Before starting, let me point out two baisc and important moves that Amino makes:
1) He shows that discrimination is rooted not in the status society of the Edo-period or the policies of Hideyoshi, but in processes at work in medieval society and ultimately in the establishment of centralized imperial power through the ritsuryô-state in the 7th century.
2) He shows that what happened must be understood against the background of larger social developments affecting the balance of agriculturalists and non-agriculturalists as a whole. The increasing discrimination of the late middle ages didn’t just affect the groups which we today think of as “outcasts”, but also a whole series of other groups such as prostitutes, bandits, gamblers, itinerant monks and performers.
These are preparatory moves for Amino’s central and most controversial claim, namely that the outcasts were not only feared but also respected and that they even felt pride in their social position during much of the early middle ages. According to Amino, the crucial shift towards a one-sidedly negative view of the outcasts only took place in the latter half of the middle ages, with Go-Daigo’s failed restoration of imperial power as a crucial watershed. In this entry, I follow up my discussion here by looking at the criticism leveled at this thesis by the historian Uesugi Satoshi.
Part 1: Background
The reason that the outcasts were concentrated in Western Japan, especially around the capital region, was their link to the imperial court. This can be seen in the earliest form of outcasts mentioned in the sources, the so-called senmin (”base people”), many of whom belonged to the court and were charged with tasks such as taking care of the sick, burying corpses or guarding imperial burial mounds. In an account much influenced by Amino, Ohnuki-Thierney describes these groups as ”religious specialists” and claims that they had an important role as mediators between gods and humans. One example was the shaman-like asobi-be, who sang funeral songs and played music at funerals (Ohnuki-Thierney 1987:79f). As specialists in ”purification” (kiyome) these groups were indispensible to the court, the nobility and the great religious institutions for whom the removal of ”pollution” or "defilement" (kegare) – the ritual impurity associated with death and bodily fluids – was considered a necessity. However, with the weakening of imperial power and the court’s increasing financial problems in the course of the Heian period, these groups were released from court servitude.
The medieval hinin (non-human) had no direct links to the senmin of the ancient state except for the fact that they both engaged in occupations related to “pollution" (kegare). Unlike the senmin, who were usually tied to the court or various other masters in a slave-like position, the hinin were free and considered to live outside settled society.Although senmin and hinin were distinct as groups, there was a continuity in society's need for a category of people that could be charged with the task of managing "defilement".
The first traces of the emergence of the hinin as a group, according to Amino, can be seen among the inmates of the Hiden'in, a public institution located on the Kamo riverbank in Kyoto that was established to take care of the desolate, the sick and orphans, and which later turned into a temple (albeit a very special one, not only functioning as an asylum for run-away criminals but also as a place for executions and burials). Originally, the inmates of Hiden'in were not singled out as a special group (the orphans, for instance, would be adopted into ordinary families as they grew up and bore no stigma), but the institution as such seems to have been entrusted with "purifying" activities at least from the 9th century. In 842, inmates were ordered to clean up the sculls on the Kamo riverbed and burn them (recall that riverbeds in ancient Japan were used as burial places). Later the same century, they were ordered to patrol the streets and bring the sick and the orphans to Hiden’in. With the weakening and dissolution of the ancient state, the state was no longer able to maintain the running of the institution, and the sick and orphans were left to survive through begging and gradually they would be regarded as hinin. The same process occurred in the case of prisons, with convicts and hômen joining the ranks of the beggars and sick. These were also joined by beggar monks (ichi-hijiri or kawa-hijiri) who chose to leave society out of their own volition (Amino 2005:34-37, 70-84, 136). It is about these groups that the word hinin is used, when around the year 1100 it starts to be used about humans for the first time – earlier it had been a term for dragons, animals and other non-human followers of the Buddha.
