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People have been living on the islands east of the Korean peninsula for a hundred thousand years. Pottery was used there more than ten thousand years ago. Agriculture and the use of bronze and iron arrived on the island of Kyushu with immigrants from China and Korea in the third century BC. This culture soon spread to the central Kanto plain on the largest island Honshu, and rice supplemented fish as the main food. By the third century CE an aristocratic culture similar to that of Korea was interring their leaders in huge tombs. These horse-riding warriors wore armor, helmets, and used iron swords as well as iron plow-tips. Japanese chronicles claim that human sacrifice ended about 3 CE, but Chinese records of 247 CE mention the Japanese custom; animal sacrifices, usually oxen, lasted until the 7th century. Social differences were indicated by tattooing and body markings. The Chinese history of the Wei dynasty recorded in 297 CE that about a hundred Japanese tribes were ruled by hereditary kings and queens. Wars over royal succession were common.
Shinto religion worshipped spirits (kami) in diverse forms; after the country was unified, the emperor or empress was considered a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The Japanese were particularly concerned about pollution and dirtiness, emphasizing cleanliness and ritual purity. Their word tsumi for sin or offense derives from covering up or concealing, and shame was more prominent in their consciousness than guilt. According to the Kojiki the divine Izanagi and his wife Izanami produced the first offspring, but the first ones were badly made. The heavenly deities decided that was because the woman spoke first. The ritual was repeated with the man speaking first, and the offspring were all well made. Many deities were created with Amaterasu ruling heaven, Tsukiyomi night, and Susano-o the ocean. The second book of the Kojiki describes how Emperor Jimmu extended his sovereignty over Japan from Yamato to Kyushu. In this source of patriotism an oracle indicates that it is Amaterasu's will that Japan subjugate the land to the west (Korea), and Empress Jingu leads a swift conquest.
Korean scholars were sent to Japan in the fourth century by the king of Paekche, but Japanese military assistance requested against the kingdom of Silla in 391 arrived too late to save Paekche. Japanese Wa people formed the colony of Mimana in the kingdom of Kaya in the southeast corner of the Korean peninsula; but their campaign to defend it was held up by Kyushu chief Iwai in 527, because he was in league with the Korean Silla kingdom. Iwai was defeated, as the Japanese allied themselves with Paekche against Silla. In 538 the king of Paekche sent to the Japanese court at Yamato a bronze statue of the Buddha with scriptures and a letter praising the new religion. The Nakatomi, steeped in native Shinto ritual, and the Mononobe clan of warriors opposed Buddhism; but it was supported by their rival Soga clan, who advocated opposing Silla. The Soga were allowed to practice the new religion, but the image was thrown into a canal during an epidemic. The Silla drove the Japanese off the mainland in 562. Soga Umako built a chapel for his Buddhist experiments with Korean monks and nuns in 570. A succession battle in 585 resulted in Buddhist proponent Yomei becoming emperor, but he died two years later. Umako gathered enough forces to annihilate the Mononobe family at the battle of Shigisen, and Buddhism began to flourish under Emperor Sujun (r. 588-92) and the Soga empress Suiko (r. 593-628).
Umako nominated Prince Shotoku (574-622) as heir to the throne. As regent Shotoku attempted to apply Buddhist and Confucian ethics to government. He did not indict the known murderer of the previous emperor but tried to persuade him of his wrong. In 603 this prince devised a system of twelve court ranks distinguished by caps of different colors based on Korean models; the ranks in order were named after six Confucian values, greater and lesser: virtue, humanity, propriety, integrity, justice, and knowledge. The next year it was said Shotoku wrote the "Seventeen Article Constitution," although scholars believe the document was written later. Its ethical policies may be summarized as follows:
1. "Harmony is to be valued and an avoidance of wanton opposition to be honored."
2. "Sincerely reverence the three treasures-Buddha, the Law, and the Priesthood."
3. Scrupulously obey imperial commands.
4. Ministers and functionaries should make propriety their leading principle.
5. Abandoning gluttony and covetous desires, deal impartially with suits.
6. Chastise the evil, and encourage the good. Do not conceal the good qualities of others, nor fail to correct wrongs.
7. Find the right man for each job. Unprincipled men in office multiply disasters.
8. "Let the ministers and functionaries attend the court early in the morning and retire late."
9. "Good faith is the foundation of right."
10. "Let us cease from wrath and refrain from angry looks, nor let us be resentful when others differ from us."
11. "Give clear appreciation to merit and demerit, and deal out to each its sure reward or punishment."
12. Do not let provincial authorities tax the people, for the sovereign is the master of all the people in the country.
13. "Let all persons entrusted with office attend equally to their functions."
14. "Be not envious."
15. Do not let private motives and feelings interfere with the public interest.
16. "Let the people be employed at seasonable times," not when they are busy with agriculture for food or mulberry trees for clothing.
17. Important decisions should not be made by one person but in consultation with others.1
The Chinese calendar was adopted in 604. Shotoku sent three missions to the Sui court, but the Chinese emperor disdained to recognize the "emperor of the east" as equivalent. In 624 Japan had 46 Buddhist temples with 816 monks and 569 nuns. After Prince Shotoku died, the Soga clan's power grew more tyrannical as Umako's son Yemishi and his son Iruka treacherously wiped out Yamashiro Oye and his family. Prince Naka Oye got revenge when assassins murdered Iruka at court in front of the empress he had enthroned; Yemishi and his adherents fled, and many were killed. The next day Empress Kogyoku abdicated; as Kotoku (r. 645-55) became emperor, Naka Oye was named crown prince. The Soga Kurayamada, who had joined the plot, was named great minister, and Naka Oye married Kurayamada's daughter; thus the Soga clan that had dominated ceremonial emperors and empresses for the previous half century was greatly weakened.
Nakatomi Kamatari (614-69), who founded the Fujiwara clan, assisted the takeover and devised the great reforms in the reigns of Kotoku, Kogyoku again as Empress Saimei (r. 655-61), and Naka Oye as Tenchi (r. 661-71). The four articles of the Great Reform of 646 increased imperial control by abolishing private ownership of land, appointing provincial and district governors, registering people in order to distribute land to cultivators equally, and replacing old taxes and forced labor with an imperial tax system. Though modified by Japanese customs, these reforms were based on successful Tang dynasty practices of the Chinese. Large landowners were made provincial governors, while landed gentry became district supervisors appointing secretaries, accountants, and tax collectors; but weapons were collected and put in government storehouses.
In 660 Paekche asked for Japan's help against Chinese forces and Silla; but after their army was defeated three years later, Japan withdrew from Korea and exchanged ambassadors with the Tang court. A civil war after Tenchi died was probably stimulated by nobles resenting the reforms; Tenchi's son was killed, but his younger brother became Emperor Temmu (r. 673-86). Temmu promoted Buddhism influenced by ideals from the Golden Light Sutra such as the following:
Know ye, Deva Kings, that the 84,000 rulers of the 84,000 cities,
towns and villages of the world shall each enjoy
happiness of every sort in his own land;
that they shall all possess freedom of action,
and obtain all manner of precious things in abundance;
that they shall never again invade each other's territories;
that they shall receive recompense
in accordance with their deeds of previous existences;
that they shall no longer yield
to the evil desire of taking the lands of others;
that they shall learn
that the smaller their desires the greater the blessing;
and they shall emancipate themselves
from the suffering of warfare and bondage.
The people of their lands shall be joyous,
and upper and lower classes will blend
as smoothly as milk and water.
They shall appreciate each other's feelings,
join happily in diversions together,
and with all compassion and modesty
increase the sources of goodness.2
Adjustments to laws that followed the Tang went on for forty years and were promulgated in the Taiho code of 702. The few officials of the third rank or above were not to be punished even if they committed a serious crime. Japan maintained an imperial theocracy by keeping the emperor's department of worship over the council of state; they considered the hereditary emperor more important than the mandate of heaven, and birth still counted more than ability in Japan. The policy that clan status must be considered as well as the service record in promotion was made law in 682. Empress Jito (r. 686-97) selected Fujiwara for the new capital. Japan now had 66 provinces with 592 districts, which were made up of townships of fifty households each. By the year 692 the number of Buddhist monasteries and shrines had increased to 545.
The rice land was divided equally to individuals except that females received only two-thirds as much; slaves, who were less than ten percent of the population, also got two-thirds, female slaves thus getting less than half. Produce was taxed at about five percent, and males were obligated to provide labor or military service. How well this land reform was implemented is questionable. In a 711 law those who could afford the expense were allowed to bring new land into cultivation, and twelve years later they could pass it on to the third generation; in 743 title to such lands was granted in perpetuity, and it could be sold. Land allotments gradually faded away by the end of the 9th century. Buddhist institutions also increased their land, as pious believers, including emperors, made donations. Powerful individuals and institutions managed to get tax exemptions. Government authorities, attempting to raise money, were subject to bribery. Military service was a burden on peasants that could ruin a family, because the men also had to supply their own equipment and sustenance, while the upper classes often were able to evade being drafted. Rural settlers for protection often turned to rich nobles, many of whom lived in the capital.
The capital was moved to Heijo (Nara) in 710, and in the 8th century nine official embassies were sent from there to the Tang court. The ancient records of the Kojiki appeared in 712. In the preface O Yasumaro suggested that by contemplating antiquity manners that had fallen into ruin could be corrected, and laws approaching dissolution could be illumined. The Nihongi chronicles were published in 720. The Taiho law code was revised in 718 to account for native customs. Japan used conscripted armies to subjugate the Edo in the north and the Hayato in southern Kyushu.
Emperor Shomu (r. 724-49) presided over an impressive building campaign of Buddhist temples, abdicating to become a priest. A smallpox epidemic (735-37) carried away about a third of the population and all four prominent Fujiwara brothers. In 736 the Kegon sect based on Huayen Buddhism from China was introduced, and five years later the imperial government endowed a Kegon temple in every province. In 740 the government used 17,000 troops to quell a rebellion led by Fujiwara Hirotsugu, who had resented being posted to Dazaifu in Kyushu and was executed. The 53-foot high Rushana (Vairocana) Buddha took five years to build, used three million pounds of copper, tin, and lead, was gilded with 500 pounds of gold, and "opened its eyes" in 752. Copper had been discovered in 708 and gold in 749. Many of the nobility became Buddhist priests.
Fujiwara Nakamaro (known as Minister Oshikatsu) headed off a coup attempt by executing former crown prince Funado and exiling his own older brother Toyonari to Dazaifu. To win popular support Oshikatsu reduced taxes and the farmers' work for the government from sixty to thirty days. He also planned a line of forts in the north and an immense campaign of 500 ships and 40,000 men against Korea; but the latter caused resentment and was abandoned with his death. A civil conflict in 764 resulted in the capture and execution of Oshikatsu when Empress Koken (r. 749-58) regained the throne as Empress Shotoku. She made her lover, the Buddhist priest Dokyo, great minister and the real power until she died in 770. Then court officials banished Dokyo after he tried to take the throne himself. After the reign (770-81) of Tenchi's grandson Konin, the council refused to allow a woman on the throne, establishing a precedent. Raids in the north were troublesome until under general Tamuramaro Sakanouye conscripted armies were replaced with local militia in 792.
Emperor Kammu (r. 781-806) moved the capital twice, strengthened central administration, and reduced Buddhist building and the size of monasteries while distancing the government from the Buddhist temples at Nara. The second move in 794 to the Kyoto plain began the era called Heian, meaning peace, and Japan was fairly peaceful during much of the Heian era's four centuries. General Tamuramaro led campaigns (800-03) that pushed northern borders to Izawa and Shiba; the title of shogun he was given as supreme general would be greatly prized for centuries. Northern lands exempt from taxes were opened to settlers and attracted pioneers who would produce fierce warriors. In 804 the emperor sent an embassy to China that included Saicho (767-822) and Kukai (774-835).
