Feudal Japan—1185 CE to 1868 CE
From the beginning of Japanese civilization until 1185 an emperor ruled all of Japan. An emperor is A civil war broke out in 1336 that ended the real power of the emperor. The emperor sent armies of what became known as samurai to fight the civil war for him, and when they returned he gave the title Shogun to the leader of the army, so they would not take him over as emperor. This began a new form of control in Japan, where the leaders of different armies controlled smaller pieces of land, rather than one emperor controlling everything--this is usually called Feudal control (Feudalism). Feudal control began when wealthy landholders divided up the land into smaller areas and relied on peasants (serfs) to farm the land and be soldiers--similar to Medieval Europe. Feudalism is a type of government where a weak monarchy (emperor) tries to control an area of land through agreements with wealthy landholders. Feudalism brought many changes in Japan. The feudal period of Japanese history was a time when powerful families (daimyo) and the military power of warlords (shogun), and their warriors, the samurai ruled Japan. The Yamato family remained as emperor, but their power was seriously reduced because the daimyo, shoguns, and samurai were so powerful. During this time period, the emperor appeared at ceremonies, celebrations, and parades, but had no real control over the people. This is the time periods when Japan becomes very different than China. Japan often tried to model themselves after China, but during feudal times, Japan created their own unique identity.
During the next 700 years of Feudal Japan, different shoguns (shogunates) controlled Japan. Several civil wars were fought among the powerful families and their samurai armies. The Mongolians attempted to invade and conquer Japan in the early part of this time period. The Mongolians would have easily invaded and conquered a much weaker Japan, however, a famous typhoon hit Japan and destroyed the Mongol boats and saved Japan.
In 1543, a Portuguese trade ship landed in Japan for the first time. Japan had never seen European people. The trade ship carried many new products the Japanese had never seen, especially guns. The guns introduced by Portuguese would bring major changes to society. In the Battle of Nagashino, 2,000 guns were used to shoot a charging army of samurai who still carried swords. The power of the samurai was seriously threatened. During the following years, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, and so did many Catholic (Christian) missionaries who tried to spread their religion to Japan. Many traditional Japanese leaders disliked the changes brought by Europeans, but the emperor saw this as an opportunity to regain power.
During the 17th Century (1600’s), the shoguns grew tired of foreigners changing traditional Japanese society. In 1600, a new shogun became powerful--the Tokugawa family shogun. They Tokugawa clan ruled until 1868. In 1635, foreigners were expelled from the islands of Japan and many peasants who converted to Christianity were persecuted. From 1635 to 1853, shoguns and their samurai warriors tried to move back to their traditional society and began a period of isolation, known as Sakoku, from the rest of the world. Isolation means to be separate from others or to exist by yourself—Sakoku was the Japanese name for the government policy of isolation, where no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death.