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This third volume of The Cambridge History of Japan is devoted to the three and a half centuries spanning the final decades of the twelfth century when the Kamakura bakufu was founded to the mid-sixteenth century when civil wars raged following the demise of the Muromachi bakufu. The volume creates a rich tapestry of the events that took place during these colourful centuries, when the warrior class ruled Japan, institutions underwent fundamental transformations, the economy grew steadily, and Japanese culture and society evolved with surprising vitality to leave legacies that still characterize and affect contemporary Japan. As with other volumes in The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 3 was carefully prepared so as to be accessible to specialists and students as well as to general readers wishing to increase their understanding of the period. This is the most extensive treatment available on medieval Japan, and it will serve as an indispensible tool and authoritative guide for all interested in Japan's medieval age.


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  • 1 - The Kamakura bakufu
    pp 46-88
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    The establishment of Japan's first warrior government, the Kamakura bakufu, represented both a culmination and a beginning. Despite its aversion to fighting, the bakufu was created by war, the Gempei conflict of 1180-85. Later, during the early stages of the Gempei War, the developing cleavage of interests was exploited by the founder of the Kamakura bakufu, Minamoto Yoritomo. The Gempei War, desultory from the beginning, heated up and reached a sudden climax. The dispensing of justice emerged as the essence of Kamakura's governance and as society's greatest need during the thirteenth century. The year 1185 is one of the most famous in Japanese history. According to the Azuma kagami, Yoritomo forced the ex-emperor to authorize Kamakura's appointment of countrywide networks of jitō and shugo. The dominant theme of progress in Kamakura in the generation before Jōkyū was the rise of the Hojo as hegemons.
  • 2 - Medieval shōen
    pp 89-127
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    This chapter examines the shifting interaction of shōen and kokugaryō in the Kamakura period. It also discusses the structure and management of shōen, the relations between shōen proprietors and their holdings, and the impact of the political emergence of warriors on the control of shōen. The Awaji ōtabumi of 1223 lists the total field area of the province divided between two districts. Tsuna District contained 777 chō and Mihara, 635 chō. A study of the shōen of the Saishōkō-in domain provides a glimpse into the operation of this self-sufficient economic system. Among the myō of shōen, there were two main types: myō held by the agents and officials of the central proprietor and myō held by ordinary peasants. There were numerous political struggles within the shōen in the Kamakura period, primarily between the jitō and the peasants. It may seem that everything in medieval society can be expressed as a struggle between warriors and courtiers.
  • 3 - The decline of the Kamakura bakufu
    pp 128-174
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    The 1260s marked the beginning of a decisively new period for the Kamakura bakufu as it faced a set of increasingly complex problems caused by changing conditions both at home and abroad. At first, the rise of the tokusō and the miuchibito factions, accompanying the strengthened national position of the bakufu seemed to mark the peak of Kamakura political power. There were, in fact, many causes for the warriors' dissatisfaction, one being the lack of reward land in the aftermath of the Mongol invasions. In the second month of 1273, the Southern Sung defense line fell to the Mongols, and a collapse seemed close at hand. The years immediately following the second Mongol attack were characterized by innovative regulations, judicial reform, and increasingly intense factional conflicts. The repercussions from this incident were felt throughout Japan. Renshō was born at the end of Yasutoki's tenure as regent, and he died in 1329, shortly before the fall of the bakufu.
  • 4 - The Muromachi bakufu
    pp 175-230
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    The Muromachi bakufu, the second of the three military governments that held power in Japan from 1185 to 1867, was founded between 1336 and 1338 by Ashikaga Takauji. Emperor Godaigo, who began his reign in 1318, gave early evidence of his determination to recapture the powers lost by the throne to both the high court nobility and the Kamakura bakufu. One of the major accomplishments of the Ashikaga house was its success in legitimizing the post of shogun within a polity still legally under the sovereign authority of the emperor. From the beginning, the Ashikaga shoguns conceived of the provinces as administrative units to be governed by shugo who were freely appointed by the shogun. The main bakufu offices with specialized functions were the Board of Retainers, the Office of Adjudicants, the Board of Administration, and the Office of Records. Historians have sought to explain the economic foundations of the Muromachi bakufu in terms of land and landed income.
  • 5 - Muromachi local government: shugo and kokujin
    pp 231-259
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    In contrast with that of the Kamakura bakufu, the authority of the Muromachi bakufu expanded rapidly following its establishment in 1336, and the Ashikaga shogun became almost an absolute monarch. During the Nambokucho disturbance, the bakufu's regional administrative headquarters such as the Kantō kubō and the Kyushu tandai, were established and had jurisdiction over the shugo, chiefly out of military necessity. The Muromachi bakufu's so-called coalition government of shugo daimyo is a reference to these powerful members of the bakufu's ruling council who ran the government through this balance of power. In the Kamakura period, these local overlords, or jitō gokenin, enjoyed a feudal bond of vassalage with the shogun. Kurokawa's seminal essay, which takes issue with the Nagahara thesis, was for a time, the most widely accepted theory among scholars. Another problem in Kurokawa's thesis is that he neglects the military relationship of control between the shugo and the kokuji.
  • 6 - The decline of the shōen system
    pp 260-300
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    The shōen system of landholding, one of the most important institutions for organizing the economic life of medieval Japan, was transformed at the end of the eleventh and the beginning of the twelfth centuries. This chapter focusses on the events of the fourteenth century that led to the decline of the shōen system, and also extends into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. After the Gempei War, the emerging Kamakura shogunate secured authorization from the court to appoint jitō, called hompo jitō, to the lands confiscated from warriors associated with the Taira. Criminal jurisdiction was an important component of the shōen proprietor's authority; therefore, the jitō's actions were a direct attack on ryōshu control over the shōen. The shugo developed a provincial system based on a feudal lord-vassal power structure, namely, the shugo domainal system. The incidence of the cultivators' protests and do-ikki also served to strengthen the position of the upper-class cultivators in the village.
  • 7 - The medieval peasant
