Team Research Project: “What Are Aristocrats, and What Are Samurai?”
Building on “The Synthetic Researches of Japanese Diaries” and “Between Narrative Literature and Historical Sources,” from the 2020 academic year, I began what for me will be a third and final team research project, entitled “What Are Aristocrats, and What Are Samurai?”
Given the global pandemic, it was unfeasible to convene our study group during the 2020 academic year, so we have continued our seminar remotely. Most unfortunately, we have been unable to hold the social gatherings and off-the-cuff academic conversations (seidan) that follow after our study group meetings (I continue to keep a record of holding our social gatherings at different venues on each occasion).
Such matters aside, I would like to talk a little about what it means to conduct team research on what might seem at first a hackneyed theme (some of the biggest names in our field have already conducted a team research project on the theme of “Courtiers and Warriors”).
As I have already observed in the books Sensō no Nihon kodaishi (The Ancient History of Foreign War in Japan) and Naisen no Nihon kodaishi (The Ancient History of Civil War in Japan), Japan as a country rarely waged foreign wars during the pre-modern period, and the frequency of civil wars was likewise extremely low in comparison with other countries. So why is it that Japan become so absorbed in war over the half-century that followed the arrival of modernity? This theme is of paramount importance when considering the history of Japan.
As has already been noted, a hint to the solution of this problem may be found in the relationship of Korea—and view of Korea—that Japan has had since the ancient period. Even so, another hint may be the birth and long-term persistence of the samurai military government. Unlike in China and the Korean states, Japan saw the appearance of a system of warrior rule that lasted for nearly seven hundred years.
So why did the samurai emerge in Japan? Why did they become such an important presence in terms of its politics, economics, and society, as well as culture? And why were they incorporated into the aristocratic regime, to the extent that they even took charge of that regime? We elucidate these questions from the perspectives of ancient history, medieval history, early modern history, and modern history, as well as those of East Asian and Western history.
As in our first two projects, this team research project has brought together leading Japanese researchers. This, too, is thanks to Nichibunken’s prestige, for which I remain inexhaustibly grateful.