The Way of the Daimyo (recreated)

This manual is designed to provide you with an insight into the units, leaders, buildings and events of the Sengoku period in the history of Japan, the setting for Shogun: Total War.

Words by Mike Brunton.



"If you know your enemy and know yourself, you will not be imperilled by a hundred battles. If you do not know the others but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one. If you do not know the enemy and do not know yourselves you will be in danger in every battle."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Shogun: Total War is set in the Sengoku period of Japanese history. Now, unless you’re a Japanese historian and recognise that this means "The Country at War", that probably doesn’t mean very much to you. By the time you’re playing the game (and if you’ve read at least some of this manual), you will realise that this is one of the most dramatic and exciting times in the history of Japan. In fact, it’s one of the most dramatic and exciting periods of history anywhere in the world!

"Act after having made assessments. The one who first knows the measure of far and near wins — this is the rule of armed struggle"

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In the space of a little of over one hundred years, samurai armies fought for control of Japan. They were lead by the daimyo, a group of hugely powerful warlords who would have been kings and princes in their own right anywhere else in the world. Some of the daimyo were undoubtedly heroes, and some were undoubtedly utter monsters, but all of them were vastly ambitious! You’re about to be pitched into the middle of this epic struggle between the daimyo. The prize is to become Shogun, the military ruler of Japan, and the controller of the nation’s destiny. The shogun is a more powerful man than the Emperor himself. The reward is tremendous, but the price of failure is death for you and your adopted clan!

"To perceive victory when it is known to all is not really skilful… It does not take much strength to lift a hair, it does not take sharp eyes to see the sun and moon, it does not take sharp ears to hear the thunderclap."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

History and warfare doesn’t happen by accident. You’ll understand the game much better if you read at least some of this manual. You don’t have to remember everything (there’s no test on this stuff, we promise), but if you do know why daimyo A hates daimyo B but is willing to do a deal with clan C from how real history worked itself out, you’ll have a lot more fun while you’re playing the game. At the very least, it’ll explain who all these people are, and who knows, it might even help you win Shogun: Total War! Think like a daimyo, and you’ll win like a daimyo!

"Those who know when to fight and when not to fight are victorious."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The game has been designed and programmed to think like the daimyo and follow the ideas of Sun Tzu, the Chinese author of The Art of War. If you do the same and follow his principles of warfare, you will triumph and end up as the new Shogun!

"When on surrounded ground, plot. When on deadly ground, fight."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

So trust no one. Keep your friends close… but remember to keep your enemies closer still!

So who was Sun Tzu?

All through the Shogun: Total War game and this manual, you’ll find references to — and quotes from — Sun Tzu, and most especially his book, The Art of War. So why was a Chinese writer who’d been dead for centuries so important to the samurai?

"In ancient times skilful warriors first made themselves invincible, and then watched for vulnerability in their opponents."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Sun Tzu was a contemporary of the great philosopher Confucius, and lived around 500 B.C. in the kingdom of Qi, which is roughly the modern Shandong province in Eastern China. During his life, China was being torn apart by a series of wars as lesser states fought for dominance. None of these states recognised the central authority of the Zhou Imperial dynasty any more. As you’ll see later, this is a similar state of affairs to the Sengoku period in Japan.

Sun Tzu was therefore quite familiar with warfare in all its forms. He is supposed to have written his book for Helü, the King of Wu during 514-496 B.C. He ruled part of the lower Yangtze Valley and was locked in constant warfare with the rival kingdom of Yue. Other than that, little is known about Sun Tzu’s life. Biographies from as little as 300 years after he was alive don’t include much more definite information than that, other than repeating the tale of how Sun Tzu convinced his king that he knew how to train soldiers.

The story goes that Sun Tzu claimed he could train anyone to obey military orders, and so the King challenged him to turn the court concubines into soldiers. Naturally, the women were far from being any kind of soldiers (much less good ones) and disobeyed all of Sun Tzu’s orders. He explained his instructions carefully and patiently and tried again, with equally disastrous results. Having done all that he could as a commander, he ordered that the leading concubines should be put to death, as once orders have been clearly explained it is the duty of the soldiers to obey! The King wasn’t very happy about the idea his two favourite concubines being executed, and told Sun Tzu that he really did believe he could train troops using his methods. Sun Tzu replied that once a general is directing his troops, he should reject further interference from his sovereign. It’s the ruler’s job to find the best general, and then let him get on with winning a war. The women were put to death!

All at once the rest of the concubines suddenly discovered that they could, oddly enough, obey any orders to the letter. And although he was rather put out by the death of his favourite courtesans, the King of Wu recognised that Sun Tzu knew what he was talking about.

What is known for certain about Sun Tzu comes from his key work on the theory and practice of warfare, The Art of War. He was obviously a clever man, a clear thinker and someone with practical military experience. Sun Tzu took his accumulated knowledge of how to fight wars and applied careful thought to the problems that he had found. The product of all his thought was the earliest book in the whole world on what might be termed the philosophy and practice of warfare.

His book, however, is more than just a "how to win" strategy and tactics handbook on Chinese warfare. Although a study of warfare, The Art of War applies to situations on every level from the interpersonal to the international. Its aims are invincibility, victory without battle and unassailable strength through understanding every aspect of conflict. This is a remarkable set of claims for any book. What is even more remarkable is that The Art of War achieves all it sets out to do! It lays out strategy in such a clear and wise fashion that at times it almost seems too straightforward and obvious — almost too simple — to be right.

"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the controllers of your opponent’s fate…"

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Shogun: Total War uses the strategies and lessons found in The Art of War as a major part of game play. The game has been programmed to follow Sun Tzu’s precepts because the daimyo and their samurai did so too. Over the centuries, the Japanese have had a long tradition of taking the best and most useful ideas from Chinese culture while managing to keep their independence. The Art of War was one of the many books that arrived from the mainland and was seized upon by the Japanese for its good sense and usefulness. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why the Sengoku period was as violent as it became. Had only one of the great daimyo warlords read and learned from Sun Tzu, the wars would have been over very quickly. However, they had all learned from reading the same master of strategy.

The samurai took Sun Tzu’s book and used its wisdom in their many wars, but they also brought their own unique Japanese perspective to the principles of warfare. In the process they gave warfare a character all their own:

"Cutting down the enemy is the Way of strategy, and there is no need for many refinements of it."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Wind Book

Sun Tzu would not necessarily have approved of Musashi’s apparently simplistic attitude at all!

Although times and weaponry have changed over the centuries, the problems confronting military commanders have not, and Sun Tzu remains as relevant today as he was when he first formulated his thoughts, and when he was read assiduously by the samurai. It is still considered essential reading by modern military strategists. Even today, The Art of War remains one of the definitive guides to warfare, and has been read by great commanders the world over.

A History of Japan

"Military action is important to the nation — it is the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction, so it is imperative to examine it."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

"There is a time and place for the use of weapons."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Ground Book

Like many peoples, the Japanese have a creation myth that makes them the children of the gods. The Japanese home islands themselves came into being when the gods Izanagi and Izanami stood on the bridge of heaven and stirred the waters of the Earth with a spear. The drops of water that fell from the spear tip gathered together to become the islands of Japan. The pair then descended and raised the spear as the centre pole of their house. Japan had been created.


Izanagi and Izanami had children. Their first born was Amateratsu, the Sun Goddess, but like all families there were problems: Izanagi slew his second child, the Fire God, who had caused his mother, Izanami, enormous pain when he was born. Izanami fled into the Underworld in grief at this killing. Susano-o, their other son, was given to fits of temper. His violent behaviour included throwing thunderbolts across the sky, and he even threw a dead horse at Amateratsu, forcing her to hide in a cave. With the Sun Goddess in hiding, the world was plunged into darkness. Amateratsu was eventually tricked out of her hiding place by the sight of her own beautiful reflection in a mirror and a necklace of precious jewels…

Susano-o did eventually make amends by slaying a great serpent with eight heads and tails. The serpent had a taste for young maidens and this, along with an equal appetite for sake. Susano-o used both to lure the serpent into a trap, then slew it once it was drunk! In hacking it to pieces, he discovered a sword embedded in its tail which he then gave to Amateratsu. This was the Ame no murakomo no tsurugi or "Cloud Cluster Sword."

As the first born child, Amateratsu inherited the earth and in time sent her grandson, Ninigi, to rule Japan. She gave him three gifts, the mirror, the jewels from the necklace and the "Cloud Cluster Sword" to make his task easier. These gifts from heaven became the Japanese Crown Jewels. Ninigi left heaven and ruled Japan, and the throne eventually passed to his grandson, Jimmu, who was the first earthly Emperor of Japan. He took the throne in 660BC on 11 February, a date which is still a public holiday in Japan. The current Emperor is a lineal descendant of this first Emperor.

In around 200BC, Emperor Sujin and his son Prince Yamato (later Emperor Keiko) are the agents of an important change in Japanese history. The nation at this time was composed of many clans, of which the strongest was the Imperial Yamato family. The Yamato (named for their home province in central Honshu) were one clan amongst many — but they claimed the right to rule because they were descended directly from the Sun Goddess, Amateratsu. Sujin was the first Emperor to appoint four generals to deal with rebels in his realm. Each general was given the title of Shogun (which can be translated as "Commander in Chief" at this point in history). Yamato Sujin is a figure partly of myth and partly of history. He is the prototype of later samurai heroes: a skilled and noble warrior, harried and hunted down by his many enemies who — although he comes to a tragic end — eventually has a worthwhile death.

Early Japan

"In ancient times skilful warriors first made themselves invincible, and then watched for vulnerability in their opponents."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

More realistically — but a lot less romantically — archaeology has revealed that there have been humans in Japan for around 100,000 years. The original inhabitants of Japan were the Ainu, a people unrelated to the Mongolian people who arrived and gradually drove them out until the Ainu remained only on the island of Hokkaido. The incoming people were split up along tribal and clan lines, but over the course of time the Yamato clan came to dominate from its central position on the Kanto plain. The Yamato chieftains also consolidated their power by making an early form of Shinto the general religion of the country. After all, rebellion against the descendant of a god is not as easy to contemplate as fighting another warlord!

During the early period of Yamato rule the influence of the mainland began to be felt in Japanese culture. Both China and Korea had already advanced to a comparatively high level of civilisation. Thanks to the relative ease of travel and trade from the kingdom of Paekche in southern Korea, iron, Chinese writing, literature and philosophy came into the Yamato lands. The Yamato regime even adopted Chinese script for its documents, and the first dependable records in Japanese history date to around 430AD. The Yamato also imported a religion too: Buddhism appeared in Japan about 100 years later. Japan’s position off the mainland gave two benefits: culture, technology and ideas could be brought into the country, but the voyage to Japan was just difficult enough to help keep out unwanted ideas and influences. That said, the Yamato government was strongly based on the Chinese system: there were eight carefully graded ranks of court official and a great council, the Dajokan, ruled through local governors. Everything was controlled from the capital — Nara in Yamato province after 710AD — while Kyoto became the Imperial home and remained so until 1868.

Although the Yamato came to rule all of Japan, by the 9th century the Emperors were actually pulling back from the day-to-day business of ruling a country. They were becoming symbols of power rather than the wielders of power. As the Emperors retired from government, control passed to the court officials, particularly the Fujiwara family. The Emperors continued to reign, but they no longer ruled the country. In 858AD, a Fujiwara prince, Yoshifusa, became the regent for his one-year-old grandson (having made sure that his daughter had married into the Imperial family). The Fujiwara also made sure that family members filled all the important jobs at court and in the general administration of the country. Eventually, Fujiwara Motosune was announced as the kampuku — a "civil dictator" — in 884, and he was followed a century later by the cleverest of the Fujiwara, Michinaga. He made sure that five successive Emperors married one of his daughters, thus making sure of the family position at Court!

The Fujiwara period was a time when Japanese culture came into its own, leaving its Chinese-dominated roots behind. Michinaga’s dictatorship is one of the classical ages of Japanese literature, for example. At the same time, however, the Fujiwara were changing the way that Japan was governed. The central government became corrupt and weak. Land ownership started shifting to great estates. The nobles who held government offices were given tax-free hereditary estates as payments. Many peasants and lesser landholders were only too happy to hand over their property to these estates to escape from the heavy taxes levied on them!

The Rise of the Samurai

"Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Ground Book

At around the same time, the samurai were coming to prominence as more than just another group of fighting men. Like the medieval knights of Europe, the samurai were the leaders of common foot soldiers. Like the knights it was possible to win promotion to the ranks of the samurai. And like the knights, to be samurai also implied a degree of service to a superior. In the case of the samurai, this service was to the Emperor, a noble or a warlord.


The Imperial government found the samurai incredibly useful in putting down rebellions, but with the shift in power to mighty land-owners, the loyalties of the samurai also shifted. The samurai came to serve and protect the great lords, fighting against other great landlords, bandits and rebellious locals. Although some of these samurai were from humble families, the clans that prospered and attracted allies could trace their ancestors back for centuries, often to some (minor) Imperial relative banished from Court to seek his fortune elsewhere. Among these clans of aristocratic samurai were the Minamoto in the east and the Taira in the south west of Japan.

No longer content to merely serve, the samurai began to interfere in government politics. It’s worth considering all the political and military action that happened over the next decades, because it set the pattern for later Japanese history: a pattern of ruthless power politics with the winner taking all and losers, well, losing their heads!

In 1155 there was a crisis in the Imperial succession. There were two ex-Emperors at the Imperial Court and Emperor Konoe was a sickly child. When Konoe was poisoned the Fujiwara clan backed Ex-Emperor Sotoku. His father, however, the ex-Emperor Toba insisted that another of his sons should be the new Emperor, and Go-Shirakawa duly ascended the throne. Toba, however, died in 1156 and both the Emperors summoned their supporters to the capital. The Taira and Minamoto clans divided by personal loyalties, but the important point was that it was the samurai that were to decide the course of Imperial politics, not the Fujiwara court officials.

"The Way of the warrior is death. This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death. It means nothing more than this. It means to see things through, being resolved."

— Yamamoto Tsunenori, Ha Gakure (Hidden Leaves)

At the Battle of Hogen, Sotuku’s samurai were defeated. Emperor Go-Shirakawa had an expectation that the defeated samurai would pay the price for their defiance. The only important Taira samurai to support Sotuku was so unpopular among his kinsmen that his execution was an easy one to order for the leader of the clan, Taira Kiyomori. The Minamoto family had backed Sotuku in greater strength and their clan leader, Minamoto Tameyoshi was put to death on the orders of his son, Yoshitomo in an act of loyalty. Tameyoshi’s son (and Yoshitom’s brother), Tametomo, was deliberately maimed and exiled, but became among the first samurai to kill himself by cutting open his own stomach in an act of hara-kiri.

All these deaths helped the Taira clan rise rapidly to power in the Imperial Court. Once he was secure, Emperor Go-Shirakawa decided that he had had enough of ruling and abdicated in favour of his son, Nijo. Taira Kiyomori took a leaf out of the Fujiwara book, had himself declared Prime Minister and began a policy of making sure that Imperial wives and concubines came from his clan. There were, however, still members of the Minamoto clan at court, and some of the Fujiwara clan persuaded them that revenge was a good idea. All in all, the Minamoto didn’t take much persuading.

This time, in 1159-60, the civil war that followed was a straightforward fight between the Taira and the Minamoto. Although the war seemed to go well initially for the Minamoto, events soon turned against them. The Taira attacked the Minamoto headquarters, and then lured them into a counter-attack that failed when Minamoto Yorimasa refused to join in because he could not violate his duty to the Emperor. The surviving Minamoto were pursued and slaughtered without mercy.

Minamoto Yoshitomo fled with three of his sons one of whom, Tomonaga, was so badly wounded that he begged his father to kill him so that the others could flee with more speed. Yoshimoto did this, but to no avail. He was caught and murdered in his bath, taken when he thought he had outrun his pursuers. Taira Kiyomori then beheaded the Minamoto clan — literally. Even Tomonaga didn’t escape further punishment, even though his father had already killed him. His body was dug up and beheaded too!

The Gempei War

"A good army should be like a swift snake that counters with its tail when someone strikes at its head, counters with its head when its tail is struck, and counters with both when someone strikes it in the middle. Can an army be made like this swift snake? It can. Even people who dislike one another will help the others out of trouble if they are in the same boat."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Taira Kiyomori was seemingly unassailable. He had beaten his samurai rivals and beaten the Fujiwara at their own game. In 1180 his grandson (via his daughter), Emperor Antoku, took the throne. Kiyomori, however, hadn’t quite killed all the Minamoto and in 20 years the survivors had become strong enough to challenge him once again.

The Gempei War would last for five years. (The name comes from the Chinese pronunciation of the ideographs in the Taira and Minamoto clan names). Once again, the Minamoto (and Fujiwara) opposed the Taira, but this time they were supported by the sohei, warrior monks from the temples of Nara and Kyoto. As an aside, these warrior monks — who despite being monks were actually often fanatical fighters — intervened at several critical points in Japanese history, this being one. However, the Taira were initially successful again, defeating the Minamoto army at the battles of Uji and Ishibashiyama.

In 1183 the course of the war began to turn for the Minamoto clan. They won a series of brilliant victories, culminating in 1185 with the Battle of Dano-Ura. Both the Taira and Minamoto clans aboard fleets of warships and headed into the Straits of Shimonoseki. In the middle of the Taira fleet was the Emperor Antoku. He was still a child and the symbol of Taira and Imperial legitimacy, and thus an important element of the Taira claim to rule Japan. What happened at the Battle of Dano-Ura was virtually a land battle fought from ship to ship. The sea is supposed to have run red with blood during the battle as the Minamoto smashed the Taira army. The unfortunate Emperor Antoku was drowned, and his deeply symbolic replica of the Ame no murakomo no tsurugi, the "Cloud Cluster Sword" that the Sun Goddess had given the original Emperor was lost overboard too. Fortunately, it was just a replica, but the symbolic damage done was almost as bad as if the original had gone. If this sounds odd, it’s worth remembering that the Emperors were, for all the struggling clans seeking to control them, the direct descendants of the Sun Goddess and as important for their symbolism as such as for any real earthly power that came through controlling them.

The Early Shoguns

"Thus one advances without seeking glory, retreats without avoiding blame, only protecting the people to the benefit of the ruler as well, thus rendering valuable service to the country."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

His military victory secured, Minamoto Yoritomo did not bother with any of the political manoeuvring at Court that the Taira and the Fujiwara had used. His power was based on his armies, not on any Imperial family connections. The Emperor was forced into retirement, becoming a symbol. Yoritomo took the title and office of seiitaishogun (usually shortened to shogun), the "commander-in-chief for suppressing barbarians". Yoritomo also moved the centre of power to Kamakura on the Kanto plain (near modern Tokyo). The old Imperial Court was ignored and became largely irrelevant to the running of the country.

