Ashikaga Period

The central government of the shogun was weak and it exercised little control over distant and powerful samurai lords known as daimyo. During the 14th to 17th centuries, Zen Buddhism flourished and became dominant among the samurai. The most distinctive expression of Zen, the tea ceremony, became a national custom. Zen also shaped brilliant developments in philosophy, art, and literature. The no drama was created at this time.

Japan's contact with Europeans began in 1542 with the arrival of Portuguese merchants. In 1549 Francis Xavier opened a Jesuit mission in southern Japan. Soon a number of Spanish and Portuguese missionaries were active in the country and many converts were made. Traders from the Netherlands and England began arriving in 1600.

During the late 15th century, the daimyo had grown so powerful that the country broke up into warring factions. One military leader, Hideyoshi, for a short time held all of Japan. He tried to invade Korea in 1592 and 1597, but was beaten off by the Chinese. Hideyoshi died in 1598, and in the struggle for power that followed, Tokugawa leyasu, one of the strongest daimyo, won. He founded the Tokugawa dynasty of shoguns in 1603 and ruled from Tokyo (then known as Edo).