In medieval Japan the word hinin thus had a broad range of connotations and gradually came to include a great variety of groups such as the sick, orphans, handlers of corpses, executioners, slaughterers, falconers, leather workers, healers, diviners, a variety of entertainers and artists, and mendicant monks. An important part of the outcasts was still comprised by ”purifiers" and "religious specialists". As Amino points out, purification was itself a vague concept which could include a lot of things, such as ritual purification rites used when building houses. Even the use of music and other arts (geinô) were considered a way of purifying the world. That monks and children too were sometimes included in the hinin-category isn't strange. As we have seen, children too were considered close to the world of the gods, and children, monks and outcasts often had remarkably similar dress.
Amino emphasizes that hinin was not a negative or derogatory term during the early middle ages, despite its literal meaning ”non-human”. It had connotations of persons with superhuman ability capable of protecting Buddhism. Many hinin were affiliated to temples or shrines, calling themselves ”servants of gods and buddhas”, performing purification rites and leading the festival processions in the Kamo- and Gion-festivals in Kyoto. To attack them meant to invite divine punishment. Even though they also included beggars, they seem to have felt pride in their profession as ”purifiers” and in some texts they are mentioned with what seems to be respect.
To look at the medieval hinin as crushed by misfortunes and making their living solely by begging for alms is a great misunderstanding. Just recall the hinin appearing on the pages of Konjaku monogatari [collection of stories assembled after 1120] - former convicts (hômen) attempting robbery, beggars living in palatial mansions, or beggars assaulting women on mountain roads. Of course, they also included desolate, sick and poor people, but we shouldn't forget that as a whole the hinin still appear to have led free and independent lives, capable of warmly welcoming monks that had renounced the world while at the same time possessing a fierce vital force that sometimes made them appear cruel and depraved in the eyes of others. (Amino 2005:37)Against historians like Kuroda Hideo, who had argued that the hinin were outside the medieval status-system (”mibungai no mibun”), Amino tries to show that they were part of the broad stratum of artisans (Amino 2005:31f, 41ff). He asserts that “nothing distinguished them from the jinin and kugonin” (ibid 2001a:146ff; jinin and kugonin were artisans or traders serving a shrine or the emperor). Like other artisans, they were organized in guilds (shuku) and liberated from taxes. Just like the kugonin, they were servants of the emperor, usually subordinated to the police (kebiishi). Sometimes they would be mobilized as armed troups or auxillary police forces by the court or the shrines. (ibid 1988:33f, 2001b:122-126, 2001a:487). One famous such episode is recounted in Heike monogatari. As Kiso Yoshinaka attacked the retired emperor Go-Shirakawa’s residence in 1183 his forces were met by ”rock throwers, young street loafers, and mendicants in monkish garb” (mukae tsubute, inji, iu kai naki tsuji-kajabara, kojiki-hôshi domo) assembled by the emperor as defense (tr. McCullough, Tale of Heike , p.275).
The two largest guilds, Kiyomizuzaka in Kyoto and Narazaka in Nara, were centra of a network of provincial guilds, an organisation which also mirrored the guilds of other artisans. Amino mentions the war between the Narazaka-hinin and the Kiyomizuzaka-hinin as an example of the independence and self-confidence of hinin during this period. A fascinating detail – at least for me – was to learn that all the names of the hinin who participated in these fights were Buddhist monk-names (“hôshi”) and that they all wore monk clothes.
An interesting group were the so-called inu-jinin (dog-jinin) who were organized by Kiyomizuzaka and who were both jinin affiliated to Gion-sha (today’s Yasaka Shrine) and yoriudo (artists or traders serving a temple) of the Shakadô temple at Enryakuji (Amino 1988:33f). Living in southern Gion near the Kenninji Temple, they manufactured bowstrings and footwear, took care of corpses and participated in the Gion festival processions, both as staff-bearers and as cleaners of the road in front of the festival floats during the Gion festival. Here are a few pictures of these inu-jinin wearing their typical garb: orange clothes and veil (signalling the status of "not being of this world").
