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Bibliographic Data: Tonomura, Hitomi. Community and Commerce in Late Medieval Japan: The Corporate Villages of Tokuchin-ho.. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.

Main Argument: Tonomura uses the most complete set of surviving village documents from the medieval period to explore the process of community formation in late medieval Japan, arguing that this process was natural and uncontested by proprietors (unlike in the West) and that village cooperatives provided fundamental patterns on which later Tokugawa social organization, as well as economic prosperity, was laid.

Historiographical Engagement: Tonomura is very well-versed in earlier Japanese historiography of the medieval period, most notably with Ishimoda Shô but reaching back at times into studies from as far back as the 1920s.

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Tonomura introduces the village of Imabori, now part of Higashiômi city in Shiga-ken, which in the medieval period was a village in Tokuchin-ho, an estate under the proprietorship of Enryaku-ji. Although Imabori is and was a relatively unremarkable village, it "possesses a wealth of documents written locally and kept since the thirteenth century…the richest of its kind anywhere in Japan" (3). Imabori was a sô community, which was "a village-based corporate group marked by various forms of collective ownership and administration" (ibid). Additionally, Imabori villagers appear to have played a dominant role in the Honai Merchants Collective organized by merchants from several neighboring towns including Imabori, and served as the record-keepers for the collective as well. Their stance was enhanced by the fact that sô leadership were also members of the miyaza or shrine association. The documents in the collection fall into three categories: administrative records, regulatory documents, and entrepreneurial records. Tonomura argues that "late medieval Japan was the period of the rising commoner" due to three related developments: increasing agricultural productivity, "greater diffusion of political prerogatives, and a visible articulation of collective power at various levels of society" (6-7). Sô villages were on the rise as a consequence of this, and their burgeoning empowerment actually had the paradoxical effect of strengthening the authority of the kenmon ("the imperial family, aristocrats, religious institutions, and the Muromachi bakufu, all located in and around Kyoto" (8)) in the provinces, since the kenmon vastly preferred the rise of villages to the rise of provincial warriors. The kenmon tended to act as a self-conscious bloc despite their intense economic competition among each other, given that no single one of them could rule alone. Tonomura's analysis follows a patron-client model that "emphasizes a lord-peasant relationship predominantly marked by collaboration" (13), rather than following the mainstream tradition of medieval Japanese historiography beginning with Ishimoda Shô, which "affirmed the fundamentally conflictive nature of society, especially along the vertical axes of classes" (ibid) and is strongly Marxist. It is also one of the new "empirical village studies" which were pioneered by Nakamura Ken and which eschew the search for broad theoretical significance in favor of paying close attention to the documents along with the geography in which they were compiled.

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter covers "The Physical and Political Environment" of Tokuchin-ho, which is located in the Gamô Plain near Lake Biwa. Tokuchin-ho was under the proprietorship of Enryaku-ji on Hiei-zan in Kyoto. Enryaku-ji, although not without its own external schisms (see the relevant sections of the Heike, for example) and internal power struggles, especially along the lines of architectural divisions in the temple complex, was one of the most powerful kenmon institutions almost from its beginning in 798, particularly through its affiliation with Hie Jinja at the foot of the mountain in Sakamoto. For example, Enryaku-ji and Hie served as the patrons (one scholar calls this relationship "a protection racket") for more than 80 percent of Kyoto moneylenders in the early 14thC. Together, these institutions possessed land, money, and military power in a very large degree, but even this was not enough to prevent the muscling in of the shugo family in the region, the Rokkaku, who held the governorship of Ômi from its initial grant in the 1180s to its extinction in 1568, the only shugo house to survive the medieval period intact, largely through the flexibility the Rokkaku built up via their federated vassals. The shugo were subject to the bakufu at varying degrees at various times, placing Tokuchin-ho under the triangle of Enryaku-ji, shugo, and bakufu. The bakufu was often forced to disappoint one of the other of these institutions in its quest for its own survival.

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples The second chapter covers "The Sô Village." Tonomura discusses the evolution of the sô in general and in Imabori in particular, noting that sô as a cooperative village structure were organic and evolved gradually, often more or less in tandem with the miyaza. Tokuchin-ho comprised multiple smaller units called gô, which eventually evolved into early modern mura but were not quite the same as that later form. Sô existed both at the gô (viz. the Imabori sô) and at the ho level (i.e. the Honai merchants' sô). Membership in the sô and the miyaza was restricted to men of the village (murando), although the gender restriction was not uniform throughout medieval Japan. Although membership was gradated by economic standing (i.e. class) the most salient difference was status, i.e. whether one was a "village person" or not. Widows, orphans, and non-murando were punished more harshly in sô regulations than others, and generally suffered first in times of economic hardship. Outsiders who enjoyed something of a privileged position in village life were religious professionals, called hijiri, who were affiliated with Enryaku-ji and "provided an important ideological link between the proprietary institution and the village" (61). Burgeoning localism also influenced the development of the shin den, or shrine land, which the sô increasingly sought to control outright via commendation or sale of the land to the shrine. Finally, Tonomura notes that in the medieval cosmological order, "spirits, deities, and bodhisattvas were abundant, and people needed to bring order to these multitudes of cosmic influences. They did so by arranging them along the twin axes of time and space" (68).

