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Several times in Japanese history, the new ruler sought to ensure his position by calling a sword hunt (刀狩, katanagari). Armies would scour the entire country, confiscating the weapons of the enemies of the new regime. In this manner, the new ruler sought to ensure that no one could take the country by force as he had just done. The most famous sword hunt was ordered by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1588.
Most men wore swords from the Heian period until the Sengoku period in Japan. Oda Nobunaga sought an end to this practice, and ordered the seizure of swords and a variety of other weapons from civilians, in particular the Ikkō-ikki peasant-monk leagues which sought to overthrow samurai rule.
In 1588, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, having become kampaku or "imperial regent", ordered a new sword hunt; Hideyoshi, like Nobunaga, sought to solidify separations in the class structure, denying commoners weapons while allowing them to the nobility, the samurai class. In addition, Toyotomi's sword hunt, like Nobunaga's, was intended to prevent peasant uprisings and to deny weapons to his adversaries. This hunt may have been inspired by a peasant uprising in Higo Province the year prior, but also served to disarm the sōhei of Mount Kōya and Tōnomine. Toyotomi claimed that the confiscated weapons would be melted down and used to create a giant image of the Buddha for the Asuka-dera monastery in Nara.
"Taikō's Sword Hunt", as it came to be called, was accompanied by a number of other edicts, including the Expulsion Edict of 1590, by which Toyotomi sought to establish a census and expel from villages any newcomers who arrived in or after 1590. The chief goal of this was to place a check on the threat posed by rōnin, masterless wandering samurai who had the potential not only for crime and violence in general, but for banding together to overthrow Toyotomi rule. Hideyoshi, like most of this period, believed in rule by edict, paying little or no attention to legal principles.
The Tokugawa shogunate did not confiscate swords from farmers and townspeople, who could continue to wear daisho until 1683. Many would keep wearing wakizashi on a daily basis. By the middle of the 18th century, they were still worn during special events such as travel, weddings, and funerals. This lasted until the Meiji Restoration.
The Meiji Restoration of the 1860s was the beginning of a period of major modernization and Westernization. In 1871, extensive reforms were passed and executed, abolishing the han system, and thus ending feudalism and the class system.
In 1876, samurai were banned from carrying daisho. Peasants and townspeople were banned from carrying wakizashi. A standing army was created, as was a police force. This "sword hunt" was performed for, ostensibly, different reasons, and certainly with different methods than those of several centuries earlier. This sword hunt put an end to the class system while the earlier ones were intended to deepen the distinctions between commoners and nobles. Ultimately, however, the result of this sword hunt was the same as the results of its predecessors; the hunt ensured that the only weapons were in the hands of the ruling government and not available to potential dissenters.
In 1946, Japanese civilians were made to forfeit their swords by Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. The number of swords forfeited was over three million. This is the first time that Japanese peasants were disarmed completely.
Today, Japan has a Sword and Firearms Law which, much like gun control laws around the world, governs the possession and use of weapons in public. The purchase and ownership of certain swords within Japan is legal if they are properly registered, though the import and export of such items is tightly controlled, particularly in the case of items that might be labeled as national or cultural artifacts. Swords that are not produced by licensed smiths (including all machine-made swords) are prohibited for individuals. Japanese military swords are legal in Japan if they were made with traditional materials and methods, as swords produced by such methods are not seen only as weapons but also as works of art. Swords produced by mass production methods are seen solely as weapons and are thus illegal.
A Japanese sword is one of several types of traditionally made swords from Japan. Bronze swords were made as early as the Yayoi period, though most people generally refer to the curved blades made after the Heian period when speaking of "Japanese swords". There are many types of Japanese swords that differ by size, shape, field of application and method of manufacture. Some of the more commonly known types of Japanese swords are the katana, tachi, odachi, wakizashi, and tantō.
Oda Nobunaga was a Japanese daimyo and one of the leading figures of the Sengoku period. He is regarded as the first "Great Unifier" of Japan. His reputation in war gave him the nickname of "Demon Daimyo" or "Demon King".
Samurai (侍) were the hereditary military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan from the late 12th century to their abolition in 1876. They were the well-paid retainers of the daimyo. They had high prestige and special privileges such as wearing two swords. They cultivated the bushido codes of martial virtues, indifference to pain, and unflinching loyalty, engaging in many local battles. During the peaceful Edo era they became the stewards and chamberlains of the daimyo estates, gaining managerial experience and education. In the 1870s samurai families comprised 5% of the population. The Meiji Revolution ended their feudal roles, and they moved into professional and entrepreneurial roles. Their memory and weaponry remain prominent in Japanese popular culture.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a Japanese samurai and daimyo of the late Sengoku period regarded as the second "Great Unifier" of Japan.
