Thursday, 20 May 2010

Amino Yoshihiko (5): "Môko shûrai"

Môko shûrai (The Mongol Invasions) from 1974 is an early work by Amino on Japanese society in the late Kamakura period. It predates later, more famous books like Muen Kugai Raku, but already here several themes that will later form the mainstay of “Amino historiography” make their appearance. Reading the book is like watching the birth of this historiography, seeing it break out from the egglike shell of traditional historiography. Long parts of the 600 page work are pure political history – a history of “events” which feels strange and unusual from Amino’s pen - but from time to time he approaches what one feels are his favorite subjects. These moments are the highlights of the book and here he becomes really captivating. A small surprise is the vigor with which he attacks other historians and how hard he tries to argue for his own views – perhaps a sign that his theses were still new and not yet widely accepted among historians at the time of the book's first appearance.

The book feels like it runs on two "tracks”: one consisting of the political narrative and another consisting of socio-cultural history with an emphasis on the relation between agriculture and non-agriculture. This double character reflects what Amino states to be his twofold aim: not only to consider the impact of the Mongol invasions on Japanese politics and society, but also to investigate the “wild” (yasei) of the Japanese people in “what was probably the last era in which it was still full of life” (Amino 2001:38f). The feeling that one is reading two books rather than one is strengthened by the uncertainty about what Amino regards as the really important historical cause behind the changes he traces. Much of what he describes doesn’t really seem to be about the effects of the invasions at all. The important cause is instead another development which took place around the same time: the growth and spread of a vibrant monetary economy and the ensuing erosion of the feeling of the sacred – or, as he also puts it, the advance of “civilization” and the retreat of the “primitive”.

As mentioned, many of the themes that will later preoccupy Amino are present already in this work. I have already mentioned the magnificent introductory passages about stone throwing, the worship of village gods (sai no kami), the role of temples and priests in the development of early banking, and the emergence of pirates and bandits, as well as the Yase children and other mountain peoples, and the dress code and hair style of outcasts and artisans. Already in this work we can also see Amino’s interest in “asylums” and “sanctuaries”. Another problem that looms large in this book is that of the origin of the discrimination of outcasts, but to that I will return in a future entry. The big problem of the relation of non-agriculturalists to the emperor is also treated here, and that too is a matter to which I will return.

Gamblers and warriors were artisans

Here I won’t dwell on any of the above subjects, but instead focus on Amino’s discussion of the stratum of “artisans” (shokunin, or shikinin as it was pronounced in the Kamakura period). This will tell us much about social dynamics during the medieval period. It will also be a healthy antidote to anyone whose view of premodern Japanese society is formed by the Edo period with its strict separation between warriors and the rest of the population.

The medieval concept of “artisan” was much wider than today. As documents such as shokunin-utaawase show, the concept included not only artisans and craftsmen in the modern sense, but also gamblers, fishermen, medical doctors, yin yang masters (onmyôji), shamans (miko) and beggar monks (itaka). Similarly, if one looks at typologies of geinô – a word that today means public entertainment but which originally was used in a wide sense similar to what in English could be called “art” or “craft” in the widest sense – one finds that it includes not only artists and artisans, but also prostitutes, shirabyôshi dancers, dengaku performers, biwa-players (biwa-hôshi), gamblers, fishermen, a variety of monks and even warriors (bushi). These were all groups of professionals possessing their own “way” (michi or ) and for that reason were also referred to as “people of the way” (michimichi no mono or michimichi no tomogara). Thus there was the way of the woodworker (mokkôdô) (see illustration above), the way of lacquery (shikkôdô) and even, of course, the famous "tsuwamono no michi” that later became known as “bushidô”, the way of the warrior (Amino 2001: 29-33, 359-363). As Amino points, the inclusion of groups such as gamblers and prostitutes among the artisans during the middle ages strongly suggests that they were in no way as stigmatized or discriminated as they would later be.

Below are examples of artisans from the shokunin-utaawase:  from left to right starting on the first row a yin yang master, a beggar monk, a biwa-player, sellers of tea and herbal medicines, and dancers (kusemai and shirabyôshi). Note the prevalence of veiled or monklike appearance, and the male dress of one of the dancers.

The inclusion of warriors among the artisans is a bit surprising. As I pointed out earlier in connection with hairstyles, there was indeed a strong connection between warriors and other “non-agriculturalists” in medieval culture. Amino also points to other similarities between warriors and other artisans. Thus many kugonin (artisans and traders in imperial service) would be granted tax-exempted land. He points out that historians have usually regarded this as proof that trade and farming were still not differentiated and claimed that this allotment of land was a way of subordinating the kugonin to local authorities (kokuga and shôen-holders). This is a view Amino dismisses. The artisans did not necessarily engage in farming themselves, since the fields were simply a source of revenue, offered as a form of reward or payment for their service. Amino urges us to compare these grants of land to the tax-exempted fields given to low-ranking shôen officials (geshi or kumon), who were by no means “dependent”. On the contrary, many of them had status as retainers (gokenin) and many were mobile and by no means tied down to their land. These officials too, Amino argues, were artisans, living by offering their craft, their geinô, which consisted in the art of war. “The warriors were without doubt also artisans”, Amino concludes (Amino 2001:375ff).

