大名

The daimyo were the feudal lords of Japan and were samurai too, though with a much higher status than an ordinary retainer. They were independent land-owners, whose territories had to have a total value of at least 10,000 koku. They are not to be mistaken for the kuge, or court nobles. Daimyo often commanded armies much larger than any of their European counterparts. A single daimyo could command several thousand men, a large one heading an alliance of tens or even hundreds of thousands. At the Battle of Sekigahara, there were almost 160,000 men under the command of Tokugawa Ieyasu and his opponent Ishida Mitsunari.

A brief history

From the 8th century onwards, large estates were built up from land granted to trusted military governors and members of the Imperial family who could not be supported at court. The rulers of these estates, who were the first daimyo, did not have to pay tax to central government and were thus able to amass considerable power. By the 12th century, some daimyo had become more powerful than the emperor himself. Indeed as time passed, the Imperial Court became more and more irrelevant, as a new class of nobility separate from the Court arose. Minamoto Yoritomo is accredited with being the first Shogun, who set up the Kamakura Shogunate, effectively making the Imperial government impotent.

Civil war sporadically broke out in the following centuries. The Onin War (1467-1477) was one of Japan's greatest conflicts and destabilised the Ashikaga Shogunate. Though it survived until 1573, its authority was heavily undermined by the previous conflict. Daimyo fought each other to increase their territories, the most violent conflict occurring in the Sengoku Era. Alliances of different lords formed for mutual protection, as well as for conquest. Lords like Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi temporarily united Japan in the late 16th century. But their deaths provoked renewed infighting. Finally, after the Battle of Sekigahara, one daimyo was able to completely united Japan - Tokugawa Ieyasu.

During the Edo period, under Tokugawa rule, daimyo were prohibited from fighting each other and had much reduced individual power under the Bakufu. When Tokugawa Ieyasu had united Japan, he had forced all the daimyo and samurai to swear allegiance to him. The position of Shogun gave him the authority he needed to control them. Though they technically still controlled their lands, or hans as they were then called, the Bakufu could still strip of them of their lands if they misbehaved.

During the late 19th century, the daimyo and samurai class were officially disestablished as a part of the Meiji government's decision to westernise society. It was also necessary to remove possible challenges to their authority. Though in the end the legislation was successful, some daimyo and samurai resisted. The short-lived Satsuma Rebellion, led by Saigo Takamori, attempted to overthrow the government. However the old ways of fighting a war had been overshadowed by modern rifles and cavalry techniques. Takamori's army was routed and so the daimyo passed into history.

Famous daimyo

Akechi Mitsuhide
Date Masamune
Hojo Soun
Imagawa Yoshimoto
Ishida Mitsunari
Kato Kiyomasa
Oda Nobunaga
Takeda Shingen
Tokugawa Ieyasu
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Uesugi Kenshin