The next year Saicho (Dengyo Daishi) founded Tendai Buddhism at his monastic center of Enryakuji on Mount Hiei, where it was considered a protector of the capital. Saicho taught that everyone by practicing moral purity and contemplation can gain enlightenment and become a Buddha. He required Tendai monks to remain in seclusion at his monastery for twelve years. Saicho believed that the wise are obliged when any false doctrines are pointed out even in one's own sect, and he valued truth found in other sects. To maintain a partisan spirit by concealing one's own errors and finding faults in others he considered wrong. Nothing could be more stupid than persisting in one's own false views or trying to destroy the right views of others. However, after some interchange with Kukai, he had to refuse to become one of Kukai's "regular students." Like the Chinese Tiantai, Saicho's Tendai sect emphasized the efficacy of the Lotus Sutra.
Kukai's family had opposed the move to the new capital. He studied in a Confucian college, and at 24 he wrote Indications, a dialog between a Confucian, a Daoist, and a Buddhist. The Confucian emphasizes the pleasures of marriage, family, and friendship; the Daoist's goal is to use magic in order to prolong life; and the Buddhist refutes their arguments by showing the impermanence of life, claiming that Mahayana Buddhism is the highest truth. Kukai studied Sanskrit at Chang'an and called his sect the true doctrine after the Sanskrit term Mantrayana, which became Shingon in Japanese. He is credited with using Sanskrit to help invent the Japanese syllabary. In 816 Kukai (Kobo Daishi) founded the Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism on Mount Koya. He ranked religions in ten stages as 1) uneducated, 2) Confucian, 3) Hindu and Daoist, 4) direct disciples of Buddha, 5) Hinayana Buddhism, 6) Hosso Buddhism, 7) Sanron Buddhism, 8) Tendai, 9) Kegon, and 10) Shingon. He taught that art is indispensable and reveals perfection. Kukai's emphasis on various arts and esoteric magical methods became quite popular. However, Tendai's third abbot, Ennin, returned from China in 847 and by adding Shingon's magical and esoteric rituals made Tendai the most popular sect in Japan. The Buddhist ethic against killing affected Japanese life by reducing the number of executions and meat eating.
The capital required a police force in 810, and six years later the Kebiishi became official police commissioners. As the Tang dynasty declined, the mission to China in 838 was the last imperial embassy for centuries, though contact continued through trade. The government stopped limiting ordinations in the 9th century, allowing Buddhism unfettered growth. The power of the Fujiwara clan increased by marrying their daughters to emperors and by means of their great wealth and estates in the provinces. Yoshifusa (804-72) was named great minister in 857. The next year when his infant grandson became Emperor Seiwa (r. 858-76), he acted as sessho (regent for a minor) and then became kampaku (regent for an adult or dictator). Fujiwara Mototsune (836-91) served as sessho for Yozei (r. 877-84) and kampaku for Koko (r. 884-87). In this way the Fujiwara clan would dominate the imperial throne for most of the next three centuries, though Emperor Uda (r. 887-97) attempted to break the Fujiwara hold by not appointing a regent when Mototsune died in 891 and by getting Sugawara Michizane appointed minister of the right in 899; but two years later the Fujiwara head Tokihira had Michizane sent into exile as governor of Dazaifu. However, Tokihira made enemies trying to enforce a simpler life at court and to curb the power of the great landowners in the country.
In 914 Confucian scholar and state counselor Miyoshi Kiyotsura criticized the declining public finances, extravagance, and the decaying morals of the ruling class which he blamed on Buddhist and Shinto corruption. He complained that the university had lost the revenues of its rice lands, resulting in starving students and poor education. Tokihira's brother Tadahira revived the regency in 930. That year Taira clan chieftain Masakado began attacking his uncles, and in 935 he defeated Minamoto Mamoru in Hitachi and took control of eight eastern provinces; but after five more years of struggle he claimed to be emperor in a letter to prime minister Tokihira and was defeated at the Shimosa border when his allies failed to support him. At the same time Sumitomo, the former governor of Iyo, raided those shores and others with a thousand small ships. He was defeated in 941 while the Emishi were ravaging the northern province of Dewa. In 954 Sugawara Fumitoki warned the emperor that people were wasting their resources building palaces and monasteries and in acquiring costly clothes and luxuries. He believed that those of high rank should set an example of simplicity, and he criticized the sale of offices and other dishonest conduct.
Diaries from this era reveal both indulgence and a very refined and austere social code. Fujiwara Morosuke, who was minister of the right when he died in 960, wrote the Testamentary Admonitions of Kujo-den, recommending a self-disciplined life to his heirs. He urged them to respect others, not allow self-assertion by restraining speech, and not do anything that has no precedent. He enjoined filial piety and believed that paying homage to the Buddha prevented misfortune. He detailed specific ways of taking care of one's person with pride and dignity. At court he advised solemnity, in private humanity and love. If someone committed a wrong, he suggested strictness and forbearance without giving way to anger. Neither should joy be excessive. He recommended giving one-tenth of the income to charity.
The 13th-century history Gukansho considered 898 the end of an era followed by a transition of shaky imperial power until the Fujiwaras took full control in 967 with the appointment of Saneyori as kampaku for Emperor Reizei. The scholar and poet Oye Masahira (952-1012) complained of many disappointments, although he attained the high fourth rank before he died. In 985 his finger was cut off by the sword of the palace guard Fujiwara Nariaki, who was executed because Fujiwara leaders were opposed to violent solutions to problems. Fujiwara Michinaga had immune estates throughout the country and dominated the court from 995 until his death in 1027. Their Kofukuji monastery was so powerful in the Yamato province that the abbot ruled instead of a governor. Michinaga strengthened his position by allying himself with powerful warriors like those of the Minamoto clan. Under the Fujiwaras family connection was of primary importance, and candidates for office had to find a patron by intrigue, flattery, or other compromising behaviors.
Tendai Buddhists had split in 933 when followers of Enchin at odds with the Ennin faction left Mt. Hiei and went to Miidera. Genshin (942-1017) in Essentials of Salvation taught turning away from hell and seeking the pure land of the western paradise by meditating on the name of Amida. Monasteries began recruiting mercenaries, and the first militant demonstration to the court was by Enryakuji monks in 981. By the end of the 11th century all the great Tendai monasteries and several Shinto shrines had standing armies. The Tendai conflict caused Hiei monks to set fire to the Onjoji monastery at Miidera several times starting in 1081. During the last two centuries of the Heian era militant armed monks from Kofukuji in Nara as well as those of Mt. Hiei frequently stormed the capital with their demands, which were usually about land titles or politics. A peaceful government was thus threatened by powerful religious institutions. In 1113 the Kofukuji monastery sent 20,000 armed men against Enryakuji, and in 1165 those Hiei monks burned down the Hosso stronghold at Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto.
Michinaga was succeeded by Yorimichi, who was kampaku for fifty years. Tadatsune led a Taira revolt in 1028 which attacked Kazusa, provincial capital of Awa; but Minamoto Yorinobu suppressed it three years later when Tadatsune surrendered. Efforts by three emperors in 1032, 1040, and 1056 to restore land laws or to resist Fujiwara claims were generally ignored by local authorities. Abe Yoritoki's unauthorized collection of taxes and confiscation of property in Mutsu province brought about the Nine Years War in 1050 with occasional truces until forces led by Minamoto Yoriyoshi and his son Yoshiiye defeated Yoritoki's son Sadato in 1062. The assisting Kiyowara family took over the Abe estates. A Fujiwara named Kiyohira was adopted into the Kiyowara family, became commander of Mutsu and Dewa, and by his death in 1128 had built up an extensive domain. In the capital Go-Sanjo pursued agrarian reform; but he only reigned four years (1068-72). He revived the Insei system of retired emperors exercising power but died the next year.
Yoshiiye was appointed governor of Mutsu in 1083 and put down the Kiyowara family revolt in northern provinces known as the Later Three Years War. After Emperor Shirakawa (r. 1072-86) abdicated, he ruled by Insei (cloister government) as a priest for 43 years until he died in 1129; but he gave up much public land trying to raise money to build monasteries and carve large Buddhist images and for venial extravagance, and the increasing immune estates further weakened the state. Minamoto Yoshiiye's military prestige enabled him to gather so many warriors and so much land that the pious Shirakawa, who opposed violence, issued an edict in 1091 forbidding farmers to give their land to Yoshiiye, and his retainers were not allowed to enter the capital with him. Yoshiiye did return to Kyoto, and with his palace guards he was not afraid of sacrilege when putting down militant monks by force, killing several of their leaders on the streets in 1095. Taira military prestige grew after their general Masamori quelled a revolt in 1108 led by banished Minamoto Yoshichika in Izumo. Masamori governed nine provinces in succession, as did his son Tadamori, who was commissioned to suppress pirates by Emperor Sutoku in 1135.
Shirakawa's cloister rule was continued by his grandson Toba from 1129 until he died in 1156. Then a conflict between retired emperor Sutoku and reigning emperor Go-Shirakawa divided two Fujiwara brothers and members of the powerful Minamoto and Taira clans. Those supporting Go-Shirakawa led by Taira Tadamori's son Kiyomori were victorious over warriors led by Minamoto Tameyoshi. When Minamoto Yoshitomo was ordered to kill his father Tameyoshi, he refused. A Minamoto officer did the deed and then killed himself. About fifty of Sutoku's supporters were executed. Go-Shirakawa abdicated in 1158 in order to rule from a Buddhist cloister. While Kiyomori was on a pilgrimage, Yoshitomo and Nobuyori tried to seize power; but they were defeated by Kiyomori, and Yoshitomo was killed in 1160. Kiyomori married his daughter to Fujiwara Motozane, who served as regent 1158-66. His successor as regent, Motofusa, clashed with Kiyomori's son Shigemori in 1170, while Kiyomori ruled for the cloistered Go-Shirakawa. Kiyomori appointed sixteen of his relatives to high rank at court and thirty to mid-level positions, sending 42 court officials into exile; he also ordered the Inland Sea route repaired and encouraged trade with Song China.
In 1177 Kiyomori persuaded Go-Shirakawa not to attack the Tendai monastery after their monks rescued Miyoun, whom he had arrested. That year a great fire in Kyoto destroyed most of the public buildings and colleges with many books. The next year Kiyomori's daughter, the empress, gave birth to a son who became Emperor Antoku; but Kiyomori's dictatorial ways aroused the Shishigatani conspiracy of Fujiwaras that was revealed by a spy and suppressed. Many believed that executing the monk Saiko brought ghostly vengeance on the Taira house. Kiyomori had moved to Fukuwara; but when Go-Shirakawa confiscated property of Kiyomori's son Shigemori and his daughter Mori-ko when they died in 1179, he marched on the capital with several thousand men. Emperor Takakura abdicated and was succeeded by the infant Antoku. Minamoto Yorimasa appealed for support from the east and north, and for five years the Minamoto and Taira clans fought the Gempei civil war won by the Minamotos. Kiyomori died of disease in 1181 after having attacked and burned the Todaiji and Kofukuji monasteries.
After an initial defeat at Ishibashiyama, Yoritomo rallied Minamoto forces, and Taira Hirotsune supported him with 20,000 men. With these forces from the east Yoritomo won the battle at Fujikawa and pursued the Taira army to the west. The forces of Yoritomo's nephew Yoshinaka entered the capital in 1183, while Yoritomo established his military headquarters (bakufu) at Kamakura in the Kanto plain. Confiscation of estates and plundering soldiers caused cloistered emperor Go-Shirakawa to appeal to Yoritomo, who sent his brothers Yoshitsune and Noriyori to attack Yoshinaka, defeating and killing him. The tactics of Yoshitsune and Noriyori defeated the Taisha at Inchinotani and Yashima; then they completed their triumph in the naval battle at Dannoura in 1185 during which Emperor Antoku was drowned. Yoritomo was irritated by awards that Go-Shirakawa gave to Yoshitsune; hearing rumors of Yoshitsune revolting with Yukiiye, Yoritomo sent a band of assassins, who were defeated at the capital by Yoshitsune. Go-Shirakawa authorized Yoshitsune and Yukiiye to fight against Yoritomo; but the latter with a large force got him to reverse himself completely with an edict for Yoritomo to punish the two who had fled.