Note how assiduously Amino tries to demonstrate how closely linked the hinin were to other ”non-agricultural” groups, such as jinin, kugonin or monks. What he wants to show is how the important social borderline in medieval society was not between a narrow group of outcasts and the rest, but between the settled population on the one hand and a very large and amorphous population of people outside settled society on the other. This latter group would include not only the hinin, but also traders, itinerant artisans, monks, travelling performers, prostitutes, bands of warriors, lepers, beggars, the sick and the disabled. The latter were often the object of hostility and sometimes of awe from the point of view of the settled population, but they were not yet necessarily considered to be their social inferiors. As Ohnuki-Thierney points out, the norm systems of residents and non-residents "coexisted side by side without any hierarchical relationship between the two” (Ohnuki-Thierney 1987:87). Rather than being subordinated to the settled population, the non-residents enjoyed many privileges such as freedom of travel and freedom from taxes, and some would even be highly favored by the court or temples as gardeners, artists, or performers. As is well known, many of the famous temple gardens in Japan were created by hinin, and so were theatre forms like Sarugaku and Nôgaku. Borders between hinin and other categories of ”non-agriculturalists” were also fluid. Note the fact that hinin were dressed as monks. Such a monklike appearance (zôgyô) was in fact also common among many other people in this ”non-agricultural” stratum, including traders and merchants, tea masters, poets, and artists.
However, according to Amino, by the end of the Kamakura period the status of the hinin started to sink. Crude and derogatory terms like eta (much pollution) started to appear, for the first time in the Chiribukuro of 1280, and grew increasingly common. The outcasts were now clearly on the way to becoming the despised and discriminated group they would later be in the Edo period (Amino 1988:34f).
Interestingly, a parallel fall in status also befell other groups at roughly the same time. One example is the prostitutes (yûjo), whose status Amino argues wasn't low in the early middle ages.
A note of caution: the word "prostitute" might not be the best translation of yûjo when we are talking about the Heian period or early medieval Japan. The yûjo of that period were entertainers and performers in addition to providers of sex, servants rather than sellers. Sex was not even the distinguishing mark of their profession, since in terms of sexual availability they didn’t differ much from other women employed at court – such as court dancers, puppeters, or court ladies in general (Amino 2005:231-235). Neither, according to Amino, did they differ much from ordinary women in society. Women were far more independent - both economically and in regard to their own bodies - than they would later be, especially in the more patriarchal Edo period. I've already mentioned the sexual freedom enjoyed by both men and women on the road in the early Middle Ages. In addition, one can point to the economically strong position of women, who managed their own property independently of their husbands. Often they played an important role in finance and many were jinin or kugonin. Even when they lacked such official titles, many worked independently as skilled artisans such as the Ôhara-women (ôharame) or Katsura-women (katsurame) in Kyoto (ibid 22f). As Amino points out, it is against the background of this relatively strong social position of women in general and this tolerant sexual climate that we can understand why prostitutes and female entertainers were subject to so little discrimination. The lifestyle of the latter reflected that of other women to a surprisingly high degree.
Prositutes and female entertainers were organized in ways that closely paralleled that of other artisans like the kugonin. Many were directly subordinated to the imperial court, where - as the historian Gotô Norihiko points out - they learned music and dancing in a court conservatory (the naikyôbô or utaryô). Periodically they would be summoned to the court to perform dances. Poetry by prostitutes was included in imperial poetry collections and many highly placed nobles were born by prostitutes. Like other artisans they were organized in far-flung "guild"-like organizations (shuku). These guilds had a female head, often from a powerful family in the locality, who was subordinated to the court (Amino 2005:204f, 232).
However, during the late Kamakura period and the Muromachi period their status sinks, something that is reflected in the stricter views on sex developed in established Buddhism. The status of women in general also falls and with the spread in society of the patriarchal values of the warrior class they become more strictly subordinated to the "house" (ie). As one reaches the Edo period the prostitutes are clearly discriminated. With the establishment of licenced prostitution, the yûjo became prostitutes in the modern sense, providers of sex, often sold to brothels and confined to an unfree life in the entertainment quarters. In 1629 female performers are banned from the stage (ibid 1988:28ff, 2005a:238).
