1573-1603 A.D.

In characterizing this period as one of civil strife, there is no intention to suggest that other periods were free from that element. Nor does it necessarily mean that this was pre-eminently an era of civil strife: it only means that, immediately after the Ashikaga Anarchy, there was a very important period of about three decades which was marked by a severe conflict to decide who should finally bring tranquillity out of warfare, order out of anarchy. In accomplishing this there were several minor and three principal actors, all of whom were mentioned in the preceding chapter. The three principal agents in unifying Japan were Ōda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Iyeyasu, the latter two of whom were at first generals under Nobunaga.

When Ōda Nobunaga, at the age of sixteen, had succeeded to his father's small estates in Owari, his prospects were not at all brilliant, and "he himself gave such scant signs of promise that he was usually referred to by the nickname of ' Bakadono' or ' Lord Fool.' " But gradually, with the assistance of Hideyoshi and Iyeyasu, he was enabled to extend his dominions and power, until he finally became master of Kyōto and Vice-Shōgun, "with the Shōgun merely his puppet." In 1573, as we have seen, Nobunaga deposed the Shōgun, "although he did not actually strip him of his title." He could not himself take that title, because he did not belong to the Minamoto family, but he assumed the duties of the office, i.e., "he issued orders and made war and formed alliances in the name of the Emperor."

Nevertheless, Nobunaga had to fight to maintain himself in his lofty position. It is true that the death of the great Takeda Shingen in 1573 "was a stroke of the most consummate good luck for Nobunaga." And, as Brinkley has well expressed it, Takeda's exploits, while very interesting, "need not be considered here further than to say that they contributed materially to regenerate the era and to restore the nation's ideal of soldierly qualities." Uyesugi Kenshin continued the contest against Nobunaga a few years longer, until his death in 1578; and Takeda Katsuyori, son of the old hero, was not finally overcome till 1582.

The hardest struggle, however, which Nobunaga had was that with the monks of the Shin sect in Ōsaka. How he destroyed the monastery on Hieizan has already been related in the preceding chapter. At different intervals, for several years, Nobunaga attacked Osaka, but in vain; for the head-priest (Kenniō) had so fortified the monastery there that it was one of the strongest fortresses in that section of the country. In 1580, however, after a long siege, attended by dreadful slaughter, the fortress surrendered.

In 1579 "Nobunaga had been enabled to deal another Buddhist sect a staggering blow." He was called upon to act as judge in a contest between priests of the Jōdo and the Nichiren sects. "The discussion, famous as the Azuchi Ron, took place in Nobunaga's new castle of Azuchi," which he had begun to build in 1576. Nobunaga decided against the Nichiren sect, upon which he inflicted terrible punishment.

While Nobunaga was apparently an enemy of Buddhists, he seemed to be a friend of the Christians; but probably it was not because he loved Christianity more, but because he loved Buddhism less. At any rate, he befriended the Catholic priests and aided them in their propaganda by allowing them many privileges, especially in the way of building churches here and there. The natural result was that the number of converts rapidly increased in Sakai, Ōsaka, Kyōto, Takatsuki, and other places in Central Japan. It is not strange, therefore, that the Jesuits and their converts "began to regard Nobunaga as the chosen but unconscious instrument of God." "Some said that Nobunaga was a Christian; others that he was minded to become one; others that the Prince (his son Nobutada) had been baptized."

It was in the flourishing days of Christianity, during Nobunaga's supremacy, that the celebrated embassy to the Pope started out from Nagasaki, but it did not reach Europe till 1584. It was received by Pope Gregory XIII only a few days before his death and assisted at the coronation of his successor. It did not return to Japan till 1590.

Not long after that embassy had left Japan, Nobunaga met his end. He had started out from Azuchi to assist Hideyoshi in the capture of the castle of Takamatsu in Sanuki on the island of Shikoku. He himself, with a small escort, went by way of Kyōto and temporarily stopped there in the temple of Honnōji. His general, Akechi, with the troops, had been sent a shorter way; but, saying to the troops, "My enemy is in the Honnōji," and promising them plunder, Akechi suddenly changed his line of march and attacked Nobunaga in the temple. The latter was able to defend himself only a short time, when, seeing that escape was hopeless, he committed harakiri. It is presumed that Akechi's action was in revenge for a "humiliating joke," by which Nobunaga had offended him.

