AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 192

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Session 192: Negotiating One's Place in Japan's Long Sixteenth Century

Organizer: David A. Eason, Kansai Gaikokugo Daigaku, USA

Discussant: Katsumi Fukaya, Waseda University, Japan

Conventional histories of sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Japan have tended to focus on large institutional developments and the small cadre of powerful warrior leaders most often credited with initiating them. Yet these studies, though they offer extensive coverage of the major political and economic transformations of the era, have generally devoted little attention to exploring the ways in which local, less prominent figures and families both understood and participated in the momentous changes then underway. This panel seeks to remedy such oversight with a series of presentations that collectively highlight the place of individuals within the changing political and social geography of the long sixteenth century. As used in this panel, “place” refers then not only to identification with a particular plot of land or a specific residential or commercial locale, but also to one’s newly determined, officially designated place within the status hierarchy – two distinct and equally reassuring, albeit by no means compatible, loci of identity from which to derive stability in an otherwise tumultuous age. Indeed, as our research reveals, unease over how to respond to policies such as the transfer and reduction of hereditary landholdings, increasingly stringent service obligations in accordance with rank, or the abolition of certain regional trading privileges provoked an array of reactions ranging from eager acceptance, to open resistance, to carefully feigned indifference. Recognizing and exploring these tensions, evident among warriors as well as merchants, thus promises to place historical analysis of the interaction between individuals and institutions on far more solid ground.

So Many Choices (And So Few Options) For Local Warriors
David Spafford, University of Pennsylvania, USA

The long sixteenth century was a time of unprecedented upheaval in Japan. Local warrior families, caught between the expanding regional domains of warring states warlords, struggled to survive. Many had to choose between submission to new lords and relocation, or even extinction. Recently, scholarship has challenged the longstanding view that attachment to a lord was exclusive, showing that in frontier zones the smaller players commonly tried to switch back and forth between allegiances, or even to cultivate the patronage of multiple lords, in a bid to retain some autonomy. Many families, of course, were unable to escape the pull of the great warlords, and had to opt between submission and demise. This paper focuses on the choice confronting many such families in the Kanto, as the power of the Hojo family grew inexorably; it considers the intersection of place and family to explore the complex negotiations of identity prompted by the need to survive. The prodigious volume of documentation produced by the Hojo themselves has led to a strong emphasis on the role and agency of the Odawara warlords. This paper tries to invert that perspective and consider the negotiations of role, place, and identity undertaken in the 1560s and 70s by local warrior families (many with histories of local prominence that stretched long before the Hojo takeover), by examining their correspondence with the Hojo and the depiction of their submission or destruction in early-modern war tales.

An Individual Paradigm for Merchant Success at the Close of the Long Sixteenth Century
Suzanne Gay, Oberlin College,

For about fifty years at the end of the long sixteenth century, prominent merchants of the Kyoto area flourished in a market-centered commercial environment and a rapidly changing political climate. Nobunaga and Hideyoshi’s abolition of guilds with their collective protections and restrictions encouraged those with entrepreneurial acumen to diversify their activities and pursue powerful new clients. Such merchants individually approached new rulers and their officials, one after the other, to offer services and garner privileges in return. In the process some became valued advisors, cultural companions, and sources of capital to warrior rulers, and in a few cases even trusted managers of urban renewal projects. At the same time, they maintained older ties of service to emperor and aristocrats. Their willingness to seize opportunities and take risks provided them with a prosperous commercial and social niche. Focusing on three merchants, this paper will argue that firm identification with place (locale), notably Kyoto, during a brief period of flexible social place were among the key factors in their success. Based on local village records in the nearby Oyamazaki area, family records of two Kyoto merchants, and documents of several warrior administrations of Kyoto, this paper will analyze how individuals with the nimbleness to negotiate their own way were the commercial success stories of a turbulent era (about 1568-1615). The safe and comfortable guild system would emerge in reconstituted form later in seventeenth century Kyoto, but the decades before that were an age of entrepreneurial individualism.

This Land is My Land: Masuda Motonaga and the Politics of Territorial Redistribution in Choshu Domain
David A. Eason, Kansai Gaikokugo Daigaku, USA

In a well-known reversal of family fortunes, following defeat at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 the Mori were forced to relinquish control over more than three-fourths of their former domain. For the local warriors who served them an unenviable decision loomed: either relocate along with the Mori and, in so doing, give up claims to their hereditary landholdings or, alternately, cut ties with their uprooted overlords and otherwise forgo the stability that a pledge of service might conceivably provide. Yet this choice, while undoubtedly vexing, was not nearly as stark or unprecedented as it might first appear. Rather, starting in the 1590s Mori leaders had already begun to issue similar commands dictating major transfers; commands that the scion of at least one local warrior family, Masuda Motonaga (1558-1640), was able to first question and then, ultimately, subvert. Taking advantage of a wide array of sources ranging from official directives, maps, and land surveys produced by the Mori to petitions, wills, and mobilization rosters maintained by the Masuda family, this presentation seeks to highlight the uneasy and at times adversarial relationship between semi-autonomous warriors and domain officials in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Such an approach stands to uncover some of the many, often subtle practices of resistance through and against which key aspects of both institutional authority and individual identity were crafted and refined in the period before and after Sekigahara. Finally, this study further underscores the essentially negotiated character of the early modern political order.

Warrior Conflicts With Their Daimyo in Early Seventeenth Century Japan
Luke S. Roberts, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

The place of warriors was changing at the start of the seventeenth century. The stories of increasing subordination to daimyo authority, urbanization, reconfigured or disappearing fief relations, the increase of status distinctions, and the arrival of peace are familiar to students of the time and will be the starting point of my query. Basing my research on criminal records, accounts of “incidents,” and family lineages largely from Tosa domain I will explore what we can learn of these changes from the perspective of samurai individuals confronting these new realities. By looking at their experience in terms of conflicts which led samurai to leave their employ, or created situations in which they were punished, I hope to learn about what was at stake in their identity. I also will explore how some conflicts were resolved so that samurai were reintegrated into the daimyo household, with a particular eye to the types of compromises between subservience and independence that express the new order. What were the patterns of conflict resolution which enabled the Tokugawa Great Peace? Many of the documents of these incidents which I will use are retrospective understandings created in the mid-seventeenth century and should be a window on how early Edo period samurai saw their situation and the tensions it embodied in terms of narratives of the recent history of their “origins” in the unification period.