Friday Night History for 25 Sept. 2020: Asakusa Danzaemon and the Boshin War

Modern-day view of one of the gates of Sensōji, a temple in Asakusa. Asakusa is the district that was once home to Danzaemon (public domain)

We have to start from the theoretical, this week, and then work our way to the personal. Bear with me.

So let’s talk about caste (mibun seido 身分制度) in Edo period Japan. Generally speaking, caste in the Edo period is divided into 4 statuses: warrior, farmer, artisan, merchant, in descending order of standing. The warrior caste ruled, but in time the economic power shifted increasingly to the other castes. But they weren’t the only castes in Japan. This is where the untouchables come in.

There are different terms of them throughout history. By the 1860s, in the late Edo era, the two major terms are hinin and eta. They were deemed untouchable for a variety of reasons, not just limited to working with leather, which was especially considered a ritually polluting act.

The eta of eastern Japan– in the Kanto region, the Tokai, and up into the Tohoku region– were under the authority of a man named Danzaemon, who was the etagashira, or head eta. Danzaemon was a hereditary name passed down in this family line among its heads; by 1868, this was Danzaemon XIII, who was also known as Dan Naoki– I’ll call him “Danzaemon” for the purpose of consistency.

Danzaemon XIII, alias Dan Naoki (1823-1889) [public domain]

His official residence was in the Asakusa district of Edo– Asakusa district in modern day Taito, Tokyo– so he’s also known as Asakusa Danzaemon. Despite the low status of eta vis a vis the Japanese caste structure, the holder of the name Danzaemon lived well, held an estate, derived income from some of the economic activities of eta under his jurisdiction, and enjoyed considerable autonomy in matters pertaining to eta, including the right to try and punish eta in the areas under his jurisdiction. For his meritorious service in the Chōshū War, the Shogunate awarded him the status of commoner, though he retained authority over the eta. But his authority wasn’t just over eta– indeed, even some performers of sacred and auspicious arts in eastern Japan were under Danzaemon’s authority.

But it was more than this, that was under Danzaemon’s authority– and that brings us to the Boshin War.

At the outbreak of the Boshin War in early 1868, Danzaemon was in Edo when the remnants of the Tokugawa government and military leadership arrived from their headlong retreat from the Kyoto-Osaka area. The ex-shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, had allowed the nascent Kyoto government led by Satsuma and Chōshū domains to outmaneuver and provoke him into action, then did not press home his numerical advantage, which led to his rout from Kyoto. Thus, the necessary course of action before his administration in those early days of the war in February 1868 was to buy time for friendly forces to regroup and secure the Kanto plain and its approaches, around Edo.

Shinsengumi is one of the Shogunate’s more famous units. It, too, took part in the fighting outside Kyoto, and its survivors returned to Edo, with the first of them arriving aboard the Shogunate Navy warship Fujiyama-maru on 8 February 1868. Shinsengumi’s troopers sought medical treatment, rearmed, re-equipped with western-style uniforms, and awaited further orders; these came on 21 March, when the ex-Shogunate leadership ordered them to attack and hold Kai Province to the west, which was a key piece of land normally under direct Tokugawa control. Shinsengumi troop strength had dwindled somewhat– the unit was still reassembling itself after getting routed and split outside of Kyoto and prior to moving out on its mission, numbered around 70– so recruitment was also an important priority.

Shinsengumi is famous for having recruited regardless of caste since its formation in 1863. Mind you, at this point in the late Edo into early Meiji period, caste had less and less real meaning– quite often, a person could become a warrior simply by buying the status! So with that in mind, it should come as no surprise that they did not oppose the inclusion of about 100 people from under Danzaemon’s jurisdiction as reinforcements. And these weren’t simply untrained draftees– they were trained in western-style infantry drill.

Danzaemon may have been elevated to ordinary commoner, but his jurisdiction was still over eta. So, yes. The reinforced Shinsengumi went out to Kai numbering closer to 200, thanks to the chief eta.