When Hideyoshi heard of Nobunaga's death, having secured the surrender of Takamatsu Castle, he hurried back to Kyōto, near which he fought a battle with Akechi. The latter was completely defeated and committed harakiri. His short-lived glory has been perpetuated in a proverb, "Akechi's three days."

Hideyoshi was now the most prominent personage in Japan, and proceeded to strengthen himself in every way. For instance, in 1583 he began building the great Ōsaka Castle. "Workmen were drawn from all parts of Japan," and spent several years in the task. He also constructed at Fushimi, near Kyōto, a "Palace of Pleasure," called Momoyama, which was demolished by an earthquake in 1596, but has given a name to this period in the history of Japanese art.

Hideyoshi was ambitious to become Shōgun; but, as he was a "base-born, monkey-faced adventurer," who did not belong to the noble family of Minamoto, he was ineligible.

In 1586, however, he received the title of Regent (Kwampaku), which had hitherto been held exclusively by the aristocratic Fujiwara, and in 1591 that of Great Prince (Taikō), by which he is best known in Japanese history.

The first great contest into which Hideyoshi was drawn was one with the Satsuma clan, which was even then famous for "bravery and dash." In 1587 Hideyoshi led such a large army into Kiūshiu that his enemies were completely outnumbered and compelled to retreat to Kagoshima. In all probability he could easily have captured the fortress and practically exterminated the Satsuma clan. But "it was at this juncture that Hideyoshi made one of these surprising and clever movements which stamp him as a man of consummate genius." He was no longer a mere warrior; he became a real statesman. By imposing comparatively light terms, he obtained the submission of this mighty clan, whose allegiance was thus secured.

In 1585, Pope Gregory XIII had issued a bull that "no religious teachers except Jesuits should be allowed in Japan." But, as "Japan was not Spain," this spirit of the Inquisition could not flourish or prevail. This bull only created jealousy in the hearts of the Dominicans and the Franciscans against the Jesuits and of the Spanish against the Portuguese. Wily Franciscans succeeded in getting into Japan "as ambassadors and not as religious teachers." These national and sectarian jealousies caused dissension in Christian circles in Japan. Moreover, an indiscreet remark by a European sea-captain that his master accomplished foreign conquests by first sending priests to win the people and then getting possession of the country through the native Christians, had aroused Hideyoshi's suspicions against foreigners in general and Christians in particular. Therefore, in 1587 he suddenly issued this edict:

Having learned from our faithful councillors, that foreign religieux have come into our estates, where they preach a law contrary to that of Japan, and that they have even had the audacity to destroy temples dedicated to our Kami and Hotoke: although this outrage merits the most extreme punishment, wishing nevertheless to show them mercy, we order them under pain of death to quit Japan within twenty days. During that space no harm or hurt will be done them. But at the expiration of that time, we order that, if any of them be found in our states, they shall be seized and punished as the greatest criminals. As for the Portuguese merchants, we permit them to enter our ports, there to continue their accustomed trade, and to remain in our states provided our affairs need this. But we forbid them to bring any foreign religieux into the country, under the penalty of the confiscation of their ships and goods.
But it happened that the missionaries, driven out of central Japan, found refuge in Kiūshiu among the socalled Christian clans, where that edict was not enforced.

Moreover, Hideyoshi's attention was soon directed elsewhere to a more important matter. In 1590 he led an army against Hōjō Ujimasu, who was the most powerful lord in the Kwantō section, with his headquarters at Odawara. That place was captured after a siege; and not only that section, but also Northern Japan, submitted to Hideyoshi, who "was now undisputed master of the Empire from Tanegashima in the south on to snowy Yezo in the north; the work of mere territorial centralization was complete." It was during this successful campaign that Hideyoshi suggested to Iyeyasu, to whom he intended to turn over several of those provinces, that Odawara was not the best place for his headquarters, but that a place called Yedo was better. He said: "It is girdled by rivers and the sea, and it is a fine position; and that is the place where I would that thou shouldst live." Twenty-five years later, Iyeyasu made Yedo his capital.

Hideyoshi's ambition was not limited to the islands of Japan, but extended to a foreign country. A Japanese adventurer, named Harada, having gone to the Philippines to trade, suggested to Hideyoshi to require the Spanish governor of those islands to recognize him as suzerain. It is quite likely that the plan also contemplated the conquest of the Philippines; but it failed entirely.