In Korea too, Amino points out, warriors were counted as artisans and these artisan groups were all supported by tax-exempted land grants. In Korea, however, these artisans, including the warriors, were regarded as senmin, “base people” – a term well known in Japanese history as a designation for slaves and groups considered “polluted”, often because of occupations involving the taking of life or contact with corpses or dead animals. In the 10th century, one even sees Korean commoners insulting warriors by comparing them to butchers (Amino 2001:378).

Here I can't help recalling the old paradox of “impurity” and the warrior class: if killing was considered a source of pollution in Japan, how come warriors were not discriminated? In fact, they were discriminated in Japan too before their ascent to power. Thus the Heian court avoided official executions and had no official military forces. While palace guards (konoe-hei) existed, they were not officially recognized as such and lacked a basis in the ritsuryô legal system. The “police” (kebiishi) was similarly lacking in legal basis and its low-ranking members were close in status to the groups that would later be known as hinin, such as former criminals (hômen) (see the illustration below from the Nenchûgyôji emaki, late Heian period). All this indicates that warriors were indeed considered “polluted” to some extent also in Japan.

The situation of the military in Japan after 1945 offers something of a parallel, with Self-Defence Forces (jieitai) not officially recognized as a military and existing despite the Constitution expressly forbidding Japan to possess military forces. Just as the extra-legal status of the military in Heian times allowed the imperial court to disavow any contact with polluted occupations, today the Japanese government is able to disavow any contact with the "polluted" legacy of the Asia-Pacific war by pretending that it no longer possesses a military.

Despite the low status of warriors in the Heian period, Amino argues that the status of the "artisan" stratum to which they belonged was generally higher in Japan than in Korea. In Japan, they would be granted a variety of privileges and form close ties to the imperial court and powerful shrines and temples. What explains the difference, Amino believes, is the powerful position of the warrior caste in Japan. In particular, the establishment of warrior rule in the late 12th century was decisive in lifting it out of the association with impurity (Amino 2001:279).

At the same time, cracks began to appear within the artisan stratum in the late middle ages, with parts of it seeing their social status sink and becoming singled out as objects for discrimination. Thus warriors not allied with the power-holders were denigrated as bandits (akutô). “The bandits were without doubts itinerant bands of warriors, among whose fellow-travellers were the people known as much polluted (kegare ôshi)” (Amino 2001:488).

Above all, the late middle ages sees the increasing discrimination of such ”polluted” groups (hinin). Much of what Amino writes shows his concern with the origin of this discrimination. I will return to this subject in a later post. Let me just state here that he shows that this discrimination must be understood against the background of larger social developments affecting the balance of agriculturalists and non-agriculturalists as a whole. The question of the origin of discrimination in fact become the question of what caused the shrinking and break-up of the once so broad and fluid stratum of “artisans” and the separation from it of the warriors on the one hand and of discriminated groups like the outcasts, the gamblers, the prostitutes and the bandits on the other.

The primitive and the civilized

The reason that Amino regards the century from the late 13th century onwards as a historical turning point is no doubt the development of a monetary economy and the flowering of commerce. As we have seen, Amino believes that the decisive role in this development was played by “non-agriculturalists” – artisans and traders who often, as kugonin, jinin or yoriudo, enjoyed protection by the court or the big temples or shrines.

The link between this long term social process and the political history of “events” comes forward best when Amino discusses the shifting policies that the various rulers adopted in regard to the unfolding commercialism. The Hôjo family, which dominated the bakufu and were de facto rulers until 1333 when they were toppled by emperor Go-Daigo's forces, usually tried to rein it in, suppressing the “bandits” and generally viewing non-agriculturalists as “bad”. Instead they would favor the settled farming population (bumin) and do its best to secure or restore the land holdings of its retainers (which tended to get lost as the retainers put themselves in debt, thereby hollowing out their military strength). A contrast was offered by Go-Daigo, who sided with the non-agriculturalists, favoring commerce and allying himself with bandits and merchants in his struggle against the bakufu (Amino 2001:156).

As Amino states in the book, one of his aims is to grasp these developments by bringing in the vantage point of the primitive – a vantage point which can be said to be a distinctive trait of “Amino historiography”. “In these shifts occurring in the agricultural and non-agricultural worlds respectively, I want to see the last organized resistance of the primitive and the process of the final victory of civilization” (Amino 2001:596). In this last great counterattack against the advance of civilization, the “bandits” – experts of ancient fighting techniques like stone throwing, club wielding and attacking enemies with rolling logs – played a large role, as did Go-Daigo who did his best to muster the forces of the “primitive” on his side during his brief, ill-fated attempt to restore imperial power. With the defeat of the “primitive” spirit and its transformation into a mere desire for wealth among the merchants and bandits, the sense of the sacred too declined. The hinin sank down to the status of discriminated outcasts where they would remain for centuries and the emperor was deprived of power and confined to the world of art (Amino 2001:499, 598).

