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Warlords of Japan

The country of Japan has a very, long history.  To understand the warlords of Japan, you need to understand why they even existed.  You see, castles in Japan, known as Nihon Shoki, were first mentioned in historical documents, showing them as being constructed sometime around 720 AD.  Consisting of a simple stone wall, these castles became most popular during the 16th century at which time the societal, technological, and political conditions had undergone significant role changes.  This role would continue to change until 1615.

In recent years, two types of fortification remains were discovered, showing the age to be around the 6th or 7th century.  One such structure was called Chashi, which was located on the country’s northernmost island of Hokkaido and Honshu, the northeastern most area.  The second structure was called Kogo-Ishi, which was found in Kyushu, a south island on the mainland.  At first, historians believed Kogi-Ishi was stones surrounded by various scared sights.  However, it is not believed that the stones were actually apart of the mountain fortification, which were comprised of rows of stone that ran along the side of small hills.  It is also believed that these fortifications were constructed in response to ongoing threats from China and Korea.

Then during the Heian era, which ran from 794 to 1185, Samurai became increasingly known, building strong armed forces that would fight for autonomy.  The samurai families wanted to become a part of the court so they moved to Kyoto, the capital city where they began fighting for power and control.  Soon, territorial warlords and samurai fought for overall power, working to conquer specific domains.  This era became known as the Medieval era.

At that time, warfare was limited so battles were fought briefly, usually consisting of fighting between 24 to 30 men or possible 100 to 200 mounted warriors.  The primary weapon was the sword or arrows being fired.  During these battles, defensive fortification and castles was not the hub of the battle as they were in other countries.  In fact, with the exception of a few castles in northern Kyushu, they were not constructed to be strong and sturdy because they were under constant attack.  Therefore, these structures were never built as a permanent structure.  However, while stone walls were uncommon, these structures were built on steep mountain ridges where the people could see the enemy coming.

By the latter part of the 14th century, dispute began over the Imperial succession and national leaders showed up in the 16th century, which meant fighting in Japan became worse.  In fact, the fighting was so bad that during the Muromachi period from 1336 to 1576, the reference was “war years”.  Because of this, Japanese warlords became more prominent, building permanent fortifications and residences with rooftop towers.  It is estimated that as many as 1,000 castles were built during this time.

Because of a change in style of warfare and the growth in power of the Japanese warlords, the castle underwent many physical changes.  Then in the early 17th century, swords were replaced by firearms.  This meant the way in which battles were fought also changed from infantry to Calvary battles.  This also meant that stronger fortification was required.  As the desire for power among the Japanese warlords increased, the battles during the Sengoku period from 1467 to 1603 were horrific.  To provide protection to the larger territories, the Japanese warlords had to build more complex and strong fortifications.

The Azuchi-jo, which translates to “castle”, was built in 1576 by Oda Nobunaga, which was the beginning of a new generation of castles.  Moving forward, technology in construction also advanced.  These newer castles were often associated with government and commerce, making the steep hillside locations no longer a viable option.  Therefore, castles were now built on low-lying plateaus, making the Hirayama-jo, translating to “plain mountain”, the standard construction.  However, since guns were now used, this was not a problem.

Soon, larger and stronger stone walls were erected and a new defense mechanism put in place, moats, and spikes, among other things.  At this time, the Japanese warlord was the master of his personal space, now able to establish and run taxation rates, laws, and measure/weight systems.  Many castles were constructed in the center of the warlord’s domain, meaning the castles were now used for more than a defensive tool.  In addition, the Japanese warlords were now using these castles as their homes.  Because there was an abundance of work to be done, people came from near and far.

Soon, new towns were created such as Jokamachi.  With the growing number of castles, many major cities still standing today was formed, one being Tokyo.  Influencing the building styles and techniques for building castles were influenced by three primary warlords known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Leyasu, and Oda Nobunaga.  Of the three, Hideyoshi build the Osaka castle in 1582.  This castle was the most incredible of all built, massive in size with five towers and standing nine stories high.  Interestingly, it took a full three years and 100,000 men to complete.  Sadly, this castle was completely, destroyed in 1615 during a long battle.

While there were many additional castles built and destroyed, the Japanese warlord played a major role in how well they survived.  While the warlord also faded eventually, they hold a special place in history, which surely would have been much different without them.


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