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  • Retelling the History of the Sengoku Period and the Era Name SystemThe Year in Japan
  • Lu Chen (bio)

The past two years have seen historical events at an almost unprecedented level of significance for Japan. First, the year 2018 was the 150th anniversary of Japan's Meiji Restoration, which is widely understood to be the most dramatic revolution in the whole of Japanese history. It restored practical imperial rule to the Empire of Japan in 1868 under the Emperor Meiji and was the starting point of Japan's modernization. Second, the Emperor Akihito abdicated at the end of April 2019, and his son, the Crown Prince Naruhito, ascended to the throne. With this change, the thirty-one-year-old Heisei era ended, and the new Reiwa era in Japanese history began. These events have inspired public interest in the history of Japan and have led to the publication of a range of biographies on historical topics.

Retelling the History of the Sengoku Period

To mark the anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, the major media outlets raised a variety of related topics for public discussion. As far away as the UK, academic communities involved in Japan Studies held conferences on the enduring significance of the Meiji Restoration. This trending interest in Japanese history has extended to earlier periods as well. Since Goza Yūichi's 2016 The Ōnin War became an unexpected bestseller, with annual sales reaching 280,000 copies, more and more readers are becoming interested in the history of the Sengoku (Warring States) period (1467–1600), a time of social upheavals, political intrigues, and incessant military conflicts. The period was initiated by the Ōnin War (1467–1477), which led to the collapse of the Japanese feudal system under the Ashikaga Shogunate, and it ended when the system was reestablished under the Tokugawa shogun by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The drive to rediscover and retell the history of the Sengoku period through life stories has provided a directional guide for the biography market over the past two years. [End Page 109]

I will single out several biographies related to this period. First, Kuroda Motoki's Hōjō Ujimasa: Kenkon wo seppa shi Taikyo ni kaesu (2018) is a biography of Hōjō Ujimasa (1539–1590), a daimyo (territorial lord) of the Sengoku period. During his reign, the territorial expansion of the Hōjō family reached its peak. The first biographical introduction to Hōjō Ujimasa's life story, this book details his participation in historical events and the influence of these events on his career choices. It explains why the daimyo Hōjō family perished, even after five generations, and illuminates the role of the daimyo during the Sengoku era.

The second is Owada Tetsuo's Akechi Mitsuhide to Hidemitsu: Toki wa ima Ame ga shitashiru Satsuki kana (2019). Akechi Mitsuhide (1528–1582) and Akechi Hidemitsu (1536–1582) were both daimyos in the Sengoku period. Hidemitsu was Mitsuhide's son-in-law, and played an important role in the Oda family at that time. In 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide conspired against his ruler, Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582), in an event historically known as the Honnō-ji Incident (1582). Subsequently, he was typically cast as a villain and a rebel. However, his life before that famous incident has remained a mystery, along with his personality prior to the plot. This biography aims to solve such questions through archival research regarding the two men's lives and personalities before the Honnō-ji Incident. In so doing, it reconstructs the historical background of one of the most mysterious historical events in Japanese history—the Honnō-ji Incident.

The third biography, Fujii Takashi's Ōuchi Yoshitaka: Ruiyobutoku no ie wo syosi, daimyo no utsuwa ni noru (2019), subverts the traditional image of Ōuchi Yoshitaka (1507–1551) as a war-weary and indecisive daimyo in the Sengoku period. Based on several historical events, such as the Kitakyushu War and the chaotic war in Aki Province, it revises the generally accepted view of his personality as a daimyo who assumed the policy of civilian control with a strong cultural concern. Through this process, it also expounds on the reasons behind the demise of the Ōuchi family.

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pp. 109-113
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