Then at court Yoritomo was given the important authority to collect taxes on private and public estates and to appoint stewards (jito) and protectors (shugo), which became hereditary. The child emperor Antoku had been replaced by four-year-old Go-Toba (r. 1184-98), who served as cloistered emperor until banished in 1221. Yoshitsune retreated to the north, where the old lord of Mutsu, Hidehira, had built the lavish Chusonji monastery at Hiraizumi. In 1189 Yoritomo ordered Hidehira's successor Yasuhira to arrest Yoshitsune, who when attacked committed suicide instead of surrendering. Then Yoritomo's army of more than 100,000 men overwhelmed Yasuhira's forces in Dewa, completing his conquest of Japan. Only after Go-Shirakawa died in 1192 was Yoritomo appointed shogun. Undisputed ruler, he made Kamakura his capital. The Heian era that had begun so peacefully ended in civil war and with the establishment of a militaristic feudal system.
Japanese literature began with the importation of Chinese writing and developed also emphasizing short poems with natural metaphors, historical chronicles and creating folk origins of place names called fudoki. Poems expressing feelings about nature and love were collected beginning in the 8th century. From 905 to 1439 the imperial government published 21 anthologies of poetry. Early in the 10th century the "Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" emerged from folklore, and Murasaki Shikibu called it the ancestor of all romances. A bamboo cutter finds a tiny baby he raises as his daughter. The beautiful Kaguya-hime disdains marriage and requires five nearly impossible tasks of her five suitors. The first two are caught cheating, and the other three fail to achieve the mythic challenges. Finally Kaguya-hime even refuses the emperor, and having completed her punishment on earth she ascends back to her heavenly moon world.
Sei Shonagon wrote her Pillow Book while serving as a lady-in-waiting for Empress Sadako during the last decade of the 10th century; Murasaki Shikibu soon was serving in the court of a second empress Shoshi. Murasaki was likely influenced by the Pillow Book, and in her diary she called Sei Shonagon self-satisfied and gifted but prone to give free rein to her emotions in inappropriate situations. The Pillow Book is an extraordinarily frank diary of Sei's experiences at court and her feelings about them. She described the manners and attitudes that annoyed her sensitivity and recounted numerous incidents that amused her. For example, she was quite concerned about the manner in which a lover would dress and leave her apartment in the middle of the night. She thought it shameful for a man to seduce a helpless court lady and then abandon her after making her pregnant. As people who seem to suffer she mentioned the nurse looking after a crying baby at night, a man with two mistresses witnessing their jealousy, an exorcist trying to deal with an obstinate spirit, powerful men who never seem to be at ease, and nervous people. She considered sympathy the most splendid quality, especially when it was found in men. She thought it unattractive and absurd of people to get angry when someone gossips about them. She wrote her book in secret for her own amusement and never expected it to become public, which she regretted even though it won praise.
Lady Murasaki Shikibu was born about 973. Her father Tametoki was in the Fujiwara clan and became governor of Echizen about 996 and later of Echigo; in 1016 he retired from government and became a Buddhist priest, outliving his daughter Murasaki. She learned Chinese quickly while helping her brother with his lessons; but finding that scholarship made her unpopular, she hid her writing. In 998 she married a Fujiwara kinsman of the imperial guard named Nobutaka, and she had two daughters, one of whom wrote the novel Tale of Sagoromo. Her husband Nobutaka died in 1001. About four years later she entered the service of Michinaga's daughter, Empress Akiko (Shoshi). Murasaki described her majesty as innocent and impeccable, as she gathered worthy young ladies around her. She asked Murasaki to teach her Chinese secretly because this was considered too strenuous for women. At court Murasaki felt painfully inferior and kept things to herself. She was afraid that by gradually parting with scruples she would eventually come to believe that shamelessness was perfectly natural. Although she was thought to be an ill-natured prig by others, Murasaki herself believed that when someone got to know her, they would realize she is kind and gentle.
Murasaki Shikibu also wrote a diary that describes the birth of Empress Shoshi's first child, Prince Atsuhira, discusses life at court in a letter to a friend, and collects anecdotes of court life. In it she wrote that those who do evil deserve to be talked about and laughed at even though sometimes they do it unintentionally. She went on:
We ought to love even those who hate us,
but it is very difficult to do.
Even the Buddha of profound mercy
does not say that the sins against Buddha,
the laws of religion, and priests, are slight.
Moreover, in this muddy world
it is best to let alone the persons who hate us.3
Murasaki began writing The Tale of Genji shortly after her husband died and finished it sometime between 1004 and 1022. The novel is set in the early 10th century and comes up to her own lifetime.
Genji is the Minamoto clan name of a commoner who is given to the emperor's son by a concubine because a Korean physiognomist predicted that if he ruled, there would be disaster. As with the author, his mother dies when he is young. Genji falls in love with his step-mother Fujitsubo because she resembles his mother. Of all the women with whom Genji is intimate, he gets along least well with his older wife Aoi; but she bears him the son Yugiri. Being handsome, accomplished, and of the royal family, Genji is able to have just about any woman he cares to love. Among his illicit affairs Genji's long relationship with the jealous Rokujo leads to her spirit causing Yugao to die strangely in a deserted place; only Genji's friends and retainers helped him avoid a scandal. Recovering from an illness he meets the ten-year-old Murasaki, who somehow moves him deeply. He is able to persuade her relatives that his intentions are honorable, and he takes her to live with him in the palace. Fujitsubo also gives birth to his son, but the Emperor accepts the future emperor Reizei as his because of the family resemblance. Rokujo's jealous spirit possesses his wife Aoi, causing her to die in childbirth. In despair Genji turns to the innocent Murasaki for affection, and they are married. Even after she dies, Rokujo's ghost still torments Murasaki.
When Emperor Suzaku retires to a monastery, Genji marries his third daughter. Even though he loves Murasaki best, she resents Genji's alliance with the Lady of Akashi during his exile and the status of the third princess. Kashiwagi, the son of Genji's friend To Chujo, falls in love with the third princess, and she bears him Kaoru. Murasaki wants to become a nun, but she becomes ill and dies. Kashiwagi is tormented that Genji knows his secret. In the last part of the novel the idealized Genji has died, and the world of Kashiwagi's son Kaoru and Genji's grandson Niou seems to have degenerated. Niou is handsome but not as sensitive, while Kaoru has the sensitivity but cannot win the two women he loves. They compete for the love of Ukifune, who cannot choose between them and attempts suicide.
Murasaki Shikibu's writing is subtle, sensitive, and very descriptive of the courtly life, manners, and customs of this era. The following passage gives an idea of the self-discipline and her style:
But even if a man's fancy should chance indeed
to have gone somewhere astray,
yet his earlier affection may still be strong
and in the end will return to its old haunts.
Now by her tantrums she has made a rift that cannot be joined.
Whereas she who when some small wrong calls for silent rebuke,
shows by a glance that she is not unaware;
but when some large offense demands admonishment
knows how to hint without severity,
will end by standing in her master's affections
better than ever she stood before.
For often the sight of our own forbearance
will give our neighbor strength to rule his mutinous affections.4
Ill advised by Kagetoki, Shogun Yoritomo had his half-brother Noriyori killed in 1193 for suspected conspiracy, and the next year he ordered the execution of the entire family of Yasuda Yoshisada, even though they had supported the Minamoto in the war. Yoritomo had established a Board of Retainers (Samurai-dokoro) as early as 1180 to assign military duties and decide on rewards and punishments. The Administrative Board (Mandokoro) of the military government (bakufu) at Kamakura was named in 1191 for central policy, and the Board of Inquiry (Monchujo) was made the final court of appeal. Yoritomo contributed to the rebuilding of the Todaiji monastery and other Buddhist projects. While Yoritomo was at Kamakura, Minamoto Michichika at Kyoto replaced the Fujiwara Kanezane and in 1198 appointed Tsuchimikado emperor; before he could react, Yoritomo died the next year.
Yoritomo's son Yoriiye was made shogun in 1202, and the next year the director (shikken) of the Mandokoro was succeeded by Hojo Tokimasa of the Taira clan; thereafter until 1333 that chief political office remained in the Hojo family. Yoriiye became ill and ordered Tokimasa killed; when that failed, Yoriiye abdicated and was murdered the next year, probably by a Hojo assassin. His eleven-year-old brother Sanemoto was made shogun, and Tokimasa became his regent. The next year deputy shogun Hiraga put down an uprising of the Taira clan's Ise family. In 1205 a conspiracy of Tokimasa's wife Makiko was squelched by Yoritomo's widow Masako and her brother Hojo Yoshitoki; Hiraga was killed, and Tokimasa was forced to retire. Yoshitoki became regent for the shogun. More factional strife in 1213 resulted in Wada Yoshimori being killed and replaced as head of the Samurai-dokoro by Yoshitoki. In 1219 after attending a ceremony at the shrine of the Shinto war-god Hachiman, Shogun Sanemoto suddenly had his head cut off by the sword of an assassin.
The famous Tale of the Heike is a long prose epic that concentrates on the political events from 1177 to 1185. According to Yoshida Kenko, it was written by the priest Yukinaga, who probably adapted it from the Gempei Seisuiki. It begins with philosophical reflections on how ambitions and violence do not last.
The bell of the Gion Temple tolls into every man's heart
to warn him that all is vanity and evanescence.
The faded flowers of the sala trees by the Buddha's death-bed
bear witness to the truth
that all who flourish are destined to decay.
Yes, pride must have a fall,
for it is as unsubstantial as a dream on a spring night.
The brave and violent man-he too must die away in the end,
like a whirl of dust in the wind.5
Kamo Chomei wrote The Ten-Foot Square Hut (Hojoki) in
1212. After his petition to succeed his father as the warden of
the Kamo shrine in Kyoto was rejected, Chomei retired in the mountains.
His little book begins by suggesting that human life is always
changing like a flowing river. He described the great fire that
burned down a third of Kyoto in 1177. When the capital was moved,
he noted that the prevalence of the military portended civil disturbance.
He reported how the famine of 1181 was followed by pestilence,
and the great earthquake of 1185 had after-shocks for three months.
He observed that people with influence were greedy for power while
those without it were despised. After inheriting an estate, Chomei
constructed a small building that was like a cart-shed and lived
there alone for thirty years. Separated from society, he found
it easier to follow the Buddhist commandments. He found that the
best servant is one's own body, and not using the labor of others
he did not have to worry about causing trouble or bad karma. Having
less food gave him a better appetite. He became attached to his
thatched hut and wondered if his solitary life might be a hindrance
In 1221 cloistered Emperor Go-Toba tried to take power with the help of disappointed warriors, aggrieved landowners, and bitter Taira survivors in eastern Japan by declaring Hojo Yoshitoki an outlaw; but two large armies and cavalry led by Yoshitoki's son Yasutoki smothered the resistance and occupied the imperial city with about 100,000 men. The Bakufu ordered Yasutoki to banish Go-Toba and execute the four generals and other leaders of the revolt. The extensive properties confiscated were assigned to vassals as stewards. Minor uprisings were put down after Yoshitoki died in 1224 and was succeeded by Yasutoki. Bakufu courts settled claims, as land was surveyed and distributed. Complaints of autocratic rule by stewards led to measures that moderated their excesses. In 1226 Yasutoki established a state council (Hyojoshu) to advise him and make decisions for the new shogun, eight-year-old Mitora. For the next century Hojo regents would rule the Bakufu by repeatedly appointing very young shoguns. When a Korean envoy protested piratical raids in 1227, Yasutoki maintained a good relationship with Korea by ordering the pirates arrested and put to death.
