Land, Power, and the Sacred: The Estate System in Medieval Japan

Paperback: $30.00
ISBN-13: 9780824884352
Published: February 2020
Hardback: $80.00
ISBN-13: 9780824872939
Published: July 2018

Additional Information

570 pages | 62 illustrations, 29 in color
  • About the Book
  • Landed estates (shōen) produced much of the material wealth supporting all levels of late classical and medieval Japanese society. During the tenth through sixteenth centuries, estates served as sites of de facto government, trade network nodes, developing agricultural technology, and centers of religious practice and ritual. Although mostly farmland, many yielded nonagricultural products, including lumber, salt, fish, and silk, and provided livelihoods for craftsmen, seafarers, peddlers, and performers, as well as for cultivators. By the twelfth century, an estate “system” permeated much of the Japanese archipelago. This volume examines the system from three perspectives: the land itself; the power derived from and exerted over the land; and the religion institutions and individuals that were involved in landholding practices.

    Chapters by Japanese and Western scholars explore how the estate system arose, developed, and eventually collapsed. Several investigate a single estate or focus on agricultural techniques, while others survey estates in broad contexts such as economic change and maritime trade. Other chapters look at how we learn about estates by inspecting documents, landscape features, archaeological remains, and extant buildings and images; how representatives of every social stratum worked together to make the land productive and, conversely, how cooperative arrangements failed and rivals battled one another, making conflict as well as collaboration a hallmark of the system. On a more personal level, we follow the monk Chōgen’s restoration of Ōbe Estate and his installation of a famous Amida triad in a temple he built on the premises; the strategies of royal ladies Jōsaimon’in, Hachijōin, and Kōkamon’in as they strove to keep their landholdings viable; and the murder of estate official Gorōzaemon, whose own neighbors killed him as a result of a much larger dispute between two powerful warrior families.

    Land, Power, and the Sacred represents a significant expansion and revision of our knowledge of medieval Japanese estates. A range of readers will welcome the primary source research and comparative perspectives it offers; those who do not specialize in Japanese medieval history but recognize the value of teaching the history of estates will find a chapter devoted to the topic invaluable.

    Contributors and translators:
    Kristina Buhrma
    Michelle Damian
    David Eason
    Sakurai Eiji (translated by Ethan Segal)
    Philip Garrett
    Janet R. Goodwin
    Yoshiko Kainuma
    Rieko Kamei-Dyche
    Sachiko Kawai
    Hirota Kōji (translated by Janet R. Goodwin)
    Ōyama Kyōhei (translated by Janet R. Goodwin)
    Nagamura Makoto (translated by Janet R. Goodwin)
    Endō Motoo (translated by Janet R. Goodwin)
    Joan R. Piggott
    Ethan Segal
    Dan Sherer
    Kimura Shigemitsu (translated by Kristina Buhrman)
    Noda Taizō (translated by David Eason)
    Nishida Takeshi (translated by Michelle Damian)

  • About the Author(s)
    • Janet R. Goodwin, Editor

      Janet R. Goodwin was a founding faculty member of the University of Aizu in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan. Now retired, she is research associate at the East Asian Study Center, University of Southern California.
    • Joan R. Piggott, Editor

      Joan R. Piggott is Gordon L. MacDonald Professor of History and director of the Project for Premodern Japan Studies at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.


    • Kristina Buhrman
    • Michelle M. Damian
    • David Eason
    • Philip Garrett
    • Janet R. Goodwin
    • Yoshiko Kainuma
    • Rieko Kamei-Dyche
    • Sachiko Kawai
    • Ethan Segal
    • Dan Sherer
    • Sakurai Eiji
    • Nishida Takeshi
    • Endō Motoo
    • Hirota Kōji
    • Kimura Shigemitsu
    • Nagamura Makoto
    • Ōyama Kyōhei
    • Noda Taizō
    • Joan R. Piggott
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Land, Power, and the Sacred is a welcome introduction to a topic that has not received its due attention by English-writing historians for far too long, and it does it in an inspiring and informative way. . . . Land, Power, and the Sacred thus presents a fascinating and multi-faceted look into the complexities of the premodern Japanese estate system, and the book will be an incredible source for most, if not all, students of premodern Japan.
      —Journal of Medieval Worlds
    • Land, Power, and the Sacred: The Estate System in Medieval Japan is a pleasantly hefty volume (some 560 pages) and its 18 essays promise the first multifaceted, volume-length study of the estate system in nearly 30 years. In breadth (chronological, geographical, and thematic) as in depth, it far outstrips previous, very old journal essays, as well as the slightly more recent but often uneven chapters of the Cambridge History of Japan and the lone monograph by Thomas Keirstead.
      —David Spafford, University of Pennsylvania, Journal of Japanese Studies, 46:2
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