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Temples, Timber, and Negotiations: Buddhist-Lay Relations in Early Modern Japan through the Prism of Conflicts over Mountain Resources

Alexander VESEY
Japan Review
No. 28 (2015), pp. 67-101
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43684117
Page Count: 35
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Temples, Timber, and Negotiations: Buddhist-Lay Relations in Early Modern Japan through the Prism of Conflicts over Mountain Resources
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Abstract

Specialists in Tokugawa history are well aware of institutional Buddhism's support for warrior-mandated policies against heterodox religious groups, and the clergy's socio-religious authority over the laity. However, Yoshida Nobuyuki, Tsukada Takashi, and other scholars' recent research on Edo-period society brings into question the degree of Buddhist dominance over other status communities including the peasantry, especially in the context of non-religious economic activities and village level social practices. This paper examines Buddhist-lay relations through the prisms of status discourse and social practices by studying the tree plantation operations of Yakuōin, a Shingon temple on Mt. Takao to the west of Edo. Aside from being a training center and popular pilgrimage site, Yakuõin managed a tract of mountain land granted by the Tokugawa house. The clerics made money on sales of timber harvested from this holding, but they often came into conflict with peasants residing on nearby Tokugawa lands who wanted to exploit Mt. Takao's natural resources. Despite the clergy's prominent place in Edo society, Yakuoin's records indicate peasants could win viable settlements by manipulating early modern legal practices and social structures to their advantage. The archives also provide examples of clerics and peasants who worked in unison to resolve conflicts on Mt. Takao. This paper will combine these accounts and advances in Edo historiography to present a model of cleric-lay social dynamics that juxtaposes modes of Buddhist dominance with the more evenly negotiated aspects of this relationship. It also considers the nature of Buddhist temple integration into early modern village communities.

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