Eventually, however, the Hojo clan replaced the Minamoto family. They did it through a clever series of murders and conspiracies that killed every Minamoto heir and many of their supporters. The new Hojo rulers, however, never bothered becoming shoguns. Instead, they appointed a series of puppets to the role, including even young children! The Hojo ruled as shikken, or regents, which meant that there was a figurehead shogun nominally ruling for a distant, symbolic Emperor, while a third person with actual power really ran the country…

This apparently cumbersome arrangement worked well enough for the Hojo to hold on to power until 1333. In 1274 and 1281, the Hojo were able organise to Japanese resistance to two invasions by Kublai Khan, the ruler of the Mongols. The 1281 expedition was finally destroyed by the kami-kaze, the divine wind that saved Japan. Beating the Mongols, however, had weakened Hojo resources and power slipped away from the clan. They were unable to resist an Imperial Restoration to return Emperor Go-Daigo to power and the shogunate capital of Kamakura (which the Hojo had kept) fell in 1333.

Go-Daigo did actually try to restore the Imperial administrative system and do away with the shogunate, but he was frustrated in this when his vassals the Ashikaga rebelled. The Ashikaga drove Emperor Go-Daigo from Kyoto and set up another Emperor under their direct control. The "Wars between the Courts" dragged on for 56 years as Go-Daigo and his heirs fought against the Ashikaga shoguns and their emperors. In 1392, however, an Ashikaga ambassador convinced the enemy (and true) Emperor to abdicate and give up the Crown Jewels and other Imperial regalia. With their puppets now seen as the rightful Emperors, the Ashigaka shoguns came into their own, but their power was to be relatively short-lived. The Ashikaga period was one of great refinement of manners, of great art and literary works and, incidentally, marked the rise of Buddhism as a political force. In 1441 the shogun Ashigaka Yoshinori was assassinated and was followed by his eight-year-old son. He too died, and was followed by his younger brother, Yoshimasa.

Even though he lasted for 30 years as shogun, Yoshimasa couldn’t — or more correctly wouldn’t — halt the decline of his family fortunes. Real power had passed from the shogun to the other great samurai families who had become a class of hereditary feudal lords called daimyo. The Ashikaga shoguns were never able to control these daimyo, and this failure was to lead to a century of terrible violence.

The Country At War

"Confront your troops with annihilation and then they will survive; plunge them into a deadly situation and then they will live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The time from 1477 to 1615 is called the Sengoku Period, which translates as "The Country at War". This is the period of Shogun: Total War.

While the Ashikaga shoguns became more interested in the intricacies of the tea ceremony and poetry, other forces were on the move. The word daimyo can be translated as "one who aspires to something better" and aspirations to power were not noticeable by their absence among the daimyo! All the daimyo were ambitious and the greatest of them certainly nurtured dreams of replacing the Ashikaga Shogunate. This is quite understandable, because the Ashikaga were no longer capable of effective government. Ashikaga Yoshimasa, for example, tried to abdicate as Shogun and even pawned his armour to pay for his aesthetic (and expensive) pastimes, such as his flower-viewing parties! This is hardly what you would expect of someone whose title means "Barbarian-subduing Commander in Chief", and it was not the sort of behaviour that was going to keep control of increasingly belligerent daimyo, who had little reason to respect the authority of the Shogunate.

The Ikki and The Ashigaru

"Using order to deal with the disorderly, using calm to deal with the clamorous, is mastering the heart."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The daimyo weren’t alone in aspiring to something better. And at this point it’s necessary to look back a couple of decades to the early years of the 15th century. By this time, the traditional docility of the peasantry had reached its end. By and large — and unlike European peasants of the same era — Japanese peasants were usually safe from the armies that tramped across their fields. Apart from having crops damaged or stolen, they didn’t have to worry about war destroying their lives. Japanese peasants were unlikely to be murdered, raped or pressed into military service in one army or another.

Instead, they had another problem: the taxmen of the Shogun. Expensive pastimes and refined tastes need money to pay for them, and the Ashikaga’s tax collectors raised that money with consummate efficiency. At times, they took up to seventy percent of the harvest as tax. In return, the peasants got nothing, and it wasn’t just the peasants at the bottom of the social ladder who were suffering. There had always been the ji-samurai, a class of "gentleman farmers" in between the samurai who did nothing but fight and the peasants who did nothing but work the land. Like the lesser peasantry, they too were being squeezed out of existence by taxes, or being driven to seek the protection of the daimyo — in return for handing over all their lands to the daimyo’s clan, of course.

However, all this changed with the formation of mutual defence leagues or ikki by the ji-samurai and the peasants. They were a genuine expression of popular discontent and gave rise to a series of peasants’ revolts: in 1428 a rising in Kyoto triggered revolts throughout Japan. In 1441 the ikki returned to Kyoto again, driven there by high taxes and endless debts, almost besieging the city in an outburst of rioting and arson. After a week of violence, the Shogunate cancelled the peasants’ debts to the moneylenders and pawnbrokers (which undoubtedly did nothing for the Shogun’s standing with moneylenders and pawnbrokers!) and set the pattern for future behaviour by the ikki. They came back to Kyoto in 1447, 1451, 1457 and 1461. In 1457, for example the ikki managed to defeat an army of 800 samurai who had been sent against them!

"The Way means inducing the people to have the same aim as the leadership, so that they will share death and share life, without fear of danger."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The other escape for a peasant from the oppressive taxman was to run away and join one or other of the many clan armies under the daimyo. All that he needed was armour and weaponry, and these were easy to obtain — thanks to years of warfare Japan was a country awash with weapons. The possibility of elevation from the ranks of peasantry was slight but it was there and there was always booty to be taken. These peasant soldiers, the ashigaru (or "light feet", as the word directly translates) were a useful asset to a good commander, even if their discipline left a lot to be desired. From the start, the ashigaru were notorious for looting, and their morale was not that of the true samurai. But in the wars that followed every daimyo made extensive use of ashigaru troops to support their samurai warriors — they became an indispensable and relatively cheap source of military might.

It’s also worth noting that the ashigaru and the ikki were a definite change in the social pattern of Japan, and in the warfare of the time. They mark the start of a trend called gekokujo, or "the low oppress the high" by Japanese historians. This trend was to culminate during the Sengoku period with vassals overthrowing some of the established warrior clans, liege-lords to whom they should have been loyal to the point of death.

But clearly, with all these troubles and slow changes in the "natural order" of the Japanese hierarchy, the Ashikaga Shogunate was in no position to dictate terms to the daimyo when it had to give way to mere peasants. The situation was ripe for trouble, and trouble wasn’t long in coming.

The Onin War

"Act after having made calculations. The one who first knows the measure of far and near wins — this is the rule of armed struggle."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The start of the Onin War in 1467 marks the true beginning of the Sengoku Period, although we have seen that the signs of an end to the old order were visible long before this time. So called because the fighting began in the first year of the period of Onin, the war was unusual because nearly all the immediate fighting happened within the city of Kyoto itself. Even after the Ikki-inspired rioting of the previous decades, the capital was still the most magnificent city in Japan.

The Onin War ostensibly began when the Shogun, Yoshimasa — the same shogun who had tried to pawn his armour to pay for his tea ceremonies —proclaimed his brother, Yoshimi, to be his heir as shogun. He even dragged the surprised man from a monastery to do this. A year later, he changed his mind when his first son, Yoshihisa, was born. At the same time, the Yamana and Hosokawa clans had spent years as rivals, interfering in the affairs of others with varying degrees of success. With two potential candidates to be the next shogun, it was almost inevitable that each family would choose to back a different side. Yamana Sozen, called the "Red Monk" thanks to his terrible temper and membership of the priesthood, decided to support the infant heir, Yoshihisa. Hosokawa Katsumoto on the other hand, threw his clan behind Yoshimi, the current shogun’s brother. Just to add fuel to the fire and make it more even more bitter and personal, the two leaders were related, as Yamana Sozen was the father-in-law of Hosokawa Katsumoto.

The two sides gathered their armies in Kyoto. The Yamana gathered 80,000 samurai and other soldiers, while the Hosokawa forces numbered some 85,000 men. The numbers involved are interesting, and show just how wealthy Japan was at this time. Compared to European armies of the same time, these are enormous numbers, especially when it is remembered that these are clan armies. For example, during the Wars of the Roses in England — a civil war on the other side of the world that was happening at this time — the armies raised rarely numbered more than about 10-12,000 men on each side.

"When you are going to attack nearby, make it look as if you are going to go a long way; when you are going to attack far away, make it look as if you are going just a short distance. Draw them in with the prospect of gain, take them by confusion."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Neither side, however, could quite bring itself to start trouble. The side that publicly struck first ran the risk of being called rebels by the weak shogunate, and being branded a rebel would lose support. Eventually, however, the tension grew too great. With another 20,000 Yamana men marching on Kyoto, a Hosokawa mansion mysteriously burnt to the ground. Then Hosokawa troops attacked a Yamana food supply line. It didn’t take much longer for the serious fighting to begin and by July 1467 — only two months after the battle in Kyoto had begun — the northern parts of the city were in ruins. The two sides settled down behind hasty barricades and began static warfare of raids and counter-raids. Everyone who could fled from Kyoto and the armies took over.

The war went on and on, as neither side could actually work out a way of stopping the fighting. Yamana Sozen and Hosokawa Katsumoto both died in 1473, and the war dragged on. Eventually, however, the Yamana lost heart as the label of "rebel" was at last having some effect. Ouchi Masahiro, one of the Yamana generals, eventually burned his section of Kyoto and left. It was 1477, some ten years after the fighting had begun! Kyoto was now looted as the mobs moved in to take what was left. Neither clan had achieved its aims, other than to kill some of the other clan.

During all of this the shogun did nothing. Ashikaga Yoshimasa can only be described as having a "passing acquaintance" with reality. He certainly didn’t seem to care what was happening to Japan. While Kyoto was wrecked, he spent his time on poetry readings and other high cultural events and in planning the Ginkaku-ji, a Silver Pavilion to rival the Golden Pavilion that his grandfather had built.

The fighting in Kyoto, however, had serious consequences throughout Japan. The Onin War — and the shogun’s lack of any response — "sanctioned" private wars between the daimyo, which now spread until no part of the country was untouched by violence. The daimyo could see that they were now free to settle any dispute at the point of a sword. After all, who was going to stop them?

The Ikko-Ikki

"When the speed of rushing water reaches the point where it can move boulders, this is the force of momentum. When the speed of a hawk is such that it can strike its prey and kill, it is precision. So it is with successful warriors."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Although the battles in Kyoto had been abandoned, the war had spilled over into the rest of Japan. In Yamashiro province, the Hatakeyama clan had split into two parts that fought each other to a standstill. This stalemate, however, was to have serious consequences. In 1485, the peasantry and ji-samurai (lesser samurai) had had enough and revolted. They set up their own army and forced the clan armies to leave the province. The ikki were becoming a powerful force, not just armed mobs. In 1486 they even set up a provisional government for Yamashiro province.

In Kaga province, things went even further. Founded in the 13th century, the Ikko were a sect of Amida Buddhists who drew most of their support from the peasant classes. Unlike other — rather aristocratic — Buddhist sects, the Ikko made every effort to appeal to the common people, which gave them enormous practical power. Perhaps foolishly, one of the prominent lords of Kaga province, Togashi Maschika, enlisted their help in his part of the Onin War. Included in his army, the Ikko began evolving into the Ikko-ikki, a force of fanatical holy warriors. The Ikko-ikki were convinced by their leaders that paradise was the reward for death in battle and, consequently, nothing daunted them. The greater the odds against them, the more the Ikko-ikki fought like fiends.

Togashi Maschika had made a rod for his own back. In 1488 the Ikko-ikki revolted, expelled him from Kaga, and took control of the province. In 1496, the Ikko-ikki began building a fortified "cathedral" as a headquarters at the mouth of the Yodo River. They chose the site for the Ishiyama Hongan-ji well, as Osaka Castle — where the last battles of the Sengoku period would be fought a hundred years later — was eventually built at the very same spot. As before (with the ikki), the rise of the Ikko-ikki was part of the process of gekokujo: "the low oppress the high."

Overthrow and Treachery

"Use humility to make the enemy haughty. Tire them by flight. Cause division among them. When they are unprepared, attack and make your move when they do not expect it."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

As the Onin War spread into the rest of Japan, other daimyo took the opportunity to settle old scores — and gain territory at the expense of their neighbours — with mixed results. The system worked on simple — almost Darwinian — principles: the survival of the fittest was all that counted, no matter how that survival was secured. And not all of the clans survived in the years that followed. The Shiba and Isshiki, as well as the Hatakeyama from Yamashiro and even the mighty Yamana clan had, by 1500, largely managed to wipe each other out. They weren’t the only people to suffer. One family lost rather more than might be expected given the reverence towards them that had been customary. The Imperial family was virtually bankrupt and couldn’t even pay for the funeral of Emperor Go-Tsuchi-Mikado in 1501. The coronation of Emperor Go-Nara had to wait for 20 years until the ikki (of all people) gave the Imperial family enough money to pay for the ceremony. Go-Nara lived in a wooden hut, and was even reduced to selling his autograph; the Ashikaga shogunate was equally poor.


The central government had, for all intents and purposes, vanished. The daimyo were free to wage as many wars as they wanted or could afford. The lesser samurai families were quite free to dream of greater power and steal land from each other as well. The story of Ise Shinkuro is a good example. He was a fairly obscure samurai, until he chose to get involved in the internal affairs of the Ashikaga. Ashikaga Chacha had been ordered to join the priesthood, but he refused. Shinkuro took it upon himself to besiege Chacha and then force him to commit suicide. Shinkuro’s reward was the Mastery of Izu, and he lost no time in changing his name to Hojo Soun (he had also decided to take a Buddhist name at around the same time). The Hojo had, of course, been rulers of Japan hundreds of years earlier, but Shinkuro — or Hojo Soun as he now was — had no connection with the family at all until he married off a son to a distant descendent of the original Hojo!

Hojo Soun now decided to expand his lands. A deer hunt gave him the opportunity to have a neighbouring lord assassinated, and gave him control of Odowara. He then moved to secure the Sagami and Musashi provinces, and then expanded on the Kanto plain. He waited until the Uesugi family were occupied with their own problems, then managed to seize their castle at Edo, the old Imperial capital (and now the site of Tokyo). Soun’s son, Ujitsuna and grandson, Ujiyasu, continued his struggles against the Uesugi and defeated them in 1542 at Kawagoe Castle. The point of this account is that Hojo Soun (or Ise Shinkuro) had come from nowhere and, within the space of three generations he and his family had carved themselves out a significant domain. They did it through treachery and violence against their "betters", something that could never have happened if the Ashikaga shogunate had been doing its job.

The Uesugi clan was also busy with its other struggles. Their most famous general, Uesugi Kenshin, was actually adopted into the clan at the time it had reached its lowest point in around 1552. He managed to mount some raids against the (new) Hojo clan, but he spent most of his time fighting against the Takeda clan and, in particular, Takeda Shingen. The two sides were well matched, but their battles were a little strange. Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen fought a series of battles on the Kawanakajima plain in Shinano province in 1553. They returned to the same place and fought all over again in 1554, 1555, 1556, 1557 and 1563, treating the battles almost as rituals. At much the same time, Takeda Shingen was in the process of absorbing Shinano, the lands of the Murakami Yoshikiyo — it was the Murakami clan that asked Uesugi Kenshin for help and started his long rivalry with Shingen.

"Steady as a mountain, attack like fire, still as a wood, swift as the wind. In heaven and earth I alone am to be revered."

— Motto on the war banner of Takeda Shingen (1521-1573)

Ouchi Masahiro had managed to outlive his Yamana sponsors and gain his clan substantial power, and his son Yoshioki was equally warlike. The family prospered until Masahiro’s grandson, Ouchi Yoshitaki took over. With Yamaguchi as a secure and rich home territory, after 1543 Yoshitaki worked out that warfare was a little too dangerous, and took to a life of culture, aided by exiled courtiers from Kyoto. Unfortunately for him, his two chief retainers Mori Motonari and Sue Harukata warned him that he was risking everything by this attitude and that his domain was ripe for a coup under the command of some ambitious samurai. Just to make sure that his warning was right, Sue Harukata rebelled. Trapped and apparently friendless, Ouchi Yoshitaki killed himself.

This wasn’t the end of the matter, though. Mori Motonari felt it was his duty to avenge his former master, but he took his time. In 1555 he managed to lure Sue Harukata, who had more troops, into capturing a castle on the island of Miyajima. However, once there, his numbers were less important because he was trapped on the island. The battle that followed ended with the defeated and demoralised Sue forces killing themselves en masse. As a result, the Mori clan rose to become the mightiest clan in Western Japan.

"When you want to attack an army, besiege a city or kill a person, first you must know about their defending generals, their visitors, their gatekeepers and their servants. Have your spies find all this out."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

This shifting pattern of rivalries and alliances was typical of the times. One clan would ally with another against the threat from a third, only to find that their allies had become just as great a threat, or that previously loyal underlings were now more dangerous than any external threat.

Samurai warfare had always used dirty tricks, assassination and outright treachery but during earlier conflicts, such as the Gempei War, the clans who had behaved in this fashion were widely regarded as villains. In the Sengoku period, however, all was fair in love and war. A quick murder was as acceptable as winning a battle. The new daimyo had read Sun Tzu and taken his work seriously, especially the sections that dealt with the use of spies and assassins. The daimyo, of course, had access to some of the best spies and assassins from any period of history anywhere in the world — the ninja. It was a wise man who took precautions against assassination, even if he didn’t plot the deaths of his rivals and superiors.


"[The gun] is the supreme weapon on the field before the ranks clash, but once swords are crossed, the gun becomes useless."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Ground Book

In the middle of all this strife, the first Europeans arrived in Japan, when a group of Portuguese traders landed near Kyushu in around 1543. The Europeans brought two major cultural items with them: effective gunpowder weapons, and Christianity. We’ll return to the influence of Christianity slightly later.

Gunpowder weapons weren’t a complete mystery to the samurai. They almost certainly knew about Chinese handguns, and the Mongols had used primitive hand grenades against the samurai in 1274. But gunpowder hadn’t really "arrived" in Japanese warfare, until now. The guns that the Portuguese brought to Japan were arquebuses or matchlocks. They were light enough to be used by one man and relatively safe, at least when compared to earlier types of firearms. The arquebus had a slow rate of fire on the battlefield, but it did have one massive advantage that was recognised in Japan as quickly as it had been spotted in Europe. Training as an archer takes years of dedicated work. Learning to use an arquebus takes days, at most. The ashigaru were a pool of soldiers in every army ready and waiting for an easy-to-use missile weapon.

