Warfare, Power, and the Japanese State
Medieval Japan (1185-1600) was characterized by warfare and destructions, and the samurai warriors became the rulers of the land. The rise of the samurai in ancient Japan occurred as political power was devolved to warrior families from court nobles. Although the court remained in place, it had little power and operated under the directions and authority of the government in place. A supreme military leader headed a government called bakufu. Medieval Japan was also characterized by warfare that tore society apart and forced people to seek solace in religion. The warfare was intense to the extent that people did not attempt to reunite the society that was divided and in endless conflict. The continuous conflict witnessed jeopardized both government and societal operations resulting in the establishment and enforcement of order in 1600. Warfare culminated to the pre-modern society marked by political stability, urbanization, and commercial development, which positively affected the development of medieval Japanese state by bringing new life and environment to the society.
The power of the Japanese state expanded during Medieval Japan through conflicts. The government had a military that fought for its territorial control. However, the army was not controlled by the government. At some point, a communication breakdown ensued between the government and its commanders thus leading to frustration during the war, which had lasted for several years. In ancient Japan, the state military forces were not organized enough to launch an offensive or defensive attack. The disorganization among the state military forces jeopardized their operations, which left them vulnerable to attacks and resistance from society. Additionally, the imperial armies fought with arrows and bows from behind a portable wooden shield, although the government skillfully and tactfully fought the Emishi forces to contest for power and supremacy. The mentioned society had a decentralized military system. The warriors fought alongside their lords although some easily switched to the winning side when subdued. The lords did not protect people who resided around the mountain much while the agricultural communities, particularly those who resided along the crossroads of competing for territorial claims had to pay dearly for their protection. Medieval Japan was marred with violence and the fear of violence coupled with instability, which subdued some communities and made others run to the winning side for protection. For those who resided in the agricultural land, their topography was not favorable. As a result, they could not defend themselves and resorted to paying revenue in exchange for protection. This group’s quest for freedom from domination was paramount. The willingness of these people to supply resources to well-established armies led to the political unification of ancient Japan, ultimately leading to territorial expansion. The unification increased the military power of Medieval Japan, and this usually gave them an upper hand in their quest for territorial expansion.
“Pushing beyond the pale: the Yamato conquest of the Emishi and northern Japan,” explores the contest for power between the Japanese polity and the Emishi resistance. The government launched several campaigns to make the Emishi armies to be part of the government although it faced resistance from the group. However, following the end of the 811 campaign, the Emishi was officially declared by the government to be pacified, and consequently, a wave of peace began to be witnessed in the northeast. The government took over the northeast, which highly contested the move and initiated internal administration and maintenance of order. Although pacification was achieved, the Emishi retained their identity. The court stepped up efforts to incorporate the ruling strata to incorporate the community into government fully. The subjugation wars were among the last events in the original state. The conflict ended in the early 9th century after the Emishi forces had been assimilated into the Japanese polity. For these people to be integrated, the government had to reconstruct another polity that was different from that formed in the 8th century. The end of the war paved the way for the territorial expansion of the Japanese polity. It was marked by significant changes in the state structure and military institutions. The territorial expansion led to a well-established structure for tax collection as well as modifications of the apparatuses for local and central governments and decision-making.
The ruling elites extended its power and authority throughout the history of medieval Japan in different ways. For example, they organized themselves into political units known as “uji.” These entities became prominent and by the 8th century and imported a foreign idea from China, where they referred to their leader as “emperor.” An emperor had absolute power and authority that he or she could exercise on his or her people. This leader exercised power and authority in medieval Japan. The imperial succession allowed for the power to remain within the elite class, thus ensure that the ruling elite remain in control forever. Although stately succession was sometimes contested, the succession process was done smoothly and peacefully through negotiations among coalitions of the ruling elites. The structure of the ruling elite was an oligarchy rather than autocracy. Whereas the land of regular farmers was subjected to taxation, the ruling elites used their power and authority to exempt their lands from levies. As a result, farmers preferred working in lands that would not be taxed, thus conferring more power and authority to the ruling class. Farmers did not have land, but the government offered them some with the lands being subjected to taxation.
