The Geography of Power in Medieval Japan

The Geography of Power in Medieval Japan

by Thomas Keirstead


View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Want it by Monday, October 22?   Order by 12:00 PM Eastern and choose Expedited Shipping at checkout.


The Geography of Power in Medieval Japan by Thomas Keirstead

In this reevaluation of the estate system, which has long been recognized as the central economic institution of medieval Japan, Thomas Keirstead argues that estates, or shoen, constituted more than a type of landownership. Through an examination of rent rolls, land registers, maps, and other data describing individual estates he reveals a cultural framework, one that produced and shaped meaning for residents and proprietors. Keirstead's discussion of peasant uprisings shows that the system, however, did not define a stable, closed structure, but was built upon contested terrain. Drawing on the works of Foucault,de Certeau, and Geertz, among others,this book illuminates the presuppositions about space and society that underwrote estate holding. It traces how the system reordered the social and physical landscape, establishing identity for both rulers and subjects. Estate holders, seeking to counter the fluid movement of populations across estate boundaries, pressed into service a social distinction between "peasants" and "wanderers." Peasant rebels made use of the fiction that the estate comprised a natural community in order to resist proprietorial exactions. In these instances, Keirstead contends, the estate system reveals its governing logic: social and political divisions were articulated in spatial terms; power was exercised (and contested) through geography.

Originally published in 1992.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691600093
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/14/2014
Series: Princeton Legacy Library Series
Pages: 194
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Geography of Power in Medieval Japan

By Thomas Keirstead


Copyright © 1992 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-03183-5




The discovery of European historiography in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led Japanese historians to discoveries about their own past. Reinterpreting Japanese experience in the light of European models, scholars in the late Meiji era located in their own history analogues to Western historical periods and institutions. This quest for resemblances produced a Japanese history demarcated, along Western lines, into ancient, medieval, and modern eras and distinguished by institutional formations, such as feudalism or, most pertinent for this study, manorialism—concepts of Western provenance. Arraying itself against the assertions of Westernizers (like Fukuzawa Yukichi) who taught that Japan must break with its past in order to modernize, this scholarship seemed to demonstrate startling similarities between Japanese and European history and to promise Japan's future progress along a trail blazed by the West. As Asakawa Kan'ichi, a pioneering student of early Japanese institutions, remarked in describing feudal society in Japan, "I am inclined to think that feudal growth (like social progress itself) is not normal; and is, on the whole, a fortunate abnormality that has been the gift of a very few races in the world's history."

This early historiography did not merely fulfill the national mission of salvaging Japan's past for the modernizing nation; it also structured that past by proposing the categories and lines of analysis that defined the modern historiographical endeavor. Molded by the concerns of contemporary European historical practice, this was an objective, "scientific," and, perhaps most generally, systematic, history. It produced a vision of the past defined by the interplay of legal, political, and socioeconomic systems; and among its discoveries was the estate system (shoensei). This is not to say that the estate (shoen or sho) went unnoticed until this time, for it is one of the most profusely documented phenomena in Japanese history; it is merely to note that in the comparative enterprise inspired by the discovery of modern Western historiography the shoen were for the first time accredited the status of a system—recognized as a coherent, organized body and as a proper subject of analysis.

Accordingly, the earliest treatises on the estates qua system drew heavily on European paradigms to evaluate and categorize their subject. Nakada Kaoru's path-breaking explorations of the legal framework of estate holding in Japan, for example, were conspicuously comparative, developing their argument by contrasts to Germanic law and to the principles that underlay Western manorialism. Similarly, Asakawa's studies exploited his extensive knowledge of European feudalism to delineate the differences between Japanese shoen and Western manors and to designate and describe feudal institutions in Japan. But beyond the specific comparisons with European institutions that allowed these scholars to identify and define the subject of their inquiries rests a more basic influence. Their elaborations of the shoen were conditioned by an understanding that the terrain of history came already inscribed with certain patterns—came already organized by legal, economic, and other systems. In other words, an idea that the past can and should be made to yield to some sort of systematic order inhabits and makes possible these scholars' investigations—else Asakawa and Nakada could not have written as they did. And, unavoidably, this understanding orders not only their method, but the subject/object of their study as well. The estate system must be seen, in short, as a discursive as well as a historical product: its condition of possibility not only the estates that dotted the Japanese landscape circa 800 to 1600, but also the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century refashioning of the discipline.

