Tenka-bito (or tenka-nin) refers to the people who controlled the world as they knew it (in this case, the Japanese islands). It refers to the people who unified and controlled the whole of Japan, except Ryukyu (Okinawa prefecture) and most areas of Ezochi (Hokkaido), from the Sengoku period to the early Edo period.
Origin of the word
"Tenka" is a concept, which originated in China that referred to the entire world; it has been used in Japan since ancient times. The word "tenka" is seen on the roban (dew basin at the bottom of a pagoda finial) of Asuka-dera Temple established by SOGA no Umako, which confirms that the word was already used in 596. Since then, the word has frequently been used to the extent that Government of an Emperor is called "chitenka" (rule the tenka).
It is not certain when the word "tenka-bito" first became an established word or who started using it, however, it is said that the first book in which this word was mentioned was "Kawasumi Taikoki" written in 1621, and it is thought that this word had already become a common word among the people of that time.
To become a tenka-bito, one should:
Control the tenka (world)
The conditions for achieving the status of tenka-bito differ according to the period and the individual.
For example, MINAMOTO no Yoritomo called his project 'Beginning of a unified country (tenka no shoshi),' however, his governing areas cannot be compared with the sixty or so provinces that Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA governed. However, the reason Yoritomo was called tenka-bito is because he influenced the whole country through the firm master-and-servant relationship (obligation and service) with each samurai. The same thing applies to Takauji ASHIKAGA.
The tenka of Nobunaga ODA differs from that of Yoritomo, Takauji, and his successor Hideyoshi. Nobunaga was aiming to unify the whole country under 'Nobunaga ODA's unification of Japan policy,' however, he suddenly died in the Honnoji Incident. At the time of his death, he had only around 20 domains under control. The reason he was regarded as 'the master of tenka (tenka no nushi)' or 'Mr. Tenka (tenka sama)' is because he controlled the center of Japan, i.e. Kyoto. However, if he had not suddenly died in this incident, it is thought that he would have unified the whole country.
Establish of a samurai government
Behave as the vassals of the Imperial Court.
Tenka-bito took control of the government as the vassal of the Imperial Court. It can be said that, by having the Imperial family as their leader, they were in fact running the country. As the samurai government came to prominence, the Imperial family was gradually losing its power, to the extent that they had authority but no power. In spite of this change, the Imperial family was kokushu (Japanese feudal lord who governs more than one province) of the 66 domains in Japan.
Tenka-bito as the vassal of the Imperial Court governed the country in two ways: as a military officer such as Seiitaishogun (commander-in-chief of the expeditionary force against the barbarians, great, unifying leader) and as a civil officer such as Kanpaku (chief adviser to the Emperor) and Daijo-daijin (Grand Minister); however, to holding such a position was not necessarily a requirement of a tenka-bito.
Yoritomo, Takauji, and Ieyasu all became Seiitaishogun, however, Hideyoshi chose to be kanpaku (chief adviser to the Emperor). As for Nobunaga, he became Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of the Inner Palace Guards) in 1575 and then became naidaijin (Minister of the center) and udaijin (Minister of the right), however, after that, he did not hold any further government positions. He was even offered the positions of kanpaku, Daijo-daijin (Grand Minister), or seitaishogun from the Imperial Court (the question of the three alternative positions, called Sanshoku suinin mondai).
The government controls the whole country.
As explained above, unification of the whole country means to unify the whole of Japan in an integrated fashion. The governments of Hideyoshi and Ieyasu, both in name and reality, were in control of the whole country. Yoritomo mainly ruled Togoku (eastern country), he could also control the whole country by the system of gokenin (shogunal retainers). At the time of Takauji, the Northern and Southern Courts both claimed to be the legitimate governments. The Northern Court, led by the Ashikaga family, was always more powerful than the government of the Southern Court ruled by kuge (court nobles) and the Northern court governed Kyoto, which was the center of Japan during that time. Nobunaga's government also ruled the kinai region (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto) and the Imperial Courts of this area. In that sense, it is thought that the government had power over the whole country.
