War and State Building in Medieval Japan

War and State Building in Medieval Japan

War and State Building in Medieval Japan

War and State Building in Medieval Japan


The nation state as we know it is a mere four or five hundred years old. Remarkably, a central government with vast territorial control emerged in Japan at around the same time as it did in Europe, through the process of mobilizing fiscal resources and manpower for bloody wars between the 16th and 17th centuries. This book, which brings Japan's case into conversation with the history of state building in Europe, points to similar factors that were present in both places: population growth eroded clientelistic relationships between farmers and estate holders, creating conditions for intense competition over territory; and in the ensuing instability and violence, farmers were driven to make Hobbesian bargains of taxes in exchange for physical security.


John A. Ferejohn and Frances McCall Rosenbluth

The Ninja—the lightly armed warrior who operates by stealth and amazing physical prowess to attack powerfully equipped enemies—is a familiar comic book image and heroic action figure. It is generally known that the ninja existed sometime in the mists of Japanese history. Less well understood is that the ninja was but one manifestation of fierce and extensive resistance to encroaching armies in the dying years of medieval Japan. Local farming communities, particularly those in mountain valleys, armed themselves with simple weapons and guerrilla techniques to forestall the trend toward territorial consolidation and centralized taxation. The transformation of “ninja” (the “forbearing ones” or shinobi mono) into warriors with virtually supernatural powers is a recent invention that glorifies the struggle of humble mountain villages for local autonomy in the late sixteenth century.

The world is more familiar with similar events in Europe. The legend of William Tell is of a simple mountain man who inspired Swiss alpine farmers in 1307 to resist domination by the Habsburg Empire. Tell, it is said, was forced to shoot an apple on his son's head in exchange for freedom after he failed to bow to the Austrian governors hat placed in the village square. In the Battle of Morgarten in 1315, Swiss farmers armed with rocks, logs, and pikes are said to have crushed the magnificent cavalry of Duke Leopold I of Austria in an ambush at Morgarten Pass, pushing countless horses and their riders off a steep mountainside, spearing other unfortunates through with pikes, and causing the rest to flee in terror.

Swiss pikers from mountain villages managed to protect their land from foreign invaders, thereby assuring Swiss autonomy. Feared and admired the . . .

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