These circumstances framing the birth of scholarship on the shoen system have had profound consequences (in both Japan and the West) down to the present day. Scholars like Nakada and Asakawa, in effect, produced the field, and their concerns outlined its shape. To be sure, in the decades that have intervened since they drafted their pioneering works much of what they wrote has been contested and superseded. Yet if details of their argument have been disproved or rendered superfluous, their effort to situate Japan's past by reference to a cluster of ostensibly universal categories has provided the framework for research on shoen. Subsequent scholars have thus expended much effort attempting to place the system within these categories—debating, for example, whether the system belongs properly to antiquity or to the medieval epoch (or to some transitional period); disputing whether its institutions should be characterized as feudal or as something else; trying to decide if its peasant subjects are best classified as slaves, serfs, or freemen; and devising classificatory shemes for the patterns of land ownership found within the Japanese counterpart of the "manor."

Such debates have produced a wealth of knowledge about the estates. Patterns of landholding, types of tenure, modes of administration, and rent systems have been exhaustively studied; archives have been combed for information, and a dazzling amount of material has been made available for study. The picture that has emerged from these explorations is of a diverse, even chaotic, body. Shoen have been revealed to encompass just about every kind of holding imaginable, and to incorporate all manner of economic activity, not just agriculture. Yet for all the diversity, there has never been any doubt that the disparate parts formed a coherent whole, that the estates comprised a recognizable socioeconomic formation, a social system. Despite the many directions shoen studies have taken, and despite intense controversies, the shoen have from the start been comprehended as part of a system; "estate" has been used more or less interchangeably with "estate system." Derived ultimately, I believe, from a historical tradition in which legal, economic, and political systems comprised the basic horizon of analysis, this assumption has offered a ground of coherence upon which shoen studies could build. And accepting this premise of systematicity as a starting point, historians have been able to concentrate on measuring the estate system's deviation from (or conformity to) certain institutional archetypes or on settling its place within history's master narratives; few have felt called upon to inquire into what precisely it was that allowed one to speak of the shoen as a system, that sanctioned the leap from the variety of individual estates to the consistency of a system.

This study takes a somewhat different tack. I aim neither to catalog the features of the Japanese manifestation of manorialism nor to narrate the system's rise and fall. Such an enterprise, though valuable, is at odds with my main purpose: to view the shoen in its longue durée; not to explicate a succession of types of estates or a series of political and economic turmoils, but to recover the basic structures that marshaled the diversity of individual estates into the regularity of a system. While I agree that there is method to the estates, I think there is value in an approach that takes the premise slightly differently. Instead of regarding it as license to launch other sorts of exploration, I see a need to redirect attention to the nature, operation, and functioning of the system itself. Shifting emphasis, I believe, can help to develop a new understanding of the shoen. By focusing on how the system operated before attempting to label it, by investigating the regularities that ordered its seeming chaos before recounting how it evolved out of the preceding era or presaged the succeeding one, I hope to detail how the system can be understood as, in the words of one prominent medievalist, "the central defining characteristic of the medieval period."

My approach, accordingly, will be somewhat different from that found in many histories of the estates. I wish to avoid, in particular, the teleology implicit in narrative description—the sense, as François Furet puts it, that "what comes first explains what follows," that institutions or systems must change perceptibly with each passing decade and that those changes fall all in a line, toward "growth" and "maturity" for a "young" institution, toward "decline" and "death" for a system already mature. Much work on the estate system is marked by just such a desire to plot the trajectory of the institution, to find a coherent path that leads ineluctably from the institution's beginning, through its middle or maturity, on to its end. Such a chronological or narrative approach bestows a sense of linear development that in the case of the estate system seems particularly misleading. For what one encounters in the shoen is not the steady evolution of one type of estate from another, but a confused and repetitive movement that cannot be reduced to a temporal succession of archetypes. Any attempt to identify the "typical" eleventh- or thirteenth- or fifteenth-century estate and describe the stages by which one form evolved into the next is bound to be thwarted by the multiplicity of estate histories running contrary or otherwise at variance to the "typical" flow and by the "untimely" (whether late or early) presence of certain institutions or practices. The chief result of such attempts is an impoverished understanding of the estate system; aiming for a persuasive (hi)story of the estate form, this approach tends instead to reduce the variety of individual estate histories to so many archetypes bound to follow a given evolutionary path.

