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Japan: Muromachi period (AD 1333-1568)

After defeating the Hōjō family in 1333, Ashikaga Takauji (1305-58) started to reorganize the government from his headquarters in the Muromachi district of Kyoto. He was made shogun in 1338, and the Muromachi period is also known as the Ashikaga period. For much of the period Japan was in a state of civil war.

The first two Ashikaga shoguns were weak, and the government was more a coalition of shogun and provincial governors (shugo). The powerful third shogun, Yoshimitsu (reigned 1369-95), forced the shugo to live in Kyoto, but often their inferiors seized power in their absence. Under the eighth shogun, Yoshimasa (reigned 1449-74), Kyoto was destroyed in the ōnin war (1467-77), which led to the Period of Warring States (Sengoku jidai). Many provincial warlords, the sengoku daimyō, built castles and competed ruthlessly with each other until Oda Nobunaga (1534-82) began the process of reunification.

Meanwhile, there were important developments in farming, commerce, transportation and social organisation, as well as significant cultural achievement. Trade with China was reestablished under Yoshimitsu. Widespread monetization of the economy encouraged a new class of merchants. Gold, silver and copper were mined and used for weapons, coins and for decoration. Castle-building provided much work for craftsmen of all kinds. Commoners grew more independent, travelling to local markets, making pilgrimages to temples and shrines and setting up town and village councils.

Cultural developments were led by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who encouraged Nō and Kyōgen theatre and renga ('linked verse'). The arts of Zen - ink painting, tea ceremony, garden design and flower arrangement - flourished but newer popular schools became influential. Europeans introduced Christianity in 1549, bringing yet more new ideas. Japan was developing a rich national culture which could be enjoyed by all.

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