ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Japan - Top Ten Historical Figures

Updated on June 24, 2011


There are some historical figures that everybody in Japan knows. Some are shoguns, some are writers, and some are princes. Here’s a rundown of the top ten people you should know if you want to show off your knowledge of Japanese history.

1.Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582)

Everybody wants to be like Nobunaga. Ambitious, strong, risk-taking successful, Nobunaga actually embodied many characteristics that were not traditionally “samurai.” As daimyo of a small province, he expanded his territory to encompass one third of all of Japan. The western equivalent of Nobunaga might be Julius Caesar, a conqueror who made many gains in his life but who was ultimately betrayed and killed by one of his own.

Fun fact: Did you know that Nobunaga was an avid supporter of Christianity, which only had a small following in Japan at the time?

2. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616)

If Nobunaga is Caesar, then Tokugawa is Augustus. Tokugawa was the daimyo that ended up finally becoming shogun of all of Japan. As shogun he developed a strong bureaucratic system that would ensure opposition could not easily arise, and established a 265-year period of peace and stability in the country. In many ways modern Japan is a result of the policies he established.

Fun fact: Did you know that Ieyasu had his wife and son executed for conspiring against Nobunaga?

3. Prince Shotoku (573-621)

As regent, Shotoku helped create Japan’s first constitution, bring Chinese culture and ideas to Japan, and spread Buddhism across the country. He is still revered in Japan as the ideal enlightened ruler. Said to be able to listen to ten people all at once (and understand each of their requests) Shotoku has a bit of a superman image in Japan, which leaves some to wonder if he was really as amazing as his legacy implies.

Fun fact: Did you know that some people believe Shotoku named Japan? (as “The Land where the Sun Rises”)

4.Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)

Born of the lower classes, Hideyoshi used his wily wit to rise up through the ranks in Nobunaga’s clan. With one success after another, he eventually ended up becoming its leader after Nobunaga died. Although Hideyoshi was the one who theoretically conquered all of Japan, his sudden death in 1598 meant that he was not destined to see his progeny become rulers of Japan.

Fun Fact: When Hideyoshi was a young vassal in Nobunaga’s retainer, his nickname was “The Monkey.”

5. Murasaki Shikibu (c.973 - c.1014)

Considered by some to be the first novelist there ever was, Murasaki Shikibu was a court lady related to the Fujiwara family. In her spare time, she wrote novels and diaries that were based on her life amongst the aristocrats of Japan. Her Tale of Genji relates the amorous adventures of a prince, whose greatest love turns out to be a ten-year-old girl that he raises to be the “perfect woman.”

Fun fact: At the time that Murasaki Shikibu lived, men were encouraged to write in only kanji, and women only in hiragana.

6.Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591)

As master of tea under Nobunaga and later Hideyoshi, Sen no Rikyu mastered the art of the tea ceremony. Incorporating elements of wabi-sabi , Rikyu emphasized a rustic, humble atmosphere to his ceremonies that today is called very “Japanese.” Because of differences in opinion and for other unexplained reasons, Rikyu was ordered to commit suicide by Hideyoshi at the age of 70.

Fun fact: Some people say that what finally ticked Hideyoshi off was when he walked into Daitoku-ji (a temple he constructed) and saw a statue of Rikyu looking down at him.

7.Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901)

Considered one of the leaders in incorporating western ideas and culture into Japanese society, Fukuzawa helped establish the first university, (Keio University) in Japan. As a prolific writer about all things Western, Fukuzawa and his books encouraged Japanese to dive into the “modern world.” His contributions to modern Japan have earned him a place on the 10,000 yen bill.

Fun Fact: Fukuzawa studied Dutch before he learned English, only to discover it was not so useful for corresponding with most Westerners!

8. Sakamoto Ryoma (1836-1867)

Idealized by many Japanese (especially young men) Ryoma was a progressive thinker that felt that the way for Japan to move forward was to overthrow the Tokugawa bakufu government. At a time of change, Ryoma’s romanticism and charisma helped factions unite in order to be strong enough to take on the government. Ryoma was assassinated by pro-bakufu forces at the age of 33 in the city of Kyoto.

Fun fact: Did you know that Ryoma and his wife are said to have taken the first honeymoon by a Japanese couple?

9. Emperor Showa (Hirohito) (1926-1989)

The image of this very famous Japanese Emperor remains very complex. Was Hirohito one of the main engineers of Japanese aggression against Asian countries, or was he helpless to the whims of the military leaders that were in command? Somehow protecting the very existence of the Japanese monarchy itself (after WWII), Hirohito also managed to keep his image in tact and lived to see the later economic success of Japan.

Fun fact: Did you know that the emperor’s “hobby” was marine biology?

10.Himiko (c.a. 248)

This queen of ancient Japan (when it was still called Wa) holds a mystical place in Japanese history. Though there are records of her in both Chinese and Korean documents, much of her life remains a mystery. What is known is that she was an influential ruler who was considered to have a strong “shamanistic” hold over the Yayoi people.

Fun fact: Did you know that it is not even known exactly where Himiko’s kingdom was located? (Although recent discoveries point to an area near Nara.)

Oda Nobunaga


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      3 months ago

      how is your school like

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      You write good kid.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      this website is really good! I am Japanese my self and learn Japanese history at school. At fun fact, i didn't know 23689!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thank you for your help for my school wok anne

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Author info? I'd like to cite.

    • yinoway profile image


      7 years ago

      My favorite is "Oda Nobunaga". He had been the innovator and I believe that he is one of the most advanced social reformer of all age and era.

      I wish he is alive right at this age.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great job Anne!!!!!1

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I was Japanese and I didn't even know that Ryoma and his wife were the first Japanese honeymooners!

    • ocoonocoon profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thank you, Anne!

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      8 years ago from Australia

      An interesting hub, and I enjoyed the way you wrote it!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)