Monday 22 November 2021

The Onin War Reviewed


Number 9 in Helion’s series ‘from Retinue to Regiment 1453-1618’ is The Onin War, 1467-77. A Turning Point in Samurai History, by the great Stephen Turnbull. I have been a big fan of Dr. Turnbull’s books on Japan and the Samurai for as long as I can remember so I was excited at the prospect of reviewing this book.

I believe this is the first book in English that covers the destructive and bloody Onin War which ravaged the country, and the capital Kyoto in particular, for 10 long years. Concurrent to the war, the country suffered from famine, drought and floods, which further added to the death and destruction which descended on all levels of society. Unique to this war was the street-fighting that went on within Kyoto, conducted by the warring lords from fortified mansions, which was almost Stalingrad-like in its ferocity and destructiveness.

Dr. Turnbull’s narrative takes us from Shogun Ashigaka Yoshimutso at the height of his power through the steady decline of his family and the weakening position of the Shogun, culminating in the start of the Sengoku period in Japanese history, where the power and influence of the Shogun was greatly diminished and he ceased to hold sway over the entire country. This tale of bloody coups, murder, assassinations, ferocious battles and quite fluid loyalties is described in tremendous detail, which makes it all an enjoyable, fascinating and absorbing read (especially once the reader has got their head around the multitude of Japanese personalities who appear throughout the book). The book is lavishly illustrated with a good selection of maps, many lovely contemporary illustrations and a number of present-day photos of key locations and existing architecture. As one would expect this subject has been extensively researched, using many previously untranslated primary sources.

Anyone with an interest in this period of Japanese history really should get this book. You will not be disappointed.

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