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Japan to 1600

A Social and Economic History

William Wayne Farris

Publication Year: 2009

Japan to 1600 surveys Japanese historical development from the first evidence of human habitation in the archipelago to the consolidation of political power under the Tokugawa shogunate at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is unique among introductory texts for its focus on developments that impacted all social classes rather than the privileged and powerful few. In accessible language punctuated with lively and interesting examples, William Wayne Farris weaves together major economic and social themes. The book focuses on continuity and change in social and economic structures and experiences, but it by no means ignores the political and cultural. Most chapters begin with an outline of political developments, and cultural phenomena—particularly religious beliefs—are also taken into account. In addition, Japan to 1600 addresses the growing connectedness between residents of the archipelago and the rest of the world. Farris describes how the early inhabitants of the islands moved from a forager mode of subsistence to a more predominantly agrarian base, supplemented by sophisticated industries and an advanced commercial economy. He reveals how the transition to farming took place over many centuries as people moved back and forth from settled agriculture to older forager-collector regimes in response to ecological, political, and personal factors. Economics influenced demographics, and, as the population expanded, the class structure became increasingly complex and occupational specialization and status divisions more intricate. Along with this came trends toward more tightly knit corporate organizations (village, city, market, family), and classes of servants, slaves, and outcastes formed. In reflecting the diversity of traditional Japan’s economy and society, Japan to 1600 is well suited for both undergraduate and graduate courses and will be a welcome introduction to Japan’s early history for scholars and students of other disciplines and regions.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

History consists of stories about the past, intended to be true. Because no one can ever recapture a bygone era “exactly as it was,” historians rely on sources of various types to reconstruct bygone times. Sometimes these materials are plentiful and there is general agreement on how to interpret them, whereas in other cases they are nonexistent and historians make differing inferences to fill in gaps in what is known. ...

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pp. xiii

I would like to acknowledge the influence of two revered scholars in the conception and writing of this book. The first is David Herlihy, professor of medieval European social and economic history at several institutions, most notably Harvard and Brown universities. During 1974–1975, I was fortunate enough to audit his survey class at Harvard, and it changed my life. The world of demography and ...

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pp. xv-xix

This book examines the social and economic history of Japan from earliest times until 1600. Social and economic history encompasses numerous and diverse topics, including population and factors affecting mortality and fertility, specifically war, famine, disease, marriage, birth control, diet, and migration. The social and economic historian also investigates how people make a living and the...

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1. The Building Blocks of Japan, Origins to 600

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pp. 1-26

Human history unfolds within a specific geographical and ecological context. In Japan’s case, that context has greatly influenced its economy and society. Japan consists of a long string of islands, extending from 45 degrees north latitude to 31 degrees south, roughly equal to the distance between Montreal and the Florida Keys. This archipelago is pressed between two giants, the world’s largest ocean ...

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2. An End to Growth, 600–800

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pp. 27-52

In 589, Yang Jian, a general of mixed Chinese and nomadic blood, reunited the Chinese empire and the diplomatic situation in East Asia changed overnight. For the last 350 years, China had been divided between nomadic dynasties in the northern China plain and Han Chinese kingdoms based in the south. It mattered that Yang, who named his new dynasty the Sui (589–618), was from northern ...

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3. State and Society in an Age of Depopulation, 800–1050

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pp. 53-80

From the late eighth century, Japan’s political system started to encounter problems. The most fundamental and far-reaching difficulty was that the government was not taking in nearly as much as it disbursed. Historians of the time portrayed the fiscal shortfall as the inability of a greedy elite...

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4. Rising Social and Political Tensions in an Epoch of Minimal Growth, 1050–1180

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pp. 81-106

Since the Tomb era, an aristocracy had ruled Japan. It grew and became more elaborate over the centuries, but the essential idea of a hereditary class of noble-men and women administering the islands had remained unchanged. Beginning about 1050, however, the aristocracy—now exclusively civilian in function—was joined by two other elites: the clergy and the military. Each class had its own...

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5. Economy and Society in an Age of Want, 1180–1280

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pp. 107-135

Throughout the period 1160–1180, the Ise Taira under the able leadership of Kiyomori built their political and economic power, acting as the “teeth and claws” of the court. For most of that time, Kiyomori’s relations with the wily ex-emperor Go-Shirakawa were amicable, but in 1177 the Taira uncovered a plot against them in which Go-Shirakawa’s allies were implicated. After the conspirators were...

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6. The Revival of Growth, 1280–1450

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pp. 136-163

The policies designed by Kamakura to thwart the Mongols had the paradoxical effect of strengthening the bakufu vis à vis Kyoto while placing new strains on Kamakura’s finances and manpower. On the one hand, Kamakura demanded and received rights to collect dues and raise troops in western Japan, extending its reach and denying courtiers and religious complexes much-needed tribute ...

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7. Uneven Expansion in an Age of Endemic Warfare, 1450–1600

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pp. 164-194

In 1441, a disgruntled daimyo assassinated the despotic shogun Ashikaga Yoshi-nori and ended the period of assertive bakufu leadership. Although the assassin was eventually caught and executed, the shogun’s army did not dispatch him, but a rival warlord coveting the assassin’s territory killed the murderer. Yoshi-nori’s death effectively brought to a close the period of shogunal autocracy that ...

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Epilogue: The Seventeenth Century in Historical Perspective

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pp. 195-199

This book has traced two major themes. Economically, it has shown how the peoples of Japan gradually moved from a forager-collector subsistence pattern to an agrarian base integrated with sophisticated industries and a booming commercial sector. Socially, it has described how three thousand years of population growth resulted in an increasingly complex and specialized class system characterized by ...


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pp. 201-208

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Suggestions for Further Reading in English

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pp. 209-214

Students interested in reading more in English on the topics covered in this social and economic history of pre-1600 Japan should first consult the notes at the end of every chapter. In addition, they should refer to the Bibliography of Asian Studies, now accessible online through http://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bas. A third general work is John Dower and Timothy George, eds., Japanese History and Culture from Ancient...


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pp. 215-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863043
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833251

Publication Year: 2009