A narrative approach is plagued by other, equally problematic, effects. First, even as the demands of narrative flow create a history that evolves through distinct stages (because the eleventh-century estate must demonstrably differ from its thirteenth-century counterpart, etc.), narrative tends to deflect attention away from the very stages it constructs. The main concern of a narrative history will always be the movement from one stage to the next and the causes governing that movement. The stages and types of estate associated with them become, in effect, no more than stations on the way toward a preordained goal—i. e., an economic system in which shoen do not predominate. Estates and the social and cultural formations within which they operated thus cease to be objects of interest in themselves and become worthy of attention only insofar as they serve as markers of change. A chronological approach therefore responds to a manifestly transhistorical interest; its desire is to reach an end point and fulfill a destiny that it knows lies ahead, and not to describe the operation of an institution or culture apart from its fate. Moreover, to the extent that this approach attributes particular value to evidence that "embodies" change, it will restrict the range of materials/subjects available to history: because cause and effect are of such importance, matters that do not lend themselves to causal explanation will inevitably be suppressed as nonhistorical. Everything must first be interrogated for its possible contribution to the evolution of the system. A hierarchy of evidence is thereby created in which artifacts and social practices that seem not to lead anywhere are judged to be of secondary importance, while events which seem to betoken change are promoted in significance. Thus, in most histories of the shoen, estate maps, for instance, or the rituals of daily life, take a backseat to ostensibly more "obvious" harbingers of change: unruly warriors, defiant estate managers, tax revolts, and the like. Impeded in this fashion, a history of the estates will be hard-pressed to recognize the dynamics and contradictions that underlie the reproduction of the mundane, or, conversely, see how peasant uprisings, for example, might comment on the regular operation of the system and not just on its decline.

These reflections suggest that one needs a new strategy to comprehend the estates as a central feature of medieval life and not simply as a stage in the evolution of Japanese landholding. Therefore, this study will not attempt to chart the production, growth, and development of estates through time, but will emphasize the stability, the reproduction at wide removes of time and space, of certain fundamental notions and structures against which the diverse histories of individual estates played themselves out. Here, too, is found my rationale for treating roughly three centuries, from approximately 1100 to 1400, as a single bloc. By no means do I wish to suggest that nothing happened during this period—that, for example, the fourteenth-century economy was no different from that of the twelfth century, or that the political climate remained unchanged. I wish only to emphasize that despite profound changes in high politics or within the economy, the basic structures that defined the estate system remained remarkably durable. Embedded in the flows of goods and people which sustained and enabled the system was a communication between proprietors and their estates that carried political as well as economic significance. The constant circulation into the capital and out again to the provinces conveyed a particular organization of the countryside, placed the realm within a network of relationships that shaped and ordered it in certain ways. This network of relationships and the interactions it produced, and by which it, in turn, was reproduced, comprise the subject matter of this study. Embodied in the manner in which estates were conjured out of the natural landscape and organized into a basis of production; discernible in the ways peasants were constituted as subjects of the system; implicit in the codes peasant residents of estates manipulated to make their protests known—are certain ordering principles that composed the system of the estates. This study takes shape, therefore, as a search for the system that allows us to speak, write, even conceive of, an estate system.

Instead, then, of a new typology of estates or a new narrative of the institution's rise and fall, I propose a different starting point and a different set of questions. This study commences not with "Where does the estate system fit in the march of history?" or "What patterns of landholding or administration can be observed on different estates?" but, more basically, with "How did the shoen constitute a social and cultural system?" The central problem, as I see it, is to mark the social, spatial, and other configurations that delimited the realm of the shoen and to register the patterns of interaction that provided for the system's reproduction through time. Addressed specifically to the broad ordering of society, space, and meaning that the system posed, this sort of analysis is intended as a corrective to accounts which unthinkingly conflate individual estates and the system of which they were a part. To understand the system, one must look beyond the estates to the basic structures within which they were constituted.

This procedure will, I hope, show the estate system to be a complex and multileveled social and cultural order, not merely a congeries of landholding patterns. And I further hope that it will counter a tendency of historians to take the system for granted and proceed thence to other questions, instead of probing the premise of systematicity that lies at the root of the knowledge they produce. In this study, I propose to counter this historiographical tradition with a series of analyses of the system's basic conditions of possibility—with a set of inquiries designed to recover the patterns of interaction and the signifying practices that enabled and ordered the system of estates.


Excerpted from The Geography of Power in Medieval Japan by Thomas Keirstead. Copyright © 1992 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1 In Go-Sanjo's Archive: Discovering the System of the Estates 3

Estates and the Estate System 10

Tracing the Break 14

Go-Sanjo's Archive 17

2 Hyakusho and the Rhetoric of Identity 25

Defining the Subject 26

The Lineaments of Identity 30

A Wandering State 34

Inventing the Hyakusho 38

Split Subjects 44

3 Official Transcripts: Myo, Maps, Surveys, and the Entitlement of the Estate 46

Myo: Points of Contention 47

Borders 51

Taking the Measure of the Land 57

Gathering 62

Myo and Hyakusho 66

Orderly Places, Contested Spaces 69

4 The Theater of Protest 72

Rebellion 74

The Rituals of Rebellion 83

Petitioning 87

Hyakusho moshijo 90

Closing in on the Subject 94

5 Conclusion: The Debate about Decline 98

Notes 119

Glossary 157

Bibliography 165

Index 179

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews