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Articles

  1. Biographies Date Masamune

    Date Masamune was a warrior of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600) and the early part of the Edo Period (1600-1868) and one of the greatest daimyō of northern Japan. Succeeding his father at the age of 17, he defeated most of his rivalling neighbours and thereby significantly expanded his territories. Supporting the hegemons Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu he consolidated his power base and established the fiefdom of Sendai, one of the largest in the Edo Period. He showed interest in Christianity and despatched an embassy to Europe; he died renowned as an unconventional warrior,...
  2. Biographies Minamoto no Yoshitsune

    Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経, 1159-1189) was a nobleman and military commander famous for leading the Minamoto clan against the Taira in numerous battles of the Genpei War (源平合戦, 1180-1185). His prowess in battle, his relationship with his brother, and the circumstances of his death, among other factors, have resulted in him being seen as a sympathetic hero, and a frequent subject of Japanese writers of all eras, often with romanticized and exaggerated accounts of his exploits. He has captured the imagination of the Japanese, and today remains a quite popular historical figure. The...
  3. Biographies Fukuzawa Yukichi

    Fukuzawa Yukichi (福澤諭吉, 1835-1901) was a prominent educator, writer, and propagator of Western knowledge during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), founder of Keio Gijuku (慶應義塾, a private college, later Keio University), of Japan's first daily newspaper Jiji Shinpō (時事新報) , and introduced the art of public speaking in Japan. His collected works, written over a period of thirty years, fill 22 large volumes and cover a variety of subjects ranging from philosophy to women's rights. Fukuzawa Yukichi (ca. 1887) Fukuzawa was born in Ōsaka into the family of an impoverished low-ranking samurai of the...
  4. Biographies Sen no Rikyu

    Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522-1591) was a tea master of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600) and the founder of the Sen school of tea ceremony. His grandfather, Tanaka Sen'ami, is said to have been one of the dōbōshū (同朋衆, special retainers to the Muromachi shogunate who practiced the tea ceremony and other arts) in the service of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. Rikyū's father, Tanaka Yohei (田中与兵衛), moved to Sakai in Izumi Province (now part of Osaka Prefecture); tradition has it that Yohei took the character Sen of his father's name as his family name. The family apparently became wholesale...
  5. Biographies Hasekura Tsunenaga

    Hasekura Tsunenaga, also known as Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga (支倉六右衛門常長, 1571-1622) led a Japanese embassy to Mexico City, Madrid, and Rome in the years from 1613 to 1620. He was the first official Japanese envoy to visit the American continent. In July 1611, an embassy under the Spanish explorer and diplomat Sebastián Vizcaíno repatriated the Japanese merchants from New Spain (modern-day Mexico) who had travelled there with Rodrigo Vivero de Velasco, a Spanish colonial officer, in the previous year. This inspired Date Masamune, the daimyō of Sendai (present day Miyagi Prefecture), to...
  6. Biographies Tokugawa Ietsuna

    Fourth shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, eldest son of the third shogun Iemitsu, great-grandson of Ieyasu. The eldest son of Iemitsu, Tokugawa Ietsuna (徳川家綱, 1641-1680) succeeded his father at the age of 10. He was assisted by regents, all leading members of his father’s entourage, including his half-brother Hoshina Masayuki (保科正之, 1611-1673), the founding father of the Aizu Matsudaira, Matsudaira Nobutsuna, Sakai Tadakatsu (酒井忠勝, 1587-1662), Sakai Tadakiyo (酒井忠清, 1624-1681), both daimyo of the Obama and Kōzuke provinces, Inaba Masanori (稲葉正則, 1623-1696), the daimyō of the Odawara domain,...
  7. Biographies Matsudaira Nobutsuna

    A prominent administrator of the early Tokugawa shogunate, known as Chie Izu (知恵伊豆, “The Clever Izu”). Born to Ōkōchi Hisatsuna, a senior retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu of modest background, Nobutsuna (松平信綱, 1596-1662) was adopted as the heir of his uncle, Matsudaira Masatsuna, in 1601. He was assigned to serve Tokugawa Iemitsu at the latter’s birth and remained his confidant throughout Iemitsu’s term as a shōgun (1623-51). He served as a hatamoto and received the court title of Izu no Kami in 1623. In 1633, he was appointed daimyo of Oshi Domain (忍藩) in Musashi and became senior councillor...
  8. Biographies Tokugawa Iemitsu

    Third shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, eldest legitimate son of the second shogun, grandson of Ieyasu. Born under his childhood name Tokugawa Takechiyo (徳川竹千代) to his father Tokugawa Hidetada and a younger sister of Lady Yodogimi, a concubine and second wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it appeared that Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光, 1603-1651) would be denied the succession in favour of his younger brother and rival Tadanaga (1606-33), but due to the intercession of his wet nurse, Kasuga-no-Tsubone, he was confirmed as shogun in 1623 when his father abdicated. Iemitsu’s sister was Lady Sen...
  9. Biographies Tokugawa Hidetada