|From Hônen shônin eden (late Kamakura period). In Western Japan prostitutes often worked in boats (Amino 2005a:236).|
Commercialism and religious reformers
With the increasing monetary economy of the late Kamakura period, piracy and banditry become common. The growth of a commercial, non-agricultural society was also reflected in new religious movements. Conventionally, the new religious movements labeled as “Kamakura Buddhism” are described as representing a spread to the populace of Buddhism. Amino shows that this process had a special slant, with many of the religious reformers attempting to address in particular peoples who were considered “polluted” by the ruling elites and by the settled farming population. Against the view in established Buddhism that women were prevented from achieving Buddhahood and that they were subjected to "three subordinations" (to father, husband and son), religious reformers like Hônen, Shinran and Ippen actively reached out to both women and outcasts, preaching that they too would be saved by Amida Buddha's grace. They also reached out to merchants and bandits (Amino 1988:38, 2005:239ff). As a result the Ikkô-sect – various followers of Shinran and Ippen – became a largely urban phenomenon with strong support among women, traders and people making their living on the sea. As I’ve already mentioned, Ippen got a large following among outcasts, lepers and bandits – the latter even guaranteeing his safety on the road during his wanderings, warning that they would punish anyone who dared to disturb or bother him (Amino 2001a:236, 478).
|Hinin (with covered faces) gathering at Ippen's deathbed (from the Ippen shônin eden, late Kamakura period).|
Part 2: The Nanbokuchô era as "turning-point"
The impact of the failed restoration
What caused this drop in status among hinin and prostitutes? In Nihon shakai to tennôsei and Igyô no ôken Amino points to the changes in imperial power during and following Go-Daigo's Kemmu Restoration (1333-1336) as one explanation. The new "Kemmu" regime (Kemmu no shinseifu) through which Go-Daigo tried to restore imperial power was a remarkably despotic regime in which everything was to be run by imperial decrees. This despotism was highly deviant in comparison with previous forms of imperial power and may have been inspired by Song China (Amino 1988:36, 50). However, in the period following this failed restoration - the Nanbokuchô period (1336-1392) when two rivalling imperial courts co-existed in Kyoto and Yoshino - imperial prestige suffered as precipitous decline.
In crude strokes, the picture Amino gives is the following. In his attempt to topple the largely agriculturally-minded Kamakura bakufu, Go-Daigo reaches out to the "non-agriculturalists", using their resentment against the increasing regulations imposed by the bakufu. He favors trade and relies on the help of "bandit-like" warriors like Kusunoki Masashige (1294-1333) and eccentric monks like Monkan (1278-1357), who belonged to one of the new schools of Buddhism that sprang up during the Kamakura period, the Shingon Risshû sect. As he battles the attacking Ashikaga army, he employs the "heteromorph" (irui igyô) forces mobilized by Monkan as military support - forces that likely included outcasts (hinin) as well as "bandits". As a further facet of his heteromorph rule, he personally participates in the tantric rituals of the esoteric Tachikawa-ryû, a heretical form of Shingon Buddhism revived by Monkan - the motive probably being a wish to summon the sacred forces of sex to his side (Amino 1988:42ff, 46ff; 1993:212-224).
As is well known, the Kamakura bakufu is defeated but Go-Daigo is in turn driven away from the capital three years later by Ashikaga Takauji, who reestablishes warrior rule. The collapse in imperial prestige following the failure of the brief Kemmu Restoration was also a blow to the traditional religious establishment in Enryakuji and Nara, whose prestige was bound up with proximity to the emperor. Failure and decline also awaited the new religious reform movements who attempted to renew the sense of the ”sacred” that had grown stale in established Buddhism. In the course of the late Middle Ages, Zen increasingly became allied to power, Risshû almost died out, and the Ikkô-sect, the Nichiren-sect and Christianity were suppressed by force in the 16th century. Amino believes that this institutionalization or suppression of popular religious energies explains the lack of religiosity in Japan today (Amino 1988:54).
With the failure of Go-Daigo and the religious establishment and the religious sects, the prostitutes and outcasts too sank deeper into discrimination since these groups had earned their prestige through closeness to the emperor and to the sacred. This thesis on the Nanbokuchô upheaval as a turning point in the development towards discrimination is surprisingly boldly put in both Nihonshakai to tennôsei and Igyô no ôken.
