Course of History

Associate Professor HIRASE Naoki (Japanese History)

[Theme] The Society and Religion of Medieval Japan

My field of study is the relationship between society and religion in the Ouchi family domain between the Nanboku and Warring States periods. The Ouchi family was based out of the states of Suo and Nagato (Yamaguchi prefecture) and maintained a gateway channel between Kyushu and the southwest region of Honshu. The Ouchi fostered a peculiar culture that met somewhere between the cultures of Korea and Ming, and the rule of their domain was especially unique in their use of the power of religion.

1. Real Image of the Guardian Deity

The Ouchi revered Myoken as a guardian deity. This deity had a complex nature and, coupled with ancestral legends regarding visits from Baekje, made the Ouchi family quite unique. My goal is to compare this with the worship of Myoken in other provinces, and in doing so clarify the internal circumstances that called for such a religion.

2. Relationship between city dwellers, temples, and shrines

In the past, I conducted research on the relationship between the Ouchi family and its residents with special focus on the Gion Festival held in Yamaguchi, the former Ouchi seat of power. I focus on other cities in the domain to analyze other examples in Suo (Hofu), which was once Kokufu, Nagato (Chofu), as well as the ports of Shimonoseki and Tomita. My goal is to explain what sort of relationships the people formed with the temples and shrines nearest to them, as well as how the Ouchi grounded their rule among the local community. I have also expanded my scope to include the religious cities of the northern regions such as the Heisenji Temple in Echizen and the Shirayama Hongu Shrine in Kaga as further subjects for comparison.

3. Who was Ouchi Yoshihiro?

This is a practical exercise in applying to my research information from the critical biography of Ouchi Yoshihiro who, though involved in the Nanboku-cho period unification, was eventually destroyed by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The presence of Yoshihiro bridged the state of East Asia with the central political situation and requires approach from various perspectives. For example, there is a need for me to take the first steps in the advance research of issues such as the significance of the nature of the Yoshimitsu regime, the Nanboku-cho reunification process, and the significance of an international harbour, and create whatever interpretations I can.

4. Medieval villages as depicted in local writing

I also decipher issues such as invocations and rituals at shrines to local deities, as well as other deeply interesting phenomena such as moratorium on debts, asylum, the slave trade, female succession, salt making, and social positions in villages.

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