Overlaying the opposition between agriculture and non-agriculture with that of the civilized and the primitive creates a certain ambiguity in the book, since these two oppositions are by no means identical. While non-agriculture in the sense of itinerant, nomadic lifestyles in close contact with nature may be rooted in the primitive, non-agriculture also has the future on its side, with the onset of a trade, commercial development and an advanced market economy. The increasing weight of money in society is in fact a decisive factor in the erosion of the “sacred” or “primitive” world-view. Ironically, at the same time that commerce takes off in Japan the image of the Japanese as an “agricultural people” and the world-view of the settled agricultural population also starts to become dominant (Amino 2001:596). What happens is in fact several processes that appear to have been intertwined in complex ways:

1) Agriculture becomes hegemonic in society (a development that reaches its final stage in the Edo period and is manifested both in the ideology of Japan as a country based on rice and in the general cultural hegemony of the values and outlook on the world of the settled, agricultural population).

2) A commercial economy and budding capitalism starts to flourish (a development that sets in decisively in the late Kamakura period and which is then sometimes checked and sometimes encouraged by rulers)

3) The above two forces of “civilization” defeat the “primitive”. This seems to be so in at least two senses: The primitive undifferentiated society in which occupations were not settled and people still moved around a lot gives way to a more settled society. At the same time, the sense of the sacred is weakened by the increased importance of money and military might in society.

What are we to make of this strange narrative framework of a victory of civilization over primitivity? Clearly, this is not a neutral or value-free framework. Amino is unmistakably unhappy about this victory. To understand why, however, it is not sufficient to focus on Môko shûrai alone. I would argue that Amino only reveals part of this framework here, and that the essential part – the key to why he uses the framework in the first place – is only revealed in later works, above all Muen Kugai Raku.

The at first sight rather idiosyncratic choice of subjects such as stone throwing, clubs and village gods in the shape of round stones is meant to provide direct glimpses of the ”primitive” as it still lingered on in medieval society. The same can be said about the discussion about the primitive fighting methods of ”bandits” in Akutô to kaizoku. But why is Amino so fascinated by the primitive? The answer to that is only provided in Muen Kugai Raku, because this is where he most directly and fully presents his daring assumption of an idealized “primitive” age in which the sacred and muen were still full of life. The primitive, to Amino, is not just an ensemble of religious beliefs and crude fighting methods, as it may appear in Môko shûrai, but also the abode of ”primordial muen” (gen-muen).

Although hard to guess for presentday readers of Môko shûrai, this was an immensely politically charged work. There is an interview from 2001 in which Amino states that he had had Zenkyôtô – the most famous of the student bodies participating in the student revolts that rocked the Japanese campuses in 1968-69 – in mind when he wrote Môko shûrai, in particular the passages about stone-throwing and the use of clubs (Amino 2002:173f; cf also Nakazawa 2004:45-54). As is well known, stones and clubs (geba-bô) were favorite weapons of the radical students in their clashes with the riot police, and the ”Shinjuku riots” in 1969 in particular are famous for the havoc they wrought by stone-throwing. The narrative about the victory of ”civilization” is no mere romantic lament about the decline of religious feeling.

Amino’s recognition of an old ”primitive” force in the stone-throwing students shows that he by no means views the the ”victory of civilization” as complete or ”progress” as unstoppable. Instead, we can see that for him the ”primitive” instead continues to exists as a hidden, subterranean current in history, which can erupt and reappear in public. This view of history as consisting of visible and invisible traditions is a part of ”Amino historiography” which will later influence thinkers like Sawaragi Noi, whose Sensô to banpaku is profoundly shaped by Amino’s view of history.

This is of course also why the idea of muen was felt to be relevant today by so many of Amino's readers.

Amino, Yoshihiko (2001 [1974]) Môko shûrai (The Mongol Invasions), Tokyo: Shôgakukan.

Amino, Yoshihiko (2002) “Jinruishiteki tenkanki ni okeru rekishigaku to Nihon” (History and Japan in a transformative period of humankind” (interview by Oguma Eiji), pp 143-232, in Amino & al ‘Nihon’ o megutte: Amino Yoshihiko taidan-shû (About ‘Japan’: Collection of conversations with Amino Yoshihiko), Tokyo: Kôdansha.

Nakazawa, Shin’ichi (2004) Boku no ojisan Amino Yoshihiko (My uncle Amino Yoshihiko), Tokyo: Shûeisha shinsho.

Sawaragi, Noi 9 (2005) Sensô to banpaku (World Wars and World Fairs), Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha.

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