AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 72

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Session 72: Monks of the Five Mountains & Shogunal Patronage of Zen in the Making of Muromachi Culture

Organizer and Chair: Martin Collcutt, Princeton University, USA

Discussant: Tomoko Kitagawa, Harvard University, USA

This panel reveals the range of new activities carried out by monks, especially monks of the Five Mountains in fourteenth and fifteenth century Japan and investigates how shogunal patronage came into effect to support such novel activities. Focusing on Buddhist rituals, diplomacy, and paintings, we explore the reasons why the close relationships between monks and shoguns contributed to a new Muromachi culture. First, Harada discusses the new development of Zen Buddhism during the early Muromachi period and examines the construction of a “Muromachi Buddhism.” Sonehara follows Harada’s discussion and analyzes the changes in one Buddhist ritual called “The Eight Recitations of the Lotus Sutra.” Then, Ito presents the new role of Zen monks as diplomats in relation to the changes in international relations, and Fukushima discusses the influence that came from the continent through the adaptation and appropriation of Chinese paintings by Japanese Zen monks. The panel includes the latest findings by the Japanese scholars, and suggests a new direction for medieval Japanese history by situating Muromachi culture in a larger context; it highlights the uniqueness of Muromachi culture in comparison to both earlier and later ages (Heian/Kamakura and Edo), and emphasizes the importance of looking at the influences of, and interactions with, neighboring countries.

The Muromachi Shoguns and the Zen
Masatoshi Harada, Kansai University, Japan

The shoguns of the early Muromachi Bakufu established the Five Mountains and defined the role of Zen in its service to the nation. The first shogun, Ashikaga Takauji, constructed the Tenryûji monastery and promised to protect its descendants; the third shogun, Yoshimitsu, was also interested in Zen and actively engaged in lectures and zazen practice. In fact, it was Yoshimitsu who established the Shôkokuji next to the Muromachi shogunal palace. The shoguns and Zen monks maintained regular contact, and the frequent visits of the shoguns to Zen temples were recorded in historical sources. Later shoguns, including Yoshimochi, Yoshinori, and Yoshimasa, were also familiar with Zen teachings, engaged in meditation, and they participated in the rituals and understood the nature of Zen practice. A great collection of writings, books, and objects relating to Zen was brought from abroad and then placed in the residence of the shoguns as if they preferred the lifestyle of the Zen monks. The collections included materials from the continent, such as black-ink paintings and drawings inspired by Zen history and kôan. As the culture of the Muromachi period was shaped by the Muromachi shoguns, the Zen culture also was spread through the society. In addition to Rinzai Zen, the Muromachi shoguns were familiar with other teachings, such as Soto Zen, the six sects of Nara, Tendai, and Shingon, and practiced their rituals. It can be argued then that all the sects had different roles and the Muromachi shoguns were practicing the rituals of all the sects in service to the nation in addition to protecting their own lineage.

The Eight Recitations of the Lotus Sutra During the Muromachi Period  
Satoshi Sonehara, Tohoku University, Japan

Hokke Hakkô, or the practice of reciting eight (or ten) volumes of the Lotus Sutra, began in the eighth century. The recitations would normally continue for about four days and took place at the memorial services among the high-class court families. This ritual, however, changed in its purpose as time passed; it came to function as a proof of sectarian bonds, and as a place where the monks could parade their learning and social status. Reflecting numerous political and societal changes, this ritual started to define the relationship between the ruler and the Buddhist sects; in essence, one can grasp the way of governance and the role of religion by studying this ritual. This discussion then focuses on the characteristics of Muromachi recitation practices and compares them to those of both earlier and later times. It emphasizes the fact that the Muromachi shoguns encouraged the recitation among the bushi; in other words, the argument is that we can see the development of “Buke Hakkô” in contrast to those among the members of the court. Unlike the earlier time, the bushi started to dominate both religious and cultural aspects during the Muromachi period, and the Hokke Hakkô started to offer much respect to their immediate patriarchs. The practice, on the other hand, became more ‘economical’ for the smaller group. While the Muromachi Hakkô was not dominated by a single sect, the Tendai, the feature that was not present after the Muromachi was that the monks from four temples (Tôdai-ji, Kôfuku-ji, Enryaku-ji, and Onjô-ji) had to be present at the service unlike the later times.

The Muromachi Shoguns’ Use of Zen Monks for Diplomacy
Koji Ito, Independent Scholar, Japan

By the late fourteenth century, diplomatic relations among the nations in East Asia had changed drastically. The rise of Ming China [1368-1644] in particular, encouraged the activities of official envoys within the new Ming tributary system. As a result, the official envoys started to take over the conventional practices of diplomacy previously dominated by the private trading ships. The Muromachi shoguns and their administration, also had to respond to this change; for better relations with other nations, the shoguns nominated Zen monks who were trained at the Five Mountains and had useful diplomatic skills. This talk focuses on the reasons why the nomination of Zen monks as diplomats functioned so well. First of all, in this new international system, the Muromachi shoguns required the adoption of some new customs; the diplomats had to demonstrate that official documents were written in Chinese, and they needed to be able to carry out diplomatic talk in a continental manner. The Zen monks in Japan had the ability to understand classical Chinese through their continuous interactions with Zen monks and merchants on the continents since the 12th century. This discussion highlights the fact that the Zen temple at Hakata functioned as the largest international trading port of Japan. With their knowledge of the latest news from the continent and their ability to communicate in classical Chinese and also manage trading, the Zen monks were the ideal diplomats for the Muromachi shoguns.

Zen Monk Painters and the Muromachi Shoguns
Tsunenori Fukushima, Independent Scholar, Japan

This paper focuses on the artistic activities of some Zen monks who left a strong influence for later times, and it investigates their relationship with the Muromachi shogunal house. In particular, this talk examines how the appreciation of Chinese paintings (including ink monochrome landscape paintings, bird-and-flower paintings, and priestly portraits) flourished, and introduces the lives of the Zen monk painters. The monks who visited or studied in Song, Yuan, and Ming China brought back the paintings, knowledge, techniques, and aesthetic sense of beauty to Japan. In fact, those monks who studied with the Zen monks of the Song Dynasty came back and built the foundation of the Five Mountains. Thus, Japanese Buddhist painting inherited the Song style and then changed its form in relation to the development of Rinzai Zen. The monk painters at the Japanese Zen temples were the major creators of contemporary paintings. The relationships between the Muromachi shogun Yoshimochi and painters, such as Minchô and Josetsu, or later shoguns and painters, such as Shûbun, Gakuô, and Sesshû, are offered as examples. It was the shogunal patronage that enabled Muromachi painting to flourish, and further, this talk identifies some of the reasons why the Zen monk painters were treated so well by the shoguns.