About the author
Antonsson Shihan, Okuden 7 Dan Kyoshi Ju Jutsu & Goshin Jutsu. Dan ranks in multipel arts, has been training for more than 40 years and have been an active instructor for more than 30 years. Author of the book ”Dokan Ryu Ju Jutsu & Budō Densho”.
He has authored several articles on his blog https://antonssonshihan.wordpress
He otherwise works as an orthopedic surgeon subspecialized in pediatric orthopedics and deformity surgery.
THE JAPANESE FEUDAL HISTORY
As we practice various forms of Japanese Budo, it feels important to briefly describe the Japanese feudal history, a time so strongly associated with the samurai. The samurai clans came to occupy a prominent place in Japanese history.
In order to be able to move forward in the description, one should understand the concepts:
- Budo = the martial way. Used as a collective name for the Japanese martial arts.
- Bujutsu = the martial technique (techniques intended for combat, battlefield)
- Bugei = the martial art, the really old name for martial arts.
- Koryu = name for styles (ryu, ryuha, ryugi) and schools established before the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
- Gendai Budo = modern budo arts, name of schools and styles established after the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
THE JAPANESE FEUDAL HISTORY
Japan’s indigenous people, Jomon, immigrated from Northeast Asia around 15,000 BC. They laid the foundation for what in Japanese history is called the Jomon culture (Jomon Jidai), a prehistoric culture that according to many was the first in the world to make pottery.
Yayoi, was a tribe who immigrated from the North Caucasus Mountains during the Iron Age. With Yayoi came the knowledge of metalworking and rice cultivation. They were a typical hunter-gatherer culture.
It is often forgotten that the most probable indigenous people were Ainu, who inhabited northern Japan.
Ainu emigrated from northern Siberia.
Yayoi and Jomon forced the Ainu people further north and today there is unfortunately not much left of the Ainu culture.
The mixture of Yayoi, Jomon and further immigration from China and Korea forms the basis of the modern Japanese population.
Japanese feudal history covers the period from about the 8th century to the last half of the 19th century.
Until the 17th century, however, Japan was more of a typical clan society than a feudal society. The struggle for power in Japan has always taken place between two parties, the emperor and the military commander, the shogun.
It is therefore easiest to describe the history of Japan, as the time of the different shogunate periods and the time before, ie. the imperial era.
Three religions have also strongly influenced Japanese culture: Buddhism (especially Zen Buddhism), Confucianism and shintoism.
The influence and significance of Zen Buddhism will be described later.
Confucianism spread to Japan as early as the 5th century. It is based on the teachings of Confucius (551-479 BC).
Shintoism is the traditional the folk religion of Japan with several gods and the worship of mainly ancestors.
Jidai is the Japanese word for time period or epoch. Here is a brief description of the different eras:
The Nara Period-Nara Jidai (AD710-794)
As early as the 6th century, the foundation was laid for what would develop into the samurai class, in that plots of land were distributed to vassals.
In 710, Nara is proclaimed the capital and this marks the beginning of the Japanese feudal era. A system of government is introduced according to a Chinese model.
In the first historical work written in Japanese, Kojiki, the imperial family is claimed to be related to the gods. During this period, Buddhist temples also became increasingly powerful.
The Heian-Period-Heian Jidai (794-1185)
The imperial power and the court are moved to Heian (Kyoto). The Heian period was initially a peaceful period, a golden age for art and literature in particular.
In the 12th century, the samurai class, the new warrior class, emerged. The provinces were ruled by daimyo, land lords. These came to become the leader of the buke, the new warrior class.
During this time, the most common warrior was a mounted archer. The samurai’s lifestyle and philosophy during this time was also called Kyuba no Michi, the way of the bow and the horse. The samurai used the long sword, tachi, with the edge hanging down.
The Heian period ended with the Genpei War (1180-1185) between the two ruling clans, Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji). The war ends with the victory of Minamoto no Yoritomo and his appointment to shogun (military commander and dictator) in 1192. This
marks the end of the imperial era and the beginning of the Shogunat periods.
From the beginning, Shogun was the title on the commander who led campaigns against the Japanese indigenous people, ainu.
The Kamakura Shogunate- Kamakura Jidai (1185-1333)
The power is transferred to Kamakura. The total power now ends up with the shogun and his feudal lords, daimyo. The emperor becomes just a puppet
The Mongols try to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281. The samurai manage to resist both invasion attempts with the help of “The Divine Wind”, Kamikaze. The typhoon, which both times sank the Mongolian fleet, was named Kamikaze.
The Kamakura Shogunate ended with the bloody Nanbokucho War in 1333 and the Ashikaga clan taking power. This civil war lasted for 59 years.
The foot soldiers were often armed with naginata, but during the war the warfare changed. One switched to using spears (yari) instead.
Zen Buddhism is beginning to establish itself in Japan
The Ashikaga Shogunate -Ashikaga Muromachi Jidai (1333-1573)
Ashikaga is appointed to shogun and transfers the power to Muromachi (the era is also called the Muromachi period).
Now the use of ashigaru, foot soldiers (infantry) is introduced. Ashigaru were peasants trained for battle. This leads to the change of warfare in the 15th century.
Now the image of the more classic samurai emerges, which is fighting on foot with his sword, katana (uchigatana), with the edge hanging upwards.
A new major civil war, the Onin War, breaks out, depicted in the movie “The Seven Samurai”. After nearly 100 years of civil war, Japan is reuniting.
The period between the years 1467-1568 also came to be called Sengoku Jidai, the period of the warring states.
Around 1543, the use of small arms (muskets) was introduced by the Portuguese. Hojutsu, becomes the name for the firearm technique. Members of the Ashikaga clan were shoguns for 15 generations.
The Azuchi Momoyama Period-Azuchi Momoyama Jidai (1568-1600)
This period is dominated by three great daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who managed to gain control in Japan.
The period is named after these warlords’ castles, Azuchi (Nobunaga) and Momoyama (Hideyoshi).
Kyoto is taken over by Nobinaga. He is to appointed new shogun, but he is assassinated and Toyotomi Hideyoshi now takes power as the new leader.
Hideyoshi invades Korea. He succeeds in reuniting Japan and introducing new laws. Only the samurai are now allowed to carry arms.
The Tokugawa Shogunate-Edo Jidai (1600-1867)
In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu becomes the new shogun. The power is transferred to Edo (the era is also called the Edo period).
Edo becomes Japan’s real capital. Kyoto, where the emperor had his seat, becomes the nominal capital.
Under Tokugawa’s rule, the samurai become the official highest class in Japanese society. Now they get the absolute power in Japan and the rest of the population became more or less outlawed against them. The country ended up in peace at the cost of a strict military dictatorship. The samurai class made up less than 10% of the population. Like the new great aristocracy, the samurai came now to deal more with the art of war.
The Tokugawa clan came to rule Japan until Japan’s modernization in 1868.
The Meiji Restoration in 1868-Meiji Jidai (1868-1912)
In 1868, the modernization of Japan begins.
Japan is suffering from the global industrialization and had to adapt to the new age. The use of small arms became a decisive factor.
The last shogun is deposed and the power was handed over to Emperor Meiji.
The samurai empire was thus abolished and they were no longer allowed to carry their swords. The samurai clans lost all their privileges.
In 1877, several samurai revolted during the Satsuma Rebellion. One of the leaders are Saigo Takamori, “the last samurai”, portrayed in the film of the same title.
The samurai’s revolt is crushed of the new modernized Japanese army and Saigo commits seppuku (ritual suicide).