Given the level of skill that Japanese swordsmiths and armourers exhibited at this time, it’s hardly surprising that it took remarkably little time before the arquebus was being produced in Japan, and that it was adopted enthusiastically by the daimyo for their armies. However, although everyone could see that the arquebus was a useful addition to the armoury, it would take time before someone would integrate a substantial force of arquebusiers into his army in a tactically effective manner.

Oda Nobunaga

"The general changes his actions and revises his plans so that people will not recognise them. He changes his abode and goes by circuitous routes so that people cannot anticipate him."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

One of the problems with the collapse of any centralised Ashikaga authority was that, while taking Kyoto and becoming a family of new shoguns was undoubtedly tempting for the Hojo, Takeda and Uesugi clans, any attempt to do so would invite trouble. The first daimyo to leave his home domain would, in effect, invite his rivals to invade.


It’s now time to consider the Oda clan, another one of those small samurai families who had managed to gain control of a province (Owari, in their case) during the Sengoku period. In 1551, the ruthless Oda Nobunaga became head of the clan. In 1558, he gained the services of an ashigaru called Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was to prove a superb follower. At the same time, another young samurai, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was in the service of Imagawa clan — although, technically, he was a hostage against his family’s good behaviour. These three men were eventually to decide the fate of Japan. For the moment, though, there were others who had designs on Kyoto.

Imagawa Yoshimoto, the leader of the Imagawa, was one daimyo with an ambition to be Shogun, and in 1560 he marched towards Kyoto, taking advantage of the fact that the Hojo and Uesugi were busy fighting each other. Between him and his target lay three provinces, one of which just happened to be Oda Nobunaga’s home, Owari. Initially, the campaign went well for the Imagawa. Tokugawa Ieyasu took the frontier fort at Marune and all that stood between the Imagawa’s 25,000 men and victory was Nobunaga and his small army of 2000 soldiers.

"By victory gained in crossing swords with individuals, or enjoining battle with large numbers, we can attain power and for ourselves or our lord. This is the virtue of strategy."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Ground Book

Nobunaga decided to attack. After a brilliant bit of trickery, he managed to convince Yoshimoto that his army was camped in one place, then ambushed the main Imagawa force in a gorge. The Battle of Okehazama lasted minutes rather than hours. Yoshimoto was killed, and only realised at the last minute that the samurai who were attacking weren’t part of his own force who were the worse for drink. Oda Nobunaga was now a real power in the land and now the new liege of Tokugawa Ieyasu. He had been freed from his obligation to the Imagawa clan by Yoshimoto’s death.

The temptation to march on Kyoto must have been there for Nobunaga as well, but he bided his time and secured alliances with his neighbours by marrying off his daughter and younger sister. He had also married the daughter of another neighbour, Saito Toshimasa, a one-time oil merchant turned daimyo in Mino province, who was widely regarded as a completely bad lot. Toshimasa was rather fond of torturing people in general and boiling people in particular! However, he came to a suitably bad end when his own son, Yoshitatsu, killed him and took control. He, in turn, died of leprosy, but not before Nobunaga had declared war to avenge the rather nasty Toshimasa who was, after all, his father-in-law. This excuse was all he needed to brush the Saito clan aside so that his route to Kyoto and the shogunate was open. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was given the job of destroying the last of the Saito clan, which he carried out in 1564.

All Nobunaga needed was a good excuse to march on the capital, and in 1567, he got one. Ashikaga Yoshiaki was the heir to the shogunate, and a valuable symbol for that very reason. His brother, Yoshiteru, had been previous shogun, and completely under the control of a couple of malicious (and incidentally Christian) courtiers Miyoshi Chokei and Matsunaga Hisahide, who eventually killed him so that they could install his much younger cousin as an even more controllable puppet. Yoshiaki was in danger from the pair, but managed to escape and take refuge with Nobunaga.

Oda Nobunaga entered Kyoto in November 1568 with Yoshiaki as his own puppet Ashikaga shogun. Nobunaga ruled as the real power behind the throne of a ceremonial commander-in-chief of a ceremonial Emperor. There were dynastic reasons why the Oda family would have been unacceptable as shoguns in their own right, but the new arrangement gave Nobunaga the power anyway.

For the rest of his life, he would devote his energies to crushing his remaining rivals. In this, he had two fine lieutenants in Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Nobunaga was quite powerful enough to give them all the authority they needed. This is a sign that samurai politics had moved on a little from the dog-eat-dog days. At one point, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu would have been busily plotting against Nobunaga and each other… Now, however, Ieyasu was despatched to crush the Ikko-ikki (in 1563) and had a narrow escape in doing so when two bullets penetrated his armour but didn’t go on to wound him! Nobunaga’s next — successful — proxy campaign was against Miyoshi Chokei and Matsunaga Hisahide who were defeated at the Battle of Sakai in 1567. This battle is noteworthy because of the large numbers of Christian samurai on both sides, who took Mass together before the fighting. Christianity — or perhaps the dedicated Jesuit missionaries who were preaching Christianity — appealed to the samurai and from this point Christian samurai were not unusual. Although Oda Nobunaga never became a Christian, he did support Jesuit missionaries in Japan, undoubtedly because of their political usefulness against troublesome Buddhist sects. Wholesale persecution of Christians still lay in the future.

"When the laws of war indicate certain victory it is surely appropriate to do battle, even if the ruler says there is to be no battle. If the laws of war indicate defeat it is appropriate not to fight, even if the ruler wants war."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The remainder of Nobunaga’s life was a succession of campaigns to secure his control of the country. In 1570, he fell upon the Asakura in Echizen province, but was forced to retreat when his own brother-in-law, Asai Nagamasa, declared for the Asakura clan. Nobunaga returned later in 1570 and fought the indecisive, but victorious Battle of Anegawa. While his forces won the day, they didn’t crush the Asakura and Asai. Troubles now multiplied for Nobunaga and he rapidly found he was facing not only the Asakura and Asai army, but Ikko from Ishiyama Hongan-ji and sohei (warrior monks) from Enryaku-ji near the capital. In addition, Tokugawa Ieyasu was now facing both the Hojo army and Takeda Shingen.

Nobunaga appeared to be encircled, so he decided to attack. His men surrounded Enryaku-ji and killed everyone — man, woman or child — they found in or near the monastery. Nobunaga was now free to turn against his other enemies, but Takeda Shingen moved against him in 1572, almost trapping Tokugawa Ieyasu in Hamamatsu Castle. Ieyasu was faced with a simple choice: stay where he was and fail in his duty to prevent Shingen reaching Kyoto, or fight. He chose to leave the castle and met the Takeda army in the snow at Mikata-ga-hara, a stretch of open moors near the Magome River. The battle was indecisive, and both sides eventually withdrew. Ieyasu returned to Hamamatsu Castle (his job of delaying Shingen had been achieved); Shingen went home.

Shingen came on again in spring 1573, this time into Mikawa province, intent on taking Kyoto for himself. It was not to be. In the fighting that followed, he was wounded by a bullet and died some time later. This loss was a disaster for the Takeda clan as Shingen’s son, Katsuyori, was not the man his father had been. Uesugi Kenshin is said to have wept over the loss of so noble an enemy. Kenshin himself was to die under somewhat mysterious circumstances in 1582. Although nothing has ever been proved, Nobunaga was suspected of having used ninja to remove another rival. One (probably untrue) version of the events around Kenshin’s death is recounted in the section about ninja later in this manual.

"A true samurai cannot possibly forget his wife and family when he goes into battle, because a true samurai never thinks of them at any time!"

— remark attributed to a Takeda retainer

It took two more years before the defeat of the Takeda clan was secured. In 1575 Takeda Katsuyori surrounded Nagashino Castle with his army, but the Oda defenders put up a gallant resistance. Nobunaga saw that the relief expedition would be a chance to crush the Takeda clan, and he was right. The Battle of Nagashino that followed was a triumph for Oda Nobunaga and for the arquebus. Nobunaga organised his 3000 best shots into a single unit and placed them in three lines behind a palisade of stakes. When the Takeda clan charged across a very waterlogged battlefield a blast of gunfire every 20 seconds or so tore them to pieces. Those that survived the gunfire were cut down by Nobunaga’s other soldiers. Even the castle’s defenders left their walls and fell on the rear of the Takeda army. The victory was complete. Katsuyori Takeda managed to escape the carnage, but he was unable to threaten Nobunaga seriously again and was killed in 1582.

Nobunaga now turned eastwards towards the Mori clan. Mori Motonari was dead, but his grandson, Mori Terumoto, ruled a rich domain of ten provinces. Terumoto had been asking for trouble, as he had run through Nobunaga’s naval blockade of the Ikko-ikki at Ishiyama Hongan-ji. Nobunaga responded by sending an army with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, his ashigaru general, and Akechi Mitsuhide (another of his samurai generals) at its head. He continued his campaign against the Ikko-ikki, even building warships with iron plate armour for use against them at one point! It would be another 300 years before armour plate was used in the West. The Ikko were eventually surrounded and in 1580 were forced to give in. The warrior fanatics had at last been broken as a power. While all this was happening, Nobunaga also started to build a castle at Azuchi on Lake Biwa near Kyoto. It was colossal, and a sign of where the true power in Japan now lay. It was also revolutionary for the way it took firearms into account, with stout stone defences and loopholes for gunners.

Nobunaga’s army now turned its full power towards the Mori. Toyotomi Hideyoshi had been making steady progress, and had besieged their castle at Takamtsu — even the course of the nearby river was altered so that the place would flood! The entire Mori clan gathered to try and lift the siege, and Hideyoshi summoned reinfocements when he realised exactly what he was facing. Ieyasu and, as it turned out, too many Oda warriors were sent out to beef up his army. Nobunaga was left in Kyoto with only 100 men to guard him, instead of the 2000 who normally formed his bodyguard.

Akechi Mitsuhide, on the other hand, had failed in his campaign against the Mori, and had suffered Nobunaga’s scorn because of this and much else. He was moving near Kyoto at the time that Nobunaga was almost unguarded. Quite why he turned his troops around and attacked Nobunaga’s mansion in Kyoto has never been explained, but on 21 June 1582, Nobunaga was shot down on the orders of his own general. He died thanks to the weapon with which he had transformed the battlefield: the arquebus.

Even by the standards of his age, Nobunaga was a ruthless man — his sole idea of a clear victory was the extermination of the enemy. But he did change Japan. His military improvements altered the way wars were fought. At one time, peasants and ji-samurai would leave the fields to fight. Under Nobunaga, men fought or they farmed. The samurai and the ashigaru became warrior classes who didn’t have to return to the land when it was time to gather the harvest. All they had to do was fight for their overlord.

The Thirteen Day Shogun

"The individual without a strategy who takes his enemies lightly will inevitably end up as a captive of another."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

When news of Akechi Mitsuhide’s treachery reached Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he immediately negotiated a peace treaty with the Mori clan and then marched on Kyoto. In the meantime, Mitsuhide was following the time-honoured precedent of slaughtering every one of Nobunaga’s relatives that he could reach. Tokugawa Ieyasu had vanished into hiding. Although it probably wasn’t Mitsuhide’s doing, the magnificent Azuchi Castle was burned down. Days later, the Akechi shogunate was over. Hideyoshi attacked and Mitsuhide fled. He was captured by plunder-seeking peasants and beaten to death. He had been the "Thirteen Day Shogun."

Toyotomi Hideyohsi was now the "official" avenger of Nobunaga and in a very strong position. His humble ashigaru beginnings made him popular among his own ashigaru soldiers and he was a singularly able commander. Naturally, the surviving relatives of Oda Nobunaga — in particular his third son, Nobutaka — were not too keen on seeing Hideyoshi in control. There were also Nobunaga’s other generals to consider as well. Apart from Tokugawa Ieyasu, Shibata Katsuie, Niwa Nagahide, Takigawa Kazumasu and Ikeda Nobuteru had equally good claims to take over from Nobunaga!

Warfare was the only likely result of all this, despite — or perhaps because of — Hideyoshi’s suggestion that Nobunaga’s one year old grandson should be the new clan leader. A puppet with a powerful man behind him was a very traditional way of taking power. The next months presented Hideyoshi with a difficult series of campaigns. By far the most dangerous threat came from Shibata Katsuie. Katsuie had actually tried to attack Akechi Mitsuhide, but had arrived too late to share in the credit of killing him. Had Katsuie managed to co-ordinate his actions with those of his allies, Oda Nobutaka and Takigawa Kazumasu, the three might well have won. Ieyasu and the others were waiting too, either for a chance to take the prize, or to make sure that they backed the winning side!

Katsuie, however, was not blessed with wise allies. While the Shibata lands were still snowed under, Nobutaka decided to attack. This gave Hideyoshi the chance to divide and conquer his opponents. Nobutaka was surrounded in the Oda clan’s Gifu Castle and begged for mercy. At this point, Hideyoshi did something entirely remarkable: he spared Nobutaka’s life and took hostages to ensure his future good behaviour. In the just-passed old days, Nobutaka’s father, Nobunaga, would have killed every enemy within reach! Hideyoshi then split Takigawa Kazumasu’s forces by bribing a key garrison and even captured Kazumasu himself.

"Those who come seeking peace without a treaty are plotting."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

By this point, Shibata Katsuie was only just able to send out troops thanks to the thawing snow, and Oda Nobutaka now repaid mercy with rebellion. The Shibata general, Sakuma Morimasa, however, made a serious error of judgement when — having failed to learn the lessons of the Battle of Nagashino — he attacked arquebus-armed troops in a strong position. The resulting Battle of Shizugatake in 1583 was a disaster for the Shibata forces, and they were pursued back to the gates of Katsuie’s castle. Recognising that his war against Hideyoshi was lost, Katusuie took his own life and burned his fortress. When he heard the news, Oda Nobutaka saw the writing on the wall for his own chances of success and took his own life as well.


The stage was set for the confrontation between Hideyoshi and Ieyasu, Nobunaga’s greatest supporters and his greatest generals. Both sides looked for allies, and the important clans in Nobunaga’s old holdings divided between them. With two such able commanders, stalemate was the inevitable result, although there was much fighting, such as at the bloody Battle of Nagakute in 1584. When the battle was over, Ieyasu sat down to count almost 2500 heads taken from an enemy army of around 9000 soldiers. His army’s losses were around 600 men, but the battle decided nothing.

In the end, Ieyasu submitted to the authority of Hideyoshi. His decision was supremely practical. Together, the two men were unbeatable, and Hideyoshi, the older man, could not last forever… With Ieyasu now an ally, Hideyoshi was in a position to conquer the rest of Japan. That he managed this as quickly as he did is a tribute not only to his military skills, but also to his political skills. When facing Nobunaga, for example, there was little point in not fighting to the bitter end — after all, he was likely to kill everyone whether they resisted fiercely or not. Hideyoshi, however, was more political (or cunning). He was generous towards his enemies, letting them keep some of their holdings (but he did need conquered lands to use as rewards for his own loyal followers). He also took hostages, but he didn’t kill off entire clans. He left them in charge as they had been, having first secured their loyalty. As a result, he managed to add the armies of his enemies to his own forces and grow stronger over time. Hideyoshi, however, didn’t need to take all of a clan’s landholdings, because he had also changed the way that samurai were rewarded for their actions in battle. Rather than handing out land, he paid them in gold!

Hideyoshi was now master of Japan and now free to pursue other aims. He built Osaka Castle on the site of the old Ikko fortress of Ishiyama Hongan-ji. He also organised the most important social change to take place in Japan: "The Great Sword Hunt", which started in 1588. Simply, all weapons in the hands of the peasantry were taken away and melted down for use in the construction of Hideyoshi’s Great Buddha. The only people who would be allowed to carry weapons from now on would be warriors, and the social distinctions between unarmed peasants, ashigaru soldiers and samurai — who could carry two swords –- now became a fixed feature of the social landscape.

He also had plans for the conquest of China. The story of this expedition is outside the scope of both this manual and Shogun: Total War, but the Korean War ended in strategic failure for the Japanese. They failed to carve out a mainland empire, but they did have the satisfaction of bringing back considerable loot. Oddly, Tokugawa troops had taken no part in the fighting on the mainland.

The Final Struggle

"Those whose words are humble while they increase war preparations are going to attack. Those whose words are strong and who advance aggressively are going to retreat."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In 1598, Hideyoshi was dying, but he had enough of his old political skill left to appoint five regents to rule in his infant son’s name. Toyotomu Hideyori was only five years old when his father’s appointees took over. Of these, the most important was Tokugawa Ieyasu, now staggeringly rich by any standards: his revenue from his lands was 2,557,000 koku — a koku being the quantity of rice needed to feed one man for one year. And this, remember, was his revenue, not the value of his domains. The others were Ukita Hideie, Maeda Toshiie, Mori Terumoto and Uesugi Kagaktasu. These were the most important daimyo in Japan, and Hideyoshi obviously wanted them united behind his clan.

"Speed is not a part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Fire Book

Ieyasu had other plans, but the opposition to him came from a courtier outside the regency, a civil servant called Ishida Mitsunari. On the other hand, Ieyasu had no desire to be seen as the one starting any war, so he did little other than wait for Ishida Mitsunari to make the first move. In the meantime, the "significant players" declared for one side or another. Fortunately for Ieyasu, most of Hideyohsi’s old supporters chose him as the natural military successor. He also had one other piece of luck. In 1600, he met the first Englishman to arrive in Japan, Will Adams. While Mr Adams was interesting enough, his cargo of guns, ammunition and good quality European powder was far more useful. Ieyasu made sure the whole lot found its way into his armoury.

Ishida’s followers — usually referred to as the Western Army — eventually made their move. Unfortunately for them, the Tokugawa — Eastern — garrison of Fushimi Castle proved to be incredibly stubborn and tied them down for too long. When the defenders were down to their last two hundred men, they opened the gates and repeatedly charged the Western Army! Although killed to the last man, they bought enough time for Ieyasu to move against Ishida’s army. The two sides met, or almost blundered into each other in the fog, at a narrow pass at Sekigahara on 21 October 1600, in damp and miserable conditions. Both armies were soaked through and neither side could see the other because of dense fog. In the early part of the day, however, the fog lift and the battle commenced as one huge, mud-soaked brawl. The Western Army, however, had never been a united force, and once battle was joined, Kobayakawa Hideaki made no effort to move against the Eastern army. When he did move, it was against his own side.

