The liberal, cosmopolitan 1920s gave way to a revival of Japan’s military traditions in the 1930s, leading directly to imperial aggression and Japan’s entrance into World War II . During that conflict, Japanese soldiers brought antique samurai swords into battle and made suicidal “banzai” attacks according to the bushido principle of death before dishonor or defeat. At war’s end, Japan again drew on its strong sense of honor, discipline and devotion to a common cause–not the daimyos or shoguns of the past, but the emperor and the country–in order to rebuild itself and reemerge as one of the world’s greatest economic and industrial powers in the latter 20th century.
The relative peace of the Tokugawa era was shattered with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's massive . Navy steamships in 1853. Perry used his superior firepower to force Japan to open its borders to trade. Prior to that only a few harbor towns, under strict control from the Shogunate, were allowed to participate in Western trade, and even then, it was based largely on the idea of playing the Franciscans and Dominicans off against one another (in exchange for the crucial arquebus technology, which in turn was a major contributor to the downfall of the classical samurai).
The Azuchi-Momoyama period takes its name from Azuchi Castle and Momoyama Castle. Azuchi Castle was one of Oda Nobunaga's main fortresses located next to Lake Biwa in Omi Province. It was built close enough to Kyoto to enable sentries to see any approaching armies, but far enough way to provide protection from lesser conflicts which were not uncommon in the capital. Momoyama Castle, also known as Fushimi Castle, was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward in 1594. It was actually built as a place for Toyotomi to retire and has a famous tea ceremony room with walls covered in gold leaf. All that is left today of the original castles are their stone bases.
The period begins with Oda Nobunaga gaining control of Kyoto and receiving recognition from the emperor for Ashikaga Yoshiaki as the 15th Ashikaga Shogun. Yoshiaki was only a puppet shogun and was eventually driven from Kyoto in 1573 by Oda Nobunaga. Oda Nobunaga had a reputation as a brutal warlord and unyielding enemy.
In 1582 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a close ally, requested military assistance from Oda Nobunaga. On his way, Oda Nobunaga stopped in Kyoto and was forced to commit seppuku, ritual suicide, by one of his own discontented generals, Akechi Mitsuhide. Oda Nobunaga had made public insults about Akechi Mitsuhide and had broken a peace treaty with a rival clan resulting in the murder of Akechi Mitsuhide's mother. Toyotomi Hideyoshi soon tracked down Akechi Mitsuhide and defeated him at the Battle of Yamazaki. There are conflicting rumors regarding the fate of Akechi Mitsuhide. One says that he was killed by a peasant with a bamboo spear, and another says he was not killed but began a new life as a priest.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Rise to Power
After the death of Oda Nobunaga a power struggle began between competing daimyo. Eventually, 1584, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was able to reach an advantageous stalemate with Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute and take control of Kyoto and the former Oda domains. By 1590 Toyotomi Hideyoshi had established an army 200,000 strong who defeated rival daimyo in Shikoku, Kyushu, and eastern Honshu. With all areas of the country under Toyotomi Hideyoshi's control, the reunification of Japan was complete.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi instituted measures to secure his position in Kyoto. He sent the rival Tokugawa family to the Kanto region so they would be far from the capital. He took the wives and heirs of rival daimyo as hostages and kept them at nearby Osaka. People of different classes were required to live in separate areas of town. In order to avoid peasants uprising against samurai, peasants were not allowed to carry weapons. Samurai were required to live in castle towns and were not allowed to farm. The campaigns to disarm peasants, as well as enemy forces, were called katanagari, or sword hunts.
From 1592 to 1598 Toyotomi Hideyoshi sent Japanese forces to invade China and Korea. Within the first three months the Japanese army had occupied Seoul and Pyongyang. The Chinese intervened which resulted in Japan eventually withdrawing its forces in 1598, a month after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The Joseon and Ming navies engaged the withdrawing Japanese forces inflicting heavy damage. Out of 500 Japanese ships only 150-200 were able to make it back to Japan. During the battle the Korean Admiral Yi Sun-sin was shot and killed by a Japanese arquebus, a type of muzzle-loaded firearm. The failure to conquer Ming China weakened the Toyotomi family name and clans loyal to it.