"Warring States" Period (sen-GOH-koo)

Japan's Sengoku Period is sometimes compared to Europe's Dark Ages, as a chaotic transition time between political systems.

It was a century-long period of political upheaval and warlordism in Japan, lasting from the Onin War of 1467-1477 through the reunification of the country around 1598.  It was a lawless era of civil war, in which the feudal lords of Japan fought one another in endless plays for land and power.  Although the political entities that were fighting were actually just domains, the Sengoku is sometimes referred to as Japan's "Warring States" Period.

The Onin War that initiated the Sengoku was fought over a disputed succession in the Ashikaga Shogunate; in the end, nobody won. For the next century and a half, local daimyo or warlords vied for control over the different regions of Japan.

Shinobi (Ninja) served a number of purposes during the Sengoku Period (1467-1568). They acted as kancho (spies), koran (agitators), teisatsu (scouts), and kisho (surprise attackers). They were most effective in castle sieges, infiltrating and distracting the defenders inside while the main besieging army attacked from outside.

The Shinobi were an important tool during the Sengoku Period, but a destabilizing influence. When war-lord Oda Nobunaga emerged as the strongest daimyo and began to reunite Japan (1551-1582), he saw the Shinobi strongholds at Iga and Koga as a threat. He was able to quickly defeat and co-opt the Koga Shinobi forces, but had more trouble with Iga.

Japan's "Three Unifiers" brought the Sengoku Era to an end. First, Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) conquered many other warlords, beginning the process of unification through military brilliance and sheer ruthlessness. His general Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) continued the pacification after Nobunaga was killed, using a somewhat more diplomatic but equally pitiless set of tactics.

Finally, yet another Oda general named Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) defeated all opposition in 1601, and established the stable Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Although the Sengoku Period ended with the rise of the Tokugawa, it continues to colour the imaginations and the popular culture of Japan to this day.