Sadly, Shinsengumi commander Kondo Isami lost what initiative he’d possessed, and the unit was routed at the Battle of Kashio by the Kyoto government’s troops in that sector, a force of 1200 commanded by Itagaki Taisuke.

Danzaemon survived the war and went on to serve the imperial army, hiring an American tanner named Charles Henninger and building a factory for producing western-style military footwear. While the official designation of eta and hinin was abolished once the Meiji government took power, discrimination against their descendants continues to this day.

But I do think we need to pause and think about what it meant, that the person with jurisdiction over *all* the eta of eastern Japan had but to command it, and 100 people would answer.

Even people downtrodden by unequal political systems have power.

I’m Nyri and this has been #FridayNightHistory!Now– questions?

SOURCES:

  • “Dan Naoki.” On Kotobank.jp https://kotobank.jp/word/%E5%BC%BE%E7%9B%B4%E6%A8%B9-1091072 Accessed 24 September 2020.
  • De Vos,  George A. , and Hiroshi Wagatsuma. Japan’s Invisible Race: Caste in Culture and Personality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), p. 29 
  • Ishii Takashi, Ishin no Nairan, (Tokyo: Shiseido, 1977), p. 285.
  • Kikuchi Akira, “Toba-Fushimi no tatakai kara Nagareyama made,” pp. 96-109, in Shinsengumi Saitō Hajime no subete. (Tokyo: Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha, 2003) pp. 101-102.
  • ___, Shinsengumi 101 no Nazo. (Tokyo: Shin Jinbutsu Oraisha, 2000), pp. 201-203.
  • Mason, RHP & JG Caiger, A History of Japan (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1997), p. 220-222.
  • Nishiyama Matsunosuke, Edo Culture. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1997) p. 116.
  • Ōishi Manabu, Shinsengumi: Saigo no bushi no jitsuzō. (Tokyo: Chūōkōron-shinsha, 2001), p. 189.
  • Onodera Eikō, Boshin nanboku sensō to Tohoku seiken (Sendai: Kita no mori, 2005), p. 190.
  • Sasama Yoshihiko. Edo Machibugyō Jiten. (Tokyo: Kashiwa Shobō, 1995), p. 132.
  • Shiomi Sen’ichirō. Danzaemon Seido to Senmin Bunka. (Tokyo: Hihyōsha, 1992), p. 149.
  • Tezuka Tatsumaro, Twenty-five Tales in Memory of Tokyo’s Foreigners. (Tokyo: Tokyo Metropolitan Government, 1989), p. 23.

Friday Night History for 11 September 2020: Jito 地頭

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may know me for my Friday Night History threads! Here is a sample of one of the recent ones, originally written for my audience on Patreon. To support this and the rest of my work, sign up at http://patreon.com/riversidewings or send a few dollars my way via Paypal at paypal dot me slash riversidewings

(Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, in Kamakura, Kanagawa. Image from Unsplash)

SALUTATIONS you magnificent shining stars of the Twitterverse! It is time once again for the felicitous event of #FridayNightHistory and a thread about JITO 地頭, a local office in the Kamakura era and an interesting point of history to help understand how the system that came before was unraveled, and how the foundations of many Warring States clans were laid.

So before we talk about jito, we need to talk about shoen 荘園. Shoen were estates across Japan in the Heian era (794-1185) from which the imperial court, the court nobles, and major temples drew their income. But the thing is that shoen are way out in the sticks, and if you’re a court noble, it’s kind of a drag to be away from the capital where all the culture and political power is. So, little by little, the administration of shoen got assigned to the people who worked for the nobility, and the nobles didn’t usually go all the way out to inspect their shoen in person.

