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Japan: Momoyama period (AD 1568-1600)

This period of Japanese history was named after the castle of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) at Momoyama, Fushimi, near Kyoto. In this short, but significant period, the political order was transformed and Japan moved from the middle ages into the early modern era. The arts flourished, and wide contacts with the outside world brought a strong cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Japan's reunification after years of civil war was achieved by a succession of three great military leaders: Oda Nobunaga (1534-82), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). Nobunaga marched into Kyoto in 1568, ostensibly as a supporter of the Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki. However, he drove Yoshiaki from Kyoto in 1573, won the crucial battle of Nagashino (using muskets) and went on to control central Japan - 30 of the 68 provinces. The campaign was continued by Hideyoshi. He conquered Shikoku (1585), Kyushu (1587) and northern Japan (1591). Hideyoshi maintained control by forcing provincial lords from the countryside to live in castle towns. In his 1588 sword-hunt he confiscated arms from farmers, while his land surveys gave them security of tenure. The unsuccessful invasion of Korea ended with his death in 1598. Final supremacy was achieved by Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), after which he became Shogun and formulated a strong new political order, the bakuhan ('shogunate-domain' government).

The twin cultural symbols of the Momoyama period are the castle and the teahouse. The castles provided a background for lavish wall-paintings and fusuma-e (sliding-door paintings) by artists of the official Kanō school. By contrast the Tea Ceremony and its related arts emphasized the concept of wabi ('elegance in poverty') led by Hideyoshi's teamaster, Sen no Rikyū. The Namban ('southern barbarian') school depicted the many Europeans including merchants and missionaries who brought Christianity, western arts, and guns. There was also increasing trade activity with the east Asian mainland.

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