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples Chapter Three examines "The Sô Village in Its Estate Setting." As Tonomura notes, "the sô was an organization composed of a population living on soil overseen by an absentee lord with enormous political and economic power" (72), and the sô's prerogatives were built in relation to the proprietorship of Enryaku-ji. In many important respects, Imabori was not an archetypal sô village; it did not collectivize tax payment, and its status as a village under a sole proprietor (Enryaku-ji) affected its development in important ways, as did its physical characteristics. Although Imabori was a kaito (enclosed/irrigated) village, it seems likely that it organized out of the villagers' own impetus, since it was not situated within a rectangular plot left over from the ancient equal allotment system. Since the village was not fully irrigated, separate spheres emerged in terms of rice farming, where Enryaku-ji's interests were concentrated, and in terms of cultivating non-paddy land, which is where villagers' efforts were concentrated in order to maximize profits. By the late medieval period it seems that a numerous class of smallholders (myôshu) had emerged below the large landholders in the village. In terms of local governance, Imabori was somewhat independent; Imabori villagers had "extensive control over production, irrigation, and the disposal of the surplus" (91) and there were no local warriors muscling in on the populace. Imabori's relative comfort was enhanced by the authority of the sô to regulate all aspects of village life, such as whether and how villagers were to interact with outsiders, and the fact that its relationship with its proprietor was "characterized by 'sincere performance of mutual obligations' rather than 'a brutal outbreak of hostility on both sides'" (95).

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples Chapter Four covers "Village Links with the Outside" in the form of commodity circulation via medieval merchants and markets. Medieval Japan saw an incipient commercial revolution, and the Honai merchants of Tokuchin-ho were successful in it due to their merchant cooperative, which "greatly bolstered their competitiveness in planning and executing winning stratagems" (101), and due to the patronage of Enryaku-ji, whose support was vital to the success of those stratagems. Unlike merchants in later eras, medieval merchants were often part-time traders and part-time cultivators, and evidence indicates that they were largely of the myôshu (prosperous smallholder) class (although it seems that most village men also participated in commerce at some point). The Honai merchants were assisted by ashiko (itinerant) merchants but were superior to them because of their property connections, both at the markets, which were dominated by za merchant collectives, and in their home villages. Ashiko, however, were instrumental in the diffusion of commerce to all levels of society, along with markets themselves, which were periodic and fulfilled a variety of economic, social, and even spiritual (in that they connected the secular and the sacred) functions. The closest Tokuchin-ho market was Yôkaichi, but there were many other regional markets at which Honai merchants could sell their wares. There were so many markets because a) their periodicity allowed for greater distribution; b) most markets were open only to recognized merchant groups selling approved commodities; and c) the fragmented authority of the medieval period tended to foster market profusion.

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter covers "The Assertion of Commercial Interests" on the part of the Honai merchants. What distinguished the Honai merchants was not the quality of the wares but the skill with which they navigated the political and social currents that shaped commercial practices: every dispute the Honai entered into in the documentary record ended in their favor. Medieval commerce operated between the two poles of yuisho (legacy, historical precedent) and shingi (innovation), with the result that even the greenest of newcomers had to cloak their shingi in yuisho in order to secure trading rights. The Honai merchants were masterful at this process, and until the mid-1500s their disputes proceeded according to the following formula: first, overstep trading boundaries and provoke the seizure of their goods by established merchants in the area; second, complain to a higher authority and rely on its patron (Enryaku-ji), "both powerful enough to function as the ultimate source of justice and partial enough to assure the victory of its client merchants" (124). Forged documents were key to most of the Honai's early attempts, and in particular one document called the inzen which was purportedly signed by Go-Shirakawa in 1157. The forged inzen "gained life and vitality only through the process of adjudication and an adjudicator's willingness to accept it as winning evidence" (125), and although first Enryaku-ji and then Rokkaku officials suspected the inzen's legitimacy, over time its authority became absolute. It lasted until the 1550s, when the Honai merchants had a temporary falling out with the Rokkaku and abandoned the use of the inzen, switching to more or less outright bribery in conjunction with political alliances in its final victorious trade dispute.

