Warlords, Artists and Emperors: Power and Authority in Premodern Japan

Entry#1 (Week 2):

Reading: Bock, F. ‘The Rites of Renewal at Ise’, Monumental Nipponica, 29 (1974); 55-68.

This reading focuses and explores the rites of renewal of the Great Shrine of Ise. Through the reigns of Emperor Temmu and Empress Jito, the Shrine of Ise rose in importance and eventually became the ancestral clam shrine of the Imperial House and later continued to develop as it took on the image of a national shrine and claimed widespread support (p.57). The pure Shinto architecture of this Shrine may exist in other places in Japan yet the affect it has on the area of the Shrine of Ise furthers its unending succession. This reading looks at the significance of the continual and ritual renewal of the Shrine of Ise.

This rebuilding is seen as a means of preservation of traditions and culture as even the materials- purified ceremonial axes and saws of ancient style (p.58) – which are used in the rebuilding show key characteristics of the Japanese culture. Religious notions are also preserved through this rebuilding; one example is the ‘august mirror’ which is place in a sacred container as a symbol of the Sun Goddess which is associated with the origin of the shrine and the kami belief (pp.59-60).

To sum it up, the ritual rebuilding of the Shrine of Ise is seen as a symbol of the renewal of life and tradition.

Entry#2 (Week 3):

Reading: Piggott, Joan. ‘Shomu Tenno, Servant of the Buddha.’ Emergence of Japanese Kingship, Stanford U. P. 1997, 236-279.

This reading primarily explores the reign of Shomu, Temmu’s great grandson, who ruled as a Tenno. Shomu is seen by some scholars as a Buddhist King who was responsible for the Great Buddha located at Todaiji, Nara’s Great Eastern Temple (p.236). Many scholars and historians have explored Shomu’s rulership and there have been debates about what type of ruler he really was.

This paper puts forward Piggott’s argument which argues that expansion of the Buddhist cult and the decision to build Todaiji were used to reinforce ritsuryo kingship. Although Shomu faced many challenges, his leadership of court and the hegemonic bloc placed by ritsuryo officialdom proved to be very successful (p.275). Shomu’s claim to authority over officialdom and over the rituals of realm protection went unchallenged and was seen through the building of Todaiji Rushana which long remains a legacy of his reign.

The reading also looks at the effect of the Emperor taking the role as Buddha’s servant which acted as a stimulant to gather widespread support for initiation of the monumental ritual centre at Todaiji; which allowed Shomu and his allies to exercise the hierarchical networks to extend the influence and productivity of the throne (p.237). The construction of the Great Buddha at such a time put Shomu Tenno at the core of a revitalised cult of Buddhist Kingship which was far broader than had ever been available to any previous Yamato ruler (p.280).

Entry#3 (Week 4):

Reading: Hall, John W. ‘Kyoto as Historical background.’ In J. W. Hall and J. P. Mass, eds. Medieval Japan: Essays in Institutional History, Stanford U. P. (1974, 1988): 3-38.

This reading looks at the rise and fall of Heian aristocracy in Kyoto, which served as a primary base for the old court nobility, the kuge. As of 794, Heian-kyo marked the culmination of a style of city design which fit in with the political changes of the noble families whom the city was built around. Government was decentralized and power was diffused through the network of family relationships which made up the rulers of Yamato.

By the 7th century, Asuka began attracting aristocratic residents, Buddhist temples and Shino shrines which brought the need for political and religious institutions. Through the increase of aristocracy came a concentration for a more centralised government and in the coup d’�tat of 645 led to a turnover in Yamato leadership and the adoption of Chinese institutions of statecraft. Heian-kyo was supposed to encompass the classical idea of an imperial capital and for the first three centuries all previous political and religious struggles were put on hold. This was not because of imperial rule, but because of the dominant presence of the Fujiwara family. This led to a shift back to rule through the noble families and the government was once again decentralised; the court was not destroyed just bypassed and continued to be used to legitimate the bushi (warrior) control.

Entry#4 (Week 5):

Reading: Mc Culloch, ‘Heike Monogatari’. University of Tokyo Press, 1979.

Heike Monogatari is an epic Japanese war tale which tells the story of the Rise and fall of the House of Tiara. This tale shows off samurai military values and ethics. Yoshitsune, with the honour of an imperial edict of Go-Shirakawa, leaves Kyoto to attack the Taira at their stronghold at a place called ‘Yashima’.

One example of the value of bravery is shown, as before launching the boats for the crossing, Yoshitsune and Kagetoki are about how to outfit the boats. Kagetoki wants them to be capable of quick retreat; Yoshitsune believes a warrior should think only of attacking. Yoshitsune is delighted to make a successful beach landing at a place providentially called “Victory Beach.” They catch the Tiara off-guard. The Taira take to their boats in a panic. Thus begins the battle at Yashima.