Let us have a closer look at Amino's explanation of this thesis in Igyô no ôken, which I find more interesting than the explanation offered in Nihon shakai to tennôsei since it shows that the fall in status affected not only outcasts and prostitutes, but also in various ways the entire stratum of itinerant artisants and traders who - as kugonin, jinin, or yoriudo, e.g. "servants" of the emperor, the gods or the buddhas - had all relied on the sacred prestige of the emperor or the religious establishment to prop up their own social standing and privileges. Parts of this stratum managed to avert the risk of social degradation by allying with warrior class patrons – like Zeami – or by building up wealth, helped by the developing capitalist economy. Because of the "nature of their work", however, large parts of this stratum - the outcasts above all, but also hunters, itinerant magicians and fortunetellers and many travelling entertainers - were unable to rely on either worldly power or great wealth, and their social status now dropped decisively, shifting ”from sanctification to discrimination” (Amino 1993:241, 2007:418).
Here, then, is part of the explanation of the drastic differentiation and internal polarization of the stratum of artisans. Strikingly, Amino suggests that the important factor in the origin of the discriminiation of hinin may not have been ”impurity” per se, since the fall in social status in various ways affected the entire artisan stratum. The important factor may have been that only parts of this stratum – such as the big merchants – managed to rescue their status by allying themselves with secular power and money.
Thus, broadly speaking, Amino explains the origin of the outcasts with the special needs of the emperor and the religious establishment in the capital in the ancient state. The discrimination of the outcasts, by contrast, is a later process caused by the the ascent of warrior rule which leads to a fall in social status of groups previously associated with the emperor or the religious establishment. An illustration of this process is provided by Jane Marie Law, who shows how the status of the Awaji puppeters fell with the shift from a ritual “theatre state” to a more militaristic model of government who no longer needed them for their statecraft. The puppeters were ritual performers whose well-known large puppets were believed to be animated by deities. They too, then, were once closely associated with the sacred but later became subject to discrimination (Law 1995).
|Portrait of Go-Daigo in the Shôjôkôji temple, unique among imperial portaits in representing the emperor as a divinity.|
|Garden of the Tenryûji temple, set up in Kyoto after Go-Daigo's death to pacify his vengeful spirit (Goble 1997:115, 126).|
The ambiguous emperor
Nihon shakai to tennôsei is not only a treatise on the outcasts but also on the emperor system. When we consider how Amino treats this system, we notice how ambivalent his stance is.
We must remember here that Amino is a Marxist and that even the slightest trace of a positive appraisal of the emperor system is more or less taboo among Marxists in Japan. Despite this, there is a slightly Utopian luster in his portrayal of Go-Daigo’s eccentric regime – the “heteromorph monarchy” (igyô no ôken), as he calls it – and in the movement of discriminated groups and popular religions to which it was allied. Despite its despotic traits - Amino even calls it "Hitler-like" in another of his works (Amino 1993:198ff) - Go-Daigo’s short-lived regime looks sympathetic in comparison with the warrior rule that ultimately defeated it, suppressed or co-opted the religious movements and put the final seal on the lid of discrimination. When he states that the victory of this secular, worldly power is why Japan lacks religion today, it almost sounds like an allegory of the defeat of the radical student movement of the 1960’s which led to the apolitical climate of the 70’s and 80’s.
At the same time he sees a danger in how rooted the emperor system is among the people at the bottom of society, a phenomenon which he writes can be seen in today’s Japan as well, its with right extremists (uyoku) and the widespread popular support for the emperor. The lingering Utopian luster of the emperor system, which was strengthened through the legacy of Go-Daigo, means that the people who are worst off in society even today are attached to the emperor and are willing to sacrifice themselves for him, even if it means going to war in another world war (Amino 1988:60). Here again it is easy to associate to phenomena in modern Japan – one thinks for instance of the young ”patriots” of the 30’s who appealed to the emperor as they revolted against the entire worldly establishment of government, big capital and conservative generals, and one thinks, of course, of Mishima Yukio. Nakazawa Shin'ichi in fact reports of a discussion he and his father had with Amino in which the latter agreed to their suggestion that what he had tried to show was that ”agriculturalists” and ”non-agriculturalists” both related to the emperor but in different ways – the former as today’s conservatives and the latter as today’s right-extremists (Nakazawa 2004:140). From this viewpoint, then, Go-Daigo was far from a symbol of Utopian hope, and rather a forerunner of the fascist leaders in modern Japan who co-opted and utilized the Utopian longings of the common people in order to topple the consevative establishment!