    Second shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, third son of Tokugawa Ieyasu Born at the castle of Hamamatsu, Tokugawa Hidetada (徳川秀忠, 1579-1632) served as the general of one of his father’s armies in the campaign that led to the Battle of Sekigahara (1600) and the sieges of Ōsaka Castle (1614-15). In 1600, the army he led in Ieyasu’s projected campaign against Uesugi Kagekatsu arrived too late to take part in the decisive battle. His father refused to to receive him in his anger, but finally consented to grant him an audience at the intervention of Honda Masazumi. Although he officially became...
  10. Biographies Sakuma Shozan

    Also called Sakuma Zōzan, Shōzan (佐久間象山, 1811-1864) was a progressive samurai intellectual of the Bakumatsu period. Born in Matsushiro, the castle town of the Matsushiro domain (松代藩 Matsushiro-han, modern-day Nagano Prefecture), Shozan studied Chinese learning (漢学) under his father, a scholar-administrator of the domain and Satō Issai (佐藤 一斎, 1772–1859), a professor at the Shōheikō (昌平黌), a Confucian academy in Edo (present-day Tokyo). Just like many other intellectuals of his time, Shozan was alarmed by the rising power of Western nations as illustrated by China’s humiliation in the...
  11. Biographies Josiah Conder

    British architect, urban planner, and teacher Conder (1852-1920) was the leading foreign designer of public and private buildings in Meiji Japan. The progressive and eclectic appearance of Meiji Period Tōkyō is to a large extent attributed to his buildings, typically designed in red brick with white stone trim. As a government-employed professor of architecture, from 1877 to 1888, and later through his own company, Conder gave the Japanese their first and most extensive training in Western architecture. His Japanese students included Tatsuno Kingo (辰野金吾, 1854-1919), Sone Tatsuzō (曽禰達蔵,...
  12. Biographies Mori Motonari

    A daimyō and military leader in the Chūgoku Region in western Honshū during the Sengoku Period (1467-1568). Mōri Motonari (毛利元就, 1497-1571), the second son of Mōri Hiromoto (d. 1556), became head of the Mōri clan of Aki Province (安芸国 Aki no kuni) or Geishū (芸州, modern-day Hiroshima Prefecture) in 1523. In order to maintain their independence during the turmoil of the Sengoku Period, the Mōri had allied themselves first with the neighbouring Amago clan (尼子氏 Amago-shi) and later with the Ōuchi family (大内氏 Ōuchi-shi). Mōri family crest Mori Motonari’s expansion Motonari captured...
  13. Biographies Sakamoto Ryoma

    A pro-imperial activist in the Bakumatsu Period who helped forge the alliance between Satsuma and Chōshū that would eventually topple the Tokugawa shogunate. Sakamoto Ryōma (坂本龍馬, 1836-1867) was born to a rural samurai (郷士 gōshi or 郷侍 gōzamurai) family in the castle town of Kōchi in the Tosa Domain (modern-day Kōchi Prefecture in Shikoku). Gōshi occupied the lowest samurai ranks. Sakamoto’s family, who had not been granted status until 1771, were merchants, brewers, and peasants. He therefore had little formal education, but he showed an early understanding of the political crisis that...
  14. Biographies Miyamoto Musashi

    Master swordsman and painter of the Edo period (1600-1868), also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke, Shinmen Musashi-no-Kami Fujiwara no Genshin (新免武蔵守藤原玄信), and under his artistic name Niten. Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵 1584-1645), born in either Mimasaka (modern-day Okayama Prefecture) or Harima (Hyōgo Prefecture), was one of the many samurai whose lords had fought on the losing side in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.Musashi thus became a ronin, a masterless samurai. He developed a sword-style of fencing called nitōryū or Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū, which employed both the katana (刀,...
  15. Biographies Gamo Ujisato

    Also known under his childhood name Tsuruchiyo (鶴千代), as Utahide (賦秀) and under his Christian name Leão, Gamo Ujisato (蒲生氏郷 1556-1595) was a daimyō of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600) and son of Gamō Katahide (蒲生 賢秀, 1534-1584), lord of Hino Castle in Ōmi (modern-day Shiga Prefecture). He was the scion of a baronial family that had been prominent in that province since the twelfth century. The Gamō sided with Oda Nobunaga when that emergent national leader marched on Kyōto in 1568. Ujisato was married to Nobunaga’s daughter Fuyuhime (書名, 1561-1641) and served Nobunaga in various...
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