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History The Onin War 1467-77: A Turning Point in Samurai History

The Onin War 1467-77: A Turning Point in Samurai History (From Retinue to Regiment 1453-1618, 9)

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The Onin War 1467-77: A Turning Point in Samurai History

The story of the terrible Ōnin War (応仁の乱, Ōnin no Ran) has now been told. In this groundbreaking book, the author has drawn on previously untranslated primary sources to set the famous yet misunderstood conflict in its true context. Its history begins with the glory days of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who made the position of shōgun into something that was admired and respected and left a legacy symbolized by his famous Golden Pavilion. Within decades all that he had achieved seemed to have been lost. In 1441 the reigning shōgun Yoshinori, Yoshimitsu's son, was murdered by a jealous rival. The Bakufu (shogunate) had somehow survived, but Yoshinori was succeeded first by a son who never reached manhood and then by another young son called Yoshimasa. He was to reign for 49 years in a turbulent age. Not only did Yoshimasa have to face up to his background of a family tragedy; unprecedented waves of rioting by farmers shook the ruling classes as much as any wars could have done, and all this happened to a background of famines, droughts and floods that killed more people than any of the battles ever did. Yoshimasa had several armed conflicts to contend with, culminating in a succession dispute over his own choice of heir. This launched the Ōnin War. There had been conflicts before, but what made the Ōnin War unique was the fierce street-fighting that went on within Kyōto itself. The battles were conducted from fortified mansions, which were surrounded by stout wooden walls and ditches and sported tall observation towers. In one such fight in the summer of 1467, eight cartloads of heads were taken as trophies, but within months the conflict deteriorated into a stalemate where night raids were launched, and large stones were flung by catapult. At the same time, huge areas of Kyōto were needlessly burned out by careless attacks from irregular troops called ashigaru, whose looting and destruction went far beyond the enemy positions and took in temples, mansions and commoners' dwellings. The greatest loss of all was the disappearance of loyalty to the shōgun. Instead, his former deputies in the provinces seized power in their local areas. This began the Sengoku Period: Japan's 'Age of Warring States. The book ends with one of these Sengoku daimyō (lords of the warring states) called Hōjō Sōun, whose family would control much of Eastern Japan for the next century, owing nothing to the authority of the shōgun, whose powers had been taken away by the terrible Ōnin War.

About the author:

Stephen Turnbull took his first degree at Cambridge and has two MAs (in Theology and Military History) from Leeds University. In 1996 he received a PhD from Leeds for his thesis on Japan's 'Hidden Christians'. In its published form, the work won the Japan Festival Literary Award in 1998. Having lectured widely in East Asian Studies and Theology, he is now retired and holds the honorary positions of Lecturer Emeritus at Leeds University, Research Associate at SOAS and Visiting Professor of Japanese Studies at Akita International University. His expertise, including an extensive picture library, has helped with numerous media projects, including the award-winning computer strategy game Shogun Total War, and in 2010 he acted as Historical Adviser to Universal Pictures for the movie 47 Ronin.

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Stephen Turnbull
Helion & Co Ltd
Year of publication
4 November 2021
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