Requirements to be tenka-bito
Be eager to take the reins of the government
First of all, they must have the will to become tenka-bito. However, the degree of eagerness is a different matter. How much one is eager to establish a central administration (the kuge, court nobles, government) depended on how the state of affairs were progressing.
Also, it was only after the Sengoku period (period of warring states) that the society began showing its attitude of giving a chance to anyone to rule the tenka as long as they had the will to do so. Few people truly had the will to do so and even fewer actually succeeded in accomplishing this goal.
Have a certain military force and economical power.
The government of tenka-bito should be strong enough in military terms to eliminate obstacles and overwhelm rivals. Even after the establishment of the government, they needed military power to control those who would rebel against their government. However, this military power was not always their own and did not have to be. The military power would be evaluated by its amount and quality.
Economical power was also an important factor in having tenka under control. In Japan, the major economical power was agricultural productivity, particularly, rice production. Rice, as well as money, was a convenient commercial product that could be circulated. However, the circulation of rice was not the only goal of the activities of the territorial lords and shogun. TAIRA no Kiyomori emphasized trade between Japan and the Sung Dynasty in China and Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA was keen on trading between Japan and the Ming Dynasty in China. It is well known that Nobunaga put great emphasis on trade and craft such as rakuichi-rakuza (free markets and open guilds). Hideyoshi had gold mines and silver mines under direct control; it is thought this factor helped him remain rich and powerful.
Have necessary social standing and status
Even though tenka-bito ran a military regime, it did not mean they wanted to govern by military power. They had to think about how to look after and motivate their subordinates in order to gain their compliance to rule. Political force did not exist as an entity; it only existed in the relationship with the subordinates.
It can be thought that social standing or court rank was one of the important factors that cemented the relationship between the governor and his subordinates. Governors could actually justify their reasons for governing by having these attributes.
Yoritomo was a direct descendant of Seiwa-Genji (the Minamoto clan) and had a social status as great-great-grandson of HACHIMANTARO Yoshiie. Takauji was the same. However, during the Sengoku period after the Onin War (1467-1477), gekokujo (an inverted social order when the lowly reigned over the elite) became more prevalent and the collapse of family status began to happen. Not only Hideyoshi, but also Nobunaga and Ieyasu did not have high positions. After the collapse of the importance of family status, there was a trend in the society to overlook the origins as long as they have the ability to rule.
Have certain abilities.
It is often thought that people who influenced human history had extraordinary abilities, however, in reality, that was not always the case. People who governed the tenka may have had abilities that excelled others, however, at the same time, there must also have been numbers of people who had the same level of abilities. However, one cannot deny the fact that it is we who flattered and raised them to the positions of big politicians, heroes, and revolutionaries.
Be surrounded by good conditions and environment
Having seen the process of becoming a tenka-bito, it is clear that a combination of circumstances and chance, would raise someone to the position. In fact, in many cases, their efforts and reasonable judgments brought about fruitful results, however, it is also true that some accidental factors that they did not even expect often influenced them, which suggests that these accidental factors are also important factors that can determine their success.
The end of the tenka-bito's history
In 1603, Ieyasu received the proclamation of seiitaishogun and started the Edo bakufu. The Edo bakufu lasted for 15 successive reigns, some 260 years, until the time of Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA. However, with the arrival of the Black Ships, reverence for the Emperor became dominant and led to the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate after 700 years of government. Samurai government ended as society saw the Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor), then the restoration of Imperial rule, and finally the Meiji restoration. After that, Japan took the path for the modernization. At the same time, the existence of the samurai class lost its significance and led to the abolishment of the feudal system called Shinokosho (hereditary four-status order consisting of warrior-rulers, peasants, artisans, and merchants) and the history of the tenka-bito also came to an end as the samurai disappeared.