1333-1573 A.D.

The name of this period was not chosen for the sake of "apt alliteration's artful aid." It really depicts the state of affairs. With lack of authority, with insubordination, with the strife of rival claimants to the throne, and with frequent collisions between the feudal lords, it was truly a period of anarchy in every sense of that word. This period has also been appropriately called the "Dark Age" of Japan; and it includes the Namboku Chō Period (1332-1392) and the Muromachi Period (1392-1603). The former is so called because it was the period of the two rival Courts, the Southern (Nan) and the Northern (Hoku); and the latter obtained its name from the fact that the Ashikaga Shōguns established their headquarters at Muromachi in Kyōto.

The first few years of this period are called the era of Temporary Imperialism (1333-1336), because for that very brief interval the Emperor Go-Daigo (Daigo II) was restored to power as the real ruler of the Empire. "But the Emperor Go-Daigo, however brave in adversity, was not wise in prosperity." To the popular heroes and true patriots, like Kusunoki and Nitta, he gave smaller rewards than to the schemer Ashikaga Takauji. This caused discontent among the soldiers, and Kusunoki and Nitta soon became embroiled in a contest with Ashikaga. The latter, by means of superior forces, overcame these generals, both of whom committed suicide. Kusunoki met his death at the battle of the Minato River, near Hiōgo, in 1336, and Nitta perished near Fukui in 1338. Both of these men are honored as real heroes; and Kusunoki, also known as Nankō, figures in Japanese history as the ideal patriot. He is "regarded to this day as the highest and noblest model that Japan has produced of the still higher quality of unselfish and devoted loyalty, the quality which, in the Japanese moral code, ranks far above any other, even that of filial piety."

Ashikaga Takauji, "the central figure of the greatest political disturbance Japan ever knew," although he did not receive the title of Shōgun for several years, was now in absolute power. In 1336 the Emperor Daigo II was once more driven out of Kyōto and found refuge in the mountains of Yoshino, where the Southern Dynasty, with the imperial insignia and recognized as the legitimate line, "starved out a miserable existence" till 1392. Ashikaga, on the plea that Daigo II had forfeited the throne, set up a new emperor, known as Kōmyō, who, with the succeeding emperors of the Northern Dynasty, "enjoyed the luxury of a palace and of the capital," but are regarded as the illegitimate line. This period of two rival Courts (Namboku Chō) was one of "almost incessant fighting," which is denominated the "War of the Chrysanthemums." As Brinkley expresses it, "there is no blacker period of Japan's history."

Murdoch has most aptly characterized the period of the "War of the Chrysanthemums" as the "Great Age of Turncoats." He shows that there were very few families that "remained constant" to either side in the contest.

But, as it was imperative to espouse one side or the other, it was not an uncommon custom for different branches of one family to espouse opposing causes and "carry on a friendly family warfare"! Then, in case of a decisive victory on one side or the other, the confiscated lands of the vanquished would pass "to friends and relatives"! Murdoch also points out two natural results of this internecine strife: first, "respect for central authority kept on waning;" and secondly, "every sept strong enough to do so endeavored to establish an imperium in imperio on its own behalf." All these things tended toward the development of the feudal system in Japan.

But there are bright sides of this "Dark Age"; for, when the country began to be impoverished by the civil strife, "the provincial nobles sought to replenish their exchequers by engaging in trade with China and Korea"; and the "custom of officially recognized trading ships came into vogue."

Moreover, many of the Ashikaga Shōguns were men of refinement and encouraged art. There was Yoshimitsu, who nominally served from 1368 to 1394 and lived in retirement in Kyōto till 1409. His palace was the three- storied building Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), a portion of which still evokes wonder on account of its elegance. Indeed, according to Brinkley, this was, for Kyōto, "its zenith of glory." Yoshimitsu also deserves great credit for "reconciling the two Courts and putting an end to the dual monarchy by prevailing upon the Southern Emperor, Go-Kameyama (Kameyama II), to come to Kyōto in 1392, to go into retirement, and acknowledge the Northern Emperor, Go-Komatsu (Komatsu II), as his legal successor with the insignia." This brought an interval of peace, during which the country had an opportunity to recover somewhat from its disturbed condition. In the middle of the fifteenth century (1443-1474) the Shōgun was Yoshimasa, who has been called "Japan's foremost dilettante," because he encouraged aestheticism in so many forms. He abdicated in order to be able the better to devote himself to a life of pleasure. He is the one who erected the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji), which is still one of the sights of Kyōto. Its garden was laid out by Sōami, "one of the greatest masters of landscape gardening" and a famous tea-professor. But all such luxuries are expensive, and, "when Yoshimasa wanted money, whether to build a pavilion, lay out a park, or purchase objects of virtu from China, he never scrupled about the means of getting it."

In Yoshimasa's day, also, civil war broke out again over the double question of succession to the imperial throne and to the Shōgunate and raged fiercely for over ten years (1467-1477), at the end of which time "Kyōto lay almost in ruins." It was especially unfortunate that temples and palaces containing "magnificent works of art and valuable manuscripts" were destroyed.

By this time the control of the central administration was completely destroyed, and each local chief, though not nominally a "king," yet was "possessed of virtual regal powers."

