Kakuta Haruo's Workshop ---Decoding Japan---

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Location: Sakai, Osaka, Japan

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Water Transportation in the Kanto Plain and the "Piracy" there (8)

     Although we don’t have enough records or written documents to talk about river pirates, I believe we can find some tips in kappa folklore.  So, let me stray from the main subject here.  Although kappas' appearances vary from region to region, the most common feature includes a plate (sara), or a flat hairless region, on the top of the head, and a shell.  The first feature reminds us of that of ochimusha.   Ochimusha is a defeated warrior that fled the enemy.  The iconography usually represents ochimusha with the crown of his head shaved and the rest of the hair long and loose, a dissolved chonmage.  The feature of ochimusha's head resembles that of kappa with a plate.  If ochimusha wears a worn-out armor, his body will look like the second feature of kappa, a shell.

     In Northern Kyushu, a kappa tale tells us:  The Taira Clan lost in the battle of Dan-no-ura.  Some remnants fled from the Minamoto Clan in disarray across Kyushu.  They were pursued and killed one by one.  Their souls were said to have become kappas.  They ransacked fields and dragged people, cows, and horses into rivers.

     The area along Chikugo River, which runs in Northern Kyushu, is rich with folklore and even written records of troubles between local people and kappas, and troubles even among kappa groups.


     Kyushu has another interesting folklore story:  In the 4th century, 9,000 kappas arrived at Harima River in Yatsushiro from Yangzi River in China, and settled in the river.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Water Transportation in the Kanto Plain and the "Piracy" there (7)

     The Yanada Family might have started as a small-scale powerful family based in Yanada Holy Manor and moved to the Sekiyado and Mizuumi area, though they had their legendary history which connected them to an ancient central noble family.  It is unknown if they escaped due to the defeat of their possible boss, the Fujiwara Family, or they were headhunted because of their own competence in water management engineering.  Time went by, and, in Medieval japan, the transportation of commodities thrived.  In Kanto Plain, they were merchandised through inland waterways, or through rivers and lakes.  Living in the junction area between the 2 river systems enabled the family become more powerful, as powerful as to support Kanto Deputy Shogunate in Koga, which was just about 8 kilometers north either from Sekiyado or Mizuumi.


     As we know what pirates did in the Seto Inland Sea,  we can easily notice what the Yanada Family was doing was very similar to what pirates did on the sea.  We may be able to safely define the family as river pirates.  It is almost certain that there were other smaller-scale river pirates in the 2 river systems in the Kanto Plain.  There are, for example, still 45 more place names which include the phrase “seki” (a checkpoint) in them in the Kanto Plain, like Iseki, Ozeki, Sekito etc.  What those river pirates did at those checkpoints were the Medieval version of what Katori Shrine did in ancient times, but it is not clear how many of the place names have ancient origins, and still how many of them were riverine checkpoints in ancient times.  We need to find more written documents and records, and, maybe, do even excavation and exploration to talk about the river pirates in Kanto.

Friday, January 06, 2017

The Water Transportation in the Kanto Plain and the "Piracy" there (6)

     Almost a millennium ago, the Boso Peninsula was still almost an island, and the most part of the Kanto Plain was marshland.  In the eastern part of the marshland, there ran Tone and Watarase Rivers, meeting and branching one another here and there from time to time, into Edo Bay.  In the western part of the marshland, there flew Kinu River into Katori Sea, forming a large flood plain.  The watershed between the 2 parts of the marshland was so low that they used to be connected to each other through a wetland or a river.  Let me call the 2 parts Tone-Watarase river system and Kinu river system.

     Sekiyado Castle was in Tone-Watarase river system, and Mizuumi Castle was in Kinu river system.  It is presumed that, sometime in the medieval times, the direct water transportation between the 2 river systems became virtually impossible.  They had to transship their cargo from boats to horses and vice versa at Sekiyado and Mizuumi.

     Sekiyado Castle had such structure as if to block a branch river of Tone-Watarase river system.  The castle was so important that Hojo Ujiyasu (1515-1571) appreciated it, “To occupy the castle is as valuable as to win one province.”  As its name suggests, there must have been a checkpoint (“seki”) to guard and exploit merchants and inns (“yado”) for their convenience.


     Mizuumi Castle, on the other hand, was along the lakeside of Kinu river system.  “Mizuumi” literally means a lake.  The castle was surrounded with Lake Mizuumi in the east and the south, and with Lake Kusakabe in the north-west.  It was on a bank-like low hill.  The west side of the castle used to be called Yanahara, and there had been a port town with 3 temples even before the Yanada Family’s ruling.  In other words, the castle was built to guard and exploit the port town.

