawa Ieyasu) pledged fealty.
Ishiyama Hongan-ji WarOsaka, Japan
Death of Takeda ShingenNoda Castle, Iwari, Japan
End of Ashikaga shogunateKyoto, Japan
Third Siege of NagashimaNagashima fortress, Owari, Jap
Battle of NagashinoNagashino Castle, Mikawa, Japa
Death of Uesugi KenshinEchigo (Niigata) Province
Surrender of Ikko-ikkiOsaka Castle, Japan
The Mori clan lost their strategic castle at Miki. By then, the siege was beginning to swing in Nobunaga's favor. The majority of the Ikki's allies were already inside the fortress with them, so they had no one to call on for aid. The Ikki under the leadership of Shimozuma Nakayuki, eventually the defenders were nearly out of ammunition and food, the Abbot Kōsa held a conference with his colleagues after receiving a letter of Advice via Imperial Messenger in April. Kōsa's son surrendered a few weeks later. The fighting finally ended in August 1580. Nobunaga spared the lives of many of the defenders, including Shimozuma Nakayuki, but burned the fortress to the ground. Three years later, Toyotomi Hideyoshi would begin construction on the same site, building Osaka Castle, a replica of which was constructed in the 20th century.
Honnō-ji IncidentHonnō-ji temple, Kyoto, Japan
The Honnō-ji Incident was the assassination of Oda Nobunaga at the Honnō-ji temple in Kyoto on 21 June 1582. Nobunaga was betrayed by his general Akechi Mitsuhide during his campaign to consolidate centralized power in Japan under his authority.Mitsuhide ambushed the unprotected Nobunaga at Honnō-ji and his eldest son Oda Nobutada at Nijō Palace which resulted in both committing seppuku.
The Tenshō-Jingo conflict is a collection of battles and posturing between the Hōjō, Uesugi, and Tokugawa after the death of Oda Nobunaga. The campaign began with the Hōjō driving out the demoralized Oda forces under Takigawa Kazumasu. The Hōjō managed to capture Komoro castle, placing it under Daidoji Masashige. They pushed further into Kai, capturing and rebuilding Misaka Castle as they squared off against Ieyasu, who had made inroads by absorbing former Takeda officers into his army. Takigawa Kazumasu lost decisively against the invading Hōjō army at the Battle of Kannagawa and on July 9th, Masayuki defected to Hōjō's side. Meanwhile, Uesugi forces were invading northern Shinano. Both armies came to face each other at Kawanakajima on July 12th, but direct combat was avoided as the Hōjō army turned back and advanced south towards Kai province, which was in turn invaded by Tokugawa forces. At one point, the Hōjō clan had come close to controlling most of Shinano province, but Masayuki helped Yoda Nobushige, a local lord who had been resisting against Hōjō's advances in Shinano and was in touch with Tokugawa Ieyasu. He then defected to the Tokugawa's side on September 25. Faced with this sudden betrayal, Hōjō Ujinao saw his position in the conflict weaken and decided for a peace treaty and alliance with the Tokugawa clan, which was agreed upon on October 29th. This event marked the end of the conflict which lasted for roughly 5 months after Nobunaga's death.
Battle of YamazakiYamazaki, Japan
In the Honnō-ji Incident, Akechi Mitsuhide, a retainer of Oda Nobunaga, attacked Nobunaga as he rested in Honnō-ji, and forced him to commit seppuku. Mitsuhide then took over Nobunaga's power and authority around the Kyoto area. Thirteen days later, Oda's forces under Toyotomi Hideyoshi met Mitsuhide at Yamazaki and defeated him, avenging his lord (Nobunaga) and taking Nobunaga's authority and power for himself.
Hashiba Hideyoshi is granted title of KampakuKyoto, Japan
Shikoku Campaign: Hidenaga forceAkashi, Japan
In June, 1585, Hideyoshi amassed a giant army of 113,000 men to invade Shikoku and divided them into three forces. The first, under his half-brother Hashiba Hidenaga and nephew Hashiba Hidetsugu, consisted of 60,000 men, and assaulted the provinces of Awa and Tosa, approaching Shikoku via Akashi island.