"When the terrain has impassable ravines, natural enclosures, prisons, pitfalls and clefts, you should leave quickly and not get near them. For myself, I keep away from them, so that the enemy is near them. I keep my face to these so that the enemy has his back to them."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

By mid-afternoon, Ieyasu was again counting the heads of his defeated enemies. Although he hadn’t secured a total victory over every opponent, he must have been rather pleased with the haul. Ishida’s challenge was over. The daimyo that survived — and had sense enough to submit — prospered or suffered in direct relationship to their allegiances at the battle. From this day on, Tokugawa Ieyasu must have known that he would be the undisputed ruler of Japan.

In 1603, he was declared Shogun, the title having been unused for nearly 30 years after the removal of Yoshiaki, the last of the Ashikaga clan. There was still one opponent to deal with. Toyotomi Hideyori was still alive and scheming. Ieyasu chose to wait and had the sense to concentrate on good government over the next 14 years, until the chance came to deal with this last enemy. When the excuse came — an implied insult — it was a little feeble, but good enough. After a long and inconclusive siege at Osaka Castle, Hideyori’s troops marched out to meet the Tokugawa army. Hideyori’s troops fought with brave desperation, while the Tokugawa army showed that it had become "stale" over the years. It won, but without any real elan. The wars for control of Japan were, however, finally at an end. No future rebellion would be tolerated and the last of the Toyotomi, Hideyori’s eight-year-old son, was put to the sword.

Ieyasu had his final victory in 1615, but he didn’t have much time to savour it. Within a year he was dead, his remarkable constitution having failed to fight off stomach cancer (as far as modern diagnosis can tell from this distance in time). But his passing was not marked by war, assassination and fevered plotting among his retainers. His son, Hidetada, quietly took control of the government and became the second Tokugawa shogun. Ieyasu achieved a kind of immortality, because he was deified as To-sho-gu, the Sun God of the East.

The Last Shogunate

"Those who are first on the battlefield and await their enemies are at ease. Those who are last on the field and head into battle become worn out. Therefore, wise warriors cause the enemy to come to them and do not go to others."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The Tokugawa shoguns remained the undisputed masters of Japan for the next 250 years. The Emperors remained shadowy god-like figures insulated from real power. Meanwhile, the Tokugawas made sure that Japan remained equally insulated from the world outside. Even before the final victory at Osaka, the Tokugawa had turned against foreigners. Christians were officially persecuted from 1612 onwards, the Spanish were refused permission to land in Japan after 1624, and in the next ten years the Japanese themselves were increasingly forbidden to travel. Japan was to be sealed off, other than for limited contacts with small Dutch trading missions. The shoguns were largely successful in their isolationism until 1853, when the arrival of a US Navy detachment under Commodore Perry — and the threat of being incorporated into one of the expanding European empires — forced home the idea that isolation as the only policy was no longer workable. Japan had been left behind, a feudal backwater in the newly modern, industrial, Victorian world.

In the face of these unwelcome facts, the clans remained fiercely xenophobic and organised attacks on foreigners in Japan, which in turn weakened the position of the Tokugawa shogun, who could no longer control them. The Meiji Restoration that came in 1867 didn’t bring back the Emperors (naturally, they had never disappeared), but it did restore power to the Imperial family and lead to the end of the shogunate. The clans were disarmed and their fiefdoms were taken away over the next decade.

The new Imperial government set out to make Japan a modern nation. In this, they were partly driven by the quite legitimate fear of ending up as just another European colony in the Far East. In the space of 50 years, Japan changed from a medieval society to a modern industrial nation: no other country has ever changed so dramatically in such a short space of time. With the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, the Japanese proved that their transformation was complete when they defeated the Russian Empire on both land and sea. Both the Imperial Army and Navy proved that they were modern, forward-looking and equal to anything from Europe.

It hadn’t been an easy transition, though. The "last hurrah" of the old samurai order came with the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877 led by Saigo Takamori. A medieval samurai army fought against a modern conscript army and was convincingly beaten. At the last, samurai bravery alone hadn’t been enough to halt the future and Takamori took his own life in the traditional fashion.

Ironically, it was in the Imperial Japanese Army that broke the samurai rebels where the spirit of the samurai was to live on…

History In The Game

"If you know your enemy and know yourself, you will not be imperilled by a hundred battles. If you do not know the others but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one. If you do not know the enemy and do not know yourselves you will be in danger in every battle."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

All of this history might have seemed a little long-winded in places, but it all goes to show an important lesson that you’ll need to remember if you want to win when playing Shogun: Total War. Knowing the way that real history unfolded, you’ll be in a better position to crush your enemies when the opportunity presents itself. No daimyo ever achieved success without a degree of ruthlessness, information on his enemies, and an eye for the main chance!

Shogun: Total War starts in the year 1530, in the middle of the Sengoku Period. Serious warfare has been a way of life for at least two generations, and the struggle for the Shogunate and ultimate power is far from being over. Most importantly for samurai generals, warfare at this point is still very traditional: "modern" (for the time) European firearms have yet to arrive in Japan and make their impact. It is during the course of the game that arquebuses will arrive and be incorporated into the different clan armies with varying degrees of success.

The Daimyo In Shogun: Total War

"Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, justice, courage and authority."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It’s traditional for Japanese names to be given as the family name first, followed by the individual’s given name, so Tokugawa Ieyasu is actually "Ieyasu of the family/clan of Tokugawa". By and large, family and clan loyalties were the most important relationships between the "big players" in this period of Japanese history, which makes it slightly easier to keep track of the different factions in Shogun: Total War! If people share the same family name, they’re generally on the same side. As we’ve seen, this doesn’t stop some daimyo and samurai plotting against their overlords, relatives and friends as well as everyone else, of course!

When the action starts in Shogun: Total War, the daimyo warlords are well established in their home fiefdoms, and each has a realistic expectation of success in the war to come. All the clans have a reasonably equal chance of being the next shogunal family at the start of play. There are many candidates who could become Shogun, but only if they have the skill to succeed in war and the will to prevail over their enemies!

"If you do not know the plans of your competitors, you cannot make informed alliances."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In reality, Tokugawa Ieyasu (who was held hostage during his childhood by Imagawa Yoshimoto in the list below) eventually came to prominence by astute political manoeuvring and great military skill. His family lasted as shoguns for 250 years, but there’s no reason for your version of history to turn out that way! It’s up to you to steer your chosen family to the shogunate, with all your enemies crushed and your clan in power. The Tokugawas don’t have to be the winners… unless you are their warlord and ruthless enough to take them to final victory!

The following great daimyo, then, are leading their respective clans:

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Hojo Ujitsuna — Ujitsuna would like to be heir to a proud tradition. The Hojo had been the shoguns of Japan, brought peace and prosperity and even driven away the Mongol hordes! Ujitsuna and his sons are powerful daimyo and will struggle for many years against the Takeda and Uesugi clans. In fact, the founder of the clan, Hojo Soun, was a lowly samurai adventurer who overthrew the old order in his home province and took an old name as his own. His descendants are equally ruthless!

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Imagawa Yoshimoto — Under Yoshimoto, the Imagawa clan managed to gain control of Mikawa, Totmi and Suruga provinces. However, a move into Owari brought him into conflict with Oda Nobunaga (the son of Nobuhide, below) and Yoshimoto was defeated and killed at the battle of Okehazama. Once he was gone, the clan’s power declined rapidly.

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Mori Motonari — Originally vassals of Ouchi Yoshitaka, the Mori family came to dominate the Inland Sea of Japan for around 50 years and fight the Amako. When the Ouchi were overthrown Motonari seized the opportunity and defeated all rivals to their territory. With his power base secured, he continued to expand his families’ holdings with successes against the Amako, although his grandson and successor was to be opposed by the generals of Oda Nobunaga.

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Oda Nobuhide — The father of the more famous Oda Nobunaga, and a relative of the Taira clan who had once ruled Japan. Nobuhide lead his clan to victory against the Imagawa (above) at Azukizaka in 1542 and paved the way for his children to rise to prominence. His most famous son, Nobunaga, was a greedy, utterly ruthless man who nevertheless became the archetypal daimyo general of the period and the power behind the last of the Ashikaga shoguns.

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Shimazu Takahisa — based in the southern part of Kyushu, Takahisa led the Shimazu clan in an able and innovative fashion. He was the first of the daimyo to equip his soldiers with European arquebuses on a large scale, and the first to win a victory with them in his attack on Kajiki Castle in Osumi province. After his death the family fortunes declined, and they chose to support Ishida Mitsunari at the Battle of Sekigahara which lead to their eventual downfall.

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Takeda Nobutora — Nobutora seems to have been a mostly able ruler of Kai province, but favoured his younger son as his successor, which lead the elder, Takeda (Harunobu) Shingen, to revolt. Nobutora then had to suffer the indignity of being held prisoner by a neighbouring lord by his own son’s orders! Despite this seemingly poor beginning, Shingen became one of the ablest of the daimyo. He was also the subject of Kagemusha, Akira Kurosawa’s epic samurai movie — and the movie is an excellent source of hints and tips for double-dealing in the game!

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Uesugi Tomooki — Tomooki spent much of his time at war with the neighbouring Hojo clan. His branch of the Uesugi family (the Ogigyatsu) came to a premature end when his son, Tomosada, was killed in battle in 1545 against the Hojo while trying to retake Kawagoe castle. The other branch of the family, the Yamanouchi, lasted longer and eventually fared better. Uesugi Kagekatsu switched sides to the Tokugawa after Sekigahara and was rewarded for his new found loyalty with the valuable Yonezawa fief. The Uesugi also had a long-running dispute with the Takeda clan.

The Samurai

"Look upon your soldiers as beloved children and they willingly die with you. If you are so nice to them that you cannot employ them in battle, so kind to them that you cannot command them, so casual that you cannot establish order, then they are useless, like spoiled children."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The samurai are the defining image of medieval Japan, and for many they still represent Japan. They are widely seen as being the ultimate warriors, ready to charge into danger at a moment’s notice, ready to kill themselves when events went against them, loyal to the point of death and completely unforgiving towards their enemies. As with any stereotype, though, this image of the samurai is both right and wrong. As it turned out many were equally ready to rebel when they thought they could get away with it!


As Japanese history shows, for centuries the samurai had been changing from their position as the military servants of "the great and the good" and had increasingly become "the great and the good" themselves. What could be held by the power of the sword could also be taken by the power of the sword. The samurai became the people with power who mattered in affairs of Japan.

And this group is where most of the great clans and the daimyo were drawn from. The daimyo were not a separate class of great landowners in society, cut off from everyone else by wealth and privilege.

They were the oldest, the most "noble" or simply the most ruthless among many samurai families. Without military backing, by the time of the Ashikaga shogunate and the Sengoku period, no daimyo could hold on to his lands. At the same time, the daimyo had to worry that one of his followers would one day try to rebel … In theory, however, samurai were supposed to follow a code of honour. Many — indeed most of them — did so to the point of death. This code was called bushido, "the way of the warrior".

Bushido: The Way of the Warrior

"Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Water Book

Bushido, as a code of principles, existed from the very start of the samurai. It was only towards the end of the Sengoku period and at the start of the Tokugawa shogunate that the "rules" came to be written down. The purpose of bushido was much the same as the "rules" of medieval chivalry: it gave warriors a set of ideas to live by, elevating them above the normal run of hired killers. Rectitude, endurance, frugality, courage, politeness, veracity, and, especially, loyalty were all-important as virtues for a samurai who truly followed the code of bushido.

As long as a samurai was true to his calling, he retained honour. This obsession with honour at all costs allowed samurai to carry out acts of seemingly wasteful self-sacrifice. A samurai who was surrounded by enemies and still advanced into the middle of them was not, according to the code of bushido, throwing away his life. He was demonstrating that his loyalty was truly sincere. And this is where bushido can look odd or even suicidal to modern eyes. It wasn’t at all. It was no "odder" than European ideas of chivalry. A samurai imbued with a true sense of bushido didn’t think about his own life at all when considering his actions. Life and death were quite incidental to any outcome, providing the act carried out was the right thing to do. Trying and dying in the process was more worthy than not trying at all, because the attempt had been made without concern for the personal consequences.

This didn’t stop some samurai from running away in battle (they were only human, after all), but it should also be clear that bushido simply didn’t mean fighting to the bitter end regardless of any odds either. A samurai was expected to act intelligently as well as bravely and simply throwing your life away wasn’t only wrong, it was foolish. Acts of apparent suicide — such as the fairly regular occurrence of a castle garrison opening the gates and charging the enemy — need to be looked at from the perspective of bushido. Charging an enemy besieging your castle may be personally suicidal, but if it delays the enemy and allows your lord to eventually beat the enemy, it is an act driven by loyalty and bravery, not by a self-destructive impulse. This is what the last 200 Tokugawa defenders at Fushimi Castle did in 1600 when they opened their gates and repeatedly charged the whole Western army! This, of course, is also an explanation for the suicidal banzai charges made during the Second World War by Japanese garrisons on islands all across the Pacific. The code of bushido survived into the 20th century in the Imperial Army and Navy.

Bushido, like all formalised codes of conduct, could also have a dark side to it. Samurai often treated prisoners harshly because the captives had failed to live up to the code of bushido. Many enemies were executed right after battles for just this reason. Unlike Medieval Europe, where it was accepted that a captive nobleman or knight would be held for ransom (often for years), Japanese warfare never really developed a similar system of cash-for-prisoners. A samurai or daimyo taken alive on the battlefield would generally expect to die ignominiously at the hands of his captors.

The books on bushido that have survived from the Sengoku period and later years fall into three basic categories. Some are general "how-to" manuals of weapons handling, where bushido is largely reduced to a practical set of skills. The book Tanki Yoriaki (literally, "A Single Horseman") is a work from 1735 that concentrates on arming a samurai before battle. The subtitle is Hi Ko Ben or "The Art of Armour Wearing" and it explains exactly what the book is about. Although written long after the Sengoku period, the inherent conservatism of the Tokugawa shogunate means that the techniques described in it were still perfectly valid after more than a century.

Others are philosophical works where the mindset of combat is applied to the wider world so that the ideas and theory of bushido can be used to achieve anything. The third category are the practical and mundane notes for running a castle and an army of samurai, but they also throw light on how bushido was expected to apply to everyday life for samurai. The command of Kato Kiyomasa that "A samurai who practices dancing… should be ordered to commit hara-kiri…" looks a little harsh, but perhaps Kiyomasa had his reasons. Perhaps he wasn’t a very good dancer, or just felt that it was a warrior’s task to devote his energy to the martial arts rather than the cultural ones.

That said the "complete samurai" was expected to be a cultured man as well as a skilled warrior. He was not only expected to be good with a sword, but equally good at more sociable skills, including the tea ceremony and poetry. There was even a specific type of poetry duel that samurai indulged in, sometimes even on the battlefield! One samurai would make up the opening line and it was up to his opponent to reply quickly. Clever puns and allusions were very highly regarded in this game of wits. Japan, of course, was a rather wealthy country, and samurai — being high on the social ladder — had every opportunity to sample the finer things in life. The daimyo, of course, lived the kind of life that would have been recognisable in its opulence by a land magnate of the time anywhere in the world.

Hara-Kiri: Death and Honour

"In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life, and to make your everyday stance your combat stance."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Water Book

Formal suicide is not just a Japanese idea. The Roman Emperors, for example, often allowed conspirators against them to commit suicide and so preserve their family’s fortune: being ordered to die by your own hand was punishment enough.

But among the samurai, things were slightly different. Death by your own hand was a legitimate way of keeping honour, as well as a punishment. Samurai often killed themselves to avoid capture, or because their lord had died and they wished to show their utter devotion. There was also the curious (to outside eyes) practice of samurai killing themselves to protest against a decision that their liege lord had taken. This was seen as the height of loyalty even if the lord in question took no notice of the act, although it was a rare man who didn’t reconsider his actions when a retainer had chosen to kill himself rather than obey an order.

It should be immediately obvious that hara-kiri or "cutting the belly" is intensely painful, and is intended to be so. The victim was expected to cut his stomach open with more than one stroke. Self-disembowelment was so horrible that the samurai eventually modified the act so that it became a simple stabbing carried out by the victim. Once the first cut had been made a friend or trusted retainer would immediately deliver a mercy blow and cut off the victim’s head. Although the deathblow was merciful, the first cut still required enormous self-discipline from the person committing hara-kiri.

Hara-kiri wasn’t the only form that formal suicide took in Japan. Togo Shigechika, for example, is a figure from samurai legend as much as from history, but his death was singularly grisly! Having vainly attacked an enemy fortress, he was buried alive — fully armoured and on horseback — while swearing ghostly vengeance upon his foes!

Samurai & Ninja

"Foreknowledge cannot be had from ghosts or spirits, cannot be had from astrology, and cannot be found by calculation. It must be obtained from people who know the condition of the enemy.

"There are five kinds of spy: the local spy, the inside spy, the reverse spy, the dead spy and the living spy. Local spies are hired from among the inhabitants of a place. Inside spies are hired from among enemy officers. Reverse spies are hired from enemy spies. Dead spies give false information to the enemy. Living spies come back to make their reports.

"Therefore, no one in the army is treated as well as spies, no one is given rewards as rich as those given to spies, and no matter is more secret than the work of spies."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

No discussion of medieval Japanese warfare would be complete without mentioning the master assassins and spies of the time: the ninja.

Ninja have become staple "bad guys" in martial arts movies, perhaps a little unfairly. In their fashion they were brave and skilful. It is, for example, claimed that ninja could dislocate their limbs to escape from any bindings, that they could kill any target, hide in plain sight and even leave no trail that a man could follow. They also have "Robin Hood" style legends attached to them of protecting peasants and the weak from rapacious overlords. The number of tricks, traps and early warning devices that were incorporated into castles and mansions shows that they were taken seriously as a threat at the time. One, possibly apocryphal, story shows the level of danger ninja posed to those they targeted for death. We’ve already seen that Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin fought a running series of battles for control of the Kawanakajima plains, but even after five battles nothing had been decided. Uesugi Kenshin however, did not live to enjoy another contest. He was allegedly assassinated.

Naturally, samurai retainers had guarded Uesugi Kenshin night and day, but this didn’t save him. His killer hid himself beneath Kenshin’s privy for several days, waiting in the latrine pit for the right person (or rather, the right bottom) to appear. After several days — days that must have been remarkably smelly and unhealthy — the ninja’s patience was rewarded when Kenshin answered a call of nature. One swift upward thrust was all that was needed to despatch the very surprised warlord! Takeda Shingen may have been the person who commissioned his death, but there were other daimyo with an equal wish to see a rival dead. It’s equally possible that Oda Nobunaga had Kenshin killed, or that his death was from natural causes. Nevertheless, it is significant that a ninja could be credited with his assassination and in such a fashion!