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Water Transportation in the Kanto Plain and the "Piracy" there (5)

     Anyway, the Yanada Family was from Yanada Holy Manor, and called themselves Yanada.  The family must have been good at cultivating wetland into fields and maintaining those wet fields, or drainage.  Sometime in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), they moved to Shimokobe Manor in Katsushika County, Shimousa Province.  “Shimokobe” literally meant a lower-stream riverbank, and the name indicates that the place used to be at the estuary of Tone and Watarase Rivers into Edo Bay.  In the area before the establishment of the manor, natural levees had been formed, and people had started living on them.  By the Kamakura Period, people had built man-made banks, and made hamlets and fields.  The Shimokobe Family became the developer lord of the manor.  As the family’s power weakened, the Hojo Regency made them their vassal and gained control of the manor.  It is recorded that, in 1253, the Kamakura Shogunate government, which was actually being controled by the Hojo Regency, repaired the banks there.

     After the collapse of the Kamakura Shogunate, Yanada Mitsusuke (1395-1438) established the family’s control over Shimokobe Manor, based in Mizuumi Castle.  The control included toll and tax collection at the most important river checkpoints in the Kanto Plain.  That is, the family snatched the power which Katori Shrine might have enjoyed in ancient times, only in the area though.  In that way, the semi-governmental piracy Katori Shrine used to wield could have been decentralized around the plain.


     The Yanada Family owned Mizuumi and Sekiyado Castles in Shimokobe Manor for generations. The two castles were only about 4 kilometers away from each other.  The area was a junction between the 2 river systems which flowed to 2 major inland seas of the region, Edo Bay and Katori Sea.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Water Transportation in the Kanto Plain and the "Piracy" there (4)

     The Minamotos and the Fujiwaras in Ashikaga were not on bad terms at first.  The Minamoto provided mediation and legal support in the central government, and the Fujiwaras in Ashikaga provided profit.  They developed the land in Yanada County together, which lay south to Ashikaga Manor.  The land was contributed to Ise Shrine as Yanada Holy Manor in 1143.  However, in the process of the contribution, Minamoto Yoshikuni chose one priest in the shrine as a meditator, Arakida Motosada (?-?), while Fujiwara Ietsuna (?-?) chose another, Arakida Toshimitsu (?-?).  It was brought to court who would be a contributor through whose mediation.


     In 1144, Retired-Emperor Toba (1103-1156) gave a verdict to qualify Yoshikuni as a contributor, and Motosada as a mediator.  The imperial certification was issued in 1165.  In the meanwhile, in 1150, Yoshikuni was ordered to confine himself because of his violence and brutality.  He confined himself to Ashikaga Manor and concentrated on the management of the manor.  That raised more tension between the two.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Water Transportation in the Kanto Plain and the "Piracy" there (3)

     In Medieval Kanto, political authority was exercised by a range of quasi-territorial and overlapping agents, such as Kanto Deputy Shogunates, Kanto Deputy Shogunate Regency, Provincial Guardian Samurais, Manorial Steward Samurais, and leftovers of ancient religious institutions.  City-state-like merchant communities, which could be found in Medieval Western Japan, were yet to be seen, though.  If the transition from ancient times to medieval times is characterized with a decentralization of power and authority, the region was really a showcase, with the outcome of blood feuds.

     Then, how the piracy in the region was decentralized?  We can find a good example in the case of the Yanada Family.  Then who were the Yanada Family?  And where did they come from?  To answer those questions, let’s go back to the 11th century, at the end of the ancient aristocracy.


     Minamoto Yoshiie (1039-1106) fought from place to place in Kanto.  In the process, he might have protected the newly cultivated land in Ashikaga County, Shimotsuke Province.  His fourth son, Yoshikuni (1091-1155), contributed the land to Anrakuju-in Temple, which had been built by Emperor Toba (1103-1123), and the land was authorized as Ashikaga Manor.  The manor was actually run by a local powerful family, who called themselves Fujiwara and claimed to be the posterity of Fujiwara Hidesato (?-?), who had suppressed the revolt of Taira Masakado (?-940) in 940.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Water Transportation in the Kanto Plain and the "Piracy" there (2)

     Katori Sea has been named as such by today’s historians.  It used to be called “Uchi-umi” (literally: Inland Sea), “Nagare-umi” (Flowing Sea), or “Nasaka-umi” (Reverse-waving Sea).  Kinu River ran into the sea along with other smaller rivers such as Kobai and Hitachi Rivers.

     Katori Sea was largest at the beginning of Jomon Period.  More than 80 dugout canoes have been excavated in Kaiso area alone, which bordered south on Katori County.  80 corresponds to about 40% of all canoes excavated in Japan.  Today’s inland area where Katori Sea used to be has more than 100 place names which have either “fune” or “funa” (boat), or “tsu” (port).


     Katori Shrine ruled 24 ports in Shimousa Province, and 53 ports in Hitachi Province.  Scatters of medieval documents suggest that the shrine governed sea people there as fishermen and as sailors, and even put up some river checkpoints along the rivers running in the Kanto Plain, and even sea checkpoints at least at today’s Katsushika in Tokyo Prefecture and Gyotoku in Chiba Prefecture both along the Edo Bay.  Those checkpoints collected tolls and taxes, which, in Western Japan, pirates along the Seto Inland Sea did.  That is, Katori Shrine used to be doing a kind of semi-governmental piracy.