The institutional foundations of the Tokugawa daimyo have been obscured by the lack of insight which historians have traditionally shown into the history of the Ashikaga period and, in particular, into the late Ashikaga, or Sengoku, age. Like the Dark Ages in Europe, this chapter of Japanese history has been accepted in historiography as a dark and formless era of war and trouble. Japanese historians have dismissed the Sengoku period as a time of ge-koku-jō when the political order was capriciously turned upside down by unworthy leaders. The colorful Western historian, James Murdoch, has heaped his most caustic invectives upon the main figures in Ashikaga history. Of the founder of the Ashikaga shogunate he claimed, “Takauji may indeed have been the greatest man of his time, but that is not saying very much, for the middle of the fourteenth century in Japan was the golden age, not merely of turncoats, but of mediocrities.”1 To Murdoch the Sengoku period was a “vile” age when the Japanese people showed, as he put it, a “lust for war and slaughter … utterly beyond human control,” and only the timely arrival of the “great trio” of daimyo, Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu, saved the day for Japan.

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