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samurai history

the golden age of the samurai known as the momoyama period, 1550 - 1615 since the gempei war of 1180-85 japan had had two rulers: the god-like emperor in kyoto, and also the military dictator or shogun in whose hands the emperor was a mere puppet . however by1550 bloody civil war had rendered the office of shogun as powerless as that of the emperor . japan was now dotted with what were effectively independent kingdoms, ruled by daimyo (barons) all of whom were warriors first and administrators second and who lived lives of amost constant warfare . two of the most illustrious of these warlords, takeda shingen (1521-73) and uesugi kenshin (1530-78), spent over a decade fighting each other at the same place, year after year into this turbulent atmosphere in 1543 came three portuguese merchants bringing with them the first firearms called arquebuses by 1549 arquebuses were being used in earnest and both takeda and uesugi used them in their battles when takeda died in 1573 the fortunes of his family fell into the hands of his son takeda katsuyori , who inherited an army second to none renowned for the ferocity of their cavalry charges . in 1575 takeda katsuyori came up against one of the greatest original thinkers in the history of the samurai his name was oda nobunaga . the takeda had long been a threat to the oda, a threat which came out into the open when takeda katsuyori laid siege to an important castle of nobunagas called nagashino sensing an opportunity to deal a decisive blow to his enemies oda nobunaga led the relieving force personally and drew up his army some way from the castle . to deal with the takeda charge nobunaga took the finest arquebusiers in his army and arranged them three ranks deep behind a palisade . the results were devastating one after another the assaults by the takeda cavalry were blown to smithereens it was a death blow to the takeda, and the beginning of a new era in japanese military history .the victory of nagashino showed not only that firearms had arrived but also that there was the potential to create an army in the modern sense whereas it took years of practice highly developed muscles to fire a bow an ordinary peasant could quickly be taught to fire an arquebus . however nobunaga also realised , as had shingen before him, that peasants were not sufficent to form an army . they also had to be trained and organised , given discipline , loyalty, a full belly and a smart uniform . where nobunaga led others followed , but in 1582 nobunaga off guard for once in his life, was killed by one of his own generals . revenge was swift toyotomi hideyoshi, nobunaga protege, who had begun his career as a sandal bearer , vanquished the usurper within days and found himself the inheritor of nobunagas domain . there were a few rivals to dispose of, whom hideyoshi defeated with consummate skill in campaigns that depended for their success on the ability to move large numbers of troops quickly around the country while relying on various allies to keep their sectors quiet only one rival proved really troublesome . tokugawa ieyasu had fought hideyoshi at nagashino , and both had learnt its lesson . the result was that in 1584 the two ablest brains among the samurai built defensive earthworks along komaki hill and settled down to trench warfare eventually both sides moved south and fought a pitched battle at nagakute . ieyasu won and then proceeded to ally himself with hideyoshi . from then on hideyoshi went from strength to strength and one by one the districts of japan fell to his generalship . The island of shikoku was first to fall , then kyushu , ruled by the ancient shimazu clan, and finally the provinces along the pacific coast ruled by the hojo , and the northern estates of the date family . One of the most famous actions fought at this time was the relief of suemori castle in 1584 by the celebrated general maeda toshiie (1538-99) who served hideyoshi from his castle town of kanazawa all areas were subdued by 1590 , when hideyoshi ascended the tower of odawara castle and gazed around a japan that owed allegiance to none but him . To his ally tokugawa ieyasu , a brilliant general and administrator , he gave the castle town of edo , which ieyasu proceeded to make his family seat . How successful he wasin this venture may be gathered from the fact that edo is nowadays called tokyo . meanwhile , hideyoshi planned a campaign that had it succeeded , might well have changed the course of world history : the conquest of china . In fact the japanese never got further than that countrys border with korea. For six years the samurai occupied korean soil, besieging castles and fighting battles with chinese and korean armies. The invasion , which had begun so well under fanatical samurai like kato kiyomasa (1562-1611) , lost its impetus under attack on its lines of communication by the korean navy . The samurai armies had outreached themselves , and even though nearly 200,000 men had been transported across a hundred miles of sea, the expedition was a failure . In 1596 the samurai returned , tired and dispirited , to a japan ruled by the five-year-old son of the late , great hideyoshi, by whose death the troops had been spared anymore foreign service . Before long the board of regents appointed by hideyoshi split down the middle, resulting on 21 october 1600 in the muddy , bloody battle of sakigahara the japanese culloden . the victor was tokugawa ieyasu , hideyoshis former ally , it was a victory more complete than any of hideyoshis for by the battle of sekigahara japan gained a shogun once more , and shoguns from the tokugawa family were destined to rule japan for 250 years . the army of the tokugawa , one of the most efficient and modern in japan , now became the army of japanese government they had , however , one more battle to fight , for the son of hideyoshi , called hideyori , was grown to manhood , and in 1614 he shut himself up in osaka castle with 60,000 dispossessed and bitter samurai . there followed the most colossal siege in japanese history of which the tokugawa tried every trick from bombardment to bribery . the castle eventually fell in 1615 after a pitched battle outside the walls it was the last ever large-scale battle between two armies of japanese samurai . The notion of a samurai army now reached a point of perfection from which it could only decline when faced by a situation where wars had virtually ceased . The shimabara rebellion of 1638 showed how an army could go downhill when there was no need actually to win battles , while old samurai would look back to the glorious days of the momoyama period as the golden age of the samurai armies.


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