Meanwhile drought, famine, disease, earthquakes, floods, and frosts devastated the country. In 1230 a moratorium on debts and obligations was proclaimed, and the next year tax rice was distributed to the poor. Feudal law was established in 1232 with the Joei Formulary that defined land rights and other laws. To prevent vendettas, abusive language and assault were to be severely punished. Women could own land and retain after a divorce what they had before marriage. This law code aimed at "impartial verdicts without discrimination between high and low."5 Armed strife broke out in 1235 between the priests of the Iwashimuzu Hachiman shrine and the Kofukuji monks and between these monks and the mountain Hiyeizan monks, but the Bakufu managed to settle things by the end of 1237. For several decades Japan had a unified state and the rule of law. By the 13th century the old slavery no longer existed except for a few female servants.
Yasutoki died in 1242 and was succeeded by his grandson Tsunetoki, who died four years later and was replaced by his brother Tokiyori. His grandfather Adachi Kagemori, an old warrior turned monk, urged the Hojo forces with Adachi warriors to attack the conspiring Miura clan, resulting in the suicide of 500 Miura warriors in 1247. The ceremonial role of the shogun was reinforced in 1252 when the ten-year-old prince Munetaka was appointed, while his younger brother was serving as emperor. Along with copper coins to improve the money economy, Japan was importing from China luxury goods such as silk, brocades, perfumes, incense, sandalwood, porcelain, and books, while exporting gold, mercury, fans, lacquer ware, screens, swords, and timber.
"Family Instructions" were written by Hojo Shigetoki for his son Nagatoki, who at 18 in 1247 was made deputy shogun. Shigetoki believed in the warrior code of ethics; but he noted that to rule, warriors need not only courage but also understanding of their duties and of principles, such as revering gods and buddhas, obeying one's lord and parents, understanding the law of cause and effect (karma, or in Japanese inga), considering the results for future generations, being careful in relationships, generous, firm and not cowardly, practicing military arts, while being just to all and sympathetic to the poor and weak. Shigetoki reminded his son that the key to discipline is fair treatment in rewards and punishments. One should never act in anger but let someone else administer the punishment; hasty decisions can lead to remorse. Any excess is disadvantageous, if not in this life, then in a future one. A good heart and the moral duty of the warrior are like two wheels of a carriage. Hold to the good even at the cost of one's family, not yielding to the strong. He recommended meeting enmity with kindness and returning good for evil. This may help the bad to reform; even if it does not, one will be rewarded in one's next existence. Shigetoki believed that women could become enlightened and would enter paradise.
Buddhist Honen (1133-1212) suggested chanting the nembutsu exclusively as the way to salvation in 1175, founding the Jodo sect (Pure Land) of Buddhism that grew quickly after the Gempei War ended in 1185. Criticized by established sects, Honen tried to control his followers by issuing in 1204 the Seven-Article Injunction in which he warned that those saying the nembutsu should not encourage sexual indulgence, drinking, or eating meat. Three years later he refused to give up his faith in Amida to avoid exile. The year Honen died Kamo Chomei (1153-1216) wrote "An Account of My Hut" in which he contrasted the miseries caused by the fire of 1177, the typhoon of 1181, the famine the next year, and the earthquake of 1185 with joys of the simple life he chose in a ten-foot square hut.
Eisai (1141-1215) founded Rinzai Zen Buddhism after receiving transmission from the eighth Linji Chan patriarch of China. Eisai returned to Japan in 1191, but his teaching of Zen was prohibited by the court three years later. He wrote The Propagation of Zen as a Defense of the Nation and Drink Tea and Prolong Life. Zen schools concentrated on intuitive experience through meditation, koan study, and the arts of everyday living rather than books, beliefs, and repetitive prayers. The Rinzai placed more emphasis on the transrational understanding of paradoxes in koan stories and problems. In China Mumon Ekai (1183-1260) compiled 48 koans in 1229 to guide monks toward awakening (satori). This Gateless Gate (Mumonkan) was brought back to Japan by Muhon Kakushin (1207-98). Dogen (1200-53) studied with Eisai and imported the Soto sect from China in 1227. Dogen taught that enlightenment can be attained by sitting in meditation (zazen). He irritated Mt. Hiei's clerics as he tried to separate Zen from their political intrigues. He wrote The Significance of the Right Dharma for the Protection of the Nation to argue that Zen meditation was the true Buddhism for Japan. Dogen criticized traditional Buddhists for discriminating against women, and he believed that women should be equal to men in regard to practice and attaining enlightenment.
Shinran (1173-1262) was married and had seven children. He disdained removing his outer robe when eating fish or fowl. Speaking for the bodhisattva Kannon he wrote the following poem:
When karmic retribution leads the practitioner
to violate the precepts of chastity,
I will assume the body of a maiden
and be the object of that violation.
Having adorned his present life,
at the time of his death
I will guide him to rebirth
in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss.6
Shinran joined Honen's band in 1201 and went even farther than his master by noting that the wicked might be more acceptable to Amida than the good because they throw themselves entirely on the mercy of the Buddha. He felt that one sincere invocation is enough and that additional repetitions were giving thanks to Amida.
Since his father killed life in his work as a fisherman, Nichiren (1222-82) was considered an outcast. While people suffered earthquakes, drought, typhoons, famine, and epidemics, he attacked Pure Land and Zen teachings, expounding the Lotus Sutra as the only truth. His Treatise on the Establishment of the True Dharma and the Peace of the Nation was published in 1260. Nembutsu followers in Kamakura attacked Nichiren's hermitage and got the shogun to banish him to Izu the next year. He noted that the Lotus Sutra predicted persecution during a period of dharma decay. Nichiren emphasized one's own efforts in chanting "Namu myoho renge kyo," the name of the Lotus Sutra. He challenged orthodox ideas by stating that good works were not needed for a fortunate rebirth nor did evil deeds obstruct it. He believed evil could be removed by chanting. Nichiren taught human equality and doing away with all class differences. Prophesying the invasion of the Mongols and demanding the suppression of all other Buddhists sects, especially Amida worshipers, Nichiren was sentenced to death for censuring the Hojo regency in Nakamura; but it was said that he was saved when lightning struck the executioner's blade. His preaching and the validation of his prophecy with the Mongol invasion persuaded many followers.
Mongol ruler Khubilai Khan in 1266 began sending envoys from Beijing asking Japan to submit or face invasion, but they were ignored. In 1274 about 15,000 Mongol and Chinese troops with 8,000 Korean troops and 7,000 Korean sailors slaughtered defenders on the islands of Tsushima and Iki and then invaded Kyushu. After a battle with Japanese warriors, the Koreans urged the Mongols to retreat because of a storm, which caused many losses. Further diplomatic demands resulted in regent Tokimune twice executing Mongol envoys. Kyushu retainers (samurai) spent five years building a wall around Hakata Bay. In 1281 about 100,000 or more Mongols, Chinese, and Koreans invaded again; but a seasonal typhoon helped the samurai defeat them by destroying much of their fleet. Many Japanese believed that the prayers of the nation had been answered by the "divine winds" (kamikaze). The nation under the Bakufu government suffered great economic hardship because of the continuing war preparations. Soldiers expecting compensation for their efforts were usually disappointed.
Tokimune died in 1284, and his son Sadatoki who succeeded him as regent was only 14. The next year many in the Adachi family were destroyed by Taira Yoritsune for plotting to make their head Yasumori shogun, but eight years later Yoritsune and his main followers were killed too. When Khubilai Khan died in 1294, the Bakufu decreed that no more rewards for war service would be given. Between 1272 and 1318 the Kamakura Bakufu attempted to mediate competing imperial lines by appointing alternating emperors in Kyoto. In 1297 another Act of Grace tried to prevent the financial ruin of many by canceling debts; but the economic panic caused them to revoke it the next year.
Between 1272 and 1318 the Kamakura Bakufu attempted to mediate competing imperial lines by appointing alternating emperors in Kyoto. Sadatoki retired in 1301 but continued to rule until he died in 1311. His son Takatoki was only eight, and intrigues dominated the regency for five years until he was formally installed; but even then many vassals no longer respected the Hojo regency. In 1318 Go-Daigo was appointed emperor at the mature age of thirty, and three years later he ended the tradition of powerful retired emperors when his father Go-Uda resigned. In 1324 a conspiracy to overthrow the eastern Bakufu regime was discovered; but Go-Daigo stated he had no knowledge of it. The next year the Emperor sent the first official embassy to China in nearly five centuries led by Zen teacher Muso Soseki (1275-1351).
In 1331 Go-Daigo's plans to take over the government were treacherously revealed by his advisor Fujiwara Sadafusa. Go-Daigo's son Morinaga, serving as abbot at the Hiyeizan monastery, learned of a Bakufu expedition to the west; but Go-Daigo's flight to two monasteries did not prevent his capture. The warrior Kusunoki escaped and organized raids against Hojo forces, while Morinaga from the Yoshino mountains sent out appeals to warriors. At Kyoto conspirators were punished, and Go-Daigo was banished to the island of Oki. In 1333 Go-Daigo returned from exile; but when Ashikaga Takauji was sent against him with a large army, he defected to the imperial cause and attacked the Hojo's Rokuhara garrison in Kyoto. Disaffected warriors in the east led by Nitta Yoshisada quickly raised an army and attacked Kamakura; Takatoki ordered Bakufu buildings burned and withdrew with several hundred men to the Toshoji monastery, where they all committed suicide. The Kyushu ruler Hojo Hidetoki was taken and killed, completing the end of Bakufu rule.
Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350) wrote his Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa) in the early 1330s. He had served the Retired Emperor Go-Uda, and after his death entered a Buddhist order in 1324. Kenko participated in the quarterly poetry meetings that began in Go-Daigo's palace in 1346. Kenko wrote down his thoughts in short essays. He considered the uncertainty of life most precious, and he advised guarding against the delusions of the senses that stimulate desires. His greatest pleasure was to read and make friends with people from the past. He found expert knowledge in any art noble and a guide in even trivial matters useful. He rejected the common superstition of unlucky days, believing that good or bad fortune is determined by humans. He agreed with the saying of a priest that when one is in doubt about doing something, it is better not to act. He believed that the most desirable friends are those who give you things, doctors, and the wise. Wisdom is knowing your own capacity and when to stop. Kenko suggested that crime could be reduced by making sure that no one was hungry or cold. People could be helped if those with luxuries protected people and encouraged agriculture. The real crimes are committed by those who have a normal share of food and clothing. He noted that as much as the young are better looking, the old are wiser. Kenko recommended giving up desires and ambitions in order to follow the Way to lasting peace.
Emperor Go-Daigo declared a new era in 1333; but in distributing Hojo estates favoritism and bribery caused many deserving applicants to go unrelieved, while the Emperor imposed a five-percent income tax in order to build himself a new palace. Disgruntled warriors took matters into their own hands. Afraid that Morinaga and Yoshisada were organizing against him, Takauji fortified his Kyoto mansion and then arrested Morinaga and sent him to Kamakura, where he was executed by Takauji's brother Tadayoshi when Kamakura was attacked by Hojo Tokiyuki. When the Emperor refused to authorize him as shogun, Takauji nonetheless joined Tadayoshi in defeating and killing Tokiyuki. As Takauji was rewarding warriors without imperial consent, Go-Daigo appointed his son Takanaga shogun and sent him and Nitta Yoshisada to suppress the eastern rebels led by Takauji and Tadayoshi. These brothers marched on Kyoto and drove the imperial troops from the capital in February, 1336.
That year Takauji issued seventeen articles on good government in the Kemmu Shikimoku. This document held that educated warriors are most able to rule and that they should learn from the early Hojo and emperors of the early 10th century how to rule for the benefit of all. The Bakufu government should redress social evils caused by famine, economic depression, and war devastation. The Kemmu Shikimoku condemned drinking, gambling, and bribery, while enjoining economy, keeping order, basing rewards and punishments on merit, rebuilding with fireproof materials, choosing protectors (shugo) of integrity and discipline, selecting attendants by merit, observing distinctions of rank, rewarding good service, listening to the complaints of the poor, carefully scrutinizing the claims of monasteries, and administering justice firmly and promptly. The Ashikaga Bakufu in Kyoto took over the offices and councils of the Kamakura government, though most decisions were made by the shogun and his officers.