Death & Defeat of A Daimyo


The defeat and death of a samurai general or daimyo was usually catastrophic for his followers unless there was a son or heir to take over. Even then, problems could just be postponed if the successor wasn’t up to the standards of his illustrious predecessor.

It wasn’t completely unknown for samurai to kill themselves on the death of their lord as a mark of ultimate loyalty. The end of a daimyo’s family often resulted in many of his former retainers losing their positions and income. Samurai without a master were referred to as ronin, literally "men of the waves". Most did not wander for long, as there was fierce competition for good warriors among the daimyo. However, it wasn’t entirely unknown for ronin to set themselves up as petty warlords in a province — after all, this was how many of the great daimyo and their clans had got started on the road to power!

At worst, the ronin could end up selling their swords to the highest bidder, no matter who that might be, or become bandits in their own right. The Seven Samurai in the movie of the same name are ronin. They have fallen on such hard times that they are willing to sell their skills for a bowl of rice.

Arms & Armour

"An army perishes if it has no equipment, it perishes if it has no food and it perishes if it has no money."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Samurai weaponry and armour are huge subjects that have filled books far larger than this game manual. This can only be a brief overview rather than a full account and if you want to know more, you would be well advised to pick up one of the many books on the subject.

Samurai Heraldry

"Heraldry" in Japan had exactly the same purpose as it did in the West. It was there to make it easy to recognise "who was who" on the battlefield. Wearing armour tends to make people look identical, so some clear means of working out which anonymous armoured figures you should be killing and which ones are your friends was absolutely vital.

To begin with, armies carried large coloured banners to show family allegiances. But even from the earliest times, the mon, a (usually symbolic) family crest was stencilled onto banners, painted onto armour or displayed on large, fixed wooden shields.

Unlike Western heraldry, the design of a mon was more important than its colour. It also didn’t change once adopted by a family. In European heraldry the division of a coat of arms into halves, quarters and the like often showed the parentage of the owner. Likewise, the design would be modified by a first, second or third son, making the whole business of heraldry very complicated indeed. In Japan, all members of a single family and all their retainers used the same mon.

By the Sengoku period, the use of mon by samurai families had become firmly established. The Tokugawa clan used the aoi (a hollyhock) in a three-leaf design in a circle. Several families used the same variation on the tomoe (the comma shape used in yin and yang symbols).

Mon were used on the sashimono flags worn on the back of individual samurai and ashigaru. The background colour of the flag indicated which army unit the wearer belonged to. Famous (or perhaps just overly proud) samurai sometimes had their names emblazoned on their sashimono rather than a clan symbol. They were also clearly displayed on the nobori, banners carried by standard bearers attached to units. The nobori was a long vertical flag that had a rigid crosspiece along the top. The mon would be stencilled on to the flag near the top. Other nobori for a unit might carry an appropriate motto.

Battle flags carried for units and the entire army could also include inspirational messages rather than just a drawing. One of the flags used by Tokugawa Ieyasu carried the Buddhist slogan "Renounce this filthy world and attain the Pure Land." The text of the battle flag carried by Takeda Shingen’s troops is quoted in full elsewhere in this manual.

The sheer number of flags and banners carried by a samurai army could be impressive in itself. Every soldier could have his own sashimono. His unit would have one or more nobori flags, and there were also other banners, streamers, flags and simple extravagant insignia carried by the army. Fukinuki, for example, were brightly coloured and boldly designed cylindrical streamers on circular frames: they were almost the same as modern windsocks!


Samurai did not wear plate armour in the European or mainland Asian style. Armour had been brought from China but instead samurai armour came to be made of small plates held together by silk or leather cords. Originally designed for mounted use the armour, called yoroi, weighed around 30 kilos and was quite effective for a horseman. The wearer’s shoulders carried nearly all the weight and this made the armour a little restrictive when swinging a sword. However, given that the early samurai were largely mounted bowmen, this wasn’t much of a problem.

During the Onin War armour began to change so that its weight was more evenly distributed across the torso. This helped when using a sword in particular, as shoulder movements no longer had to work against the weight of the armour as well as the sword. The distinctive lacing was kept, and it required enormous attention in both manufacture and day-to-day care to make it "work" properly. For a country that was covered in paddy fields, having armour held together with laces might seem a little odd. The laces themselves would become waterlogged quite easily, and therefore very heavy. In cold weather, they could easily freeze. They did, however, mean that the armour was flexible, easy to wear and relatively easy to repair. Coloured laces also made it easy to identify armies and individual units belonging to specific clans on the battlefield, in exactly the same way as any other uniform does. In the confusion of hand-to-hand fighting, being able to spot your allies and your enemies quickly is rather important!


It is this lacing that makes Japanese armour so colourful and attractive to the modern eye. The samurai were naturally practical about their armour. The samurai didn’t always approve of colourful displays just for the sake of looking good. Apart from anything else, some dyes weakened the silk and made the laces fall to pieces, which largely defeats the point of using them to hold armour together.

Fashion, however, did play a part: after 1570 jet-black dye became available and black-laced armour became popular. Armour, above all, was an important "tool of the trade" as far as the samurai were concerned, being there to keep the wearer alive in the very hostile environment on a battlefield!

"Good warriors make their stand on ground where they cannot lose and do not overlook anything that makes the enemy prone to defeat."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Samurai armour was made of many pieces that could be worn individually. The plates themselves were often cleverly manufactured with more than one layer to them: a backing of soft iron to absorb impacts, a harder steel face and finally layers of lacquer to stop rusting. The sectional nature of the armour meant, for example, there was no need for a samurai who was just on guard duty at his master’s mansion to wear full armour. He could manage for this task by simply using armoured sleeves beneath his everyday clothes. These flexible sleeves were made of small plates sown into silk or leather coverings, and worn with shoulder cords to hold them in place. Likewise, when an attack wasn’t expected he could still wear some armour (in camp, say) and save putting on the heavier pieces until absolutely necessary.

Putting on full armour involved a set ritual specifying a hand, leg or arm to be covered first. Apart from anything else, the ritual served a practical purpose in making sure that the samurai and his servants didn’t forget any part of the process. It also helped in organising the armour so that the pieces put on later always overlapped the underlying, earlier bits. As a result, the protection was maximised because any blow would be deflected away from the wearer by a series of glancing surfaces that started at the samurai’s shoulders and went all the way down his body. There was little that stuck out from the armour for a blow to catch on and lead a blade in towards the samurai beneath.

Samurai helmets almost defy description. They could be enormous and frightening, ornate and completely "over the top". They carried antlers, enormous crests, horns, huge feathers and sunbursts, suns and anything else to make the wearer more intimidating and impressive. The heraldic mon was also a favourite device on helmets. Added to this stunning effect, protective masks were often terrifying renderings of demonic faces, or deliberately grotesque "cartoons" of the samurai under the mask! Few daimyo went quite as far as Date Masamune who gave his entire hatamoto (bodyguard unit) of 200 men gold-lacquered, pointed helmets that almost doubled the height of their wearers!

It’s worth remembering, though, that some of the extremely decorative armours and helmets that still survive would never have been worn near a battlefield. A samurai who could afford it (or a daimyo who could afford it for his men) would have almost certainly equipped them with down-to-earth battlefield gear and other decorative, ceremonial dress as well.

After the arrival of the Portuguese there was also a fashion for "Christian" armour among the samurai. In fact, this "Christian" armour was a Spanish pattern and, it can be argued, not as technologically advanced as Japanese armour of the same period. Even so, there are illustrations of samurai using European armour. This, perhaps, was a fashion statement as much as a practical decision, perhaps to show that the wearer was extremely wealthy (armour carried all the way from Europe was always going to be expensive!) and perhaps as an open mark of a new Christian faith. Surviving examples of European armour from this period nearly always have a bullet mark somewhere on the breastplate. This doesn’t mean that the wearer was shot, but that a bullet had been fired at the armour to test it. The dent was left to show the customer that the gunfire test on his new armour had been successful.

Ashigaru Armour

Many ashigaru soldiers were often issued with standardised armour and weapons by the clan they served (ashigaru had to provide a sword for themselves). To give them a uniform appearance coloured lacquer was often used on the iron plates, and the clan heraldic mon would often be painted on the chest and back plates too. Of far cheaper construction than samurai armour, ashigaru armour was nevertheless a good compromise between protection and mobility, and much better than the equivalent peasant in a European army of the time would have been given.

Ashigaru helmets were almost always the same low conical jingasa, a practical bit of gear that, when turned upside down over a fire, could be used as a rice boiler.

The Sword

"Cutting down the enemy is the Way of strategy, and there is no need for many refinements of it."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Wind Book

The Sengoku period was a pretty lawless one. Even peasants habitually went armed with all kinds of weapons.

Samurai were the only people allowed to carry two swords, a pair called the daisho, (the "long and short") as a badge of their unique warrior status. These two weapons, the long katana and the shorter wakizashi, were worn together although rarely used as a pair of weapons in combat. Miyamoto Musashi, the sword-saint and writer of the best-known book on swordsmanship, A Book of Five Rings, was unusual in that his "Two Heavens" fighting style did use two swords at the same time. One other sword is worth mentioning at this point, the no dachi. These enormous two-handed weapons were only ever used on foot.

The samurai used the katana to defend as well as attack and as a result never adopted shields, unlike the knights of Europe. They never needed to, because of the superb metalwork in the katana was good enough to act in both capacities.

A samurai sword was carefully constructed out of many layers of steel and iron. The two would be hammered out and folded over many times to produce a "sandwich" of many layers. Each repeated forging doubled the number of layers of metal in a sword, in some cases 2²º — 4,194,304 — layers of metal would be the result. The maximum number of folds recorded is some 2³º (or 10,736,461,824!) layers of forged metal. This gave the sword enormous strength when the iron and steel were welded together. The iron at the sides and back edge gave flexibility to the blade, while the steel core could be hardened to make a perfect edge.

The final process in the forging was particularly clever. The blade was coated with clay built up to a different thickness across the blade: thin at the cutting edge and thick towards the back. When the sword — in its clay overcoat — was heated and then quenched, it cooled at different speeds and the metal crystals in each part in the blade ended up as different sizes. They were large where the clay had been thick, which meant that they were flexible, but small at the cutting edge, so they would form a hard edge that could be sharpened. Once the sword blade was polished, the change from the softer steel and the harder edge could show up as the yakiba, a line that resembles a breaking wave. Once the blade had been signed by the smith and hilt and guard fitted, the sword was ready for use.

The result of all of this was a sword that could cut a man in two — literally. Occasionally condemned criminals were used to test new swords, but it was more common to use a bundle of rushes and bamboo or to use corpses. Some swords had details of their testing carved into the tang (the piece of the sword inside the hilt).

Thanks to the resilience of such a blade, a samurai could block and turn blows that would have shattered any ordinary steel weapon. Its razor sharp edge gave him the ability to cut through an opponent right down to the bone. These two contrasting qualities were the result of the skills and experience that Japanese sword smiths had accumulated over centuries. No other sword, even the famous blades from Toledo in Spain, ever equalled these Japanese weapons. The katana is still probably the best hand-to-hand weapon ever produced.

A sword became the "soul of samurai" who carried it and many became family heirlooms. As late as the Second World War some officers had their family blades placed in army-issue fittings then carried them into action. Officers’ swords that were carried home by Allied soldiers as war souvenirs from Pacific battlefields are still occasionally identified as ancient, incredibly valuable blades even today.

The Bow

"The bow is tactically strong at the commencement of battle, especially battles on a moor, as it is possible to shoot quickly from among the spearmen."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Ground Book

Archery was the skill that the early samurai prized above all others, even more than swordsmanship. They even used the term "The Way of Horse and Bow" to describe their military calling. This dates back to the time when samurai were primarily cavalry soldiers and fought as mounted archers. Over the centuries two slow evolutions took place so that cavalry became primarily armed with spears and many other samurai took to fighting as foot soldiers. Using the bow well, however, remained the mark of a well-trained and disciplined warrior.

A samurai bow looks ungainly as the handgrip is not central, but two-thirds of the distance along the bow, with the longer section above the handgrip. This odd appearance was quite deliberate, because it allowed a much more powerful bow to be easily used from horseback. The short lower section could easily be swung across a horse’s neck so that the samurai could fire at any target. A symmetrical bow would have been smaller (and therefore less powerful) or been ungainly for mounted use. The bow itself was carefully laminated from deciduous wood and bamboo and then bound for extra strength. The whole thing was carefully lacquered to keep out damp. Stringing a bow could take the combined effort of several men, so the whole bow had enormous power.

The level of skill that a samurai archer could achieve was the product of long years of practice. Samurai were expected to hit small targets while riding at full gallop. This is a skill that is still demonstrated today at yamasame festivals.

Arrows came in many types, but the most unusual were signalling arrows that had a large wooden whistle fitted to the head. These made a warbling noise as they flew through the air and were fired at the start of battle to attract the attention of kami, or spirits, to witness the brave deeds that were about to be performed. Fire arrows were also popular, particularly during sieges.

The Naginata & Yari

"Nothing is harder than armed struggle."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The naginata looks remarkably like a quarterstaff with a large sword blade fixed to one end. The sohei warrior monks particularly favoured them, but in the hands of a skilled man (which is to say a samurai) they were devastating against almost any opponent. During the Sengoku period the naginata fell out of widespread use as the yari became a popular weapon with the clans.

As with all Japanese weapons, skilled craftsmen often made yari. The yari’s shaft was often of oak, surrounded by bamboo laminations and then whole covered with weatherproof lacquer. A razor-sharp blade completed the spear. Originally, the yari was about 3 or 4 metres in length, but as the Sengoku period continued, it became longer as the daimyo experimented with its tactical use. The Date family, for example, equipped their men with 5.4 metre (around 18 feet) yari.

The daimyo came to see the yari as a valuable "offensively" defensive weapon, the theory being that enemy warriors couldn’t get into close combat past a row of sharp blades at the end of a long spear. Different clans also standardised on different lengths for their yari; for example, those used by Oda clan spearmen were also well over five metres long. This was partly thanks to their use as a "shelter" for arquebus-armed troops, who needed yari-armed comrades to keep the enemy at bay while they reloaded.

The Arquebus

"Defence is for times of insufficiency. Attack is for times of surplus."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The arquebus or firelock is almost as simple as firearms get. Powder, wadding and a ball are rammed home down the barrel, the touchhole is primed and then a smouldering cord, the match, sets off the weapon. Unlike very early handguns, where the match was simply held in the gunner’s hand, the match on an arquebus was held by a short arm-like lever and flipped into place at the touchhole when the trigger is pulled. There’s no flint or other relatively complicated sparking mechanism to go wrong. What could go wrong was that the arquebus could explode in the face of the user (although this wasn’t too common), or that damp could get into the powder, making the weapon an expensive club. As a result, an army armed with arquebuses was dependent on having good weather on a battle day.

All that said, once they had been introduced to the arquebus, the daimyo and their samurai retainers recognised its usefulness almost immediately. After 1542 it took very little time for local craftsmen to start making them for the samurai.

Many samurai carried the arquebus in battle, and used it to snipe (with mixed success, given the inherent inaccuracy of a smoothbore weapon) at important enemies. However, it was never the primary weapon of a true samurai. That remained the sword. As a weapon for individual (and in the early years, wealthy) samurai, it was never going to be truly effective in the hands of just a few samurai. Apart from anything else, it was usually good for just one shot because there was rarely chance to reload on the battlefield, even with servants to help.

The weapon’s true utility came when it was used by massed ranks of ashigaru. In modern terms, great numbers of arquebuses made up for the weakness of the individual weapon by turning it into a weapons system. When firing as a single mass or volley firing, larger units overcame the fact that the arquebus — like all early firearms — was hugely inaccurate and slow. It was more by luck than judgement that an arquebusier could hit a man-sized target at 50 metres or so. Beyond 100 metres, anyone struck by a ball from an arquebus was unlucky rather than a victim of deliberate fire. By mass firing against massed targets, these limitations were overcome and the weapon system that resulted changed Japanese warfare.

The effects of an arquebus wound, once the target was hit, could be very nasty indeed. The large shot fired (around 25mm in diameter) were hand cast, and as a result were often flawed. A hand-cast lead bullet could quite easily break up once it had entered the target and cause very severe injuries. Arquebus bullets also travelled relatively slowly, so that nearly all their energy was delivered into the target, giving rise to shock effects as well. It was not uncommon for people hit in the arms or legs to die from the shock of the wound. By contrast, a modern bullet travels much faster and will sometimes pass through its target completely. Not as much of its energy will dissipate into the person who has been hit, nor will it shatter into pieces on entry.

At the end of the Sengoku period firearm development was generally abandoned under the Tokugawa shogunate. The samurai became the only warriors in the world to turn their backs on gunpowder — the weapon system of the future.

Samurai Armies

"I. All men, including those of the samurai class, in this country district are ordered to come and be registered on the 20th day of this month. They are to bring with them a gun, a spear or any kind of weapon, if they happen to possess one, without fear of getting into trouble.

"II. If it is known afterwards that even one man in this district concealed himself and did not respond to this call, such man no matter whether he is a district commissioner or a peasant, shall be beheaded.

"III. All the men, from fifteen to seventy years of age, are ordered to come; not even a monkey-tamer will be excused."

— Recruiting orders issued by Hojo Ujiyasu (1515-1570)

Like the best armies have always been, a samurai army was a "combined arms" force. It included cavalry, missile troops and infantry (in varying proportions, depending upon the clan in question) to act in concert on the battlefield.

As the Sengoku period progressed, the ashigaru became an increasingly important part of every clan army. On one level, this was inevitable: the simple need for fighters meant that the samurai had to be supplemented in some fashion! But the samurai had never gone into battle alone anyway. From the very earliest times, servants had attended each samurai. These servants (genin or shoju) acted as his "support team", ready to bring him the right weapon at the right time, re-supply him with arrows, and even count his conquests.

"Avoiding confrontation with orderly ranks and not attacking great formations is mastering adaptation. The rule for military operations is not to face a high hill and not to oppose those with their backs to a hill."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

No matter who fought with them, it was the samurai that eventually decided the course of a battle. It was traditional for samurai to advance into a fight shouting out their names and looking for a worthy opponent. When a samurai found one, he would engage him in single combat. The winner would move on, and his defeated foe would be beheaded. The head would be tagged so that everyone knew exactly who claimed the kill. At the end of the battle the victorious general would inspect all the heads and reward his followers according to their individual prowess — but woe betide any samurai who accidentally killed an ally!

