State of War the Violent Order of Fourteenth-Century Japan

by Thomas Donald Conlan
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  The Society for Japanese Studies State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth-Century Japan by Thomas Donald ConlanReview by: Harold Bolitho Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), pp. 470-473Published by: The Society for Japanese Studies Stable URL: . Accessed: 08/03/2013 07:14 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 07:14:34 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  470 Journal of Japanese Studies 31:2(2005) State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth-Century Japan. By Thomas Donald Conlan. Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2003. xviii, 281 pages. $65.00, cloth; $24.00, paper. Reviewed by Harold Bolitho Harvard University English-language scholarship, as if by unspoken agreement, has tradition ally kept much of the history of Japan's complicated fourteenth century at arm's length. True, Andrew Goble's study of Go-Daigo's abortive attempt to revive imperial authority in his Kenmu: Go-Daigo 's Revolution dealt with one crucial segment of it, the years from 1321 to 1335. But the long after math, the 50-odd years during which two imperial courts butted heads in the pursuit of legitimacy, has been almost totally untouched. Not since 1971, when Paul Varley devoted a chapter to the Nanbokuch? in his Imperial Res toration in edieval Japan, has anyone dared set foot in that particular briar patch. Instead, over the intervening years, survey histories have done little more than give it an oblique and apprehensive glance before racing on, with evident relief, to the more manageable chaos of the Muromachi bakufu. To cite just one example, the index to Medieval Japan, the third volume of The Cambridge History of Japan, directs the reader to just three Nanbokuch? references, each one of them cursory. This observation is not meant to be taken as criticism. One can readily understand why historians, hoping that readers will not notice the omission, have tiptoed unobtrusively around the fringes of such a muddle. Civil wars, even when fought by two well-defined parties with sharply contrasting aims, still resist comfortable explanation, especially when, on the ground, opportunities to settle private scores sometimes blur more lofty motives. Imagine then the difficulties of tracking events in Japan over the years be tween 1336 and 1392, as Thomas Conlan has done in the book under review. In the Nanbokuch? period, instead of two well-defined parties espousing radically different ims, there was a myriad of actors, sometimes forming al liances of convenience, at others breaking them just as easily. Despite the rhetoric, all of the disorder was dictated by one principle, and one principle only?and that the most basic: down and dirty pragmatism. The pattern was set by one of the chief instigators of the turmoil, Ashikaga Takauji, who, on the evidence, seems to have deserved Kitabatake Chikafusa's condemnation as a thief without merit or virtue. This, after all, was a warrior who, after pledging loyalty to the H?j? early in 1333, within just a few months had changed sides to support Go-Daigo, only to turn against him toward the end of 1335. Then, later, n 1351, still exclusively preoccupied with his own am bitions, Takauji suddenly began to make overtures to that same Southern This content downloaded on Fri, 8 Mar 2013 07:14:34 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Review Section 471 Court he had spent years pursuing through the Yoshino mountains. If a lead ing actor could behave like this, then we have no right to expect the multi tude of bit players to conduct themselves otherwise. To be sure, the element of self-interest can be detected through earlier periods of Japan's history, where warriors seem to have been sporadically at war with each other for immediate benefits, but never to such an extent as in the years of the North ern and Southern Courts. It was not that there were no well-defined principles to choose between in this long, drawn-out struggle. There were two, one supporting the legiti macy of the Northern Court, the Jimy?in branch of the imperial line, and the other, the Daikakuji branch, represented by the Southern Court. It would be difficult to imagine any issue quite so clear cut. The trouble was that none of those involved in the fighting seemed to care very much for either side, rather cherishing agendas of their own, and switching sides from time to time, back and forth, s those agendas dictated. Exceptions are very thin on the ground, with perhaps the most notable being Kitabatake Chikafusa, the courtier who gave his life, and that of his eldest son, barely 20 years old, in the service of what proved to be a lost cause. It is grounds for satisfaction, then, to pick up Thomas Conlan's study of this dizzyingly convoluted period, for it is by far the most thorough and