While the Ashikaga Shōguns were living in luxury, the emperors were generally suffering with poverty. Indeed, in 1500, when the Emperor Tsuchi-mikado II died, his corpse lay unburied for forty days, simply because means were not at hand to perform the proper funeral rites! His son had to obtain money from Buddhist priests to defray the cost of his accession ceremonies. And the next emperor was compelled, not only to borrow money for a similar purpose, but even to support himself by selling his autograph, or by copying extracts from classic literature, or by writing poems or songs! And children "modelled mud toys" even "by the sides of the main approach to the imperial pavilion."

Moreover, the national dignity "had suffered badly from the fact that Yoshimitsu had not only accepted from the Chinese Emperor the title of King of Japan, but even paid him a tribute of one thousand ounces of gold." This was likewise the period when Japanese of Kifishiu became pirates, "swarmed along the coast of Asia from Tartary to Siam," and created tremendous consternation, especially in Korea and China. And, "about the middle of the Ashikaga Epoch, Matsumae Nobuhiro crossed to the island of Ezo (Yezo), and he and his descendants brought the aborigines of that place into subjection."

In 1542 the Portuguese first came to Japan, to which they introduced tobacco, firearms, and Christianity in its Roman Catholic form. The pioneer Christian missionary was Francis Xavier, who landed at Kagoshima August 15, 1549, and thus opened what has been called "the Christian century" (1549-1638) in Japan. Xavier himself stayed in Japan only a little over two years, when he returned to China. He took with him two Japanese body-servants, one of whom died at Goa, but the other, "most likely the first Japanese who ever set foot in Europe," reached Lisbon and Rome, became a member of the "Society of Jesus," and died at Coimbra. Other Jesuit missionaries were sent to Japan, where they soon made many converts, especially in the island of Kiūshiu. It may not be possible to accept the claims of the Catholics concerning the number of converts, but it is absolutely certain that they were numerous and powerful. By 1567 it was asserted that in Nagasaki "there was hardly a person who was not a Christian." And, as one has put it, "it was in 1573 that Nagasaki became distinctively a Christian city."

In the latter half of the sixteenth century there came into prominence five great nobles (Takeda Shingen, Uyesugi Kenshin, Ōda Nobunaga, Hashiba Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Iyeyasu). In Brinkley's opinion, "this quintette saved Japan," for, "without them she must have become divided into a number of principalities, as her neighbor Korea had been, and like Korea she might have lost many of the qualities that make for national greatness."

The struggles between Takeda and Uyesugi are very interesting but only indirectly affected the affairs of the Empire at large. But the other three men became truly "national characters," a triumvirate of more than local power and influence. Of these, Nobunaga appeared first on the public stage. In 1568 Ashikaga Yoshiaki became Shōgun with Nobunaga's help and made the latter ViceShōgun. With the added power and prestige of this position, Nobunaga subdued several other feudal lords; destroyed the famous monastery on Hieizan, near Kyōto, because the monks thereof sided with his enemies; and in 1573 defeated the Shōgun himself, with whom ended the Ashikaga Dynasty.

Concerning this period Aston says that it was "singularly barren of important literature." Chikafusa, one of the statesmen who faithfully served the Emperor Daigo II , wrote a History of the True Succession of the Divine Monarchs, who were, of course, those of the Southern Dynasty. Taiheiki, or "Great Peace Record," was "the strange name for the history of one of the most disturbed periods that Japan has ever passed through"; it also upholds the Southern Dynasty. But the classic of the period is Tsurezure-gusa, which means literally "LeisureHour-Grasses." "It is a collection of short sketches, anecdotes, and essays on all imaginable subjects, something in the manner of Selden's Table Talks."

This was also a period of great popularity of the Nō or lyrical drama. Yoshimasa gave it a new impetus "by officially declaring it a ceremonious accomplishment of military men." The great similarity between Nō and the ancient Greek drama cannot be left unnoticed. "The chorus, the masked actors, the religious tone pervading the piece, the stage in the open air - all these features were common to the two dramas."

The barrenness of this period in literature is counterbalanced by its fecundity in art. The scope of the aesthetic development may be seen in the fact that it was a glorious era for architecture, landscape gardening, decorative painting, the tea-cult, the flower cult, the incense cult, and the Nō, most of which, as we have seen, Yoshimasa lavishly patronized. It is only in Japan that landscape gardening can be said to be "reduced almost to an exact science." And Japan seems also to be the only land where incense burning and tea drinking are likewise systematized. The tea ceremony (Cha-no-yu) is of special interest; "four cardinal virtues constituted the basis of Shukō's system: they were urbanity, courtesy, purity, and imperturbability."

This was naturally a great period for swordsmiths and workers in metal for armor, etc. In this line the Miōchin family demands special mention.

The Old Yamato School of decorative painters was merged into the Tosa Academy, "whose members carried the art of pictorial decoration to an extraordinary degree of elaboration and splendor."Chō Densu, "the Fra Angelico of Japan," lived from 1351 to 1427, and "devoted himself to sacerdotal art." Sesshiu, during a trip to China, only to learn nothing from the masters there, said: "Nature shall be my teacher; I shall go to the woods, the mountains, and the streams and learn from them." He became "one of the greatest of all Japanese painters"; and, with Masanobu and Matanobu, represents the Kano School.

It is worth while to note, in passing, that, "by an interesting coincidence, Japanese painting attained its acme synchronously with Italian art, that is to say, during the fifteenth century," when Sesshiu flourished (1421-1507).

It really seems paradoxical that not only aestheticism in so many forms, but also mysticism, as represented in the contemplative Zen sect, which "attracted the samurai," should have flourished in the midst of the Ashikaga Anarchy.