One example of the value honour which is seen in the text is through the confusion of the mid-water fighting, a Minamoto warrior drops his bow into the sea. He risks his life to recover it. Other warriors think he is foolish until they hear him explain that it was a bow strung for weak archers and that if it had been found by the Taira it would have damaged Minamoto honour.

The value of strong leadership and military capabilities is also shown through the text when The Tiara retreat by boat from Yashima, first to a camp nearby in Shikoku called Shido. But Yoshitsune’s pursuit forces them to leave Shikoku altogether. At last Kajiwara Kagetoki arrives at Yashima, but the Shikoku battles are entirely finished. Delayed by refitting his boats perhaps or he fails to show his military capabilities. Basically, this tale illustrates the ethics and values of the samurai and isolates the military values of honour, loyalty, bravery, and strong leadership.

Entry#5 (Week 6):

Reading: Collcutt, Martin, ‘The Zen Monastery in Kamakura Society’, J. Mass, ed., Court and Bakufu in Japan, Yale U. P., 1982, 191-220.

This paper looks at the rapid growth of the Zen Buddhist monastic institutions. During this time no one realised the extent of which the Zen movement would take root and branch out in Japan. By 1333, several hundred Zen monasteries had been built. Throughout history, the acceptance of Zen in Japan was attributed to the spiritual appeal of Zen on the Japanese warriors. Although now historians admit that this is not the only reason for its success in Japan they still cannot entirely discount the spiritual appeal to the Japanese warriors (Collcutt, p.192).

Another idea which has now come to account for the rapid growth of Zen Buddhism, focuses on, the principal sponsors of Rinzai Zen were the Hojo regents and their provincial agents the shugo. Without this sponsorship, historians find it hard to believe that Zen could have withstood the attacks from Enryakuji and the Buddhist establishment in Kyoto and Nara; and many more (Collcutt, pg.193). Having said that, their interest in Zen was determined by the continuing patronage of the Nara temples and Ritsu masters who visited Kamakura (Collcutt, pg.193).

Entry#6 (Week 7):

Reading: Brown, Kendall H. ‘the Politics of Reclusion: Painting and Power in Momoyama Japan’.

This reading explores aspects of politics and culture in the Momoyama period which influenced and determined the “creation and reception of paintings of the Seven Sages and the Four Graybeards” (Brown, 1997, p. 33).

The chapter discusses the institutionalisation of the aesthetic recluse in the Kitayama Epoch wherein Tonseisha is described as the element that “foreshadows the role of tea in the subsequent Momoyama age” (p.55). Tonseisha is a practice in which men either reject their social status or belong to the lower class and had no training in the arts. The reason for this was because the aim of the Tonseisha was to work with a Samurai who were more superior thus being able to “claim a status outside the conventional social structure” (p.55). Thus Tonseisha rejected the stereotypical societal norms and values associated with political power. In the Momoyama culture the tradition of tea was seen as “politically potent” (p.58) because it allowed for the patron’s “professed dedication to Confucian virtues” to be depicted. Tea was used as a means for “political manipulation” (p.61) that allowed for civilized meeting and occurrences to occur in a society that was brutal and uncivilised. The significance of tea was apparent in the transformation of tea from an “aesthetic reclusion” (p. 61) to a ritual practice. The formation of tea into a ritual practice is a characteristic of what Turner refers to as existential or spontaneous communities. In this instance certain types of people formalise an activity thus becoming a ritual.

Entry #7 (Week 9):

Reading: Lamers, Jereon, ‘Oda Nobunaga: A Japanese Tyrant’, IIAS Newsletter, 13 (Summer, 1997): 36-37.

Nobunaga dominated the political scene between 1568 and 1582 and eventually set up the process of “military and political unification” (p.36). Even though Nobunaga was described as a savage and a cruel brute, one George Elison likened him to the Machiavellian Prince.

This paper examines the applicability of such a comparison between these two historical figures. It examines looks at the political and military aspects of their reins and in short allows for a more relevant and rational light on Nobunaga. Through this paper we see that Nobunaga was just as “crafty, calculating and cruel” (p.37) as Machiavelli’s idea of a prince. You can even see similarities in the policies that Nobunaga adopted and Machiavelli spoke about. Nobunaga was seen to be acting on Machiavelli’s advice of rational cruelty for “the service of the government” (p.36) and applies to Machiavelli that cruelty is “a question of how one uses it; it can be used well or badly” (p.36).

It can be said that through Machiavelli’s IL Princep is a good tool for studying the reign and power of Nobunaga. Nobunaga’s actions during his reign embodied many of Machiavelli’s ideologies for a ruling prince and shows readers that Nobunaga was essentially practicing what Machiavelli was preaching in Europe.