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The Middle Ages (11th - 15th centuries)

The Heian Shrine

■The Dawn of the Middle Ages

 During the later part of the Heian Period, powerful Bushi (samurai or warrior) in the local districts began to gather under two banners, the Genji (Minamoto clan) and the Heishi (Taira clan), and spread their sphere of influence throughout the center of Japan.
 The first to take the reigns of power from the nobles was a member of the Taira clan, Taira-no-Kiyomori, the victor of a civil war known as the Hōgen Rebellion, and serving the Emperor Antoku, began to transfer the capital to Fukuhara (Kobe) in 1180. Due to the complex political and military situation, with Minamoto-no-Yoritomo raising an army in the Kanto region, the construction of the new capital was never completed and it ended as a phantom-like capital city. However, turning his attention to trade with the Sung Dynasty in China, Taira-no-Kiyomori began restoration works on ports and harbors, starting the tradition that became, in time, the international port of Kobe.
 After the death of Taira-no-Kiyomori, the Minamoto clan became very powerful, and along with the Emperor Antoku, the Taira clan fled to the western part of Japan, only to suffer a complete defeat at the Dan-no-Ura Battle in 1185. Then, in 1192, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo became the Seiitaishogun (Supreme Commander in Chief) and started the Kamakura shogunate (Kamakura City in Kanagawa Prefecture), signaling the end of the age of the nobles, the Heian Period, and the start of the age of the warrior class. This was, in fact, the dawn of the Middle Ages in Japan. Furthermore, while many government functions were moved to Kamakura, the capital remained in Kyoto, and Kansai continued as the center of Japanese culture.

The Nanban "Southern Barbarians" Folding Screen

■The Autonomous City - Sakai

 The Kamakura shogunate was overthrown by Ashikaga Takauji, who was named the Seiitaishogun in 1338, opening the Muromachi shogunate in Kyoto. In Kyoto, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and Ashikaga Yoshimasa, etc. became devout believers of the Zen sect of Buddhism, and even though they constructed some famous temples, like Kinkakuji Temple, a beautiful many-storied structure grandly reflected on the surface of the pond in the temple garden and Ginkakuji Temple, considered the symbol of the Higashiyama culture in Kyoto, the foundation of the Muromachi shogunate was never stable. In 1467, a ten-year war known as the Onin Incident erupted between two feudal lords, Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sozen, splitting the whole country in two and burning Kyoto to the ground in the process.

Sen-no-Rikyu(Tea Ceremony Master)

 Given this state of affairs, Sakai City developed rapidly from the middle of the 14th century as a metropolitan area with harbor facilities. Sakai prospered massively from the end of the 15th century, through commerce with China, Korea, and Europe, and in order to avoid the calamity of war, the city built a large moat around the city and armed the port with mercenary soldiers for defense. The city had arrangements with many of the generals during the Warring States period and retained its status as an autonomous city, reaching a peak of prosperity in the middle of the 16th century. The city was so prosperous that the Portuguese missionary Luís Fróis compared Sakai to Venice (Venezia) in the northern part of Italy, and the city was the birthplace of the famous tea ceremony master Sen-no-Rikyu (1522-1591).

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