Tokugawa Ieyasu was the founder and first shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, which ruled Japan from 1603 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. He was one of the three "Great Unifiers" of Japan, along with his former lord Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
The wakizashi is one of the traditionally made Japanese swords (nihontō) worn by the samurai in feudal Japan.
The daishō—literally "big-little"—is a Japanese term for a matched pair of traditionally made Japanese swords (nihonto) worn by the samurai class in feudal Japan.
The Sengoku period is a period in Japanese history of near-constant civil war, social upheaval, and political intrigue from 1467 to 1615.
The Azuchi–Momoyama period is the final phase of the Sengoku period in Japanese history from 1568 to 1600.
Fushimi Castle, also known as Momoyama Castle or Fushimi-Momoyama Castle, is a Japanese castle located in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto.
The Council of Five Elders was a group of five powerful feudal lords formed in 1598 by the Regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi, shortly before his death the same year. While Hideyoshi was on his deathbed, his son, Toyotomi Hideyori, was still only 5 years old and as such Hideyoshi needed to create the council in order to ensure his heir would be able to succeed him after coming of age. They also acted as advisers for the Five Commissioners, which had also been established by Hideyoshi to govern Kyoto and the surrounding areas.
Uesugi Kagekatsu was a Japanese samurai daimyō during the Sengoku and Edo periods. He was the adopted son of Uesugi Kenshin and Uesugi Kagetora’s brother in law.
Ikkō-ikki were rebellious or autonomous groups of people that were formed in several regions of Japan in the 15th-16th centuries; backed up by the power of the Jōdo Shinshū sect of Buddhism, they opposed the rule of governors or daimyō. Mainly consisting of priests, peasants, merchants and local lords who followed the sect, they sometimes associated with non-followers of the sect. They were at first organized to only a small degree; if any single person could be said to have had any influence over them it was Rennyo, the leader of the Jōdo Shinshū Hongan-ji sect at that time. Whilst he may have used the religious fervour of the Ikkō-ikki in the defence of his temple settlements, he was also careful to distance himself from the wider social rebellion of the Ikkō movement as a whole, and from offensive violence in particular.
Kōsa, also known as Hongan-ji Kennyo, was the 11th head of the Hongan-ji in Kyoto, and Chief Abbot of Ishiyama Hongan-ji, cathedral fortress of the Ikkō-ikki, during its siege at the end of the Sengoku period. He engineered many alliances, and organized the defenses of the cathedral to the point that most at the time considered Ishiyama Hongan-ji to be unbreachable.
Oda Nobukatsu was a Japanese samurai of the Azuchi–Momoyama period. He was the second son of Oda Nobunaga. He survived the decline of the Oda clan from political prominence, becoming a daimyō in the early Edo period. Though often described as an incompetent general, Nobukatsu was a skilled warrior. In the battle of Komaki and Nagakute, he used a 13th-century tachi of the Fukuoka Ichimonji school, to slay a samurai known as Okada Sukesaburō, therefore the blade was known as "Okada-giri Yoshifusa", now a national treasure.
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Takigawa Kazumasu, also known as Sakonshōgen (左近将監), was a samurai retainer to Oda Nobunaga, and later Toyotomi Hideyoshi, during Japan's Sengoku period. His biological son, Toshimasu, was adopted by Toshihisa and later served Nobunaga alongside Kazumasu and Toshimasu's adopted uncle, Maeda Toshiie.
The tekkan, also known as tetsu-ken or tetto, is a Japanese weapon that was used during the Edo period until the beginning of the 20th century. It was an iron truncheon; it could closely resemble a wakizashi-sized sword with a blunt iron blade, or it could be a cast-iron version of a kabutowari.
A katana is a Japanese sword characterized by a curved, single-edged blade with a circular or squared guard and long grip to accommodate two hands. Developed later than the tachi, it was used by samurai in feudal Japan and worn with the blade facing upward. Since the Muromachi period, many old tachi were cut from the root and shortened, and the blade at the root was crushed and converted into katana. The official term for katana in Japan is uchigatana (打刀) and the term katana (刀) often refers to single-edged swords from around the world.
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