detailed analysis of the warfare of the Nanbokuch? era available in Eng lish. Conlan moves us well beyond the standard sources?the Taiheiki, Baish?ron, Meitokuki, and Entairyaku?to take advantage of the explosion of local histories and document collections that were among the many wel come by-products of Japan's late twentieth-century prosperity. There was much more to the years 1336-92 than what transpired in the Kinai, and these records allow him to give a sense of the anarchy into which the entire archipelago had been plunged. Then, too, while warfare may have been at its most intense during the 1330s and the early 1350s, as the author ac knowledges, the skirmishing that went on and on and on was in its own way just as significant. Equally, there were many more figures involved than Takauji, the initiator, t one end and Yoshimitsu, the conciliator, at the other, and we are introduced to some of them here, beginning with Nomoto To moyuki and his son Tsuruj?maru, minor characters in service of the Kuma gai house, whose existence would otherwise have passed unnoticed. The re sult is a far deeper, richer, and more complex picture of Japan during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts. In a series of illuminating chapters, Conlan sets out to see what changes?military, economic, social, religious, and legal?grew out of the Nanbokuch? experience. He discerns a movement toward regional forces under the command of shugo, whose power grew once the hanzei system of 1352 allowed them to spend more funds on their armies. In the process, hereditary privilege came to be trumped by ability and wealth, with success This content downloaded on Fri, 8 Mar 2013 07:14:34 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  472 Journal of Japanese Studies 31:2(2005) accruing to those who could promise their followers greater rewards. Even religion seems to have been transformed, moving from a personal relation ship with gods and buddhas to something mediated through an Ashikaga prince with Erastian (that is, state control of religious affairs) pretensions. Most significant, though, and casting a very long shadow, was the destruc tion of the concept of law and order buttressed by a strong central govern ment and a consequent legitimation of private violence. Along with the de velopment of these main themes, Conlan offers a wealth of fascinating incidental material?dealing with wounds and demands for compensation, with the nature of casualties, with the crucial importance of rewards for ser vice, with the frankly mercurial nature of loyalty, with the frantic polythe ism of the battlefield. This is not the behavior associated with the samurai of our children's fantasies, but it sounds exactly right. Overall, it may be that the general message of Conlan's book, despite its welcome profusion of detail, will surprise nobody. Earlier historians, gazing from a respectful distance, and certainly without recourse to the detailed analysis presented in this work, nevertheless seem to have been able to un derstand what was going on. The self-serving behavior of the participants Conlan indicates (deemed crassly opportunistic more than 40 years ago in John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer, and Albert Craig's East Asia: The Great Tradition) was obvious to, among others, Conrad Schirokauer, who described men fighting with no common program or interests and pointed to warriors who made sure that whatever the outcome, their families would be on the winning side by having branches fight on both sides of the con flict. l On the matter of the changes brought about by 50-odd years of war fare, John Hall had no difficulty in recognizing what Conlan substantiates, the emergence of a new balance of political power, inclining ever more to ward localism and feudal authority. 2 Of course, despite the great contribution the author has made to our knowledge of the fourteenth century, one always wants to know more. One might, for example, have wished for a little more information to help iden tify many of the figures who come and go in these pages, most of them men tioned only once, but then on the other hand these passing references give a sense?as the earlier tradition, which concentrated on Takauji, Kusunoki Masashige et al., did not?of an entire country entangled in half a century of turmoil. Ultimately, too, outside the information offered in some appen dices to Conlan's chapter two, which deal with battles in 1336 and 1354, it is not easy to work out who was fighting whom, where, and when. But con sider the problem. A definitive account, listing not just major battles, but 1. Conrad Schirokauer, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1993), p. 98. 2. John Whitney Hall, Japan from Prehistory to Modern Times (New York: Delacorte Press, 1970), p. 105. This content downloaded on Fri, 8 Mar 2013 07:14:34 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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