Putting things in perspective
Simply looking at Nihon shakai to tennôsei risks producing a picture in which the role of Go-Daigo in explaining the development towards increasing discrimination is exaggerated. To put in perspective, it needs to be placed within the larger narrative frame which Amino develops in works like Môko shûrai. In this work Amino accords a relatively minor role to Go-Daigo’s revolt, emphasizing instead that discrimination sets in with the “victory of civilization” (Amino 2001a:500). Go-Daigo’s age happened to be a great transitional period in which the “primitive” – in the form of the “bandits” and the return of the “sacred” in the new popular religions – launched a final counterattack against the advance of civilization but lost. “The emergence of bandits was but one movement that occurred in this process”, Amino writes (ibid 499), and the same could be said about Go-Daigo, who was nothing but a politician who attempted to capitalize on these primitive forces and use them for his own aims. If we look at Amino's later texts, this narrative frame is more or less intact. For instance, in a text from 2001, he writes that the fall in status of outcasts and prostitutes during the late middle ages reflects the “civilization” of society and the increasing distance it puts to “nature”. Thus the fall in status resulted from the lessened authority of the sacred. The “superhuman” power of the outcasts to purify pollution was thus no longer a source of prestige and respect and instead pollution and people regarded as polluted simply turned into something to be avoided (Amino 2001b:132). In assessing the role of Go-Daigo, we should therefore remember that even if he had been more succesful, his revolt would still only have been a minor ”counter-revolution” against the prevailing trend towards civilization. The defeat of his ”restoration” was therefore neither the single nor the decisive cause of the discrimination of outcasts, but at most a contributing factor.
Amino, Yoshihiko (1988) Nihon shakai to tennôsei, Iwanami bukkeretto No. 108, Tokyo: Iwanami shoten.
Amino, Yoshihiko (1993) Igyô no ôken (The heteromorph monarchy), Tokyo: Heibonsha.
Amino, Yoshihiko (2001a ) Môko shûrai (The Mongol Invasions), Tokyo: Shôgakukan.
Amino, Yoshihiko (2001b) Rekishi o kangaeru hinto (Hints for thinking about history), Tokyo: Shinchôsha.
Amino, Yoshihiko (2005 ) Chûsei no yûjo to hinin (Medieval prostitutes and outcasts), Tokyo: Kôdansha.
Amino, Yoshihiko (2007) “Kyôkai ni ikiru hitobito – seibetsu kara senshi e” (People living in the margins: from sanctification to discrimination), pp 397-422, in Amino Yoshihiko chosakushî, Vol. 12: Muen Kugai Raku, Tokyo: Iwanami shoten.
Goble, Andrew (1997) ”Visions of an Emperor”, 113.137, in Jeffrey P. Mass (ed) The Origin’s of Japan’s Medieval World: Courtiers, Clerics, Warriors, and Peasants in the Fourteenth Century, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Law, Jane Marie (1995) “The Puppet as Body Substitute: Ningyô in the Japanese Shiki Sanbasô Performance”, pp 251-288, in Jane Marie Law (ed) Religious Reflections on the Human Body, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Nakazawa, Shin’ichi (2004) Boku no ojisan Amino Yoshihiko (My uncle Amino Yoshihiko), Tokyo: Shûeisha shinsho.
Ohnuki-Thierney, Emiko (1987) The Monkey as Mirror: Symbolic Transformations in Japanese History and Ritual, Princeton: Princeton University Press.