Go-Daigo managed to escape to the mountains of Yoshino where he established the "Southern Court." He died in 1339 but was succeeded as emperor by his son Norinaga (Go-Murakami) while Kitabatake Chikafusa (1293-1354) tried to organize loyalist support for their imperial cause. Worshipping the divine Emperor, Chikafusa sent princes to rule various regions, though he believed that the sovereign had no right to use force against persons who had not committed an offense. Chikafusa wrote the chronicle Jinno Shotoki, giving Japanese history a Shinto perspective from the gods to the continuous line of emperors. In the first sentence he claimed that only Japan is a divine land. He looked back to the Heian period as an ideal state in which an oligarchy governs for a ceremonial emperor. Chikafusa insisted on traditional class distinctions and expected warriors to be subordinate to courtiers.
Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350) wrote "Essays in Idleness" after renouncing a court position to become a Buddhist monk. He found the beauty of life in its uncertainty. He applauded the frugal who do not covet the world's goods, and he noted there has rarely been a wealthy sage. He advised those who follow the world to judge moods, because an untimely speech hurts feelings and so fails. Yet both priest and layman should not consider moods in accomplishing what is needed. Yoshida found great pleasure in conversing with unseen generations while quietly reading alone.
Japan was changing. Governors were soon replaced with protectors (shugo) or local warlords. For the next six decades the civil war raged between warrior clans throughout Japan, even though Takauji and Tadayoshi planned a stupa at Buddhist chapels in all 66 provinces dedicated to a "country at peace." Zen monk Muso persuaded the Ashikaga government to send a trading expedition to China in 1342 and use the profits to build the Tenryuji monastery, which continued to engage in such trade. Forces led by Ko Moronao and his brother Moroyasu for the Ashikaga Bakufu at Kyoto won a great victory over the loyalists under Masatsura and Chikafusa at Shijo-Nawate in 1348. Yet Moronao's plundering and devastation to force loyalists to submit caused troubles and ill will toward the Bakufu. Chancellor Toin Kinkata described the turbulent warriors in his diary. Many warriors changed sides from selfish interests. Tadayoshi declared allegiance to the Southern Court and proclaimed that Moronao and Moroyasu must be destroyed; the Ko brothers were wounded and were eventually put to death by the son of a man they had murdered.
At Kyoto Tadayoshi was reconciled with his brother Takauji, and he tried to make peace between the courts again in 1351; but renewed sibling conflict resulted in Takauji submitting to the Southern Court, and his brother Tadayoshi eventually surrendered and was poisoned, recompense for his having poisoned young Prince Tsunenaga. The Kyoto capital changed hands several times. Takauji died in 1358 and was replaced by his son Yoshiakira as shogun, that office remaining in the Ashikaga family for the next two centuries. Ten years later the Northern Court's emperor Go-Murakami died, and that year Yoshiakira was replaced by his nine-year-old son Yoshimitsu. Hosokawa Yoriyuki as deputy shogun was guided by the puritanical Kemmu Shikimoku. Prince Kanenaga spent a decade trying to control Kyushu for the loyalists; but in 1370 the Bakufu sent the talented general Imagawa, who took a dozen more years to conquer the island by the time Kanenaga died in 1383. A special tax on arable land imposed in 1371 for the accession ceremony of Go-Enyu was continued and became burdensome to farmers. Many farmers evaded dreaded tax and debt collectors by joining an army.
Shogun Yoshimitsu was occupied putting down warlords; in 1379 he took on a revolt by the Shiba, Toki, and Kyogoku families. In 1390 he destroyed the rebellious shugo of Mino and Owar, and the next year he defeated the Yamana family that controlled eleven provinces in central Japan. In 1392 Yoshimitsu was able to make an agreement with the southern emperor Go-Kameyama, who transferred authority to the northern emperor Go-Komatsu with the understanding the two lines would then alternate. Yoshimitsu retired and built the golden pavilion in Kyoto, where he entertained in splendor. Warlord Ouchi Yoshihiro, who controlled six provinces in the west, was also defeated in 1399. The civil war finally ended, though the agreement to alternate was not kept in 1412 when Go-Komatsu abdicated to his son. While the conflict over emperors was the ostensible reason for the war, hostility between military factions seeking to gain material advantages were probably stronger motives. With warriors off fighting so much of the time, peasant farmers not drafted into an army actually became more independent; as Takauji had decreed that half the income was to go to the military class, this took wealth and power from estate owners and the central government's tax base.
In 1405 Japan promised the Ming government it would suppress piracy in exchange for the Ashikaga Bakufu's monopoly on licensing trade with China. Trade between these countries increased until 1453 when it began to decline. Ashikaga Mochiuji came into conflict with his advisor Uyesugi Ujinori and in 1417 received military aid from the Kyoto Bakufu in putting down the rebellion; but gradually the warriors of the Kanto plain confiscated Ashikaga estates and, as a reward for helping Mochiuji, stopped paying him taxes. Yoshimitsu and his successor Yoshimochi promised Korea they would control Japanese piracy in exchange for a printed copy of the extensive Buddhist scriptures of the Tripitaka, which finally arrived in 1423. A Korean declaration of war four years earlier had stirred alarm; but the situation was resolved, and trade flourished. In 1443 Korea made a trade treaty with the Kyushu deputy to permit fifty Japanese ships each year.
Yoshinori was chosen shogun by lot from the sons of Yoshimitsu in 1428. He had been chief abbot of the Tendai Buddhists but took a hard line in suppressing insubordinate warlords and also brutally disciplined courtiers for venial sins, executing sixty persons. In 1439 Yoshinori sided with the Uyesugi against Ashikaga Mochiuji and helped to exterminate the Kanto branch of that house. Yoshinori was murdered in 1441 at a banquet held by General Akamatsu Mitsusuki, who feared loss of land. The Yamana family was charged with punishing him; after killing Mitsusuki and his kin, they took over Akamatsu domains, giving them control of seven provinces.
The Japanese economy was growing, as sole inheritance was abandoned in favor of dividing land among sons. Manufacturing was organized and controlled by guilds (za), providing opportunities for peasants to become traders and artisans. Samurai and farmers formed leagues for mutual defense against oppressive warlords. Several local uprisings occurred in the second half of the 14th century. In 1428 a revolt of teamsters in Omi province soon spread to Kyoto, Nara, and several provinces as mobs attacked moneylenders, pawnshops, and monasteries to destroy records of debt. As wholesale trade expanded, in 1431 dealers withheld rice from the Kyoto market to raise prices, causing distress; they were arrested and convicted but not punished because the deputy governor of the samurai board was in with them. In 1441 farmers in the Kyoto area once again revolted against landlords. The Bakufu capitulated by canceling all debts, not just those of warriors; but markets were disrupted, and trade almost ceased. In 1447 rioters killed four people in the Toji monastery. The seven-year-old Shogun Yoshimasa was appointed in 1443 and allowed the Bakufu government to relax its vigilance. The royal court had become so poor that it could not even maintain the upkeep of its holiest shrine at Ise.
The death of Ashikaga Mochiuji in 1439 ended the governorship of Kanto, and the powerful Uyesugi family controlled Kamakura until Ashikaga Shigeuji was appointed Kanrei in 1449; but when he had his Uyesugi deputy murdered, that family drove Shigeuji out of Kamakura. After a decade of fighting Shogun Yoshimasa sent his younger brother Masatomo to be Kanrei; but the Shigeuji had their own choice so that there were now two deputies of the Shogun in the east. The Uyesugi family split into three factions and fought each other for the next quarter century until the Onin War ended in 1477.
Japanese No theater grew out of Shinto priestesses dancing and "monkey music" (sangaku) skits introduced from China. The farcical kyogen (wild words) interludes derived from the following passage from the Chinese poet Bo Juyi that was made into a popular song:
May the vulgar trade of letters that I have plied in this life,
all the folly of wild words and fine phrases,
be transformed into a hymn of praise
that shall celebrate the Buddha in age on age to come,
and cause the great wheel of the law to turn.7
In the 11th century the peasant songs and dances called dengaku became so disruptive that they were blamed for the riots in 1096. About a century after Chinese theater began flourishing during the Mongol rule in the 13th century, the Japanese No dramas began to be played at court and in the large cities. All roles were usually performed by males. In 1374 Kannami and his Kanza troupe were invited to perform before the young Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in Kyoto. Apparently Yoshimitsu fell in love with Kannami's eleven-year-old son Zeami and brought him up at court while sponsoring the No company of his father. A sequence of five No plays was performed in a day beginning with a religious play followed by a warrior play, a woman play, a "madwoman" piece, and concluding with an auspicious play. The main character (shite) wore a mask and did most of the singing and also danced, while the witness (waki) did much of the explaining. His or her companions (tsure) and children (kokata) also appeared and spoke, but the chorus, remaining anonymous on the sideline, would also sing for the shite or the waki.
An early No play by Komparu Gonnokami in the mid-14th century called The Diver is an example of an auspicious play. The story told is of a dragon spirit who answers the chanting of the Lotus Sutra and dives to find a jewel from the Tang court. The jewel in which the Buddha's image appears is given to her son Fujiwara Fusazaki, who is named after the place. The play celebrates the founding of the powerful Fujiwara line and the bringing of Buddhism from China to Japan.
Kannami Kiyotsugu (1333-84) founded the Kanza troupe in Nara and is considered the first No master. His plays, often revised later by his son Zeami, are more realistic and less literary. In Jinen the Priest a girl has sold herself into slavery in order to buy a robe to give to the temple for her dead parents. The priest offers the slave traders the robe in exchange for the girl; but they refuse until he sings and dances for them.
Kannami's Komachi and the Hundred Nights shows the ghosts of Komachi and Shosho telling how she required him to sleep one hundred nights on a bench; but after 99 times he is detained by a death in his family. Then the two lovers refuse the wedding cup of wine, and both enter the Buddhist path. In the more famous play by Kannami, Sotoba Komachi, the old poet Komachi appears herself without Shosho, seeking his spirit for a hundred years. When the monks chide her for sitting on a tree stump sacred to Buddha, she responds with her iconoclastic views. She has little and asks the priests to give her something. Then her voice asks for Komachi, as his spirit takes over her body. Finally she realizes that her unsatisfied love had possessed her, and she prays to enter the Buddhist way, offering her poems as flowers.
In Kannami's Pining Wind, revised by Zeami, a wandering monk comes to learn of two salt-makers, Pining Wind and Autumn Rain, and of Lord Yukihira's poetry, which promised Pining Wind he would return to her if she "pined" for him. Autumn Rain tells Pining Wind that the sin of clinging is keeping her in the world of mad passion. At the end Rain has gone, but Pining Wind lingers on alone. In The Sought-for Grave Kannami portrayed a wintry scene in which Buddhist monks and village girls look for green plants while learning the story of Unai, whose ghost is seeking rest after she rejected two courting men, because they were so equal they both shot the wings of the same bird. The Flower-Basket by Kannami and revised by Zeami shows the Lady Teruhi having received the basket with a letter from her lover, who has become Emperor Keitai (r. 507-31). Going mad, she travels to see him and has her maid present the basket. After she dances the sad story of China's Wu Di, who missed his concubine, the Emperor invites her back to the palace.
More plays by Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443) are in the current No repertory than by any other playwright. For many years he enjoyed the patronage of Shogun Yoshimitsu at the capital. After Yoshimitsu died in 1408, Zeami's talent was not as appreciated at court, and in 1429 he was barred from performances by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori. Five years later after one son had became a monk and the other had died, he was banished to the island of Sado, though he returned to the capital a few years before his death. Zeami also wrote about No theater. He found that the underlying spiritual strength of the actor best held the audience and that moments of no action were often the most enjoyable. The inner strength of the actor must not become noticeable to the audience or it is no longer "no action." Actors by clearing their minds may even conceal their own intent from themselves. In linking all artistic powers with the one mind, Zeami sought the elusive quality he called yugen, which means what lies beneath the surface. For Zeami yugen is true beauty and gentleness, tranquility and elegance in personal appearance, grace of language, and music that is smooth and sensitive. By using intelligence the actor makes the presentation beautiful in form and manner.
