The daimyo were samurai lords who held dominion over feudal states in Japan from the tenth to the nineteenth centuries. From time to time, one or another of them would defeat his neighbors and enlarge his dominion, only to be challenged by someone else. During the Sengoku (Warring States) period, Japan was in a state of constant unrest. Eventually, the most powerful daimyo established themselves as “shoguns,” who were retrospectively sanctioned by the imperial court. Finally, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu succeeded in unifying all the daimyo under a central administration. One factor in their military success was probably the use of firearms, which the Japanese manufactured in large numbers. With firearms, battles became much more lethal and no longer required consummate skill at warfare.
Daimyo were ranked according to a number of factors: rank of family by bloodline; official rank given by Imperial Court; economic foundation, primarily determined by the size and productivity of lands, and other considerations. During the Edo period, people were divided into four classes from the highest to the lowest: samurai, farmer, craftsman, and merchant. In the Edo period, merchants, although the lowest in a social rank, increasingly gained economic power, and samurai, including Daimyo, often borrowed money from wealthy merchants at high interest rates.
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