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The Gates of Power

Monks, Courtiers and Warriors in Premodern Japan

Mikael S. Adolphson

Publication Year: 2000

The political influence of temples in premodern Japan, most clearly manifested in divine demonstrations—where rowdy monks and shrine servants brought holy symbols to the capital to exert pressure on courtiers—has traditionally been condemned and is poorly understood. In an impressive examination of this intriguing aspect of medieval Japan, the author employs a wide range of previously neglected sources to argue that religious protest was a symptom of political factionalism in the capital rather than its cause. It is his contention that religious violence can be traced primarily to attempts by secular leaders to rearrange religious and political hierarchies to their own advantage, thereby leaving disfavored religious institutions to fend for their accustomed rights and status. In this context, divine demonstrations became the preferred negotiating tool for monastic complexes. For almost three centuries, such strategies allowed a handful of elite temples to maintain enough of an equilibrium to sustain and defend the old style of rulership even against the efforts of the Ashikaga Shogunate in the mid-fourteenth century. By acknowledging temples and monks as legitimate co-rulers, The Gates of Power provides a new synthesis of Japanese rulership from the late Heian (794–1185) to the early Muromachi (1336–1573) eras, offering a unique and comprehensive analysis that brings together the spheres of art, religion, ideas, and politics in medieval Japan.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-viii

Maps and Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

This manuscript evolved from a long-standing interest in the secular aspects of religion in premodern Japan. I have traveled a long and crooked road, spanning three continents, to complete this study, and I owe much to those who have encouraged me to pursue a career in a field ...

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A Note on Translation and Japanese Names

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pp. xv-xxii

Historians dealing with foreign cultures and languages face the challenge of making their works accessible through adequate translations while not distorting the meaning of the original terms. Though some scholars prefer to use a large number of Japanese terms to avoid the problem, ...

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1 Introduction

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pp. 1-20

The warrior class dominated the political landscape of Japan perhaps longer than in any other culture, and it is only natural that it has been, and still is, the most popular theme among historians. From its rise in the late Heian age (794–1185) to its complete dominance in the peaceful Tokugawa age (1600–1868), ...

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2 Monastic Developments in the Heian Age

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pp. 21-74

The kenmitsu temples were from their founding never separated from their sociopolitical environments. For example, the history of the Enryakuji complex, located on Mt. Hiei just northeast of Kyoto (see Map 2), is closely intertwined with the history of the old capital itself. Founded almost simultaneously around the turn of the ninth century, ...

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3 Capital Politics and Religious Disturbances in the Shirakawa Era (1072-1129)

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pp. 75-124

Buddhist monks and their many followers from both temples and shrines were involved in over four hundred disturbances, ranging from demonstrations to battles in the capital region, from the late eleventh to the late sixteenth centuries. Though these conflicts have been mentioned and occasionally described by Japanese scholars, ...

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4 Temples as Allies or Divine Enemies during the Tumultuous Years of Go-Shirakawa (1155–1192)

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pp. 125-184

Scarcely a generation after Shirakawa had dominated court politics, the balance on which that rule was based began to disintegrate. Many large blocs were split into smaller feuding factions, each acting increasingly on its own in the competition for land and offices, making it considerably more difficult for one bloc to govern efficiently. ...

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5 Religious Conflicts and Shared Rulership in the Late Thirteenth Century

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pp. 185-239

The previous two chapters have shown how the ambitions of two retired emperors, while affecting K

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6 Protesting and Fighting in the Name of the Kami and the Buddhas

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pp. 240-287

Conflicts involving elite temples in the capital were closely connected to, frequently even directly caused by, decisions made—or in some cases, not made—by leading members of the imperial court. Ironically, Enryakuji, which was supposed to protect the capital from evil spirits from the northeast, ...

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7 Religious Elites and the Ashikaga Bakufu: Collapsing the Gates of Power

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pp. 288-345

The Kamakura Bakufu—Japan’s first warrior government—actively sustained a cooperative polity with the imperial court, allowing the latter to continue exercising its judicial powers over nonwarriors. Since the Kyoto-based system included governmental responsibilities as well as elite privileges for the most powerful ...

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8 Epilogue: Religious Power and the Power of Religion in Premodern Japan

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pp. 346-356

The secular power of religious institutions from the late Heian to the late Muromachi eras earned the entire group of traditional Buddhist schools in central Japan a bad reputation among later observers and scholars. Tales compiled in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries offer images of ferocious monk-warriors ...

Appendix 1 Conflicts Involving Enryakuji and Kōfukuji, 1061–1400

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pp. 357-358

Appendix 2 Diagram of Enryakuji and Kōfukuji Conflicts, 1061–1400

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pp. 359-360


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pp. 361-414

Glossary of Terms and Names

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pp. 415-424


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pp. 425-444


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pp. 445-456

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864743
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824822637

Publication Year: 2000