All of this led to many battles that were mass brawls rather than organised affairs. Brave samurai would be quite willing to charge into the ranks of the enemy looking for opponents to kill in the hopes of gaining recognition. Indeed, some individuals came to see it as a right that they should advance and look for a worthy opponent, regardless of any battle plan their generals might happen to be considering. This enthusiasm could be a dubious benefit from the point of view of a general: it was sometimes impossible to restrain headstrong troops from attacking the enemy. More than one plan was ruined because the samurai decided to take the fight to the enemy without thought of the consequences.

Nevertheless, under the right commanders a samurai army was a formidable instrument of war. It could be difficult to manage at times, but it was also a war winner.


"When the enemy presents openings, penetrate immediately. Get what they want, subtly anticipate them. Maintain discipline and adapt to the enemy to determine the war’s outcome. At first you are like a maiden so that the enemy opens his door; then you are like a rabbit on the loose, so the enemy cannot keep you out."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

All daimyo made use of their army’s best features in battle. The Takeda clan, for example, was fond of beginning with a cavalry charge. Their mounted samurai were among the best in the country, and this simple tactic exploited that fact. It worked well, for the most part, until they chose to charge across waterlogged ground towards Nobunaga’s arquebusiers at the Battle of Nagashino (1575). That day the Takeda clan learned that warfare had changed. The Nobunaga clan, as might be expected, used their arquebusiers to good effect and slaughtered their bogged-down enemies.

The important thing for any army was to attack as small a part of the enemy with as many of its own samurai as possible. Although ashigaru made up the bulk of a clan army by a head count, it was the samurai who were the "arm of decision" in most battles. No ashigaru force could be expected to stand up to the same number of samurai in a straight fight. The samurai ethos of warfare and his superior training counted for too much. After all, a samurai had been trained for warfare almost from the time that he could walk. The chances were that an ashigaru had chosen the life of a soldier as an easier option to endless toil in a rice paddy.

For the most part, the great general of the Sengoku period, Oda Nobunaga wasn’t a formal tactician, but he did understand that discipline, drill and training were vital in making sure that an army worked together effectively. He also insisted that his soldiers wore easily seen and highly coloured uniforms. These changes in army organisation and practices impressed his opponents at the time. In these simple ideas, he was ahead of many of his contemporaries.

Tactics and the Arquebus

"When generals cannot assess opponents, clash with much greater numbers or more powerful forces and do not understand the level of skill of their own soldiers, they are beaten."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The arrival of the arquebus and his use of volley fire also gave Oda Nobunaga’s tactical innovations added impetus. A good unit of arquebus-armed troops would be lucky to get off three shots in a minute. It was more likely that the rate of fire would be only two volleys per minute. In between while the ashigaru were busy reloading, enemy warriors could close and engage. And an unloaded arquebus was only useful as a heavy club.

All the daimyo had incorporated ashigaru arquebusiers into their armies but usually everyone in a unit fired at the same time. This could be devastating, but it meant that the unit was effectively useless for the time the gunners were reloading. Nobunaga, on the other hand, made sure that only some of his men fired at any one time. This volley fire was an important innovation in battle practice: by having his soldiers fire in ranks or sections, Nobunaga was able to keep up a steady, continuous fire against the enemy. This made it dangerous to close with his troops because there was no "down time" between shots from the ashigaru.

Japanese armies had also begun to evolve along the same lines as the European "pike and shot" armies of the same period. Spearmen were used to protect the arquebusiers while they reloaded. The tactical solutions that arose weren’t identical in Europe and Japan. The Japanese never, for example, ended up with spearmen (pikes) fighting in units that were 30 or more ranks deep. "Push of pikes", that huge shoving match that many European battles degenerated into, never became a major part of a samurai battle. The presence of samurai each armed with a katana made sure of that.

"On level ground take up positions where it is easy to manoeuvre, keeping the higher land to your right rear, with low ground in front and high ground behind."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Keeping charge of an army was, at times, remarkably difficult. Flag signals, conch horn signals and drums could carry simple orders to units, but mounted messengers carried difficult instructions to distant units. This was why set battle formations became so important. When every man had a set position in a battle — and this had been repeatedly drilled into him — the need to communicate with subordinates was less pressing.

Fortunately, from their perspective, Japanese generals rarely had a problem with cowardice in the presence of the enemy. If anyone was likely to "cut and run" under the stress of battle, it would be the ashigaru. A good general made sure that ashigaru were never given the key position in any battle, and that there were troops behind them to bolster their morale, act as a rallying point or just simply kill them if they did choose to run.

Samurai would never voluntarily abandon a fight unless it was truly hopeless and dying served no purpose. Sometimes, this single-minded bravery could be slightly problematic. Samurai were known to break ranks and charge the enemy despite of having orders not to do so, and despite it being pointless. There were times when "running away and living to fight another day" would have been the right thing to do in strategic terms, even if it meant losing a tactical battle. Such pig-headedness, while commendable on one level, could lead to the best-laid plans going awry through foolish dedication rather than failed morale.


"The victorious general gets his troops to go into battle as if he was directing a massive flood of water into a deep canyon. This is a matter of formation."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Getting an army organised on the field of battle was an important drill that every general would have had his troops practice. The process of getting an army out of a marching column and into some kind of battle line was helped because there were standard formations for an army about to enter battle. The following six were recommended battle formations that every army would know how to apply when entering a fight.

All formations were based on older Chinese ideas for deploying armies, and all of them had elements in common. The taisho, or general, was always near the centre of his army, where his command skills could be best used to control his followers. Cavalry — and this meant exclusively samurai — were positioned where they could charge against vulnerable enemy units. A skirmish line of brave samurai and ashigaru missile-armed troops were in a forward position to harass and break up the enemy’s ordered ranks as they approached. Most importantly, there would be a substantial contingent held in the rear as a tactical reserve to be committed at a battle-winning moment.

  • Ganko — This is a flexible and powerful formation that can quickly change into a defensive pattern called onryo by a series of pre-arranged moves. The units of samurai could be pulled back at an angle to make the second formation.
  • Gyorin — Effectively this is a "blunt arrowhead" formation similar to the hoshi. Typically, an army that was badly outnumbered by its opponents would use this formation.
  • Hoen — This was a keyhole-shaped formation that was widely regarded as the best counter to the hoshi arrowhead. The enemy drawn into the centre and destroyed in detail.
  • Hoshi — This is an attacking formation, and regarded as one of the strongest. The arrowhead brings the maximum pressure to bear against a small portion of the enemy battle line.
  • Kakuyoku — This is another strong formation that can be quickly changed to suit the emerging battle situation. As it stands, the kakuyoku is equally good for offence or defence. Without too many movements by the component units, the entire army could be changed into a hoshi and sent against the enemy.
  • Koyaku — Another flexible formation that, thanks to the split vanguard, is capable of absorbing an enemy initial attack for long enough for the enemy’s true intentions to become plain. Once they were, the army could adapt its tactics to match.

Army Units

"The consummation of forming an army is to arrive at formlessness. When you have no form, spies cannot find anything out and the enemy cannot produce a strategy."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

All the units below are included in Shogun: Total War and will be produced at a stockade or castle of one kind or another within the producing clan’s domains. Some units also require that the castle be upgraded with specialist weapon makers or dojo — specialised training establishments.

A clan’s resources must be sufficient to pay the cost of the unit in koku. Some of these units might seem "cheap", but that’s only until you remember that a koku is the quantity of rice used to feed one man for a whole year. That’s not to say that a unit of light cavalry need several warehouses full of rice to keep them going, but that this is the level of wealth that’s needed to pay for their training and upkeep. Remember that not all the clans necessarily get their money in rice from the peasants. The Takeda were lucky enough to own a gold mine, while other clans made money by taxing trade with the Chinese mainland. Koku, however, are a good standard measure for wealth in Shogun: Total War.

An army is made up of mixture of unit types, simply because each style of fighting has its own strengths and weaknesses. A skilled general takes into account the strengths of each kind of unit while being aware of their weaknesses. By making sure that the weaknesses of one sort of unit are screened or compensated by another unit, a strong army can be built up.

"Those who use an army skilfully do not raise troops twice and do not provide food three times."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The exact mix of units in an army depends on the personal command style of the daimyo in charge. The Takeda clan, for example, used to include quite a high proportion of cavalry in their armies because it was their standard (and often successful!) tactic to begin a battle with a full-blown cavalry charge into the enemy. The shock effect of this cavalry charge often demoralised an opposing force before the real battle began, making victory an easier proposition. The mix of units in your army when playing Shogun: Total War will depend on the tactics that you want to try out, what opponents are fielding against you, and what units you can afford to train.

A good taisho also kept his army intact as far as possible. There was little point in winning a battle if the victory has cost too much blood. Because warriors in Shogun: Total War gain experience when they fight, it is a sensible policy to try and keep casualties to a minimum. Units that are bled white in battles not only lose soldiers; they also lose valuable combat effectiveness as the knowledge of how to fight — and win — dies with the warriors who are killed. In the game, building medical establishments does help units recover from casualties, but it is better to avoid them in the first place.

"Getting soldiers to fight by letting the force of momentum work is like rolling rocks or logs… When troops are skilfully led into battle the momentum is like that of round rocks rolling down a high mountain. This is force."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Finally, when looking at these different types of soldier, remember that the samurai were the living embodiment of a simple military principle. Weapons are useless unless used well, and the warriors carrying the swords and guns are more important than the weapons they carry. It almost goes without saying that a unit of samurai is much better in terms of quality than any ashigaru force, no matter what their armaments. Both, however, are necessary when building an army because having many "cheaper" men is often useful in battle and in holding ground once it is taken.

Samurai Archers

Light samurai.gif

These troops are among the most useful in Shogun: Total War as they can be trained quickly, and are relatively inexpensive. They are extremely useful in any army. As samurai, their morale and fighting skills are excellent. They are also armed with both bows and swords, meaning that they can stand off and shower enemy forces with arrows, then close in and fight hand-to-hand when needed. Their armour is also of good quality and their morale as samurai is exceptional, making these among the most useful soldiers daimyo can have under their command, especially early in the game.

Most clan armies will include a good number of these units simply because of these all round abilities.

"Standing your ground to wait for the enemy who is far away, waiting for the weary in comfort, waiting for the hungry with full stomachs, is mastering strength."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Naginata Samurai


The naginata is a dangerous weapon in the hands of a samurai. Its reach may not be as long as a yari, but it is "handier" for close combat and has a greater attack range than a sword. This makes it a terrible weapon to face: for example, a single sweep from a naginata can neatly decapitate a charging horseman or cripple his horse. In either case, the horseman has been defeated!

Samurai who used the naginata often used heavier armour than was usual which makes them a little less mobile than other samurai units. It does, however, give them defensive bonuses in combat.

Yari Samurai

Samurai spearman.gif

The yari is a long spear tipped with a razor sharp blade. Originally, this was simply a slightly sturdier version of the lance-like spear used by mounted samurai, but over the years it became a different and heavier weapon. Once battle had been joined samurai equipped with the yari were equally adept in close combat as long as the unit kept good order in its ranks.

Yari samurai are extremely effective against cavalry. It is, after all, very difficult to force even the best-trained cavalry horses to charge into a mass of spear points! Thus, they tend to be used "defensively". In an ideal world, the enemy would be tempted into charging onto the spears, dashing themselves to pieces against a foe which who is just a few metres away beyond the range of a sword swing.

No Dachi Samurai


Every samurai carried two swords as a mark of his class. Samurai armed with the no dachi went one better, as this was a large two-handed sword that could cut down almost any opponent when used with skill. Samurai armed with the no dachi are used as shock troops to break into enemy formations.

They can also be used very effectively against troops whose morale is already suspect — an attack by a unit swinging two-handed swords can cause even the sternest heart to quail! No dachi samurai, then, are superb when used to take an attack to the enemy, but they are less effective when used defensively.

Warrior Monks

Warrior monk.gif

Religious certainty and samurai training are a potent combination. The sohei — Buddhist warrior monks — had a tradition of getting involved in wars that didn’t necessarily concern them. Many monasteries also had a tradition of producing brave and fanatical warriors, men who were certain that death on a battlefield would not mean defeat, disgrace and failure but a certain place in paradise.

A unit of warrior monks is a powerful fighting force, motivated as it is by religious devotion. It also uses a "portable shrine" in place of a battle flag as its standard. The presence of this shrine makes other troops reluctant to attack them, if only because of the potential sacrilege. However, Christian samurai units (that may existent after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1542 and the subsequent appearance of the Jesuits) don’t suffer any penalties when attacking warrior monks.

Cavalry Archers

Light cavalry.gif

Armed with swords and bows, light cavalry are a potent skirmishing force. Being mounted, they have excellent mobility; being armed with bows, they can shower opponents with arrows; being armed with swords, they can close with the enemy; being samurai, they are dedicated and fearless!

However, light cavalry lack the "weight" to charge home successfully against properly organised defenders, but against poorly positioned, badly managed or already "wobbly" troops they can be deadly. They can be used to harass the enemy with missile weapons, manoeuvred to threaten vulnerable flanks, or sent in to break wavering troops.

As with all cavalry, however, light cavalry need careful handling when going up against arquebusiers. They can be quickly shot to pieces.

"Attack without warning where the enemy is not expecting it, and while his spirit is undecided follow up your advantage and, having the lead, defeat him."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Fire Book

Heavy Cavalry

Heavy cavalry.gif

Heavily armed and armoured, these samurai are an elite. Able to take nearly any enemy and win, they have the speed, weight and power to be powerful shock troops when they can come to grips with an enemy. Relatively speaking, they are less effective against troops armed with yari (who can hold them off at a distance beyond the swing of a katana), and against arquebus-armed ashigaru.

"Relatively", however, is the key word here. If heavy cavalry are in close combat against anyone, they will do severe damage to their opponents. Heavy cavalry are also well able to defend against most attacks. Nearly all clan armies will include heavy cavalry. They are simply too threatening not to include in an army.

Historically, the Takeda clan made great use of cavalry to deliver a punishing charge in first few moments of a battle.

Yari Cavalry


These samurai shock troops fall somewhere between their light and heavy comrades in arms. They can be used to break infantry formations, as their lances give them a reasonable "reach" in combat. The lance used by mounted samurai is the direct "ancestor" of the yari carried by infantry. It is, however, shorter and lighter than the foot samurai and ashigaru version of the spear, but it does mean that lancers are at less of a disadvantage against yari-armed warriors.

Overall, they are potent units, but lack the defensive bonuses of the heavy samurai cavalry. Again, they are forces that need to be carefully handled when attacking arquebusiers. If a charge is poorly timed, any cavalry unit will be shot to pieces before it can attack itself.

Yari Ashigaru

Ashigaru spearman.gif

At the start of play in Shogun: Total War, most clans will receive a yari ashigaru unit "free of charge" as the start of their army.

The yari, or long spear, was popular as a weapon among the daimyo for their ashigaru because it was relatively easy to train large numbers of peasants to use it. Learning to hold a spear (and point it in the right direction) doesn’t take anything like as much time as learning to use a sword properly!

Yari Ashigaru should not be compared directly to samurai warriors armed in a similar fashion. Ashigaru fighting ability, morale and general levels of equipment are markedly inferior to those of true samurai. On the other hand, the ashigaru are relatively cheap soldiers and can be trained in great numbers quite quickly. Ashigaru soldiers of this type are usually present in clan armies in considerable numbers for just these reasons.

As with many European "pike and shot" armies, yari-armed troops were used to create a "wall" of spear points for other soldiers to shelter behind. It takes some time to ready an arquebus and the enemy can be kept at bay during reloading by yari-equipped troops.

Arquebus Ashigaru

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The coming of the arquebus in 1542 led to a revolution in the way that clan armies were armed and organised. Properly used in large numbers, arquebuses could be devastating missile weapons, even though it was out-ranged by, and slower than, a traditional bow.

Early arquebuses were very heavy, and often needed a stake-like support for the barrels. In turn, this made them cumbersome to move and deploy, as they certainly couldn’t be used without such supports. This also means that arquebus-armed ashigaru aren’t very effective in hand-to-hand combat. Their firepower can inflict heavy casualties on anyone who comes near, but if the enemy gets close enough, the arquebus-armed ashigaru are at a huge disadvantage in hand-to-hand combat. They will, quite simply, be cut to pieces.

Because arquebus-armed ashigaru require a trading post to be constructed in a clan’s domain, they can only be produced after the arrival of European traders in Japan: the Portuguese arrive in 1542, while the Dutch land in 1561. European traders were quite happy to sell guns to the daimyo warlords, but their European gun makers were at the other end of a very long and hazardous sea voyage. Local gunsmiths did manage to copy European arquebuses, but not immediately in large quantities. This is part of the reason for the relatively long training time for arquebus-armed ashigaru. It’s not hard to teach troops to use the weapons, but getting hold of enough arquebuses plus good quality powder and shot can be a headache!

Musketeer Ashigaru


Qualitative improvements in gunpowder weapons and (just as importantly) their tactical use mean that later in the Sengoku period — and in Shogun: Total War — an improved form of arquebus-armed ashigaru can be trained for inclusion in your army. These troops have a slightly greater range with their gunfire and a higher rate of fire. By this point the arquebus has become a more refined and — most importantly — a lighter weapon that can be aimed without the need for an extra support.

The term "musketeer" isn’t strictly correct because these ashigaru aren’t technically armed with muskets as such but with a lighter, improved type of arquebus. However, "Slimmed-Down-But-Improved Arquebus Ashigaru" is a bit of a mouthful for a unit title!

Castles & Siege Warfare

Throughout Japanese history, warfare nearly always involved castles. Shogun: Total War includes both castles and the battles that were fought over them.

In Shogun: Total War, you won’t have to sit and watch a long siege, as all the details will be handled for you by the strategic game system. If your forces invade a province with a castle, they will have to fight the province’s garrison as always, but victory doesn’t automatically take control of the province.

Instead, the defeated defenders retreat into the castle and the province becomes contested by the two daimyo. This stops either side getting any tax income from the province, but it also stops the defender building any new military units there as well.

As long as there is an attacking army in the contested province, the castle is besieged. You, as commander of your clan, don’t have to worry about the details of the siege. As long as the castle is besieged, the defending troops will suffer attrition losses as they starve or your own men conduct small-scale attacks. This is a slow but fairly certain method of taking a castle. Of course, you can always order an assault that will result in another tactical battle or decide that a siege is going to take too long and try a different strategic approach.

It might look like the defenders, on the other hand, have no choice but to sit there and wait to be starved out, but there are options for them too in Shogun: Total War. The first of these is, naturally enough, just to sit there and hope the attackers give up! This may, however, be only postponing the inevitable. The defenders can sally forth and fight it out on the battlefield, but defeat will let the attackers into the castle. Alternately, the defenders can also be aided by another friendly army acting as a relief column to raise the siege. The arrival of a relief column will also trigger another tactical battle in the province.