Hideyoshi is reported to have laid before Nobunaga a plan by which he would conquer Korea and China "as easily as a man rolls up a piece of matting and carries it under his arm." In 1592 he began the famous invasion of Korea with an immense army under the command of two generals, Konishi (a Christian) and Katō (a Buddhist). The two divisions marched together as far as the capital, but after taking possession thereof separated on account of dissensions. It is unnecessary to follow the details of the movements of the Japanese armies, which, meeting with both successes and reverses, remained in Korea till 1598, when they were recalled by Iyeyasu soon after Hideyoshi's death. One attempt to make peace had failed in 1596, because in the terms of the treaty it was stated that Hideyoshi was "invested" by the Chinese Emperor as "King of Japan" - a humiliation too great for a man like Hideyoshi to endure. In one of the last battles fought in Korea the ears and noses of several thousand Chinese and Korean soldiers were pickled in tubs and sent to Kyōto, where they were deposited in a mound, called mimizuka ("ear-mound"), which, with the monument over it, may still be seen. This is truly "a chapter in the history of Japan, on which her best friends can look back with neither pride nor satisfaction."

One great benefit, however, indirectly accrued to Japan from this unjustifiable attack upon Korea. When Prince Shimazu, lord of the Satsuma clan, returned in 1598 from Korea, he brought with him seventeen skilled Korean potters, to whom the old Satsuma faience "owes its exquisite beauty and world-wide reputation" as "the most beautiful ware produced in Japan."

Hideyoshi's edict against Christian missionaries had, as we have seen, become practically a dead letter; but in 1597, for various reasons, his wrath was again directed toward the foreign priests. Twenty-six of them were crucified at Nagasaki in February of that year; and just thirty years later, these, the first Christian martyrs in Japan, were canonized by Pope Urban VIII.

It was in September, 1598, that Hideyoshi, the "Napoleon of Japan," "the greatest soldier, if not the greatest man, whom Japan has produced," passed away. Another foreign writer (Murdoch) calls him "the greatest man Japan has ever seen, and the greatest statesman of his century, whether in Japan or in Europe." The latter is impressed with the strength of his [ Hideyoshi's] grasp upon the actualities of the situation, his unerring sense of political perspective, his prescience of the future and the problems it would present, and the grand unity, continuity, and comprehensiveness of his statecraft. . . . . The age of Taikō was one of great activity . . . . and deserves a history by itself. In many seas and countries of the East, Japanese voyaged or made settlements, . . . . and carried far the fame of the great Taikō.

Hideyoshi naturally desired to continue the power in his own family; but, as his son Hideyori was only five years old, it was necessary to appoint a council of five regents, of whom Iyeyasu was president. The other members of that body soon grew jealous of Iyeyasu's growing influence and power. "Events now rushed rapidly to a culmination." Iyeyasu met the combined forces of his opponents at Sekigahara in 1600 and completely vanquished them. It was after this battle that he uttered that famous saying, which has become a proverb: "After victory, knot the cords of your helmet." And, suiting the action to the word, he followed up his victory by such speedy movements that his enemies submitted to him. In 1603 he received the title of Shōgun and proceeded to establish the Tokugawa Dynasty in that position.

Although Iyeyasu still has the most important part of his career ahead of him, this is a very convenient point at which to make a few comparisons between the famous triumvirs. It may be said that Nobunaga was a warrior, but not a statesman; that Hideyoshi was a warrior and a statesman; that Iyeyasu was a statesman and a warrior. The Japanese say that Nobunaga pounded the rice-cake (mochi), that Hideyoshi cooked it, and that Iyeyasu sat on a cushion and ate it! There are also three verses to illustrate the characters of the three men:

Nobunaga is represented as saying,

Nakaneba korosu, Hototogisu.

Hideyoshi follows with

Nakashite miyō, Hototogisu.

This draws from Iyeyasu the words,

Naku made matō Hototogisu."

Nobunaga said, "I'll kill the cuckoo, if he doesn't sing"; Hideyoshi, "I'll try and make the cuckoo sing"; and Iyeyasu said, "I'll wait till the cuckoo sings."

These couplets are said to represent well the characters and methods of the three men. "Nobunaga was headstrong and cruel. Hideyoshi believed that everything could be made to bend to his iron will. . . . . Iyeyasu was a past master in diplomacy. His motto was, 'All things come to him who can wait.' "

In any event, each man played his part well and contributed toward the final pacification and unification which followed after this period of civil strife.