Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan

by arl F. Friday
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  The Society for Japanese Studies Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan by Karl F. FridayReview by: J. P. Lamers Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), pp. 466-469Published by: The Society for Japanese Studies Stable URL: . Accessed: 08/03/2013 07:12 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  . The Society for Japanese Studies  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  Journal of Japanese Studies. This content downloaded on Fri, 8 Mar 2013 07:12:46 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  466 Journal of Japanese Studies 31:2 (2005) Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan. By Karl F Friday. Routledge, New York, 2004. xiv, 236 pages. $33.95, paper. Reviewed by J. P. Lamers Royal Netherlands Embassy in Tokyo In his new book, Karl Friday describes the rise of the Japanese military es tate from the tenth to the fourteenth century as an evolutionary process, re jecting the idea that any dramatic revolution led Japan's celebrated samu rai to dominance. Friday takes the point of view not only that war can create, define and defend both states and peoples but also that society and political system can influence the shape and purposes of warfare. In his chosen time frame, Friday contends, warfare in Japan gradually extended in scope and intensity, but essentially remained the same until the end of the fourteenth century. Given the posited mutual interaction between society and war, this conclu sion would logically lead us to think that Japanese society did not change dramatically in the period under study. But in seeming or partial contradic tion of his own starting point, Friday concludes (on p. 166) that while the fourteenth century was an era of thoroughgoing social and political change, with attendant consequences for the conduct of war, at the same time mil itary goals and tactics did not change in any fundamental way (p. 168). By employing the phrase early medieval Japan prominently in his title, riday implicitly links his work to a revisionist view of premodern Jap anese history, pioneered among others by the late Jeffrey ass, which posits that the Japanese warrior class did not reach complete dominance before the fourteenth century and that it did so largely due to the political convulsions and constant warfare of that age. Yet Friday stakes out what may be de scribed as a safe middle ground. Rather than having the Japanese Middle Ages start only in the fourteenth century and end perforce in the middle of the sixteenth, he speaks of an early medieval period that asted from roughly the tenth to the fourteenth century. The late medieval period falls outside the scope of his book. For any study of the antecedents of the Japanese samurai, the so-called ritsury? military system is a logical starting point. In his introduction, and later in chapter two, Friday outlines how this imported system quickly lost its efficacy in the changing Japanese situation and how from the eighth to the middle of the tenth century the court moved from a conscripted, pub licly trained military force to one composed of privately trained, privately equipped professional mercenaries (p. 6). The ground is familiar here, both to Friday and to readers of his earlier work. This content downloaded on Fri, 8 Mar 2013 07:12:46 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Review Section 467 Concurrent with and contributing to the above development was the emergence of a provincial warrior elite that maintained close ties with the central government and its leading court nobles. The provincial warriors can be divided into two main categories, one tracing their lineage back to local chieftains of the prt-ritsury? period, the other being the descendants of cadet branches of central court houses?the Minamoto, the Fujiwara, the Tachibana and the Taira?that had established bases in the provinces (p. 9). Yet the emergence of a warrior order should not be equated with the on set of feudalism in Japan?as has often been done in parallel with the Eu ropean situation. Friday points out that even Japan's first warrior govern ment, the Kamakura bakufu, should be seen more as an outgrowth and supplement to the older imperial polity than as an immediate challenge to it. The balance of power between the civil and military authorities continued until the end of the fourteenth century, from which time onward warriors and not courtiers dominated the scene in Japan. At that same juncture, the preferred battle technique of the early medieval samurai, mounted archery, made way for new strategic and tactical paradigms that were focused on the capture or defense of territory nd based on the massive deployment of infantry. Friday analyzes his subject of early medieval Japanese warfare from five angles: how war was legitimized, how armies were raised, which weapons were used, how war was actually fought, and what were the rules of the game, if any. Japanese notions of what constituted just war found their ori gins in Chinese ideas imported during the formation of the imperial state in the seventh century. There could be no legitimate military conflict outside the sanction of the emperor and his ministers. Unauthorized military action was by definition suspect and unjust. The interesting thing in the Japanese situation was that the state early on disbanded its conscript army, relying in stead on private military resources. Even though the central imperial gov ernment relinquished control over the actual application of military force, it clung to its monopoly on the legitimization of war well into the fourteenth century. One reason for this, according to Friday, was that early samurai or bushi lacked much sense of class-consciousness, in other words, of social solidarity. Divided among themselves, they could only be organized into larger military wholes under figures of superior status, normally powerful provincial leaders or the warrior aristocrats of the capital known as miyako no musha. And even when warriors had established their own mechanisms for mobilization, formalized under the Kamakura shogunate, the essential premise of central control over the right to violence remained intact (p. 25). It was finally in the Nanbokuch? period (1336-92) that the central govern ment's monopoly on the legitimization of violence virtually collapsed, in the main because there existed two competing structures of imperial au This content downloaded on Fri, 8 Mar 2013 07:12:46 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  468 Journal of Japanese Studies 31:2 (2005) thority, he Northern and the Southern Courts, allowing for almost any fight to be justified in the name of the state. The rewards that members of the emerging warrior class desired and ob tained in return for their military service also bound them closely to the au thority of the imperial state. Throughout the early medieval period they sought long-term patronage of their careers by court powers-that-be (p. 55), or more direct rewards such as rank, court titles, administrative of fices in local government, and rights to income from land. At the same time, the early samurai armies were loosely organized coalitions, temporarily knit together from small warrior bands, and were mostly not sustained beyond the purpose of a specific campaign or expedition. In discussing the weaponry of early medieval samurai, Friday displays an impressive technical knowledge. Though perhaps not intentionally, his treatment goes a long way to debunk the idea that the Japanese mounted archers practiced probably the most deadly form of battle known to hu manity before the advent of gunpowder. 1 Their armor was costly and heavy, their horses little more than outsized ponies short on stamina and speed, and their bows only effective at very short range. On the battlefield, the early bushi were unable to coordinate any massive application of vio lence. Their duels on horseback, mostly fought individually or in small groups, oddly resembled dogfighting aviators (p. 107). Shaped by politi cal, organizational, and technological conditions, these tactics allowed war riors to pursue their prime objectives of individual honor and reputation to a maximum degree. Another idea that Friday refers to the scrap heap of history is that early medieval Japanese warfare was ritualized and formalized. The behavioral picture, according to Friday, was a lot less romantic than what has com monly been suggested. Honor was a key driver for Japanese warriors, but their hunger for success was often greater than their stock of scruples. Con sequently, the early samurai preferably used surprise attacks, lacked sportsmanship in their onduct of warfare, broke truces and promises with impunity, and had?in short?no concept of unfair tactics. There was no custom of ransoming prisoners of war, who were for the most part summar ily executed, or a widely accepted moral obligation to separate non-com batants from proper belligerents (p. 155). Friday argues pro reo that the samurai's capacity for indiscriminate killing arose out of indifference, gen eral detachment from life (his own included), rather than from outright cru elty. The question is, however, does it matter? 1. William Wayne Farris, Heavenly Warriors: The Evolution of Japan's Military, 500 1300 (Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1995 paperback edition), p. 10. This content downloaded on Fri, 8 Mar 2013 07:12:46 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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