To simplify a long and complicated train of events, eventually, these people, who also had weapons, realized “hey, we have swords, we don’t have to care much, do we?”– and thus you had the birth of what became the warrior caste. Some of these warriors rose to great political power themselves, and it’s one of those leaders, Minamoto no Yoritomo, who was appointed shogun in 1192. This was the start of what we call the Kamakura era, the first of several eras of warrior rule. Kamakura, in eastern Japan, was Yoritomo’s seat of government.

The thing is, the imperial government and the shoen system didn’t instantly go away. The court still named provincial governors who still went out to the provinces, and Yoritomo’s power was, ostensibly, at the emperor’s pleasure. What happened was that Yoritomo gained the ability to name his own people to greater or lesser positions of local or regional governance, and thus meant he could reward followers to whom he couldn’t grant land rights outright. There’s more than one of this kind of position, but for now, let’s just focus on the jito– spelled 地頭 (“land-head”).

A jito’s job was ostensibly to protect the proprietary rights of those landholders who were absentee– the emperor, the nobles, the temples, etcetera. A jito ensured collection of rents from people on shoen land, ensured that the proprietor received their share, possessed the power to maintain order on the land and render criminal punishment, settled disputes among cultivators, and managed the land in general. This was originally more in eastern Japan, but over time, spread to western Japan as the shogunate’s control solidified there. While in theory, this was just a managerial position for an absent landlord, in practice, this solidified control of the land in the hands of these appointees, who answered to Kamakura more directly than to the emperor or the courtiers in Kyoto. As the centuries wore on, it was those local rulers, and not the absentees in Kyoto, who had the actual power and claim to that land.

As such, this– and other, higher offices held by Kamakura vassals– is where many local warrior clans of later prominence had their origins. It was an ending, and a beginning. And it may surprise you to note, but it turns out that women could also be jito!

A relatively low office, to be sure, but it’s one of those things that helps to understand, to make sense of transitions between eras and systems of administration.

I’m Nyri and this has been a bureaucratic #FridayNightHistory!

Now, questions?

SOURCES

  • Peter Duus, Feudalism in Japan (New York: Knopf, 1969), p. 116
  • RHP Mason & JG Caiger, A History of Japan (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1997), p. 130
  • Nihon no Rekishi 4: Kamakura Bushi (Tokyo: Yomiuri Shinbunsha, Showa 38 [1965]), pp. 81-85
  • “Bushi no Seikatsu: Josei no Jito”  武士の生活(女性の地頭)Available at Yamaguchi Prefectural Archives, accessed 10 Sept 2020 http://archives.pref.yamaguchi.lg.jp/user_data/upload/File/ags/2-1-3-010.pdf

Grey Dawn: an eventful first month!

On 7 August, Grey Dawn: A Tale of Abolition and Union, had its world premiere. It’s been an eventful first month-and-a-half, during which it hit #1 on the trans romance category and #21 in the timetravel romance category. Not bad for a debut novel!

If you haven’t read it, please consider picking up a copy today. Don’t forget to leave a rating and review on your platform of choice!

Thank you so much for your support, everyone. You can find bonus art and other material expanding the Grey Dawn universe, and updates on my next book project, at http://patreon.com/riversidewings

Expect more soon here on WordPress!

NOVEL COMING NEXT YEAR!

Friends, it’s been awhile, and I have outstanding news. Balance of Seven Press has picked up my novel Grey Dawn for publication next year!

Grey Dawn is the story of two women– time-displaced Civil War Union Army veteran Chloë Logan, and former infantry platoon sergeant Leigh Hunter– bonding in modern Philadelphia over shared experiences at war. It’s a romance, but it’s more than that: it’s about learning to trust, being whole scars-and-all, and after all the years and all the miles and all the battles a person goes through, coming home again.

To keep up with and support my work, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Patreon, and Sponsus at riversidewings. We have a hell of an adventure ahead, friends. It’s my privilege to share it with you.

Anthrocon 2019: Come say hi!

