The last man standing : causes of daimyo survival in sixteenth century Japan
By John E. Bender
Master’s Thesis, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2008
Abstract: The Warring States period is often characterized as random and chaotic – an incomprehensible series of battles from which a victor finally emerged. While there was a degree of unpredictability in Warring States conflict, this thesis argues that the period followed a fundamentally comprehensible course. Emphasizing the chaos of battle obscures underlying factors which set the course of Warring States conflict, politics, and economics. By systematically examining geographic, political, economic, and military factors it can be shown that the Warring States period proceeded more logically than has been assumed.
This research identifies patterns in Warring States Japan and seeks to answer the question, “why did some daimyo survive while others did not” I argue that survival during the Warring States period was more heavily influenced by geographic and political factors than by military and economic factors. Though touted as powerful warlords who controlled their own destiny, in reality, factors largely beyond the daimyo’s control were most responsible for his survival or elimination.
In 1467, Kyoto was plunged into the most destructive war in its premodern history. Bands of warriors fought almost continuously in the streets for ten years. When the conflict finally abated, the city was reduced to a shadow of its former self. Like its capital, the Muromachi shogunate was dealt a serious blow, one from which it would never recover. The years following the Onin War (1467-1477) witnessed a near complete collapse of central authority. The rise of local power which had been taking place for roughly a century accelerated, and Japan quickly lost virtually all semblance of central government. Regional magnates, or daimyo, came to dominate the political landscape of Japan, each controlling territory on their own authority. The result was a period of protracted civil war lasting for almost 150 years.