Carter Mrs. Hunter American Literature March xx, 2009 Medieval Japanese Culture Did you know that the Japanese feudal society actually lasted longer than feudalism in Europe? Japan was (and is) a small country with little natural resources to use to make their economy; however, they were very sponge like in their ability to absorb culture, resources, and practices from China. This does not mean they were just copycats, mimicking everything they saw though! They were very gifted in their ability to refine these practices into a way that was (and is) entirely their own.
They have faced many wars, invasions, disturbances, etc over the many long years. Some have been civil, some glorious, some never even came to fruition, while others were terrible? But through it all they have lasted and become what they are today. The Eastern world is a place that is deeply soaked in culture and intellectual depth that few people truly understand, but those that do may find something amazing indeed. When most people think of a culture and/or a government, they think of things that are very general and broad-fielded.
However, what would any society be without the little things holding it together. , After all it is the common people that make up a nation, not the leaders. Due to their high Buddhist influence, the Japanese were mostly vegetarians. However, due to little land for agriculture, plus the abundance of sea, the Japanese diet was very heavy in the consumption of seafood (and even today they are the world’s largest consumer of seafood, eating one sixth of all the fish consumed in the world. ) During the middle ages the majority of common people in Japan were either farmers or fishermen (not everyone can be a samurai).
Theses lives were hard because frequent storms would destroy crops and endanger fishermen. Both the farmer and the fisherman worked hard and yet they still had to pay heavy taxes to the nobles. To be a samurai or a monk one had to dedicate himself to the practice and work hard at it. The Japanese also had much by means of recreation. They enjoyed playing games like Shogi and Go, both board games similar to chess. The Japanese also enjoyed different types of music and dance. Songs included everything from work related time, time passing songs, to soothing lullabies, and even holy ongs, dedicated to special ceremonies to the Kami (more about them later). Though they had Japanese dances, they were usually religious dances to the Kami or to the “gods”, not fun, games, or recreation. Yes the Japanese had a fine culture, but one often ravaged by war or political struggles. For most all of Japanese history, the emperor was th sovereign, undisputed ruler of Japan. This was partly because they were in control of the military, but for more important was their so-called “ancestry”.
The Emperor was supposedly the direct descendant of none other than Amaterasu, the supreme “god” of the Shinto Religion. As a result of this, the Emperor was not only respected as a monarch, but also deified as a “god”. When a dynasty, or the family/bloodline ended, the “spiritual” bloodline was passed on to the next dynasty. The continued until the Heian Dynasty (794-1175) lost real control in the 900’s. While the Heian Dynasty technically continued ruling until 1185, the Shoguns, which acted like governors, began gaining influence and power.
When at last the Shoguns took total control, primary power was rivaled over by two main clans, the Minamoto Clan and the Taira Clan. The two clans finally fought for dominance in 1160, in the great Heiji Rebellion. It was the Taira Clan that was successful in their battle and in so doing set up the first samurai-led government. As previously stated the Emperors did not really die out until 1185, but they had been reduced to mere figureheads. Both the Taira Clan and the Minamoto Clan fought once more in the Genpei War (1180-1185); however, this time it was the Minamoto Clan that walked away victorious.
Their then current leader: Minamoto no Yoritomo, established the Kamakusa Shogunate, which ruled much of Japan until 1333. The Kamakusa Shogunate was feudal military dictatorship headed by the shoguns from 1185-1333. Even though the Kamakusa were powerful, they never conquered northern and western areas of the country. Many other samurai clans periodically resisted the shogunate until their great climatic failure in the Jokyu War of 1221. They were never seriously opposed again until their disbandment. In 1268 the Mongols (at that time ruling China demanded tribute from Japan, but were refused.
Outraged, the Mongols attempted invasions in both 1274 and again in 1281. The Japanese never saw a single invader because both times huge sea storms, nicknamed “kamikaze” by the Japanese, completely destroyed the Mongols naval assaults. As for the unique artistic culture of Japan, I have saved it for last. The Japanese were greatly influenced by religion and widespread superstition. Japan actually had two main religions: Shintoism and Buddhism (Primarily Myen Buddhism), both of which coexist peacefully.
Shinto is an all-and-only Japanese religion that is a mix of nature worship, fertility cult (groups that pray for more crops), fortune telling, hero worship, and “magic”. They also worshiped ancestors, and a few “gods” they didn’t really revere themselves, but all worshiped their three sovereign “gods”: Amaterasu (supreme god of the sun), Tsuki-Yomi (the moon god), and Susanoo (god of storms, thunder, snakes, and farming), Myen-Buddhism not only stressed worship but also peace, ,and was widely practiced by commoners, nobles, and samurai alike.
Tea drinking was actually an important ritual to them and was called cha-no-yu which was even more formalized than European tea drinking. Ti-Chi was also used to calm nerves and find balance. Yes, medieval Japan was filled with cultural wonderment, and the best part is, that legacy is still alive and kicking. The Eastern world is a place that is deeply soaked in culture and intellectual depth that few people truly understand, but those that do may find something amazing indeed.