In the first-category god play Takasago Zeami portrayed the happily married spirits of two pine trees and in doing so implied praise for the reign of the current Shogun Yoshimitsu. The husband's spirit, Sumiyoshi, who is also the god of poetry, dances to celebrate the long lives of pine trees even though many Buddhists do not consider plants sentient. Zeami's Kureha is another god play about the sacred craft of weaving as personified by two weaving maidens. In Saigyo's Cherry Tree by Zeami the spirit of the cherry tree asks the Buddhist poet Saigyo why he blames the tree blossoms for the visitors who come to disturb him, for the eyes that see any part of the world as vexatious depend wholly on the seer's heart. In another play about the gods, Haku Rakuten, the Chinese poet Bo Juyi tries to visit Japan, where his influence is so great; but he is forced to return to China by Japan's own god of poetry, Sumiyoshi.
Atsumori by Zeami is a warrior play in which a priest now called Rensei prays for the soul of Atsumori, whom he had killed in the battle of Ichinotani in 1183. He begins the play by saying, "Life is a lying dream; he only wakes who casts the world aside."8 Rensei finds the spirit of Atsumori among some reapers, and they become friends in Buddha's law according to the proverb, "Put away from you a wicked friend; summon to your side a virtuous enemy."9 At the end Atsumori approaches his old enemy with uplifted sword; but he recognizes that Rensei has obtained salvation, and he asks him to pray for him again. Atsumori's brother Tsunemasa was slain in the same battle, and in Zeami's Tsunemasa a priest's prayers once again invoke the spirit of the dead warrior, this time by playing a lute. However, the anguished spirit is still suffering anger, and in trying to wound another he consumes himself in red waves like flames; he is ashamed of these woes and vanishes.
Tadanori by Zeami tells of another warrior killed in the Inchinotani battle. Tadanori's spirit still haunts a cherry tree, because he wants his name immortalized by having his poetry placed in an imperial anthology. Because the Taira lost the war, his poem was listed as anonymous by editor Toshinari. Tadanori appeals for someone to help, and in fact one of his poems was later put in the 1235 anthology with his name by Toshinari's son Fujiwara Teika. Zeami's Yashima is about a battle after Inchinotani in 1185 when Yoshitsune boldly risked his life to retrieve his bow, although Kanefusa reprimanded him for his foolishness. Yoshitsune's ghost replies that it was a question of honor. In Kagekiyo by Zeami the daughter of the warrior Kagekiyo the passionate travels to find her banished father, who at first though blind says he has not seen Kagekiyo. Later she asks her father to tell of his high deeds in the battle. He does so but concludes still in torment and asks her to pray for him as she goes. Thus Zeami's plays endeavored to heal the warrior spirit so prominent in feudal Japan.
In the woman play Eguchi by Zeami a villager tells a monk the story of the harlot of Eguchi, who was a poet and in reality the bodhisattva Fugen. Once she refused to entertain the great monk Saigyo for the night and chided him with her poetry for his clinging. Then the lady of Eguchi appears and sings how all things are a moment's refuge. In Zeami's Komachi at Seki-dera a monk discovers that the old woman is the famous poet Komachi. In Zeami's The Feather Mantle the fisherman Hakuryo steals an angel's robe of feathers and refuses to give it back; she will dance for him if he will give it back; but he must trust her enough to give it to her first. In Izutsu by Zeami the husband, who grew up with his wife, visits a woman in another province; but when he finds out how true his wife is to him, he stops going there.
Lady Han by Zeami is a mad-woman play in which this post-station courtesan is driven to despair by her love for an officer that is symbolized by a fan he gave her. In another example of this genre, Semimaru, the blind prince by that name has been abandoned in the wilderness; he does not blame his father for cruelty but believes that because of his karmic impediments he did so in order to help him work through them to achieve his salvation. There Semimaru meets his mad sister Sakagami, who has topsy-turvy hair; but sadly she has to leave him. In Zeami's The Fulling Block a wife missing her husband pounds silk on the fulling block to express her frustration. When he does not return at the time he promised, she dies. Hearing of her death, he comes back; then her ghost scolds him for not knowing her pain.
In Zeami's The Damask Drum an old gardener is attracted to a princess, who tells him to beat the drum hanging from a tree if he wants to see her, but the drum made of cloth makes no sound. In despair the gardener drowns himself in the pond. Then the princess hears the drum and becomes possessed by his spirit. The gardener's ghost is covered in the darkness of the denied anger of lust and sinks again into the whirlpool of desire. In Uto by Zeami a dead hunter asks a monk to take a message to his living wife and child. Then the guilt-ridden ghost of the hunter appears to them and tells how after killing baby Uto birds he was poisoned by the falling tears of their parents. The play strongly supports the Buddhist prohibition of hunting. The Pool-Sacrifice shows how a traveler's daughter is chosen by lot to be sacrificed by a local cult. Hachi No Ki by Zeami shows Lord Tokiyori in disguise as a priest asking for lodging from a couple that even burns miniature plum, cherry, and pine trees to keep him warm. Six months later he mobilizes forces so that he can grant the tattered couple three fiefs.
Zeami's plays about crones include Higaki, which shows the plight of an old woman, who had been a dancer, and Obasute (The Deserted Crone), whose ghost tells how she was abandoned on a mountain by her nephew at the bidding of his wife, who kept her husband from returning in time to save her life. The Mountain Crone by Zeami shows the influence of Zen and discusses the value of different paths up the mountain.
Zeami's oldest son Motomasa, who died in 1432, wrote The Sumida River. A ferryman tells a woman of a trader abandoning a small boy who had become ill on a journey. The woman turns out to be his mother, and the boy's ghost returns from the grave briefly in response to her prayers.
Zeami's son-in-law Komparu Zenchiku (1405-68) wrote Tatsuta for Zeami's troupe probably in 1432. A shrine maiden guides a monk to the Tatsuta shrine so that he can contribute a copy of the Lotus Sutra. Then a lady of the shrine dances in celebration of their famous red leaves of autumn. Zenchiku may also have written The Kasuga Dragon God, which shows how the Buddhist monk Myoe Shonin (1173-1232) is persuaded not to travel to India by the old priest, who argues that if the Buddha were living, it would be noble to go see and hear him; but past events he suggests can be commemorated at various sacred places in Japan. In Aoi No Uye Zenchiku revised an earlier play based on Murasaki's Tale of Genji. A witch determines that the man Princess Rokujo is pining for is no longer alive. The jealous Rokujo is ready to strike her rival with a mallet, but a saint comes in and calms her spirit.
Zenchiku's Kumasaka shows the ghost of a robber disguised as a priest telling how he was killed by the young Yoshitsune. In The Hoka Priests by Zenchiku two brothers discuss Zen and then kill the man who had murdered their father. In Zenchiku's The Valley-Hurling the violent side of religion is shown as a teacher follows the ancient law that anyone who falls sick on this particular pilgrimage has to be thrown into the valley. A boy is so hurled, and after prayers he is carried back by a spirit.
These highly stylized No plays are difficult to appreciate without the operatic singing, dancing, and acting. Yet the spiritual messages come through as so many ghosts or spirits are presented, and the audience is able to see the spiritual laws of karmic responsibility and grace through prayer in action.
Probably in the 15th century Hiyoshi Sa-ami Yasukiyo wrote the play Benkei on the Bridge about the warrior monk Benkei, who fights the famous Ushiwaka (Minamoto Yoshitsune) on the Gojo bridge in Kyoto. Benkei becomes his loyal retainer, and in The Subscription List he fights for this lord. In the next century Miyamasu wrote The Hat-maker in which the young Ushiwaka gets a hat made by a hat-maker familiar with his Minamoto clan, and he fights against the dominating Heike clan.
Succession struggles reflected the rivalries in most families in every province of Japan. By the middle of the 15th century the powerful Yamana family distrusted the Hosokawa clan, which was favored by the Shogun and held the Kanrei position. At age thirty Shogun Yoshimasa wanted to retire after serving 14 years, and Hosokawa favored Yoshimasa's younger brother Yoshimi; but in 1465 the Shogun's wife Tomi-ko gave birth to a son, Yoshihisa, who was supported by Yamana. That year Tendai monks of Enryakuji on Mount Hiei resented the growing influence of Rennyo (1415-99) and his promotion of the True sect (Shinshu) so much that they burned his temple and drove him from Kyoto. In 1467 Yamana asked permission of Shogun Yashimasa to punish Hosokawa for interfering in a dispute between two Hatakeyama candidates for Kanrei. When Yamana took Yoshimi to the Bakufu headquarters and prepared to defend it, both sides mobilized their forces. Shogun Yashimasa tried to prevent a war by saying the first to attack would be proclaimed a rebel. The Ouchi daimyo (lord) led 20,000 men to support Yamana which would tip the balance of forces. A shipment of tax grain to the capital by Yamana troops was seized by Hosokawa soldiers in the Tamba province.
Fires broke out around the capital of Kyoto, and in May 1467 Hosokawa troops attacked the mansion of a Yamana general; many were killed on both sides. However, Hosokawa persuaded the Shogun to declare Yamana the rebel. Yoshimasa ordered his brother Yoshimi to punish them, and he appointed Hosokawa his commanding general. This proclamation gave Hosokawa an edge, and Yamana and Ouchi had to send troops back to protect their provinces; but by September, Yamana and Ouchi had reinforcements that included 500 boats escorted by pirates. Yamana with 50,000 soldiers attacked the Sambo-In monastery next to the imperial palace and took both buildings. Fighting, burning, and looting devastated the capital for several months. Yoshimi went over to Yamana's side, and in 1469 Shogun Yoshimasa declared four-year-old Yoshihisa his heir; Emperor Go-Tsuchimikado pronounced Yoshimi a rebel. By 1472 generals on both sides were leaving the capital to suppress insurrections in their territories, and the next year both Hosokawa and Yamana died; but Ouchi refused to surrender and in 1475 fought Hatakeyama Masanaga. The decade-long Onin War finally ended two years later when Ouchi submitted to Yoshimasa and went home.
A league of local warriors (kokujin) had been formed in Izume province in 1473 and was able to tax the private estates (shoen), often owned by those in the capital. When the Hosokawa shugo (military governor) demanded back the shoen taken by the kokujin during the Onin War in Settsu province, these warriors resisted in 1479 and appealed to the rebel Hatakeyama Yoshinari; but Hosokawa raised a large army and crushed the uprising in 1482 by destroying their home bases of Suita and Ibaragi. The 1485 revolt in southern Yamashiro province against shugo Hatakeyama was tolerated by Hosokawa Masamoto; but four years later he decided to suppress an uprising in his own province of Tamba because it was more anti-shugo. Revolts spread in Hosokawa's Kinai provinces. Troops from Kyoto were used but were not able to quell the rebellion until 1493, ending this series of uprisings.
The Onin War began a century of local conflicts between warlords. The shogun's wife Tomi-ko and her elder brother Hino Katsuakira acquired a fortune by peculation. She extorted taxes at the capital gates, saying they were to repair the imperial palace; but threats by the Yamashiro-Ikki ended this in 1482. Periodic riots induced the shogunate to cancel debts. Soon the Kyoto court not only had little power but little income as well. In 1485 a council of Yamashiro peasants demanded that Hatakeyama armies leave their province and restore estates to their owners, and they were obeyed. The next year 36 Yoshimiro-Ikki leaders set up a provincial government with officers rotating monthly. Rennyo built his True sect into the single-minded (Ikko) sect at Echizen with military organization that defeated the warlord of neighboring Kaga in 1488. Yoshimasa had formally resigned as shogun in 1473, but he patronized and appreciated the arts until he died in 1490. The priest Murata Juko (1422-1502) helped him raise the tea ceremony to a fine art.
