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Contact with the West


Chinese-style to Japan
Chinese-style to Japan

The most ambitious daimyo aspired to dominate the whole country. Although the powers of the shogun and emperor had been eclipsed, the existence of the imperial capital at Ky?to was a potent reminder that the country had once been unified. Oda Nobunaga, son of a minor daimyo in central Japan, began the process of reunifying the country by building up a strong domain in central Japan across the main trade route linking the eastern and western parts of the country. In 1568 he secured military control over Ky?to, and by 1573 he was confident enough of his own power to depose the last Ashikaga shogun. Before Nobunaga could consolidate his rule, however, he met a premature death at the hand of one of his principal vassals. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a man of humble origins who had become one of Nobunaga’s leading generals, continued the process of unification. After a series of successful campaigns in the 1580s and early 1590s, Hideyoshi succeeded in establishing political sway over the entire country. He also launched two unsuccessful invasions of Korea. When he died in 1598, leaving an infant heir, his leading generals fell to fighting among themselves for control of the consolidated realm. In 1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had been an ally of both Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, emerged victorious over his rivals at the Battle of Sekigahara, near the modern city of Gifu. Ieyasu established a new capital at Edo (modern Tokyo) in eastern Japan, and in 1603 assumed the title of shogun.

Meanwhile, during the era of warring states the Japanese had their first contacts with Westerners. In 1543 Portuguese traders arrived at Tanegashima, a small island off the southern coast of Ky?sh?, and in 1549 Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary, brought Roman Catholicism to Japan.

With the arrival of the Portuguese, the Japanese learned the use of firearms, which they soon began to manufacture themselves. Firearms decisively changed the face of Japanese warfare, rendering obsolete the horse-riding warrior who had dominated the battlefield for centuries. The Portuguese traders were also an important source of goods from China, Southeast Asia, and other parts of Asia, and they introduced the Japanese to the practices of smoking tobacco and deep-frying foods. The Jesuit missionaries, offering the lure of trade as bait, were extremely successful in making converts. By the time of the Battle of Sekigahara, several hundred thousand Japanese, including a number of daimyo in Ky?sh? and western Japan, had become Roman Catholics. "Japan" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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