Hey, so I’m at Anthrocon for the final day, today. I presented a lecture on Japanese anthropomorphic art of the late Heian era, on Day 2, and today I’m just enjoying the unique ambiance of Pittsburgh’s premier furry convention while I can. Definitely a liminal space. If you’re around and see me (glasses, olive drab kitty hat), come say hi!

If you saw me speak, leave a comment below! And as ever, please consider sending a few dollars my way via bit.ly/2VpR6wZ or paypal.me/riversidewings so that I can keep costs covered amidst chronic underemployment and keep bringing you the kickass history you love.

PHENO 2019: Come Say Hi!

Hey guys! So, thanks to my wonderful partner being on staff, I am attending some of the PHENO 2019 conference at the University of Pittsburgh. I’m not a physicist by any means, but it’s nice to get to talk to some of these amazing folks who are in town.

Litchfield Towers and the bridge over Forbes Avenue yesterday. Photo by me.


So if you are there, come say hi! I’d love to see you.

Thinking About Age in History

Hey, readers– welcome to nearly-the-end-of-May!

The first proper installment of the Shrines series is taking a little while longer than anticipated. This is due to a variety of factors, most notably the fact that the landscape around the shrine has changed, which is necessitating my doing more digging. If i was there in person, it’d be easy to go there and see what’s up, but I have to do it from the other side of the world, so– it’s a challenge. That it is an especially small shrine makes this harder. This said, your patience is acknowledged, and appreciated. So.Thank you.

So in the meantime, gather round and let’s talk a bit about something that’s been on my mind.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of putting historical figures on a pedestal– forgetting that they were human like you and me, and that they were just as likely to complain of being bored, tired, or confused. I try to counter that by reading widely and not shying away from criticism of them.

But have you thought lately about age?

Let me give you an example.

Joshua Chamberlain, the 19th century scholar who began as a Bowdoin College professor and became a general, a college president, and Governor of Maine, has been turned into a “Maine Man of Steel” (to quote biographer Tom Desjardins) thanks to fictional depictions of his actions at Little Round Top. during the fighting at Gettysburg. He did not act alone, of course, and nobody else at Little Round Top got the Hollywood treatment, but the fact of the matter is, he was cool under fire and his leadership mattered.

How old was he, that July day in 1863? Just shy of 35.

How old am I, as I write these words? Just shy of 35.

There’s something humanizing about that– the thought that when Chamberlain had his moment at Little Round Top, he was my age, not this timeless, ageless dose of badass in human form.

He was my age.

And if he could figure out how to be an effective leader and how to hold his shit together under fire, then maybe I can face the things that scare me, eh?

So this is my invitation to you. Next time you’re thinking about your historical fave and something awesome they did– think a bit about how old they were when they did it. You might be surprised at the insight that offers.

That’s all from me for now. More soon. And never forget: who you are, and what lights your fire, is worth fighting for.

Shrines of Northern Japan 東北神社巡り

Once upon a time, I did a series of posts on Tumblr that profiled Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan: their locales, their enshrined deities, and some of their lore. It got a lot of traffic: the masterpost that indexed them has 346 notes as of 29 March 2019, the original post went up in 2015. So it’s gotten some positive feedback and support, but along with much else, it had to go on hold between finishing grad school and getting after job hunting. Since then, I’ve developed new interests– and it seems to me that one of them is particularly suited to this project!

Roadsigns near Saeno-jinja in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture. As posted on my Instagram.

It seems like things are coming into order, with my recent employment, so it’s at last time to revisit this– the art and the shrine profiles together, because these things seem made for each other.

It’s going to be a little different, this time, though.