    pp 301-343
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    This chapter portrays the medieval peasants mainly as they existed under the shōen system in the central Kinai region. The chapter also considers regional differences within the peasant class, as well as changes during the medieval period. The peasants living on the shōen were divided into subgroups based on a complicated status system. Various technological advances improved the agricultural output starting in about the second half of the thirteenth century. The medieval peasant was required to submit two types of taxes to the shōen proprietor such as zōkuji and nengu. The rule of the shōen proprietor over the peasants may be divided into three broad areas: collection of taxes, jurisdiction over land, and jurisdiction over criminal matters. In the mid to late medieval period in central Japan and other nearby economically advanced areas there was a great change in the perceived value of land. The increasing strength of the ikkō ikki posed a great threat to the sengoku daimyo.
  • 8 - The growth of commerce in medieval Japan
    pp 344-395
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    This chapter describes and analyzes how market activities began and grew, leading to specialization among merchants, artisans, those engaged in transportation, and others and, as a result, raising the efficiency of both production and distribution. To encourage market activities in the capital trade region, the number of marketplaces in Kyoto rose, and economic activities in the several satellite towns and ports increased. 360From the mid-thirteenth century, the pace of commercial activities accelerated first in the large cities and then in the provinces. Unauthorized Japanese merchant ships continued to trade with the coastal cities of China and brought back coins into the fourteenth century. The monetization of the economy was proceeding in response to, as well as promoting, the development of markets in provinces throughout the nation. Building on the momentum generated in the latter half of the Kamakura period and, more importantly, on the continuing rise in agricultural productivity, the economy in the Nambokucho and Muromachi periods continued to grow.
  • 9 - Japan and East Asia
    pp 396-446
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    This chapter describes and analyzes Japan's relations during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods with various countries of East Asia and their governments, including the Sung, Yüan, and Ming dynasties of China, the Koryŏ and Yi dynasties of Korea, and the Ryūkyū Islands. Although initially an eastern power, the Kamakura bakufu sought quite early to establish Kyushu as a base for foreign trade, by gaining control of Dazaifu, which handled both internal politics and foreign relations in Kyushu. The chapter also describes the international situation leading to the Mongol invasions, and then explains the reasons behind them. The Mongol invasions strengthened the HŌjŌ family's control over Kyushu. Furthermore, Japanese-Ming relations conducted in the name of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and the Muromachi bakufu were of obvious help in controlling Kyushu. Through Yoshimitsu's action, Japan joined the East Asian Sinocentric tribute system and achieved a guarantee of international security.
    pp 447-499
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    A principal theme in Gukanshō is the interrelationship between ōhō and buppō in Japanese history. There is no simple definition for the literary genre of war tales that became so important to the narrative tradition of the medieval age. One of the most characteristic arts, and indeed fervid preoccupations, of the medieval age was linked-verse poetry. The shogun Yoshimasa is as closely associated with the Higashiyama epoch in medieval culture as Yoshimitsu is with the Kitayama. Works of Sung-style ink painting were brought to Japan throughout the medieval age and were among the most prized of karamono during the Kitayama epoch. Ink painting influenced another major art of the Muromachi period, the kare-sansui or "withered landscape" garden. The form of decorative screen and door-panel painting that evolved in the Azuchi-Momoyama epoch differed from the preceding, mainstream work of medieval artists.
  • 11 - The other side of culture in medieval Japan
    pp 500-543
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    This chapter examines significant concerns of the Japanese middle ages that have gone unnoted, unheeded, or even disdained. The wooden statues depicted were largely similar-looking ecclesiastics in Buddhist robes with shaved heads. The medieval abbess's religious name was Mugai Nyodai, and she lived from 1223 to 1298. The standard references on Japanese history and Buddhism reveal the woeful state of current research on ecclesiastic women in Japan. 511From early times, the Japanese elite have been fascinated by the activities of ordinary working people. Having gods in common is a powerfully unifying social force, and during the middle ages, the Japanese people began, for the first time, to become shareholders of beloved national gods. Eleventh-century novels invariably include discussions of shamanistic consultations, and in twelfth- and thirteenth-century songs and paintings, shamans appear frequently. Akashi no Kakuichi's great genius transformed the story into art.
  • 12 - Buddhism in the Kamakura period
    pp 544-582
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    Buddhism has had a long and illustrious history in Japan, but it was in the Kamakura period that Buddhism in Japan came into full flower. Kamakura Buddhism criticized the formalism of the Buddhist establishment of its day and instead emphasized belief and practice. Shinran and Hōnen formulated their new religious ideas by concentrating on the internal nature of human beings. The first person to play an important role in the adoption of Zen was Eisai. Dōgen went to Japan to impart the Zen teachings there. The original teachings of the founders of Kamakura Buddhism therefore diverged from the interest in Buddhist history that arose in the traditional schools during the latter half of the Kamakura period. All of the schools of Kamakura Buddhism passed through various formative stages and eventually succeeded in developing highly structured religious organizations. The originators of Kamakura Buddhism formed their ideas by making religious experience paramount.
  • 13 - Zen and the gozan
    pp 583-652
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    The medieval centuries can fairly be described as the great age of Japanese Buddhism. This chapter examines the introduction and spread of Zen Buddhism as one aspect of the larger development of Buddhism and of changes in medieval society. The chapter discusses the transmission of Zen from China to Japan, the institutional growth and diffusion of the major branches of Zen and the patronage that made this possible. It also explains the administration and economy of the medieval Zen monastery, the transformation of Zen thought and practice in the Japanese context, and the contribution of Zen monks to medieval Japanese culture. During the Muromachi period, however, monks of the Genju lineage began to return to gozan monasteries where their very ecumenical attitudes toward the Zen transmission won them considerable influence. Zen monastic landholdings were scattered throughout the country, and the Zen monastic economy reflected the economic possibilities and problems of the age.