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples Chapter Six, "Reorganization from the Top," covers the eclipse of the sô village and merchant cooperatives in the era of the unifiers at the end of the medieval (late Sengoku and Momoyama) periods. Tonomura writes that "the strength of the sô … was founded on the decentralized political system" (151), and its strength waned rapidly in a centralizing age. The Honai merchants disappeared by the 1580s along with the kenmon, de facto tying the residents of Tokuchin-ho to the land, a process that was made law under Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi of course also conducted new cadastral surveys, greatly increasing the tax burden on Imabori peasants and drastically reorganizing landholdings by registering them to individual cultivators by name. Shrine land was mostly confiscated outright, even as the sô was left intact but reoriented to serve as the lowest unit of informal control in Tokugawa rule, which distinguished between an outer, public, bureaucratic realm and an inner, local, and private realm: "each villager was a vital component of the governing body, linked through the institution of a mutual surveillance team, which in turn was organized and supervised by officials who at once answered local needs and the lord's demands" (178). It bears noting that the characteristics of the new regime in Imabori were derived in part from old medieval patterns, and that this prevailed throughout Japan; thus, it is not possible to generalize about these developments at a very granular level. That said, it is clear that the Imabori sô became more localized and inward-looking in the Tokugawa period, which makes sense given that its legitimate venues for external activity had been cut off.

Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples Tonomura notes that, although the sô was "a social institution without a legal status" (189), "formation of a community in Japan was a normal social process that was, unlike in the West, neither a special privilege nor a legal right to be discussed" (190). The naturalness of this process and of the resulting communities contribute to the comparative rarity of overt peasant protest in medieval Japan. Examining cultivator rather than proprietor records shows that "the shôen system, then, lasted much longer than is conventionally assumed. The ongoing recognition of kenmon-based prestige and the accompanying system of prestige-based legitimation in the world of commerce helped to sustain its economic viability" (192). Finally, "the organization of the medieval sô, interlocked with the structure of the shôen, promoted economic rationalism and group solidarity, shaping a social base for the later development of Japan's economy" in the Tokugawa period (ibid).

Critical assessment:
On some levels, it is difficult to decide whether Hitomi Tonomura's account of village cooperatives in Ômi Provnice represents a story without a hero or a hero without a story. Only when I reached the end of her study, and was forced to contemplate again its profound differences from more recent scholarship on the Edo and even medieval periods, that I realized that she has accomplished something much subtler if, perhaps, less superficially exciting than mere narrative.

Consider the map of the cosmological spatial order (Fig. 1) in medieval Imabori on page 69. A tour de force of cartography on one level, the map also functions as a diagram of the plan of the book as a whole: Tonomura starts by delineating the inner core of village life, where local and proprietary interests were most heavily concerned, and gradually moves out into less sacralized and correspondingly more contentious (and ambiguously delineated) spaces or zones of interest in which local people interacted with--and in the case of the Honai merchants, instigated disputes with--people from outside their area for commercial and personal gain. The map represents the book, and the book, in that respect, faithfully mirrors the structure of local society in medieval Japan, at least in this particular (not entirely typical) medieval village.

It's instructive to compare Tonomura's evaluation of the characteristics of the Tokugawa social order vis-a-vis the residents of the vanished Tokuchin-ho to the ebullient evaluations of the Edo period as "the age of movement par excellence" (to quote, somewhat unfairly, Laura Nenzi)--for Tonomura, the highwater mark of village autonomy and local empowerment comes sometime in the Warring States period, and the effects of increasing rationalization and centralization of power and authority in Japan on village life read as the aftermath of a golden age. She would, I think, be saddened to know that Yôkaichi merged with several other cities to form Higashi Ômi in 2005. Having read later studies, I cast something of a jaundiced eye on her claims at the end of the book regarding the "rigidity" of the Tokugawa social order. It certainly seems that the Tokugawa world was utterly rigid in terms of status; class and even geographic location, however, were another matter, especially as time went on and continuing economic growth eroded social strictures based on a late medieval economy. Tokugawa laws did not perfectly reflect Tokugawa social reality, which should come as no surprise (Tonomura's specific examples of social rigidity are also drawn from very early in the Edo period, which may be part of the reasoning behind her conclusions).

This is a rich, dense book that manages to make its points without much resort to overt argumentation. Indeed, my primary complaint lies in my wish that, rather than simply quoting other scholars and evaluating whether Tokuchin-ho matched their paradigms, Tonomura had dared to create a paradigm or two of her own. Perhaps, given her sensitive evaluation of her trove of documents, she didn't feel qualified to make such sweeping claims. Regardless, the book does make, and uphold, a series of claims about the experience of medieval social change at the local level that is broadly illuminating.

Further reading: William Wayne Farris, Japan's Medieval Population

Meta notes: Note to self: actually go to Sakamoto the next time you're in Kyoto.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-08-06 21:12 (UTC)
lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)
From: [personal profile] lnhammer
Interesting. *jots down title*

Two questions: In this context, how is the Momoyama period defined? And how close to the main road heading east (was called the Tōkaidō yet?) was this location?


(no subject)

Date: 2013-08-07 03:52 (UTC)
lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)
From: [personal profile] lnhammer
Looks half the distance to the Nakasendô than the Tôkaidô. That's useful for orientation. Thanks.



ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

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