1500s | 1600s | 1700s | 1800s
1543Birth of Tokugawa Ieyasu
The son of a minor daimyo warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasu gradually rose to prominence after establishing strategic alliances with powerful leaders such as Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1600, he emerged as the most powerful warlord in Japan after the Battle of Sekigahara. Awarded the title of Shogun, he established his government in Edo (now Tokyo) and founded the Shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 260 years.
1543Portuguese Arrive in Japan
Blown off course during a storm, Portuguese traders shipwrecked near Tangeshima island off the southern coast of Japan. Intrigued by the Portuguese firearms, the local daimyo warlord bought two guns from the European sailors and commissioned his swordsmith to make copies. The daimyo then asked the Portuguese for shooting lessons.
1549Jesuit Missionaries Settle in Japan
Eager for more firearms, the Japanese warlords welcomed trade with the Portuguese. Along with trade, the Portuguese brought Christian missionaries, and in 1549, Francis Xavier established Japan's first mission at Kagoshima. Jesuit missionary Luis Frois arrived later and wrote Historia de Japan, which covered the years 1549-1593. The book provided most of the known information about contemporary Japan at that time.
1561Ieyasu Becomes Allies with Oda Nobunaga
Ieyasu joined forces with the fearless warlord Oda Nobunaga and began expanding his territorial holdings. A marriage was arranged between Ieyasu's eldest son and Nobunaga's daughter to strengthen their alliance. But in 1579, Ieyasu's son was discovered plotting against Nobunaga. To prove his loyalty to Nobunaga, Ieyasu forced his beloved son to commit suicide.
1568Oda Nobunaga Attempts to Unify Japan
Oda Nobunaga was the first to attempt the unification of Japan. Known for his ruthless use of power, his vision was to bring all of Japan "under a single sword". Nobunaga's most significant step towards unifying the country was the destruction of the Buddhist monastery of Mt. Hiei, whose warrior monks had played a significant role in the political and military course of Japan. Nobunaga saw them as a threat to the future stability of Japan. After destroying the Mt. Hiei monastery, he hunted down and slaughtered the fleeing Hiei monks, regardless of their innocence or age.
1575Battle of Nagashino
Oda Nobunaga was quick to embrace Western innovationsfirearms, in particular. At the Battle of Nagashino, he instituted new offensive and defensive tactics with guns which changed Japanese warfare forever. A great military strategist, he built massive stone forts that would resist the new firearms, and he strengthened his warships with iron-cladding. He also instituted a specialized warrior class, appointing his retainers to positions based on ability rather than family connection.
1577Joao Rodrigues Arrives in Japan
Born in Portugal in 1561, Joao Rodrigues was a cabin boy on a Portuguese ship and arrived in Japan at the age of 15. He became a Jesuit missionary in 1577. Possessing an ear for language, Rodgrigues was soon able to speak Japanese fluently, which earned the nickname, "the interpreter." He served in that role for both Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Living in Japan for 33 years, he wrote a book considered one of the era's key historical chronicles of Japan, Historia da Igreja do Japao ("This Land of Japan"). He also wrote a book on Japanese grammar that helped other missionaries master the difficult Japanese language.
Oda Nobunaga was ultimately attacked by a disgruntled general from his inner circle, although it was unknown whether Nobunaga was assassinated or committed suicide. Jesuit missionary Joao Rodrigues wrote: "Some say he cut his belly, while others believe that he set fire to the palace and perished in the flames." Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Nobunaga's trusted aides, quickly avenged the suspected murder, presenting the traitor's head to Nobunaga's grave. Hideyoshi soon emerged as the next ruling military leader of Japan.
1584Toyotomi Hideyoshi Becomes Supreme Commander
Hideyoshi's response to the assassination of Nobunaga gave him a place of special importance and he quickly assumed the role of Japan's ruler. He and Tokugawa became uneasy allies. Born of peasant stock, little is known of Hideyoshi's life prior to 1570. Short and thinly proportioned, he cut an odd figure; the tactless Nobunaga had referred to him as Saru (monkey) and the "bald rat". However, using guile and manipulation, he rose through the ranks. Famous for his unsophisticated and garish aesthetic, Hideyoshi built a gold tea room in his Osaka castle.
1587Japanese Peasantry Disarmed
In the "Sword Hunt" of 1593, Toyotomi Hideyoshi forbade the peasant class from possessing weapons including swords, guns, and knives. He hoped to prevent revolts and to distinguish Japan's classes with only the samurai allowed to carry two swords.
1587Christian Persecution Begins
Because he valued trade with European merchants, Hideyoshi initially welcomed the Christian missionaries. By 1587, he had become worried that Christianity's growing influence would threaten his control of Japan. He therefore issued an edict outlawing Christianity and expelling the missionaries. However, the edict was ineffective and Franciscans continued to enter the country. The Jesuits remained active in Western Japan.
1590Ieyasu Moves Headquarters to Edo
After a few skirmishes, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu formed an uneasy alliance. Hideyoshi rewarded Ieyasu with eight provinces located in the Kanto plain and ordered him to move his headquarters to Edo, a swampy, backwater castle town far from the center of Japanese politics. Ieyasu felt compelled to agree to the arrangement and the two generals urinated together to seal the agreement.
1597Hideyoshi Executes 26 Christians
In 1597, Hideyoshi intensified the persecution of Christians in Japan. As a warning, he had 24 Christians arrested in Kyoto, among them 19 Japanese and two young boys. The prisoners' left ears were chopped off and they were paraded through Kyoto's streets and surrounding countryside while onlookers taunted and tortured them. Arriving in Nagasaki, all 24 prisoners, plus two Jesuits who had come to defend them, were chained to crosses and crucified. Stabbed with spears and left to hang for 80 days, none of the captured Christians recanted or denounced their faith. Learning of their deaths two years later, Pope Pius the IX declared them martyrs. Hideyoshi unintentionally inspired Christians around Japan; new converts were recruited and Nagasaki became the center of Christian activity.
On his deathbed, Hideyoshi asked Ieyasu to serve as one of five regents designated to rule Japan until Hideyoshi's beloved son, Hideyori, came of age. A year later, Ieyasu moved into Osaka Castle, Hideyori's stronghold, a move that antagonized his fellow regents.
Top: Portuguese traders arrive/Osaka Castle
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