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Ashikaga (Muromachi) Period

1336 - 1573

Military

1336 - 1573

Muromachi period, also called Ashikaga Period, in Japanese history, period of the Ashikaga Shogunate (1338–1573). It was named for a district in Kyōto, where the first Ashikaga shogun, Takauji, established his administrative headquarters. Although Takauji took the title of shogun for himself and his heirs, complete control of Japan eluded him.

The most successful of the Ashikaga rulers, the third shogun Yoshimitsu, managed to eliminate his rivals and settle a long-standing split in the imperial line, creating an era of stability that lasted several decades. A later succession dispute within the Ashikaga, however, led to the Ōnin War (1467–77) and was followed by a century of military struggle known as “the age of the country at war” (sengoku jidai).

In spite of the political disorder, the Muromachi period witnessed great cultural growth, particularly under the influence of Zen Buddhism. The uniquely Japanese arts of the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and nō drama were developed, while the Sung style of ink painting (sumi) reached its height. In architecture simplicity and austerity were the general rule. Both the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) and Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji) in Kyōto were constructed as shogunal retreats during the Muromachi period.

Emperors

1336 - 1573

Sutoku: 1123–41

Konoe: 1141–55

Go-Shirakawa: 1155–58

Emperors

1467 - 1603

Kino: 1141–55

Go-Shirakawa: 1155–58

Nijō: 1158–65

Unification (Sengoku) Period

1467 - 1603

Military Trends

1467 - 1603

One of the most important developments in Japanese Samurai warfare during the Sengoku Period was the emergence of large-scale infantry tactics in an exact parallel to the similar trend that was happening in 16th century Europe.

However, although infantry warfare became increasingly common, it never completely replaced cavalry warfare, largely because successful generals had to use a combination of both to their best advantage.

The stimulus for this development was the practice of using foot solders as missile troops, a factor accelerated by the introduction of European-style firearms, which men like Oda Nobunaga used very effectively. Somehow the samurai horseman had to hit back at their ranks, and needed to use his mobility and striking power to provide the shock of a charge against them. The problem was that a samurai traditionally carried a bow, which was an encumbrance in hand-to-hand fighting, and even if the bow was given to an attendant, swords were of limited use from the saddle.

So the bow was abandoned in favour of the spear, and the mounted archer gave way to the mounted spearman. Some mounted archers were still retained, who operated as mobile sharpshooters, but the majority of samurai now carried spears fitted with blades that were every bit as sharp as their swords. For the first time in Japanese history, a samurai army could deliver something recognizable as a cavalry charge.

As noted above, Takeda Shingen was the greatest exponent of the new style of mounted fighting, whether it was against archers or the musketeers who began to replace bowmen from about 1560 onwards. The initiative had shifted back in favour of the mounted man, at least until the time of Nobunaga’s victory at Nagashino.

But what was the reality of mounted samurai warfare?

If horsemen charged the enemy on their own, they could provide a reasonable impact, but in order to achieve a complete breakthrough on the battlefield they had to go into the attack along with samurai on foot. It is also important to note that the horses of those days were different from the ones we see in samurai films.

The Sengoku Period horses were much smaller, as was confirmed in 1989 when archaeologists dug up a horse’s skeleton at Tsutsuji ga saki, the Takeda capital. Its height to the shoulder was 120 cm, and its weight was estimated as 250 kilos, which compares to 160 cm and 500 kilos for a modern thoroughbred, so the shock of a charge hitting the enemy ranks would have been much less.

The speed of a modern thoroughbred would also be greater, and as the Sengoku horse had to bear an armoured horseman, the pace would be further reduced. They were usually accompanied by soldiers and attendants on foot, running as fast as they could, and who could not be left behind, so the impact of a Sengoku cavalry charge cannot have been as severe as it is popularly depicted in movies.

As well as arming the footsoldiers with muskets, the successful generals also disciplined them, giving them armour and helmets and rewarding them for service. In these ways, the samurai class expanded and became more professional, until under the Tokugawa the separation between the fighting samurai class and the agricultural farming class was made total.