Assuming that the attackers are successful, they will gain control of the castle, but it will have been damaged as a result of the siege. This may mean that some of the castle improvements (as explained later) will not function until the castle is fully repaired.

As you can see, castles are hugely useful in slowing down the advance of an attacking army because it will take time to besiege or assault a castle. This is quite apart from the benefits they give to their owners as training grounds for new troop units.

Historical Castles

Castles in historical Japan were naturally built to be defensible when under siege, and nearly all the early castles in Japan were built in the most awkward places (for the attacker) that could be found. Early castles were almost always wooden stockades with a few stone reinforcements. Hilltops and even mountaintops were fortified, and the nearby availability of suitable wood and stone undoubtedly helped the builders.

Unlike in Europe, the defenders were lucky in one respect. They never had to worry about lots of siege machines other than battering rams. The techniques of taking a castle were simple and rather brutal: the attacking army surrounded the castle, attempted to burn it down with fire arrows and, at some point, mounted an infantry assault over the walls or against its gate. By and large, the defenders only had to wait out the siege and hope that their enemy would give up as his troops deserted or disease took its toll. Often, however, the defenders didn’t wait around for the attackers to leave. Japanese history is full of accounts of samurai leaving the safety of their castles to take the fight to the enemy, often with mixed results.

By the Sengoku period, castles had been built along the same principles for centuries, and siege techniques hadn’t changed all that much either. After all, there was no real need to change a design that worked. A tradition of building stone castles was never really developed before the Sengoku period, possibly for the good reason that Japan is one huge earthquake zone, but also because it simply wasn’t really necessary. A good set of compromises between wood and stone did eventually emerge, with stone being used to create "artificial hills" on top of which castles were built.

The key feature in castle design, its defence and in siege warfare remained the range of a fire arrow. The ability to burn down a castle was all-important, as was the ability to keep the defenders far enough away from vulnerable internal buildings so that they couldn’t burn them down. All this changed, of course, with the introduction of firearms. Now both defender and attacker had to take into account snipers, as well as larger siege guns, of which there were some in Japan.

One thing didn’t change during the Sengoku period, and that was the same willingness of the defenders to charge out of the castle to meet their enemies on an open field. Given the influence of bushido upon a samurai’s actions, it is less surprising that so many chose to fight in the open than act in a completely defensive fashion!

Some castles of the Sengoku period could be enormous. Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s fortress at Osaka was truly vast, and the equal of any defensive structure in the world at the time. It used the river nearby as part of its defences, and had defensive outer walls some 18 kilometres long. Within, a series of baileys meant that an attacker was forced to besiege one inner wall after another to have any hope of taking the place.

Artillery In Japan

In the eyes of a 16th or 17th century European general one thing would seem to be missing from a samurai army. Where is the field artillery? In Europe, gunpowder weapons were expensive to manufacture and difficult to use, at least when first created, so artillery was in use before handguns became common.

In Japan, however, matters were largely reversed. This was thanks to earlier Imperial edicts against wheeled transport of all kinds. Japan had become a society where everyone walked, or rode on horseback or was carried by palanquin.

Without a good, wheeled carriage, it is very nearly impossible (and definitely impractical) to move field guns around open countryside. Try carrying a car’s back axle and transmission across a muddy field while (a) several hundred people try to kill you and (b) you try to keep the whole thing dry and then you’ll have some idea of the practical difficulties of dealing with artillery on a samurai battlefield!

The daimyo took to arquebuses with enthusiasm, but artillery never really got used as a separate "weapon system" for the battlefield. There were large guns but these were used in siege warfare, and changes in castle building techniques mostly kept ahead of artillery practices. This is why large field guns haven’t been included in Shogun: Total War. Artillery pieces just weren’t that significant in Japanese battlefield warfare at this time.

Naval Forces In Japan

It would be fair to say that that the samurai were never consummate masters of naval combat, because they never really needed to become expert sailors. A fleet wasn’t going to make its owner the shogun, but a samurai army might just do the job!

Warships were built and used, but they weren’t really a decisive factor in the Sengoku period. As a result, Shogun: Total War doesn’t include naval forces. During the game you can build shipyards in coastal provinces, but these are needed for transport and trade between the main islands of Japan.

Strategic Units In Shogun Total War

In Shogun: Total War the following units only deployed on the strategic map of Japan. With the exception of the taisho, a general, they don’t appear on tactical battlefields. They do have skills and abilities that a wise daimyo is well advised to use to full advantage, as you’ll see!



Drawn from the ranks of the most able samurai, a taisho is a general given command of part (or all) of a clan’s army. The taisho shows the position of the army on the strategic map of Japan, and he is also present on any battlefield involving units under his command. On a battlefield, a taisho has a small group of bodyguards (his hatamoto) to protect him. A general has an influence on all the units under his command. As he gains honour and experience, the units a taisho commands receive bonuses to their morale.

Generals can be killed on the battlefield by enemy troops and they are also vulnerable to ninja assassination attempts. Taisho are definitely assets worth using (and protecting) on the battlefield.



Emissaries are samurai who have been specially selected for their loyalty and given training to be courtiers as well as warriors. Their diplomatic skills have been honed to a fine pitch, and they can be trusted to treat daimyo with respect and honour when negotiating with them. Every time an emissary succeeds in a diplomatic mission, his experience increases; this both increases his chances of success in future and makes him slightly less vulnerable to assassination attempts by ninja.

Finally, there is always the risk that an emissary will not only fail in his diplomatic mission, but that he will become a "rejection note" himself. One possible result of sending an emissary to see a daimyo is that his head — and just his head — will be sent back! This definitely means "no!" whatever the question!



Ninja are spies and assassins par excellence. It’s a foolish daimyo that doesn’t at least consider using ninja against his rivals. Ninja can be sent out to kill important people in other clans, including emissaries, taisho and the daimyo himself. The more important a target the ninja is sent against, the lower his chances of success. Master and legendary ninja who have already carried out many successful missions can also be used during sieges. They can sneak into a castle and open the gates for the attackers!

Each time a ninja manages to complete a mission he gains experience and will perform better the next time he is sent out — assuming that he isn’t caught and executed (in some appropriately horrible fashion) by the opposition, of course!



The shinobi is a spy, sent into enemy territory to gain information and cause dissent. Without owning a province, a daimyo in Shogun: Total War won’t have access to any information about that province unless, that is, he sends a shinobi to spy out the land. This spy can give reports on the value of the province (its productive value), any improvements that have been built there, and some military information too.

The other purpose for a shinobi is to encourage revolt against the province’s overlord. A province that revolts doesn’t automatically change allegiance, but instead it becomes independent with its own standing army of peasants and ronin.

Used "defensively" a shinobi acts as a kind of secret policeman, making sure that the daimyo’s enemies never get the chance to spread dissent and dissatisfaction to the peasants in a province. Endless rebellions can, of course, destroy the domain of a daimyo just as surely as an army marching across it.

The Legendary Geisha


The Legendary Geisha is the supreme diplomat, spy and assassin. She can be sent as an emissary to see another daimyo, but while in his castle also acts as a spy, obtaining information normally only available to ninja sent as spies. What’s almost insulting to the "victim" daimyo is that he knows that the Legendary Geisha is up to no good, but can do nothing about it other than having her assassinated by a ninja of his own!

It’s worth remembering that geisha were not openly prostitutes or courtesans, but "educated escorts and entertainers" — the perfect people for overhearing sensitive information…

Jesuit Priest


Jesuit priests can be used as emissaries, and are especially effective when used in this fashion on diplomatic missions aimed at securing treaties with Christian rulers. No matter what the result of his diplomatic mission, a Jesuit will never be killed and his head sent home in a bag by a Christian daimyo. A Buddhist daimyo, however, is under no obligation to respect the sanctity of the church or its representatives!

The Land of the Daimyo

"Terrain is to be assessed in terms of distance, difficulty or ease of travel, dimension and safety."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Land has always been at a premium in Japan. The basis for nearly all wealth and prestige in feudal Japan was land and the rice that the peasantry grew. It’s worth remembering that the population of Japan was greater than that of the whole of Medieval Western Europe — Japan has always been a relatively crowded nation, and this has given extra impetus to the demand for land.


The country itself is made up of four main islands: northern Hokkaido, the main island Honshu, and the smaller islands of Shikoku and Kyushu. Shogun: Total War doesn’t include Hokkaido for the simple reason that control of this island wasn’t strategically or tactically important during the Sengoku period. It was still largely a cold, under-developed "backwater", inhabited by the Ainu, the original inhabitants of Japan. Honshu was the most important of the islands and remains so to this day; it was control of the provinces of Honshu that brought victory to the Tokugawa clan. It would, however, be a mistake to dismiss Shikoku and Kyushu as irrelevant, as powerful daimyo arose on both islands. The straits around those islands make superb protective moats behind which quite a powerful army can be trained!

"A victorious army first wins and then seeks battle. A defeated army first battles and then seeks victory."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The Asian mainland is just far enough away to the west to be "inconvenient" for invading armies, as the Mongols found out to their cost. This allowed the daimyo to fight each other without really having to worry about the arrival of a Chinese or Mongol army in their midst, eager to take advantage of a Japanese civil war. Perhaps the Sengoku period would never have happened if the daimyo had been forced to consider external threats. Then again, the Ancient Greek cities squabbled continuously even though the Persian Empire regularly tried to invade.


Even given the scale of the strategic game in Shogun: Total War, the provinces are functionally different. Each province in the game is valuable in itself because of the money (measured in rice koku) that it produces, because of its strategic position and because of the prestige that ownership gives the controlling daimyo. This is true no matter where the province happens to lie. The daimyo sets the tax rate across his whole realm, but rich and properly developed provinces obviously give the maximum tax income. At the same time, a daimyo has to be careful in balancing his obvious need for money to pay for his armies, fortifications, spies, and all the rest against the risk of starting a peasant rebellion. The ikki defence leagues of peasants and ji-samurai are not going to remain loyal forever if their overlords do nothing but squeeze them for taxes!

A province like Yamato or Hida on the main island of Honshu is useful strategically because it allows its owners to attack in many directions; this same strategic usefulness can also be a liability to a weak overlord because the same province can be overrun from all sides. Conversely, one of the provinces on Kyushu is excellent defensively, but isolated from the centre of Japan with many (often heavily) defended provinces between it and the centre of power in Kyoto. Both kinds of province have their uses to skilled daimyo that think in larger terms than just winning the next battle.

"A wise general strives to feed off the enemy’s land. Each bushel of food taken from the enemy is equivalent to twenty carried from home."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Provinces also differ from one another in one other important respect. In Shogun: Total War many provinces have what can be termed a "special ability". Some provinces contain gold or other valuable mineral wealth that can be mined, for example. Others are home to natural horsemen (and so cavalry units are easy to produce there) or have a tradition of producing ninja assassins. It’s a good idea to decide if the special conditions in a province make it worth capturing, either because it will further your own plans or deprive an enemy of a valuable resource.

You can use a shinobi to discover the details of a province before you attack it. Both the strategic position of a province and its revenue need to be considered before it is added to your holdings! There is, of course, a double benefit to attacking enemy provinces. Not only do you get the use of the territory, your opponent is deprived of its income and many improvements that he has built there. Taking a province actually shifts the balance of power by "two provinces’ worth" in favour of the conqueror (plus one for the conqueror, minus one for the defeated party), and may open up further strategic opportunities to divide an enemy’s domain.

One of the other nice things about capturing a province is that you also capture any castle that happens to be there. As you’ve already seen, though, it’s not necessarily a fast or easy process to capture a castle. You’ll either need to fight at least two battles or starve the garrison into submission through a protracted siege. Naturally, the castle itself will be damaged in the process of being captured (it will be reduced by one level, in fact), but this is often much cheaper than having to build a new structure from scratch. Any military structures associated with the castle will also be captured, unless the castle itself is no longer prestigious enough to be a home for them. Thus, taking a province can also slow or cripple an enemy’s war production too and give your own production capacity an almost-instant boost too!

Improving Provinces

In addition to being great commanders, the daimyo were also great landowners. They had to be, as maintaining an army in the field was a hugely expensive proposition. Like all sensible landlords, the daimyo kept an eye on their holdings and regularly invested in schemes to increase their worth and, in the process, the taxes that they could raise from a province.

In Shogun: Total War, you can also improve provinces by spending koku on them. Any province can have its farmlands upgraded at least once (and up to four times in most cases) to produce more annual revenue. Provinces with mineral wealth can also have mines built in them. There’s nothing quite as useful as finding gold or other mineral riches in your domain! This was what allowed the Takeda clan to be so mild in their taxes and yet build up a substantial cavalry army.

Watchtowers & Border Forts

There are two "non-economic" improvements that a daimyo can make in Shogun: Total War. Firstly, he can build a watchtower in any province that he controls. This doesn’t help defend the province, but it does act as a permanent spy in all the adjacent provinces. Secondly, he can build a border fort, which acts as a permanent counterspy in the province where it is built. This stops enemy spies from obtaining any information about the province. Watchtowers and border forts also help improve the loyalty of the local peasants.



Japan has always been a country where Nature can turn on the works of mankind and destroy them in an instant. There is always the risk that an earthquake can strike and wipe out some or all of the buildings and improvements in a province. Fortunately, earthquakes aren’t very common.

Equally dangerous and expensive when they do strike are typhoons (the word itself is a direct transliteration from Japanese). These terrible storms can sweep across the Pacific and make landfall with damaging effects in coastal provinces. However, the western coast of Japan faces China and the seas there simply aren’t big enough for these storms to really get going. As a result, the western coastal provinces are safe from any typhoons.

Rebellions, Peasant Revolts & Ronin

Not all provinces in the game are actually commanded by one of the daimyo. Just as in the historical Japan, there are provinces where the Ikko-ikki have kicked out their overlords, or where more generalised peasant revolts have taken place.

Every province in Shogun: Total War has a loyalty rating. This measures how the peasants and ji-samurai feel towards their current ruler, and it can be affected by a number of factors. Nothing is likely to cause more damage to loyalty in the long run than consistently high taxes. It’s a great way to raise income, but keeping the tax rate too high can lead to unrest. After the arrival and spread of Christianity, religion can also have an effect on the people’s loyalty, as you’ll see in a later section. Rebellions also have a nasty tendency to spread if left unchecked, as peasants in one province will see that their near neighbours are getting away with rebelling and try it themselves. Just to make life difficult, peasants can sometimes rebel if their harvests have been poor or a natural disaster has struck. After all, it is better from their point of view to keep all of a poor harvest and face a daimyo’s wrath than starve to death after handing over most of a poor harvest in taxes.

At the same time, there are things that a daimyo can and will do to make his provinces happier with his leadership. On the military front, keeping a garrison in a province helps suppress some disloyalty, and is very useful in itself as a "tripwire" force should any of your neighbours decide to invade. Shinobi can also be used as "secret policemen" to weed out malcontents in a province and suppress dissent as well. Border forts and watchtowers will also make the peasants feel better about their lot: at least they can see that their taxes are being spent on something to protect them, and not just on a daimyo’s fancy army. Likewise, spending money to make the peasant’s lives better in the long run by improving their farms also makes a daimyo popular.

There’s also one other factor in whether rebellion breaks out or not: a just-conquered province is likely to rebel and declare loyalty to its former owner if the peasants are given half a chance. Not keeping a garrison force (and possibly a shinobi) in a recently conquered province is likely to cause a revolt. A "change of ownership" takes five years or so to take hold in the hearts and minds of the local population in a province, so bear this in mind when setting tax rates and moving troops around.

Sooner or later, however, it’s likely that someone, somewhere will revolt when you’re playing Shogun: Total War. Depending on the cause of the revolt, it may turn out to be a direct threat or a problem that can be ignored for a little while (but not too long, remembering that rebellion can spread!).

The least dangerous revolt, from a daimyo’s viewpoint, is a peasant rebellion. This causes the ikki in the appropriate province to raise an army of ashigaru spearmen to defend their homes. With a bit of care, a samurai army should be able to crush this kind of rebellion.

Religious rebellions are slightly more dangerous, in that they tend to produce better quality field armies of fanatical believers. A rebellion by Christians puts a militant samurai army in the field and these troops are often supported by ashigaru arquebusiers. A Buddhist ikko-ikki revolt, on the other hand, doesn’t have any arquebusiers (as these are a "Christian" weapon), but it can have substantial numbers of warrior monks in its army. In both cases, these can be tricky revolts to put down quickly because of the quality and quantity of the rebel forces involved.

Finally, and only in recently conquered provinces, there is the risk that a "loyalist" (to the old daimyo) faction will take control of the province. This can be a double-edged sword, depending upon whether you are the victim of the rebellion or the daimyo for whom the loyalists have declared. If you’re the victim, as soon as a province begins a loyalist revolt, you’ll find yourself facing a new samurai army loyal to the previous daimyo. If you benefit from the loyalist revolt, you’ll suddenly find yourself in a control of a brand new samurai army in your old province!

Finally, after the death of a daimyo (without any heir) his domain doesn’t simply disappear. It dissolves into independent "mini-statelets" under the control of ronin, the daimyo’s former soldiers. These soldiers might look like rebels, but they are actually self-interested warriors only after extending their own powers. They can be among the most dangerous "independent" forces in Shogun: Total War, but fortunately the ronin don’t tend to be that co-ordinated in their actions. The ronin in each province will generally act in selfishly and not come to the aid of any neighbouring ronin who are currently being attacked.


Sooner or later every daimyo in Shogun: Total War will have to make a decision about his religious convictions, and this can have profound consequences on the loyalty of his people. The arrival of Roman Catholic Christianity with the Portuguese, and in particular the arrival of the Jesuits, made sure that the accommodation between Buddhism, Shinto and Zen that had been arrived at in Japan would have to change.


The Society of Jesus — the Jesuits — had been formed in Europe as "soldiers of the Counter-Reformation" to defeat the rise of Protestantism on all levels. They were not only a militant order, but were often superb scholars, consummate diplomats and very occasionally good soldiers as well. Jesuits were often involved in journeys of exploration simply because they made such superb papal representatives. In Japan their martial spirit was immediately appealing to the samurai, and this was a legacy from their founder, Ignatius Loyola, who had been a military man.

Christianity, however, demanded that other belief systems be put aside, and the old compromises were not acceptable to true believers. As a result, friction grew up between the followers of the new religion and the more militant elements of the older faith, Buddhism.

