Japanese Daimyo- Feudal Rulers in Japan

Before Japan was unified and became peaceful it was divided into different domains each under the leadership of a Daimyo.  These were military lords that owns a large portion of lands and live in castle towns. Daimyo were clothe with either dress in battle armor or wore eboshi caps stiffened with black lacquer paper lining. The size and shape of the cap will depend on the Daimyo’s rank. A small fan was tucked to his waist to use from time to time when the weather gets hot. For hundreds of years, daimyo armies were almost always at war. During the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the daimyo offered their military service to the shogun. Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu found a way to keep these feudal rulers occupied. The name Daimyo is derived from the words “Dai” which means great or big and “myo” which means great name. The first men who were given this title were governors of the different provinces. These were from the shugo class. What started out as a position as governor or constable, paved the way for these shugo to begin laying claim to lord over lands.

Instead of simply serving in the position that they were given. The title cannot be pass on to sons and that they do have control only if they were given permission by the shogun. As the centuries pass by, the central government’s control over the shugo grew weak. There came a point when the shugo no longer rely on the shoguns for authority. They began to run their lands a form of fiefdom.  Each of these feudal rulers hired Samurai warriors to protect their life and that of their family. These Samurai also protect their properties as well. Since the shugo started collecting taxes and pay these Samurai for serving them, thus begun the first daimyo. The position of shugo was actually an office invented by Minamoto Yori to extend the rule of the shogunate government throughout Japan. However, since they stayed for longer periods in the capital, they appointed a deputy shugo or shugodai. Each part of the year they were asked to reside in Edo. Because of this edict the daimyo traveled all the way to Edo in elaborate and expensive processions. These were a heavy burden for the daimyo. At the same time they need to spend for residences during their stay in Edo. This was a clever move to keep these feudal rulers occupied. This was a simple method to dissuade rebellion.

A civil war known as the Onin War broke out in Japan for the shogunate succession. Each noble houses have their own candidates for the position. As a result there was a breakdown in law and order across the country. To add fuel to the fire, a dozen daimyo marched their armies against each other. This resulted to a nationwide melee. This war lasted for decade but, there was no resolution. Then came the 150 years of total chaos were one daimyo fought against another for control of his territory.  There came a point when these daimyo were reunited by three proponents of peace namely: Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Thus was born the Tokugawa shoguns who ruled over provinces. This time the shogunate has control over the independent power of the daimyo. This also ensures that the shoguns has an eye on their underlings thus preventing these lords to become too powerful or cause trouble.

Among the major clans that produce shugo and daimyo during the Muromachi period there were famous personalities that came out to rule. These are from these clans who rule each respective provinces:

  • Hosokawa clan ruling nine provinces. These were descendants of Emperor Seiwa through the Ashikaga clan. These clan was the largest landholding daimyo families in Japan. Present day Prime Minister of Japan Morihiro Hosokawa came from this clan
  • Otomo clan ruled Bungo province. Their power extended from the Kamakura period through the Sengoku period spanning 400 years of rule. They have a central role in fighting the Mongol invaders. They were also the first to trade with the Europeans
  • Ogasawara clan ruled Shinano province. This clan develop schools of martial arts and contributed to the Bushido code etiquette. During the Edo period they were known as insider daimyo clan which serve as allies of Tokugawa. There were a lot of notable members coming from this clan who reign from the 12th century
  • Takeda clan ruled Kai province. This is the clan that develop their own crest. They were also a descendant of Emperor Seiwa. Their decline as a clan started when one of their prominent rulers died. Shingen died from illness and there was notable Samurai who serve under them that died in battles that his son has started
  • Toki clan ruled Mino province. They were founders of Zen Buddhist temples
  • Rokkaku clan ruled Omi province. These were Japanese Samurai clan and the only one known for this. During the Onin war their castle came under assault. This resulted to defeat thus the clan entered a period of decline

Peace and prosperity reign during the Tokugawa period however, peace was interrupted once again by an outsider. This is a foreign intruder from the outside world. Face with the threat of Western imperialism and lacking such weapons the Tokugawa government collapsed. These daimyo lost their lands and titles. This was referred to as the restoration of Meiji in 1868. Some daimyo were able to transition from their position into the new oligarchy. Thus began the wealthy industrial class. The new Meiji rulers vested control back to the Emperor. The God of War was believe to reside in the daimyo flags. When these are not in used they were place inside a box and stored inside the daimyo castle. Since the daimyos were no longer in authority the flags were not needed anymore except for ceremonial events. This is because there was no need for battles. Since this was a time of peace the flags were designed simple like rectangular logo with a symbol. Thus the rule of the Daimyo ended.