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Over a span of three and a half centuries (1200–1550) Japan experienced profound transformations in the institutions, ideals, and methods of war. Originally a limited, clearly defined and extraordinary event, warfare became an endemic and encompassing element of life in the mid sixteenth century. Earlier, small bands of mounted warriors, skilled in archery, arrived in camp and departed as they saw fit, for no institutional mechanisms existed for them to supply themselves or their followers with food and materials of war. By the sixteenth century, however, powerful magnates (daimyō) were capable of supplying and maintaining large armies, numbering in the thousands, largely composed of pike-wielding foot soldiers.
In the late medieval period, or the Muromachi period, a body of works developed that focused, not only on war and battles, but instead on the lives of specific warriors associated with the Genpei period. The two most representative are Soga monogatari and Gikeiki, two long war tales about events related to Minamoto Yoritomo's establishment of the Kamakura shogunate. Soga monogatari is episodic and demonstrates a clearly Buddhist editorial hand. The final major medieval war tale, arguably as important for medieval and early modern readers and audiences as Heike, is Taiheiki, which narrates the tumultuous events and aftermath of the Kenmu Restoration of 1333-6. Written in mixed Chinese-Japanese style, the forty chapters of Taiheiki trace events from 1318 to 1367, a period that witnessed the division of the royal line and simultaneous existence of Northern and Southern imperial courts, as well as the overthrow of the Kamakura shogunate, an event closely tied to the royal schism.
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