In Shogun: Total War this tension is reflected in the damage that can be done to the loyalty of a province if the religion of the majority of its population doesn’t match that of its ruling daimyo. Simply put, a Buddhist daimyo has an easier time in ruling (and collecting taxes from) a predominantly Buddhist population. The same holds true for Christian daimyo and Christian populations, of course.

Each religion brings its own benefits: becoming a Christian daimyo gives easier access to guns earlier in the game (at least until the arrival of the Dutch traders, who don’t care about much except a man’s gold). Remaining as a Buddhist allows fanatical and skilled warrior monks to be used in a daimyo’s armies.

In either case, the majority religious affiliation of a province will tend to drift towards the faith that is "in charge" (i.e. the faith of the province’s daimyo), and be affected by nearby Christian Churches and Buddhist Temples, which influence nearby populations into supporting the appropriate faith.

And finally (on this subject) as was noted earlier, it’s quite possible for religious differences between a daimyo and his people to become a key factor in triggering a rebellion!

Military Buildings in Shogun: Total War

Japanese buildings have always been constructed with the need to withstand earthquakes in mind. The wooden construction used for traditional buildings was a sensible and practical solution to preventing earthquake damage. A lighter, wooden building stood a better chance of "giving" and moving with a quake rather than simply falling down!

This isn’t to say that stone buildings didn’t exist in Japan. Stone construction came about as a response to the arrival of gunpowder on a large scale. As in the rest of the world, Japanese castles began as purely defensive structures and only gradually became homes as well as fortresses. Over the years castles became increasingly elaborate as military tactics developed. The best of the Japanese castles built at the end of the Sengoku period were certainly the equal — if not the superior in terms of comfort and facilities — of any fortresses in the rest of the world at the time.

Before rockets and cannon arrived in Japan, the main method of attacking a castle was to shoot fire arrows into it and hope that the fire caught. By and large, with wooden buildings within archery range, this was a tactic that worked. With the arrival of stone curtain walls, the inner defences were kept beyond the range of the enemy fire arrows.

"Those skilled at the unorthodox are infinite as heaven and earth, and as inexhaustible as great rivers. When they come to an end, they begin again, like days and months. They die and are reborn, like the four seasons."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Shogun: Total War doesn't include the battles that arose from siege warfare because the long, slow business of laying siege to a castle doesn’t make a very exciting game. Sieges are covered in the strategic game in a straightforward fashion so that you don’t have to worry about the details. Siege warfare was often neither heroic nor dramatic. In fact, most of the time it was a pretty squalid affair. If you want to imagine what a siege would have been like, think the most overcrowded camping holiday you’ve ever had or heard about, with utterly dreadful food, no toilets, no reliable fresh water, constant bad weather, no chance to wash for weeks on end and no chance to move somewhere more interesting. Now add in random bouts of illness (caused by the food, bad water, bad weather, lack of hygiene and overcrowding) and random episodes of small-scale violence when the people you are besieging try to kill you or you try to break in and kill them.

Of course, none of the intricacies (and boredom) of siege warfare mattered on many occasions. At Osaka in 1615, for example (and at other sieges), the troops inside the castle left the protection of the walls to fight it out with the enemy on an open battlefield. Sometimes this was a good move, breaking the siege in one climactic action. At other times, such as Osaka Castle, it simply meant the defenders were cut down outside the walls rather than being starved or slaughtered within them.

Samurai Castles

Large wooden castle.GIF
Large stone castle.GIF

There are four levels of castles in Shogun: Total War, but they all perform the same function. They are the bases for armies and the visible signs of the daimyos’ power, honour and control of provinces. Without a castle to act as an administrative centre, no other military structure can be built in a province.

The simplest (and cheapest) castle type in the game is the castle (castle 1). All other types of castle are developments of the basic castle. A castle is roughly the equivalent of a wealthy landowner’s fortified manor house. At the other end of the scale, the citadel (castle 4) is a truly awe-inspiring structure equal in scale and grandeur to Osaka Castle. In all probability, there won’t be more than one or two citadels built during the course of a single game of Shogun: Total War. As well as their more obvious defences, Japanese castles were also designed with tricks and traps to defeat ninja assassins.

All castles add to the honour and prestige of their owners. They are visible symbols of wealth, power and permanence and as such send a powerful message to friends and enemies alike just by "being".

Each type of castle can have a number of military buildings and functions attached to it, as described below. As a general rule, the larger and more prestigious a castle is, the better the quality of its associated buildings, and the better their products. A small stockade, for example, can only have the most basic type of each building attached to it, while the larger castles attract master and legendary craftsmen and sensei to work in them. These highly trained individuals help to train better quality troops and a greater variety of them too.

In Shogun: Total War, you’ll probably find that it is wise to create one or two large castles within your domain that act as specialised "centres of excellence" for one or two kinds of fighting unit, rather than create a castle in every province and hope to make them all perfect. Remember that it’s quite easy to run out of money: harvests and taxes come once a year, but the money can be spent all the year round! Remember too, that castles and the military buildings can only support your efforts to become Shogun. In order to win, you’ll need soldiers, not just the places to train them!

"There are routes not to be followed, armies not to be attacked, citadels not be besieged, territory not to be fought over, civilian instructions not to be obeyed…"

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War


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More than a symbol of his wealth, a daimyo's palace will serve the purpose of enhancing the morale of all the troops. Through the two upgrade levels, the daimyo's increasing reputation will improve the loyalty and dedication of the units produced there. Although perhaps percieved as a luxury, the morale enhancements that a palace invokes cannot be overlooked and can make all the difference in a battle with otherwise evenly matched forces.



Samurai nearly always provided their own armour and weaponry. The same, however, was not true of the ashigaru who were drawn from the lower, poorer classes. The importance of providing standardised equipment to their soldiers was realised by the more astute daimyo during the Sengoku period. Apart from the obvious benefits of making sure that their troops were properly equipped, there was an additional benefit in terms of creating an esprit de corps among the ashigaru.

In Shogun: Total War, an armoury improves the armour values of any units trained at the castle where it is located. An armoury can also be improved to famous or legendary status in larger castles with subsequent armour benefits for units.

"The important thing in war is victory, not persistence."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Bow Dojo

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Samurai originally defined themselves by their skills at archery, especially archery from horseback. The magnificent asymmetrical longbows of the samurai needed highly skilled craftsmen to construct them. It was in the interests of every lord to make sure that such craftsmanship was encouraged — and well paid — in his domain, and that the sensei needed to train men to use them were also available. A bow dojo is also one of the fundamental military improvements that can be constructed at any castle.

By the Sengoku period, archery was beginning to fall out of favour, a process that would accelerate with the arrival of the arquebus. A Bow Dojo allows the castle where it is located to produce Samurai Archers, and it can be improved to famous or legendary status in larger castles, allowing the training of higher honour Samurai Archers.

"When you know sky and earth, victory is inexhaustible."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Church and Cathedral

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The Portuguese not only brought advanced military technology in the shape of guns, they also imported a religion as well: Roman Catholicism. The Jesuits who came to Japan spread a very militant variety of Christianity, and within a few years of their arrival, the Jesuits had converted substantial sections of the local population. The persecutions of the Tokugawa shogunate lay in the future.

With a flock of converts, the Jesuits lost little time in making sure that there were churches for the newly faithful as a visible sign of their influence. Daimyo who build Jesuit Churches must have adopted Christianity as their religion. Once built, Churches help to spread the doctrine of Christianity to the local population, increasing the number of Christians in nearby provinces and, in the long term, reducing the chance of a religious revolt.

A church allows the training of Priests. It can be eventually improved to become a Cathedral, which has consequently greater power in spreading Christianity.

Geisha House


When all the trappings of culture have been built at a castle (an Infamous Ninja House, a Tranquil Garden and a Legendary Tea House), a daimyo can add the final flourish: a Geisha House. These can only be built at the very largest castles, and help train Geishas for use as spies and messengers.

Gun Factory

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Once knowledge of arquebuses was generally available, the daimyo wasted little time in setting up their own craftsmen to make them. The European weapons were perfectly acceptable, of course, but rather expensive after travelling halfway round the world. Within a remarkably short space of time Japanese armourers had mastered all the skills they needed and were producing arquebuses that were as good as anything from abroad.

In Shogun: Total War a Gun Factory can only be created at the largest of castles.

Horse Dojo

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Cavalry require large numbers of horses, both for use in battle and for transport. A battle is a frightening and confusing experience for a man let alone an animal, and training a horse so that it was willing to charge the enemy took time and skill. Horses were also trained to kick and bite foes. This means that a samurai warrior would require at least two horses and probably more. A battle-hardened animal was too valuable (and probably dangerous) to be ridden simply as a means of getting from A to B, so the samurai would need at least one more ordinary riding animal to get him to a battle.

A Horse Dojo cannot be built at a basic castle (level 1 Castle), but it does require a Bow or Spear Dojo to have been built on the same site. It can be upgraded to famous and legendary status. A Horse Dojo will produce Cavalry Archers and Yari Cavalry. With an Armoury, a Famous Horse Dojo can also train Heavy Cavalry.

"Fight going down hill, not climbing up."

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Ninja House

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The secretive ninja require their own dojo (of sorts) to learn their black arts of assassination and spying. Their weapons and skills are so specialised that only a master ninja can hope to teach his followers, and even then it may take many years of training starting in childhood to produce one of these lethal killing machines. Once a fortress has been built, an Infamous Ninja House can be constructed.



A port can be built in any coastal province that contains a castle. It allows the training of emissaries and spies, and also gives a trade revenue bonus. It also allows the transport of military units by sea to other provinces.

A port is a necessary building before the Trading Post and Gun Factory improvements can be constructed at larger castles.

Portuguese & Dutch Trading Posts

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While the samurai had experience of Chinese gunpowder weapons (including a primitive form of hand grenades), it was the arrival of Portuguese traders that brought the arquebus into Japanese warfare. Japanese craftsmen made most of the guns used by samurai and ashigaru troops, but these weapons were copied from the samples provided by European traders. In addition, European gunpowder was regarded as being superior to the locally produced item, which means that a Trading Post is a very useful asset for an ambitious daimyo to have in his lands.

By the time the Dutch arrived in Japan, the Portuguese and the Jesuits had been there for some time. The Dutch were the same in their willingness to provide arquebuses to any daimyo who was willing to trade for them, but they differed in not bringing Roman Catholicism as "part of the package". As a largely Protestant nation, the Dutch didn’t have quite the same religious drive to convert the world that the Jesuits brought. For the Dutch traders it was enough to make money without worrying about the souls of their customers!

There must be a Port present at the castle where a Trading Post is established. A daimyo can have either Portuguese traders or Dutchmen in his domain, but not both.

Spear Dojo

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A dojo is a place of training where a sensei — a master in a particular skill, craft or art — can impart his knowledge to students in the proper atmosphere of calm and learning. This is as true for the martial arts as for any peaceful pursuit. The best of the sensei were always encouraged to settle by daimyo and begin their teachings, not only for the practical benefits of spreading their skills, but also for the reflected glory and honour that a true sensei could give to his patron.

Both Yari Ashigaru and Yari Samurai are trained at the Spear Dojo. It can be upgraded to famous and legendary status at larger castles, and once it has attained Famous Spear Dojo status it can also be used to train Naginata Samurai, providing there is an Armoury at the castle too.

Sword Dojo

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The sword is the weapon mostly closely associated with the samurai, and mastering its proper use takes time and endless practice. Many schools of swordsmanship existed in Japan, and adherents of particular styles were not above duelling against one another to prove who was the best. Even Miyamoto Musashi, the sword-saint, killed his fair share of opponents when he was young in such duels, largely to prove that his particular teachings were the best method of using the sword…

A Sword Dojo can only be built when a samurai in the daimyo’s army has become a legendary swordsman by killing many opponents in battle. This is one more good reason for making sure that troops not only survive, but also prosper! Just like a Horse Dojo, a Sword Dojo cannot be built at smaller castles, but once constructed it can be used to train No Dachi Samurai units. It can also be improved to famous and legendary status.



Once a large castle has been built in a region, a wise Daimyo will enlist the services of an experienced swordsmith. Swordsmiths will enhance the attacking ability of all the troops produced in the region. The swordsmith has rediscovered the lost arts of blade making, and produces weapons of such quality that they will never be surpassed. This building can also be improved to famous and legendary status.

"To master the virtue of the long sword is to govern the world and oneself, thus the long sword is the basis of strategy. If he attains the virtue of the long sword, one man can beat ten men. Just as one man can bear ten, so a hundred men can beat a thousand, and a thousand can beat ten thousand. In my strategy, one man is the same as ten thousand, so this strategy is the complete warrior’s craft."

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, The Ground Book

Tea House


"Pen and sword in accord" is a simplification of the Samurai way, but it is a convenient one. Samurai were not only expected to be to be skilled warriors, but highly cultured men able to produce a haiku verse or officiate at the tea ceremony. One of the reasons, of course, for Japan’s descent into the turmoil of civil war was the Ashikaga shoguns’ love of the tea ceremony and other distractions over good governance!

A Tea House can be upgraded to famous and legendary status at larger castles.

Buddhist Temple


Although religion often leads to a contemplative life of meditation, there have always been religious orders that have valued military prowess as much as prayer. In Japan, several orders of Buddhist warrior monks were the equal of any other warriors at the time, and showed no reluctance to become involved in politics beyond the Temple walls. The Nobunaga clan, as we’ve seen, had trouble with warrior monks from time to time. As allies the monks were extremely valuable, but as the section on Japanese history shows, keeping control of them could sometimes be a problem.

A Temple helps to support the doctrines of Buddhism among the people of nearby provinces and can "roll back" the presence of Christianity.

A Temple also allows Monks to be trained. Famous Temples and eventually Temple Complexes can be constructed at better castles, and these in turn train more expert Monks. Famous Temples and Temple Complexes also help counter Christianity in a much more effective fashion.

Tranquil Garden

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Most temples and large, formal houses in Japan included space for a garden as a place for rest and reflection. Gardens are also, of course, the perfect place to have a private conversation with agents, spies and emissaries away from the ears of guards and servants — not something that is necessarily very easy in a Japanese building with thin bamboo and paper screens rather than solid stone walls!

A Tranquil Garden can be built in any castle, but it is also a pre-requisite before building any kind of Temple or Church.

Border Defences

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As your empire expands, it will become necessary to ensure that your hard-earned provinces are adequately defended. Border Watch Towers are particulary useful for seeing far into the neighbouring provinces. Passing tradesmen and peasants are questioned at these points and information on the location of enemy armies and other units is gathered. Border forts serve the added function of effectively sealing your borders and making it more difficult for enemy spies to infiltrate.


Arquebus Matchlock gun, also called “teppo” in Japan. Introduced in 1543 by the Portuguese.
Ashigaru Literally, ‘light feet’. Peasant troops recruited into a daimyo’s service. Often fought with little or no armour, footwear or weaponry until they could be looted from the enemy.
Bushido ‘The Way of the Warrior’
Daimyo A powerful feudal land owner, literally “one who aspires to something better”.
Dai-sho The long (katana) and short (wakizashi) swords that could only be carried by a samurai, and were therefore a badge of samurai rank.
Do Body armour worn by a samurai.
Dojo A place for the formal teaching of martial arts.
Geisha ‘Art person’. A class of professional women trained from adolescence in conversation, dancing and singing for the entertainment of men.
Gekokujo Literally, “the low oppress the high”. The historical trend for Japanese peasants and other lower classes to overthrow their rulers.
Hara-kiri Ritual suicide by cutting into the stomach.
Hatamoto A daimyo’s personal bodyguard.
Ikki Armed peasant league.
Ikko-ikki ‘Single-minded League’ – 15th century militant, even fanatical, religious group, but the term also came to mean rioting mobs. These mobs usually acquired a degree of political power through their military activities.
Junshi The act of suicide committed by a loyal retainer or servant following the death of their lord.
Kanashi The act of suicide committed in protest.
Katana A long, two-handed, slightly curved sword that was considered the ‘soul of the samurai’. Often carried together with the wakizashi, the katana was used as both shield and sword due to its superior strength and cutting edge gained through the meticulous construction process.
Kengo A master swordsman. Kengo usually went on a musha shugyo or ‘warrior pilgrimage’ to improve their skills.
Koku Measurement of wealth, usually defined as the amount of rice needed to feed a man for a year.
Kunoichi Female ninja – often posed as dancers or entertainers (ie. Geisha).
Mon Family crests.
Naginata Pole-arm, fitted with curved single-edged blade.
Nanban-do ‘Body armour of the southern barbarians’. Bulletproof armour adapted from European armour.
Nanbanjin ‘Southern barbarians’. Name given to westerners who arrived in the 1540’s.
Ninja Assassins and spies: practitioners of the Art of Invisibility. Expert in the use of weapons but also skilled in use of poisons and explosives. Both male and female ninjas existed.
No-Dachi A very heavy and long sword which was about 25 percent longer than an average sword.
Okegawa do Simple, mass produced armour worn by the ashigaru. If this had the daimyo’s mon on the front it became known as okashi gusoku (honorable loan armour).
Ronin Literally ‘wave men’ – samurai without a ruling lord.
Samurai Member of the warrior class; warrior in daimyo’s service.
Sashimono Identifying banner, fitted to the back of the armour. Often had the mon of the clan or family on it.
Sengoku Jidai ‘Age of the Country at War’. (the period from 1457 to 1615). Much of the samurai tradition was established during this time. Shogun: Total War is set during this period.
Seppuku Any form of ritual suicide. Considered an honorary death by the samurai class. Modified in later years to allow the presence of a second who cut off the victim’s head at the moment of agony.
Shinobi Ninja that were particularly adept at the art of spying or scouting instead of assasination.
Shogun Abbreviated form of Sei-I-Tai Shogun (‘barbarian subduing general’). The hereditary commander of the Japanese army who, until the revolution of 1867, exercised absolute rule under the nominal leadership of the emperor. The rank to which all daimyos aspired.
Sohei ‘Priest Soldiers’. Commonly known as warrior monks but some were thought to be non-ordained warriors recruited by the temples.
Taisho General on the field of battle.
Tameshi Gusoku Bullet tested armour. Sold with dents as proof of its effectiveness. (which is not necessarily the same as bullet proof armour!)
Wakizashi Sword 30 to 61cm (1-2ft) long. Worn by both samurai (with a katana) and ashigaru.
Yari Spears used as defensive weapons. The lengths varied depending on the individual daimyo’s preference but averaged around 5 metres.
Yoroi Of the many armour types, this is the classic samurai armour which consisted mainly of the do (body armour), suneate (leg armour), tsurubashiri (breastplate), eboshi (cap), kabuto (helmet), sode (shoulder guards) and hoate (face mask).