  • I’m going to focus on northeastern Japan first, in order to keep to my most ready pool of source material. I have less access to an academic library now that I’m no longer a graduate student, but I have periodic access, so I need to plan better. Since I have my own personal library– and a range of digitized sources– which focus on the northeast, I’m going to start there. As I build both my experience, my source access, and my income, I’ll build out from there in terms of geographic coverage. For the purposes of this series, I’m defining the northeast as the Tohoku region– meaning, Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata.
  • Unlike the original series, I’ll just be focusing on shrines rather than including Buddhist temples. There’ll be some overlap, though, because of shinbutsu-shugo, and how the line between the two used to be blurred.
  • There’ll be new (or extra) material included in the new version! Aside from the drawings, I’m also going to make a point of including maps and more expansive reference lists. Addresses are fine, yes, but a point on a map is better– especially if you happen to be in the neighborhood and are trying to get there.

What’s my schedule right now? I’m hoping to get the first profile live and posted sometime in mid-April. It’ll be on one of the shrines from before, but revised and expanded.

That’ll be something to look forward to for your mid-April. Meanwhile watch this space! And remember: sign up to my Patreon at http://www.shiogamawaves.com to support this and the rest of my content– and for early access and bonus material!

Shiogama Shrine (Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture) in spring. Image in the public domain.

Getting Back To It

So I’m back. After graduation from Pitt, getting my hard-fought Ph.D., a job search that took way, way too long (partly the same hard-fought Ph.D. making me overqualified for everything), and launching a career as a freelance author, I’ve got a job again, and some measure of normalcy and stability is returning to life. I used to blog elsewhere, on history and spirituality, and finishing up grad school– followed by my stipend ending– meant that I really didn’t have the time to be writing anything if it didn’t directly help me make ends meet. But that’s all different now, and here we are, so. I’m back. And I’m glad to see you.

A view inside one of the classrooms at Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning. These days are, at last, behind me. (source)

So. What can you expect ahead, now that I’m here? Broadly stated: the history and spirituality and folklore are back, interspersed with the fiction for which I’ve gotten some measure of reputation since I graduated, and some new things too! I had my research interests in grad school, and I have new ones now, too, so that’ll all be making an appearance here. The plan, however, is to have content hit Patreon first, so if you want to get an early peek, go sign up at http://patreon.com/shiogamawaves !

  1. Japanese history: I’m still as interested as ever in Japanese history, particularly the Bakumatsu-Meiji transition and the Boshin War of 1868. I’ve still got a book to put together, there, so in the meantime I’m exploring new questions (e.g. what was the role of non-samurai combatants in the Boshin War?). But I’ve got new research interests: Noh and its systems of patronage and supervision in domain service in the Edo period, the matagi of Akita, women author-activists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and more.
  2. American history: This is a new focus ever since my dissertation, but a lot centers around the American Civil War. Lesser known episodes of the conflict, its intersection with the later Boshin War, the role of women in combat, the history of trans people as combatants, are all points of interest for me.
  3. Japanese folklore and spirituality: I am a Hachiman devotee, and as I was in my past blogging career, I remain interested in Shinto and its history and ritual, as well as local folklore in northeastern Japan and beyond. You can expect to see some of this, too, as I pick up with reading and research. I had a series of shrine profiles that were well received, on my old blog– I could see picking up with that!
  4. New item is fashion! I’m trying to merge historic (or if you prefer, vintage) and modern vibes into a new, harmonious whole. I share some of this over on Instagram (follow me there!) but I’d like to make more in-depth posts here, too– and share bigger photos, soon improved by the benefit of a remote control for my camera.
  5. Photos and local historical or cultural commentary from my travels. I regularly travel parts of the Middle States (Mid-Atlantic) in the US, and eventually I hope to return to Japan, too. I take a lot of photos, and history has a way of catching my eye. Again, I post some of this I already post on Instagram, but the longer format of WordPress would let me do so at greater length.
  6. Updates on my fiction work and other developments in my authorly career.
  7. Some of my art!

At any rate, this should give you a taste of what’s in store. Again, if you want to see this stuff early, plus get bonuses, come subscribe over at Patreon! Patreon support has gone a long way in keeping me going during the past couple of difficult years, and I’d love to have your support too.

That’s all for now! More soon. Until next time, remember: who you are, and what lights your fire, is worth fighting for.