Greater self-government by local communities had begun to develop in the 14th century. A decree canceling debts was issued on the Okushima and Kitatsuda private estates in 1441, and this soon led to the historic nationwide Kakitsu debt abrogation decree. In 1494 in Ise province 46 farmers representing self-governing organizations (so) signed a pledge to meet and settle their disputes. Another pledge signed by 350 farmers promised they would neither falsify boundaries nor steal crops. Families with the same name organized self-governing clans and then formed leagues with other clans. They communally managed waterways for regional irrigation and provided security to preserve peace. A decree from a Yamato province so to its shugo requested a debt moratorium after a drought caused damage. By the 16th century these so had united into some powerful leagues in the central provinces.
Ota Dokan, a vassal of the Ogigayatsu branch of the Uyesugi family, built a castle at Edo but was mistakenly taken for a rival and killed by Sadamasa in 1485. After many years of fighting the Ogigayatsu branch was defeated by the Yamanouchi forces in 1505 with help from Constable Fusayoshi of Echigo. His upstart warrior Nagao Tamekage turned against Fusayoshi, killing him two years later. Tamekage became the deputy of the new Echigo constable Uyesugi Akisada; but the warrior Hojo Soun helped Tamekage subdue the Uyesugi in Kanto. Soun had chosen his name with the ambition to become shogun, and on a deer hunt his men captured the castle that made him master of Izu; by 1516 Soun also controlled Sagami. War taxes had been taking half of farmers' crops; but Soun reduced them to 40%. He died in 1519; but his son Ujitsuma led an attack on the castle at Edo in 1524, defeating the divided armies of the Uyesugi clan. Ujitsuma defeated and killed Koga Kubo Yoshiaki in 1539 but died two years later. His son Ujiyasu defeated the Uyesugi in a night attack at Kawagoye in 1542, and by 1560 he had destroyed most of the Uyesugi. By the middle of the 16th century so many peasants had left owing taxes that they were allowed to return if they started paying after that. Ujiyasu sent letters offering to help the Ikko Buddhists, who ruled Kaga until they were expelled by a society of warriors in 1576.
The young Shogun Yoshihisa tried to contain the ambitions of local protectors (shugo) but was killed on the battlefield in 1489. After that, the shoguns became puppets just as the emperors had before. Yoshimi's son Yoshitane was made shogun in 1490 but had to flee three years later. Kanrei Hosokawa Katsumoto appointed Yoshizumi and in 1494 was replaced by his son Hosokawa Masamoto. Yoshitane tried to return to the capital in 1499 but was driven out again by Hosokawa troops, fleeing to Ouchi's capital at Yamaguchi. Ouchi Yoshioki marched on Kyoto, assassinating Masamoto in 1507 and restoring Yoshitane after Yoshizumi fled the following year. Next a war was fought between Masamoto's adopted sons over who was to be Kanrei. Ouchi stayed in the capital protecting Shogun Yoshitane until 1518. The Hosokawa family used the shoguns as puppets until their last Kanrei, Hosokawa Harumoto, was defeated in 1558 by their former vassals, Miyoshi and Matsunaga; but Miyoshi was eventually ousted by his retainer Matsunaga. The Ouchi family was also destroyed by its vassals. In 1551 Suye Harukata defeated Yoshioki's son Yoshitaka; but three years later pirates helped the Mori family, which had replaced the Yamana family, overcome Harukata in a battle during a rainstorm.
This period of civil wars has been called gekokuo, meaning the low oppressing the high; but in addition to vassals seizing power, other trends were also occurring. Many agricultural workers became independent farmers as improved tools, use of draft animals, better irrigation, and new crops such as soy beans and tea increased prosperity. Growing commerce in food, silk, hemp, linen, paper, dyes, and lacquer created a class of merchants and money-lenders, though the only coins used were Chinese. Japan exported many thousands of steel swords to China for strings of coins, silk, porcelain, paintings, medicine, and books. Skilled artisans formed guilds (za) and were protected by a temple or a noble family. Samurai warriors organized associations to resist constables and rural magnates. Otherwise armored warriors no longer had power unless they were leading large numbers of soldiers with pikes for a warlord (sengoku-daimyo), who built castles to control territories. Buddhists of the Ikko sect and the Nichiren followers fought each other several times between 1532 and 1536.
Yet villages organized as mura began to govern themselves locally. After the Onin War about twenty warlords had most of the power, and they proclaimed their strict house laws, collected taxes, and regulated markets and religious institutions, which they protected. To prevent feuds the Takeda family house laws decreed that both parties in a violent quarrel would be punished regardless of who was right. House laws imposed collective responsibility so that an entire village might be punished if anyone did not pay tax or did not apprehend a criminal. After silver was discovered in Iwami, enterprising Hakata merchants sent for skilled workers from China and Korea to improve the smelting process. In 1542 a rich deposit was found in Tajima, and in 1556 the Mori family took over an Iwami silver mine during a military campaign.
Japanese piracy and trade with the Chinese had begun in 1306 and was rampant during most of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), which usually prohibited foreign trade. After Chinese officials were attacked and lost property to the Ouchi at Ningpo in 1523, they voided the agreement they had with the Japanese. A few missions occurred until 1548. Then piracy became a major problem as many Chinese on the coasts who had lost their livelihood because of government restrictions became pirates on their own or on Japanese ships. Pirate raids took grain, silk textiles, copper cash, and captives to sell as slaves. In 1555 Koreans reported that a fleet of seventy pirate ships attacked their peninsula. After a campaign against the pirates, the Ming court about 1560 finally lifted the embargo against foreign trade.
The Portuguese first landed on the island of Tanegashima in 1543, and the firearms the Japanese got from there at first were called Tanegashima. The Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived at Kagoshima in 1549 and was welcomed by the Satsuma daimyo. Xavier made the difficult journey to Kyoto, hoping to find Japan's king; but finding no powerful ruler there, he returned to Yamaguchi. There he presented himself in a splendid costume as an envoy of the Portuguese, and Ouchi Yoshitaka allowed him to preach. Yoshitaka studied Confucianism with the scholar Kiyohara Yorikata and obtained from Korea a complete edition of the five classics annotated by Zhu Xi. Yoshitaka committed suicide in 1551 because of a rebellion by his vassal Sue Takafusa (known later as Sue Harukata). Xavier converted Otomo Sorin, who protected Christians until his death in 1587. Xavier left Japan in 1551 and died of disease the next year on an island waiting to get into China. Gaspar Vilela gained the protection of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshitero in Kyoto and baptized 1300 people, mostly peasants, on the islands of Ikitsukijima and Takushima and around Hirado. In 1558 Takanobu, objecting to Vilela's burning of books and destruction of Buddhist images, expelled him from the Matsuura territory. By 1559 only six Jesuits were in Japan.
The Shogun and his wife and mother were murdered by the Miyoshi faction in 1565; the Zen priests were so intimidated that they did not attend the funeral. Buddhists then persuaded the Emperor to issue an edict expelling all Christian missionaries. The Jesuit Frois stayed in Sakai and got two armies to stop fighting for one day on Christmas in 1567. Two years later Frois was taken to see Nobunaga. In 1571 Portuguese ships made Nagasaki a base for a Jesuit community. Dom Bartolomeu required all to become Christians or leave Omura, and in 1574 he began burning its Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, thus claiming 60,000 Christian converts. Conversion in the late 1570s of the prominent Amakusa Shigehisa and Arima Harunobu influenced thousands to be baptized. Omura Sumitada and his son Yoshiaki signed over Nagasaki to the Society of Jesus in 1580.
Oda Nobunaga (1534-82) overcame opposition and became the master of Owari in 1559 as the constable fled, and that year he was received in Kyoto by Ashikaga Shogun Yoshiteru. Nobunaga established a fortress at Kiyosu, and in 1560 he defeated an attack by an Imagawa army of 25,000 with a much smaller force by using clever strategy. He consolidated his power with military force and diplomatic marriages. In 1561 Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) joined Nobunaga and went to Mikawa. The commander Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98) helped Nobunaga defeat the Mino. After Shogun Yoshiteru was killed by rebellious vassals of Hosokawa in 1565, his younger brother Yoshiaki took refuge with Nobunaga. This ambitious warlord then overcame opposition in the province of Ise, and in November 1568 he entered Kyoto and proclaimed Yoshiaki the Ashikaga shogun. Citizens of the capital were pleased to see that Nobunaga kept his troops under discipline. The new Shogun gave Frois permission to preach Christianity. Nobunaga encouraged free markets and open guilds in towns such as Kano and ordered all toll gates in the provinces abolished. He fixed the ratio between gold, silver, and copper, stopping barter transactions with rice, and he forced Sakai to pay 20,000 kan. Sakai was his main supplier of muskets, ammunition, and other military equipment.
Ieyasu controlled eastern Japan for Nobunaga by making peace with Takeda Shingen and by occupying territory formerly held by Imagawa. When Asakura Yoshikage of Echizen did not obey Nobunaga's summons to the capital with the other warlords in 1570, Nobunaga attacked him with an army of 30,000. Ieyasu's army made the difference in defeating Asakura and his ally Asai. The military monks at Enryakuji opposed Nobunaga because his generals confiscated their land. So Nobunaga mercilessly attacked them in 1571, allowing his soldiers to behead women and children as well as monks and laymen while destroying 3,000 buildings. That year Ujiyasu died, and the new Hojo leader joined with the Takeda family in a march on the capital. Their army of 30,000 met Nobunaga's forces in January 1573; Ieyasu fled, and Nobunaga had to sue for peace. When Shogun Yoshiaki sided with Takeda, Nobunaga deposed the Shogun and drove him out of Kyoto. Takeda Shingen died after being wounded in an attack on Ieyasu. Finally in August 1573 after Nobunaga defeated their armies and destroyed their castles, Asakura and Asai committed suicide; Nobunaga gave their lands to Hideyoshi. Nobunaga had roads and bridges improved and ordered pine and willow trees planted along the roads.
Nobunaga was especially cruel to fighting monks, and in 1574 he burned the two strongholds of the Ikko league even after they asked to surrender, killing about 20,000 people. The next year he used 3,000 soldiers armed with muskets to help Ieyasu defeat a much larger force of Takeda warriors, making the advantage of the new technology obvious. In 1576 Nobunaga began disarming peasants and building the strong Azuchi castle that was completed three years later. In 1577 Nobunaga's forces accepted the surrender of the Ikko league in the Kii province. Nobunaga preferred the less militant Pure Land (Jodo) sect of Buddhists and built them the Jogon-In monastery in his new city of Azuchi. Nobunaga also disliked the militant Hokke sect of Nichiren followers and made sure the Jodo won a debate he sponsored in 1579. The next year Nobunaga forced the Ikko to abandon their Honganji fortress in Osaka, greatly reducing the military power of monks in Japan. Meanwhile the Takeda of Kai were conscripting men of all classes between the ages of 15 and 60 into military service; but in 1581 Nobunaga with Ieyasu and Hojo attacked Takeda Katsuyori's army of 20,000 with an army nearly nine times its size. Katsuyori fled and was captured and killed the next year, ending the power of the Takeda family. When the Koyasan monastery gave refuge to his enemies and ejected his envoys, Nobunaga ordered all their wandering friars executed.
Despite the efforts of Hideyoshi, Nobunaga was never able to subjugate the Mori in western Japan. As Nobunaga was going there in 1582, the treachery of Akechi enabled him to ambush and kill Nobunaga before taking the Azuchi castle. Hideyoshi kept the news of his death secret while he made a treaty with Mori. Then Hideyoshi's army attacked and killed Akechi. Four generals took over after Nobunaga's death; but Hideyoshi was the strongest, and with quick movements by the end of 1582 he controlled thirty provinces, ten more than Nobunaga had gained in twenty years. In the east Ieyasu challenged Hideyoshi briefly but made peace with him in 1585. That year Hideyoshi's armies forced the Chosokabe to submit and eliminated the military power of the great monasteries in the central region.
