The Military-Religious Complex in Medieval Japan

This Friday, I will present a paper at the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) in Philadelphia as part of a panel titled “Buddhist Monks, Aristocrats, and Warriors in 14th- and 15th- Century Japanese Society.” If you are in town, and a member of AAS, I hope you’ll drop by and join us.

In particular, this is a rare opportunity to hear presentations from two prominent Japanese scholars of the medieval period: Harada Masatoshi 原田正俊 (Kansai University 関西大学) and Ōta Sōichirō 大田壮一郎 (Nara University 奈良大学). I’ve included the abstract for my talk below along with a link to a PDF version of my handout.


For many Buddhist monks, the growing power of the warrior class in Japan’s medieval period (ca. 12th to 16th centuries) provided opportunities to establish temples and expand their reach into the countryside. This was particularly true on the island of Kyushu, where a once flourishing Tendai Buddhist culture had fallen into decline and opened up space for alternative sects. Members of the local Ōtomo warrior clan provided funds to prominent religious figures for the construction of new sites of worship or the redefinition of old temple buildings. Through their patronage of Buddhist institutions, they began integrating the sites into warrior society as “military-religious” complexes. Rinzai Zen adherents within the national Five Mountains temple system enjoyed much of this warrior largesse because of their affiliation with centers of military-religious power in Kamakura and Kyoto. Yet, these Zen monks did not have a monopoly on warrior resources. Although often overlooked in the secondary literature, nearly four centuries of Ōtomo rule also saw gains made by followers of other sects. Thus, when Christian missionaries arrived in Funai in 1551 with yet another kind of “Buddhism” (as Christianity was understood at the time), they entered a city crowded with cultic sites dedicated to various traditions. By mapping the development of religious connections over the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries under the Ōtomo, this talk aims to explain how military and religious interests converged to create such a diverse religious landscape.


Handout (PDF)

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