As stated in “Public Peace and Private Attachment: The Goals and Conduct of Power in Early Modern Japan,” the ruling elites continued to exercise their power and authority by monopolizing a previously dispersed authority over military forces, land and its resources, cities, and commerce as well as laws and judicature. The group had an extraordinary ruling system and was concerned with social control. Essentially, they violated some rights such as disarming the civilians, denying changes of residence, and divesting the samurai of land and superintending the imperial court or the church to maintain their supremacy. The ruling elite had coercive and intrusive powers and were very ambitious and regulated various aspects such as certain markets, sponsoring of reclamation and riparian projects. However, some aspects were beyond their concerns, such as school-welfare and public health.
The attempt to centralize power was resisted by other levels of Japanese society, including fortress communities. For example, by virtue of religiosity and others by virtue of geography, they initiated militarism that would later culminate into resistance. Although the ruling elite did not impose their authority and power on the people, the effect of the two exercised indirectly was imminent and evident among other levels of Japanese society. The resistance by the Japanese society was aimed at ending the autonomy of the ruling elites, and it culminated into a series of ferocious and village-razing battles, which other levels of Japanese people led by the samurai armies won. The resistance was among the several challenges faced by the ruling elite class and the government. In the 12th century, the imperial court fell, and Japan became dotted with castles of noble warriors. For centuries, Japanese society including the Buddhist community managed to repel the ruling elite’s encroachment. The religious group also remained at the center stage for protecting the status of the tax-free temple by promising blessings to their patrons. Other members of Japanese society would resort to armed defense when necessary to ensure that they were not overruled. The opposition to the centralized rule in the far-flung island of Shukoku and Kyushu was highly successful.
Understanding medieval Japan requires comprehending medieval Europe given the similarities between the two. Three fundamental aspects characterize medieval Japan, including economic, religion, and government. Medieval Japan was marked by a strong warrior class that worked its way into nobility and decentralized government that warlords controlled. The ruling class was also quite influential and took advantage of the other social classes. This is evident in numerous instances such as where they continued to exercise their power and authority by monopolizing a previously dispersed authority over military forces, land and its resources, cities, and commerce. However, the ruling class faced resistance from various levels of Japanese society, including fortress communities. The history of medieval Japan is a reflection of the history of medieval Europe. The warrior class was responsible for the territorial expansion and the resistance against the authority of the ruling elite.
Berry, Mary Elizabeth. “Public Peace and Private Attachment: The Goals and Conduct of Power in Early Modern Japan.” Journal of Japanese Studies 12, no. 2 (1986): 237-271.
Ferejohn, John A., and Frances McCall Rosenbluth, eds. War and state building in medieval Japan. Stanford University Press, 2010.
Friday, Karl F. “Pushing beyond the pale: the Yamato conquest of the Emishi and northern Japan.” Journal of Japanese Studies 23, no. 1 (1997): 1-24.
 Friday, Karl F. 12.
 Ferejohn, John A., and Frances McCall Rosenbluth, eds. War and state building in medieval Japan. Stanford University Press, 2010.
 Ferejohn, John A., and Frances McCall Rosenbluth 4.
 Friday, Karl F. 23.
 Ferejohn, John A., and Frances McCall Rosenbluth 5.
 Ferejohn, John A., and Frances McCall Rosenbluth 6.
 Berry, Mary Elizabeth. “Public Peace and Private Attachment: The Goals and Conduct of Power in Early Modern Japan.” Journal of Japanese Studies 12, no. 2 (1986): 237-271.
 Berry, Mary Elizabeth 243.
 Ferejohn, John A., and Frances McCall Rosenbluth 2.
 Ferejohn, John A., and Frances McCall Rosenbluth 2.