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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JeffreyH.Mass The Origins of Kamakura Justice.” Journal of Japanese Studies 3 (Summer 1977): 299–322.

WilliamH.McCullough Shōkyūki: An Account of the Shōkyū War of 1221.” Monumenta Nipponica 19 (1964): 163–215.

NagaharaKeiji . “The Medieval Origins of the Eta-Hinin.” Journal of Japanese Studies 5 (Summer 1979).

Kozo.Yamamura Tara in Transition: A Study of a Kamakura Shōen .” Journal of Japanese Studies 7 (Summer 1981): 349–91.

KozoYamamura . “The Development of Za in Medieval Japan.” Business History Review 47 (Winter 1973): 438–65.

KennethDeanButler . “The Heike Monogatari and the Japanese Warrior Ethic.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 29 (1969).

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TheodoreM.Ludwig Before Rikyū: Religious and Aesthetic Influences in the Early History of the Tea Ceremony.” Monumenta Nipponica 36 (Winter 1981): 367–90.

JamesT.Araki Bunshō sōshi: The Tale of Bunshō, the Saltmaker.” Monu-menta Nipponica 38, no. 3 (Autumn 1983): 221–49.

KennethA.Grossberg Bakufu and Bugyonin: The Size of the House Bureaucracy in Muromachi Japan.” Journal of Asian Studies 35 (August 1976).

WilliamH.McCullough The Azuma kagami Account of the Shōkyū War.” Monumenta Nipponica 23 (1968).

JeffreyH.Mass Translation and Pre-1600 History.” Journal of Japanese Studies 6 (Winter 1980):

DonaldH.Philippi , trans. Kojiki. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1969.