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Reviewed by:
  • War and Faith: Ikkō Ikki in Late Muromachi Japan
  • Nam-lin Hur (bio)
War and Faith: Ikkō Ikki in Late Muromachi Japan. By Carol Richmond Tsang. Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Mass., 2007. x, 315 pages. $39.95.

By the mid-sixteenth century the Honganji sect had become a major power in medieval Japan. It ruled the entire province of Kaga, and its members wielded solid influence in Echizen, Noto, Etchū, Settsu, southern Ōmi, Kii, Owari, and Mikawa. In War and Faith, Carol Richmond Tsang superbly illustrates the unprecedented power of the Honganji sect through an examination of its two military confrontations with the secular authority: one being the Mikawa ikki1 (which took place in 1563–64), the other being the struggle with Oda Nobunaga (which lasted from 1570 to 1580). These two conflicts conclude War and Faith—so far, the best English-language monograph on Honganji and politics in late medieval Japan.

The Mikawa ikki, in which the four Honganji temples were pitted against Tokugawa Ieyasu, was basically "a fight over the control of the region and its revenues" (p. 202). This was "not a religious war in the sense that it was fought primarily over doctrine or ideology" (p. 202); rather, the Honganji temples and their allies tried to defend their material interests against incursions by Ieyasu, the lord of Mikawa. Tokugawa Ieyasu, a rising sengoku (warring states) daimyo, wanted to impose a higher level of taxation in order to finance his military expansion, and the Honganji temples, which had enjoyed economic autonomy, tax exemptions, and "special rights" (including funyū, the right to bar warriors from entry), reacted with head-on resistance. As the uprising spread, some from Ieyasu's retainer band and local samurai joined the Honganji, while "among Ieyasu's defenders were temples of at least three different affiliations: the Takada branch True Pure Land sect, Jōdoshū, and Nichiren" (p. 220).

The conflict between Nobunaga and Honganji also took place along multiple fronts as the interests of the latter and its anti-Nobunaga leagues (e.g., Takeda Shingen of Kai, Asakura Yoshikage of Echizen, Asai Hisamasa of Ōmi, and others) diverged from those of the former and his daimyo allies. Nobunaga, who tried to subdue other powers through military expedition, had enormous difficulties in dealing with Honganji, which could [End Page 134] draw its fighters and revenues from widely dispersed bases. In a nutshell, Honganji's power had three sources: its sectarian members, its daimyo allies, and its supporters at the imperial court (who often relied upon Honganji when it came to collecting the rents from their landholdings). Honganji's might, which was based on the extensive economic support of its followers, sustained the fight against the most powerful military force of the country for more than a decade. War and Faith offers a thorough historical analysis of how a Buddhist sect had grown to the point that it was able to do this.

As Tsang stresses, there was no decisive victory in these ongoing conflicts, which saw Honganji take on two rising military powers in order to protect its economic and political interests. The Mikawa ikki, which lasted about six months, ended in a negotiated settlement in which the Honganji temples and priests were eventually restored, while the confl ict between Nobunaga and Honganji was resolved through a court-brokered negotiation. However, it goes without saying that, during the course of these hostilities, both sides suffered a great deal of human and material destruction. If these conflicts had been between military groups or secular powers, they would simply be seen as the usual power struggles between sengoku daimyo. The problem is that the enemy against which Ieyasu and Nobunaga mobilized their full forces was a Buddhist group. And this is the puzzle with which War and Faith wrestles.

In dealing with the intriguing issue of religion and war, which shaped the political landscape in medieval Japan, Tsang asks a fundamental question: "Given that Buddhism prohibited the taking of any life, animal or human" (p. 228), how could one justify Buddhist warfare? Buddha's warriors killed whoever stood in the way of their collective interests. The patriarch of the Honganji sect even...


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