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

VESEY, Alexander

Specialists in Tokugawa history are well aware of institutional Buddhism’ssupport for warrior-mandated policies against heterodox religious groups,and the clergy’s socio-religious authority over the laity. However, YoshidaNobuyuki, Tsukada Takashi, and other scholars’ recent research on Edo-periodsociety brings into question the degree of Buddhist dominance over other statuscommunities including the peasantry, especially in the context of non-religiouseconomic activities and village level social practices. This paper examinesBuddhist-lay relations through the prisms of status discourse and socialpractices by studying the tree plantation operations of Yakuōin, a Shingontemple on Mt. Takao to the west of Edo. Aside from being a training center andpopular pilgrimage site, Yakuōin managed a tract of mountain land grantedby the Tokugawa house. The clerics made money on sales of timber harvestedfrom this holding, but they often came into conflict with peasants residing onnearby Tokugawa lands who wanted to exploit Mt. Takao’s natural resources.Despite the clergy’s prominent place in Edo society, Yakuōin’s records indicatepeasants could win viable settlements by manipulating early modern legalpractices and social structures to their advantage. The archives also provideexamples of clerics and peasants who worked in unison to resolve conflictson Mt. Takao. This paper will combine these accounts and advances in Edohistoriography to present a model of cleric-lay social dynamics that juxtaposesmodes of Buddhist dominance with the more evenly negotiated aspects of thisrelationship. It also considers the nature of Buddhist temple integration intoearly modern village communities.

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