Shikoku Campaign: Ukita's forceSanuki, Japan
Shikoku Campaign: Mori forceIyo, Japan
The third force was led by Mōri "Two Rivers", Kobayakawa Takakage and Kikkawa Motoharu, consisted of 30,000 men, and advanced on the province of Iyo. In total, it took 600 larger ships and 103 smaller ships to transport Hideyoshi's army across the Seto Inland Sea to Shikoku.
Shikoku Campaign: Siege of Ichinomiya CastleIchiniomiya Castle, Japan
Kyūshū campaignKyushu, Japan
The Kyūshū campaign of 1586–1587 was part of the campaigns of Toyotomi Hideyoshi who sought to dominate Japan at the end of the Sengoku period. Having subjugated much of Honshū and Shikoku, Hideyoshi turned his attention to the southernmost of the main Japanese islands, Kyūshū, in 1587.
Taikō's Sword HuntJapan
Unification of JapanOdawara Castle, Kanagawa, Japa
Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeats the Hōjō clan, unifying Japan under his rule. The third siege of Odawara was the primary action in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's campaign to eliminate the Hōjō clan as a threat to his power. Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of Hideyoshi's top generals, was given the Hōjō lands. Though Hideyoshi could not have guessed it at the time, this would turn out to be a great stepping-stone towards Tokugawa's attempts at conquest and the office of Shōgun.
Imjin WarKorean Peninsula
The invasions were launched by Toyotomi Hideyoshi with the intent of conquering the Korean Peninsula and China, which were respectively ruled by the Joseon and Ming dynasties. Japan quickly succeeded in occupying large portions of the Korean Peninsula, but the contribution of reinforcements by the Ming, as well as the disruption of Japanese supply fleets along the western and southern coasts by the Joseon navy, forced a withdrawal of Japanese forces from Pyongyang and the northern provinces to the south in Busan and nearby regions. Afterwards, with righteous armies (Joseon civilian militias) launching guerrilla warfare against the Japanese and supply difficulties hampering both sides, neither were able to mount a successful offensive or gain any additional territory, resulting in a military stalemate. The first phase of the invasion lasted from 1592 until 1596, and was followed by ultimately unsuccessful peace negotiations between Japan and the Ming between 1596 and 1597.
Chongyu WarKorean Peninsula
Hideyoshi sent approximately 200 ships with an estimated 141,100 men under the overall command of Kobayakawa Hideaki. Japan's second force arrived unopposed on the southern coast of Gyeongsang Province in 1596. However, the Japanese found that the Korean army was both better equipped and better prepared to deal with an invasion than several years prior.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi diesKyoto Japan
Battle of SekigaharaSekigahara, Gifu, Japan
This battle was the biggest and one of the most important battles in Japanese feudal history, that preceded the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Tokugawa shogunateTokyo, Japan
The Tokugawa shogunate was established by Tokugawa Ieyasu after victory at the Battle of Sekigahara, ending the civil wars of the Sengoku period following the collapse of the Ashikaga shogunate. Ieyasu became the shōgun, and the Tokugawa clan governed Japan from Edo Castle in the eastern city of Edo (Tokyo) along with the daimyō lords of the samurai class. The Tokugawa shogunate organized Japanese society under the strict Tokugawa class system and banned most foreigners under the isolationist policies of Sakoku to promote political stability. The Tokugawa shoguns governed Japan in a feudal system, with each daimyō administering a han (feudal domain), although the country was still nominally organized as imperial provinces. Under the Tokugawa shogunate, Japan experienced rapid economic growth and urbanization, which led to the rise of the merchant class and Ukiyo culture.
Siege of OsakaOsaka, Japan
The period culminated with a series of three warlords – Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu – who gradually unified Japan. After Tokugawa Ieyasu's final victory at the siege of Osaka in 1615, Japan settled down into over 200 years of peace under the Tokugawa shogunate.
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- Chaplin, Danny (2018). Sengoku Jidai. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu: Three Unifiers of Japan. CreateSpace Independent Publishing. ISBN 978-1983450204.
- Hall, John Whitney (May 1961). "Foundations of The Modern Japanese Daimyo". The Journal of Asian Studies. Association for Asian Studies. 20 (3): 317–329. doi:10.2307/2050818. JSTOR 2050818.
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- "Sengoku Jidai". Mypaedia (in Japanese). Hitachi. 1996.
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