Any of the largest and most powerful landholding magnates in Japan (c. 10th–19th century). The term was originally applied to military lords who gained territorial control over the various private estates into which the country had been divided; later, in the 14th–15th centuries, daimyo acted as military governors for the Ashikaga shogunate (see Muromachi period). Though they held legal jurisdiction over areas as large as provinces, their private landholdings were relatively small. As the country descended into internecine war, daimyo tended to hold small but consolidated domains in which all the land belonged to themselves or their vassals. Gradually, through constant battles, fewer and fewer daimyo came to hold increasing amounts of territory. When Tokugawa Ieyasu completed unification of Japan in 1603, roughly 200 daimyo had been brought under Tokugawa hegemony. During the Tokugawa period (1603–1867), the daimyo acted as local rulers in three-fourths of the country. After the Meiji Restoration, the daimyo were converted into a pensioned nobility residing in Tokyo. See also han.
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