Japan’s Peasant Republic

Holy crud!! Japan had a republic run by peasants!

From the Wikipedia article about Kanazawa (a big town over on the Western side of Japan – they just had a couple of Detective Conan episodes that were set there, so I was looking it up):

During the fifteenth century, the powers of the central Shoguns in Kyoto was waning, and their regional governors were assuming even greater powers, carving out their own little fiefs. In Kaga, the priest Rennyo, of the Jodo Shinshu sect, arrived in the Kaga region to proselytise. Rennyo’s brand of Buddhism quickly spread among the samurai and peasants. The followers of Rennyo were directly under the control of the central Honganji in Kyoto, and were known as the Ikko-Ikki sect, or the “Single-Minded.”

At the time, due to the diminishing power of the hereditary regional governors, the Togashi clan, central control over the region was weak, which allowed groups of Rennyo converts to increase their political ambitions, leading to the suicide of the last Togashi governor in 1488.

For the next hundred years, Kaga was ruled by the Ikko peasants, who created a kind of republic known by history as the Peasants’ Kingdom. Their principal stronghold was… Kanazawa Gobo, on the tip of the Kodatsuno ridge. Backed by high hills and flanked on two sides by rivers, it was a natural fortress… This type of town, peculiar to the Warring States Period, was a fortified temple town, and in its basic structure bears a great deal of resemblance to mediaeval European towns, with the temple or church in the centre and the entire town enclosed in some form of fortification, usually a high wall surrounded by a moat, often dry.

In the year 1580, a general under Oda Nobunaga named Sakuma Morimasa attacked the Peasants’ Kingdom, and succeeded in overthrowing their capital of Kanazawa Gobo. Granted an income of 50,000 koku from Nobunaga, Sakuma proceeded to recreate the town as a military base. However his reign was short-lived: in 1583 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, with Lord Maeda Toshiie as his advance guard, invaded, and Toshiie was granted the fief of Kaga in addition to the Noto peninsula which he already possessed.

Well, I knew there was a group running around called the Ikko-Ikki, because I’ve seen people talk about it in Warring States strategy games. But I had no idea they were freemen fighting all the warlords and daimyo!

I suspect there’s probably a LOT of correspondence between this Buddhist movement’s dangerous success and the hostility that Catholicism eventually faced as it became more influential.

UPDATE: Brickmuppet reminded me that he had visited Kanazawa and taken lots of pictures.

I will comment on them above, but feel free to look at ’em!



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3 responses to “Japan’s Peasant Republic

  1. That’s an interesting article. I also had no idea that there was a peasant run kingdom in Japan.

    I don’t think that Buddhism’s success led to the government becoming more hostile to Catholicism in Japan. After all, the shoguns also fought against certain Buddhist sects whom they thought were becoming too powerful. In the case of Christianity, they received reports claiming that the Church was the first step to the advance of Europeans gaining power in a territory. Their suspicion led to all out persecutions.

    But, tyrannical governments like the Shogunate are always suspicious of free associations.

    • I would agree that “we fear foreigners getting influence and everything Nobunaga liked is wrong; hey, wait, Christianity’s a foreign religion” was the big factor. But the Japanese version of “untouchables” (the so-called burakumin, people descended from folks who dealt with hides and other death-related trades) were also seen as having gotten uppity because of Christianity, and the Japanese governmental response was pretty nasty. If they were fearing something like the Ikko-Ikki republic coming back in a Christian guise, and burakumin everywhere getting into it (as well as the regular peasants, samurai, etc.), a lot of stuff makes a bit more sense.

      It also makes sense that the hunt for hidden Christians would continue so long, and have a rebirth when they poked their heads out to say hello to the French priests in the 19th century.

  2. Kanazawa is neat and its history is really interesting. There is a lot of “What If” potential there. I gather that Lady Eboshi’s outpost from Mononoke no Hime is based in part on this town.

    The area still has a bit of an independent streak.

    I took some pictures when I was there: http://brickmuppet.mee.nu/kanazawa

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