Hideyoshi built his castle at Osaka and destroyed most of the castles in other provinces. He had a land survey begun in 1583, but it was not completed until 1598, the year he died. The actual cultivators were made responsible for paying the taxes on their produce. This made more farmers independent and lessened the influence of the rural gentry, giving Hideyoshi direct control over the 80% of Japan's population who farmed. In 1590 he ordered anyone resisting the inspections to be executed. The state usually took 40% or 50% in the tax, and peasants had to pay their landlords from the rest.
In 1587 Hideyoshi mobilized an army of perhaps 200,000 to subdue the Satsuma armies of Kyushu. Shimazu submitted and was allowed to keep Satsuma, Osumi, and half of Hyuga. The remainder of Kyushu was governed by Hideyoshi's commanders Kato, Konishi, and Kuroda. Next Hideyoshi punished Ujimasa for not coming to his palace. Hojo had been conscripting all the men they could; but they had fewer than 50,000 against Hideyoshi's professional army of 200,000. Ujimasa surrendered in August 1590 and was ordered to commit suicide. Hideyoshi gave Ieyasu the eight Kanto provinces in the east in exchange for Ieyasu's more central territories that Hideyoshi distributed to his trusted vassals. Thus Hideyoshi established his feudal control over all sixty provinces of Japan as all the major daimyos swore fealty to him. He monopolized gold and silver mines and some other state enterprises. Copper, silver, and gold coins were issued. In 1588 he began the "sword hunt" that confiscated weapons from those not in his army. Peasants were told that they would be melted down to be used as nails and bolts in a gigantic image of Buddha. At the end of 1590 Hideyoshi announced a census that would expel from villages vagrants who did not work on farms or for the military.
The Emperor had made Hideyoshi kampaku (regent) in 1585 and chancellor the next year. By 1582 only twenty Jesuits estimated that they had baptized 150,000 people in Japan. In 1587 Hideyoshi ordered the Jesuits to leave Japan within twenty days, accusing them of forcing people to give up their religion, selling slaves to China and Korea, killing animals for food, and destroying Buddhist and Shinto buildings. The edict was not strictly enforced; merchants from Christian countries were allowed to trade; and ten priests were licensed in Nagasaki. By 1596 some 140 Jesuits were still in Japan, and the number of converts had risen to 300,000. After hearing a threatening boast from a shipwrecked Spanish pilot, irritated Hideyoshi had six Spanish Franciscans and nineteen Japanese Christians crucified. Hideyoshi appointed the five elders Ieyasu, Ukita, Mori, Maeda, and Uyesugi for counsel and five commissioners to carry out his policies and help his nephew Hidetsuga, who was officially made regent in 1592. Hidetsuga occupied himself with falconry and women and was so vicious that he was called the murdering regent; in 1595 he was replaced by Hideyoshi's infant son Hideyori. Hideyoshi then ordered Hidetsuga to commit suicide and had his three children and thirty women in his service massacred.
In 1595 priests from the ten Buddhist sects were required to attend the dedication of the large statue of the Buddha at Hoko-ji. The Nichiren sect explained the principle of fuju fuse, that they could not receive from nor give to those who do not believe in the Lotus Sutra. Nichio refused to attend and accurately predicted that others who did attend would in the future be required to keep accepting tainted donations. The more traditional Ju faction won the debate, and in 1600 Nichio was exiled to Tsushima until he was pardoned in 1612.
The ambitious Hideyoshi wanted to take over China and perhaps even India. In April 1592 he ordered the invasion of Korea. The striking force had 158,800 men with a naval force of 9,000 and 75,000 reserves at Nagoya sent by Ieyasu and others. Konishi Yukinaga led the first wave of 18,000 men on 700 vessels that took Pusan in May and the capital at Seoul in June. Supported by other contingents, Konishi's vanguard captured P'yongyang in July 1592. Korea's king appealed to China, and their forces drove the Japanese out of P'yongyang and back south; but these first Chinese forces were trapped and defeated by the Japanese army. Disastrous defeats from a superior Korean navy forced the Japanese occupying army to live off the land, and they faced ferocious guerrilla attacks by Koreans. By early 1593 they had lost a third of their men. Konishi was able to withstand another Chinese army of at least 50,000. They negotiated with the Chinese and agreed to leave the Korean capital. Most of the Chinese went back to China; their diplomats promised that the Ming emperor would recognize Hideyoshi as the king of Japan, and trade would resume. Japan also wanted to keep the southern provinces of Korea, which was not consulted.
The Christian Konishi favored the negotiated peace; but the Buddhist Kato persuaded Hideyoshi to renew the war in 1597, and another 100,000 men were sent to join the 50,000 still in Korea. China responded by sending another army that arrived in 1598 as Hideyoshi was withdrawing half his forces; but Konishi at Pusan with 60,000 men was able to defeat the Chinese, killing a reported 38,000. News in September 1598 that Hideyoshi had died caused a standstill. Then both the Chinese and the Japanese forces withdrew from a devastated Korea. The Japanese gained technical knowledge of Korean printing and pottery by taking skilled workers as captives.
After Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu was the most wealthy and powerful on the council of five. His Kanto holdings in 1590 had yielded a million koku, but now he was worth 2,557,000 koku. The commissioners led by Ishida Mitsunari (1560-1600) accused him of betraying Hideyoshi by arranging political marriages, but this was resolved. However, General Kato learned that Mitsunari was behind two assassination attempts on Ieyasu and went to kill him. Ieyasu dismissed the commissioners and moved into the late Hideyoshi's castle at Osaka. Mitsunari was joined in a military revolt by Uyesugi Kagekatsu, who had not responded to Ieyasu's summons. Mitsunari captured Fushimi castle and gained Shimazu, Ukita, and Konisha as allies; but in 1600 at Sekigahara about 80,000 fought on each side. Kobayakawa went over to Ieyasu's side, and they defeated Konisha and Utika, causing Mitsunari and Shimazu to flee. Mitsunari and Konishi were both captured and executed. Ieyasu rewarded the daimyos on his side with the 7,572,000 koku confiscated. He distributed fiefs so that his trusted allies (Fudai daimyos) could watch over the more dangerous ones (Tozama), whom he kept busy by ordering their men to help build his castles. Hideyoshi's son Hideyori was allowed to keep 650,000 koku.
The wealth of the Tokugawa family increased to 6,400,000 koku (one-fourth of the nation's total revenue) and now included the cities of Edo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagasaki, Yamada, and Nara. Ieyasu took over gold and silver mines and established a mint at Fishimi in 1601. He restored the Bakufu power when the Emperor appointed him shogun in 1603. He made his capital at Edo in his eastern domains of Kanto. An edict of 1603 allowed a peasant to leave his land if he had paid his taxes and the landlord's conduct was abusive. Landlords were also prohibited from using violence against the peasants, and they were instructed to take their disputes to the magistrate's court. Ieyasu's adviser Honda Masanobu wrote that the peasants should be governed with care but that they should be taxed so that they have only enough rice to eat and for seeds to plant the next year. A 1604 edict gave the Bakufu a monopoly over imported raw silk. In 1605 Ieyasu let his son Hidetada replace him as shogun so that he could work on governing. When Matsudaira Tadayoshi died in 1607, four of his pages committed junshi suicide to follow him. Then four retainers did the same for Matsudaira Hideyasu. These examples revived the junshi custom for a time.
Japanese soldiers went out to secure trade with Melaka, Macao, and the Philippines. The English refugee William Adams from a Dutch ship stayed with Ieyasu and oversaw the building of ships. Two Dutch ships were allowed to establish a trading post at Hirado in 1609. Also that year Japan made a trade agreement with Korea, but the Japanese were no longer allowed to travel beyond the port of Pusan. The Portuguese trading monopoly was clearly over the next year when most of the crew on the ship Madre de Deus were put to death for having treated Japanese sailors cruelly at Macao. In 1611 the Tokugawa government prohibited the preaching of Christianity. In 1613 after the Spanish missionary Sotelho built a chapel in Edo, 27 Japanese Christians were executed. The next year following the advice of the monk Suden, Ieyasu issued a formal edict expelling foreign missionaries. Churches in Kyoto were destroyed, and Japanese Christians of high rank were arrested and deported. In 1613 an agent of the British East India Company arrived in Japan, but the English ended their efforts to establish trade ten years later.
Ieyasu received oaths of allegiance from central and western daimyos in 1611 and from those in northern Japan the next year. This edict required them to take action against criminals and rebels. Young Hideyori was gaining strength from masterless samurai; but in 1614 Ieyasu's son Hidetada surrounded his Osaka castle with 70,000 men. Ieyasu levied more forces from his vassals so that they far outnumbered Hideyori's garrison of 90,000. Ieyasu made an agreement, but it was broken when Hidetada's men filled in the moat and pulled down the ramparts. Outnumbered two to one, after a pitched battle Hideyori committed suicide, and his wife Yodogimi (Hidetada's daughter) was killed by a retainer to prevent her capture. His sons were executed, and his older sister became a nun. The Tokugawa allies had lost 35,000 people, but the civil war was over. After his victory at Osaka, Ieyasu decreed that each daimyo could have only one castle.
Ieyasu believed in virtuous government in the ancient Chinese tradition, and the document Honsa Roku warned against ambitious vanity and greedy corruption. Its author believed peasants should have neither too much nor too little, and luxuries such as elaborate tea ceremonies were condemned as not good government. Ieyasu also studied the lessons of Japanese history from 1180 to 1266 in The Mirror of the East (Azuma Kagami). At an assembly of vassals in Fushimi castle in August 1615 Ieyasu promulgated a code of rules for military houses called Buke Shohatto that was drawn up with the advice of the Zen monk Suden. Its first article said that both literature and the military arts were to be studied. Drunkenness, gambling, and lewd behavior must be avoided. Criminals and rebels were not to be harbored. Building work on castles must be reported and approved. Private marriages were forbidden. Clothing and behavior should reflect one's rank and social class. All samurai were to live frugally, and daimyos were to select capable people in governing. Ieyasu was now undisputed master of Japan; he would die the next year, but his Tokugawa family would rule Japan for the next two and a half centuries.
Fujiwara Seika (1561-1619) was a Buddhist monk until he was 37; but after meeting the Korean war captive Kang Hang (1567-1618), he became devoted to the Neo-Confucian philosophy. Seika declined a position in Ieyasu's government but advised him occasionally. He and Kang Hang edited the Confucian classics. He urged samurai to study Neo-Confucian philosophy and argued that Buddhism was impractical and destructive to human relations. As a Kyoto aristocrat he looked down on the warrior class and retired to the mountains in 1615. Influenced by the Neo-Confucians Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming, and Korean thinkers, Seika held that the innate spiritual principle (li in Chinese, ri in Japanese) is innate in everyone's being; but the physical energy (qi in Chinese, ki in Japanese) is what makes moral differences. Most people have impure energy and need moral cultivation; only sages have purified their energy. Seika came to venerate Confucius and Mencius, but he rejected Daoism as well as Buddhism. Yet he still believed that desires cause virtue to decline. He tried to give Shinto a theology with Neo-Confucian concepts. He believed that both intended to rectify the heart and increase human benevolence and compassion. He warned against the hypocrisy of claiming to be virtuous while seeking personal gain. Seika believed that the emperor could govern by spiritual principle as an intermediary between heaven and earth. He argued that if people did not obey the spiritual teachings, the government had a right to make them comply with force and punishment.
1. Nihongi tr. W. G. Aston, 22: 12th year (604 CE),
Vol. 2, p. 129-133.
2. Tsuji, Nihon Bukkyo Shi, Josei-hen, 194-95 in Sources of Japanese Tradition, p. 99.
3. Diary in Anthology of Japanese Literature by Murasaki Shikibu, tr. Donald Keene, p. 154.
4. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki, tr. Arthur Waley, p. 26.
5. A History of Japan to 1334 Sansom, George, p. 397.
6. "Shinran" by Takehiko Furuta in Shapers of Japanese Buddhism tr. Gaynor Sekimori, p. 88.
7. Quoted in The No Plays of Japan by Arthur Waley, p. 18.
8. The No Plays of Japan by Arthur Waley, p. 64.
9. Ibid., p. 70.
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