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A Time of War:
Parallels with Feudal Europe
The conventional dates for the Medieval Period in Japan are 1185 to 1600. 1185 marks the end of the Gempei War (1180-1185; also written as "Genpei") and the beginning of military rule; 1600 marks the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunates and the beginning of the Tokugawa period (1600-1868).

Robert Oxnam :: Medieval Japan, the long period from the thirteenth century to the early seventeenth century, conjures up parallels with feudal Europe. After all, both Japan and Europe were caught up in intense fighting spearheaded by warrior classes. In fact, the Japanese samurai does have some similarities to the European knight. And political power was divided into feudal subunits, although the structures in Japan were significantly different from those in the West.

There's another similarity as well. In Japan, as in Europe, constant warfare caused people to seek solace in religion. The Buddhist faith, which emphasized the impermanence of life, spread from its former hold among aristocrats to have a new appeal throughout Japanese society. Buddhism touched everything in life, but its poignancy is perhaps greatest in Japanese literature.


[Opening lines of The Tale of the Heike, compiled in the 14th C.]

In the sound of the bell of the Gion temple echoes the impermanence of all things. ... The proud ones do not last long, but vanish like a spring night's dream. And the mighty ones, too, will perish like dust before the wind.


[Excerpt from An Account of My Hut, written in 1212 by Kamo no Chômei]

... The flow of the river is ceaseless and its water is never the same. The bubbles that float in the pools, now vanishing, now forming, are not of long duration. So in the world are man and his dwellings.


H. Paul Varley :: We move from an age in which the rulers were courtiers serving the emperor at his court in Kyoto, to an age in which rough warriors from the provinces emerge as the new rulers of the land.

The Tale of the Heike, translation of opening lines provided by H. Paul Varley, University of Hawai'i. For a complete translation see The Tale of the Heike, Hiroshi Kitagawa and Bruce T. Tsuchida, trans. (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1975).

An Account of My Hut, by Kamo no Chômei, from Anthology of Japanese Literature: From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century, Donald Keene, ed. (New York: Grove Press, 1960), p. 197.