Table of Contents
峰岸 純夫、「蓮如の時代―その社会と政治」、講座 蓮如 第一巻、平凡社、東京、1996 (Minegishi Sumio, “The era of Rennyo – Society and Politics”, Lectures on Rennyo, Volume One, Heibonsha, Tokyo, 1996) pp.67-72


峰岸 純夫、「蓮如の時代―その社会と政治」、講座 蓮如 第一巻、平凡社、東京、1996 (Minegishi Sumio, “The era of Rennyo – Society and Politics”, Lectures on Rennyo, Volume One, Heibonsha, Tokyo, 1996) pp.67-72

The cause of the famine that struck during the Kanshō era stemmed from a prolonged drought from May to July of the 3rd year of Chōroku (1459), which was followed in September by damage to crops by wind and water. In the following year (the 1st year of Kanshō), extensive rain and flooding lasted from March through to June, and once again damage was felt from wind and water inundation during August which lasted from nineteen days. In the case of the latter, the water levels of Lake Biwa rose until many fields were flooded, and so little sunlight was felt that people were wearing winter clothes in summer. The rice seedlings suffered from rot, and there was a sharp increase in the number of locusts.(68)

In the 3rd year of Chōroku, portents had already been made regarding a coming famine and harvest failure, for on the 21st day of the 12th month, famine and drought visited the capital (according to the続史愚抄), thus prompting a change in the name of the era to Kanshō. As this natural disaster carried on for a number of years, many (particularly those lower class peasants) lost their livelihood and thus became vagrants, eventually making their way to the capital. Kyoto was where both the temples and merchants were gathered, and among the merchants there were many `yutokunin` (persons of wealth), hence compared to the uncertain and poor circumstances facing the peasantry, the life of the inhabitants of the capital was fairly good. Moreover, the temples and shrines held traditions of hoarding and serving food to the destitute, which added another reason for the increase in peasants travelling from the countryside in search of alms. So many arrived in the capital, yet because of their weakened condition many died on the roads and in the fields, thus contributing to the outbreak of infectious diseases (as described in the records of the time). This was the period during which Ashikaga Yoshimasa chose to hold his festivities, thus inviting the scorn of the populace (狂雲集).(69)

The litany of records of the time also describe the damage caused by the rains that followed later in the first year of Kanshō (see pg.70). These typhoons most likely moved from the Murato peninsula up through the estuaries of Kii and Osaka bay before running head on into the Kinai region. Afterwards they moved further north, affecting the entire Hokuriku region. As these typhoons hit on the 19th day of the 8th month of Kanshō 1, according to the Gregorian calendar they would have struck around the 23rd of September, meaning that for the Hokuriku region which had a later planting season than other regions, the rice seedlings they had would only had just begun to bud, thus the amount of damage suffered in the region can only be estimated. In both Yamato and Echizen, the territories of Kōfukuji had attempted to impose tithes and `hansen` (反銭) on their properties, which again raised the ire of the peasantry and led to a halt in payments for that year.(70)

From the records of the time, one can see that the damage suffered stretched throughout the Hokuriku region, thus bringing with it the famine of the Kanshō era (although the only records that can verify the damage suffered relate to Echizen, Kaga, and Noto – one can also presume that the western and eastern provinces did not suffer any damage, as goods and tithes brought in from the shōen and public properties of the Chugoku and Tokai were sold for higher prices in the markets of Kyoto and Nara).(71)

The breakdown of village structures:

To note the structural changes that occurred in villages because of this natural disaster, one may look at the example of Izumi province and Kumatori shō and the documents dealing with the Nakage family (中家文書). This family were the central figure in Kumatori shō (熊取庄) from the 15th through to the 16th centuries, who engaged in acquiring lands from the neighbouring Tsuruhara shō, Kawaraya shō, Kinki (Chikagi) shō, and Hinone shō. This acquisition process started from the 15th century and reached its peak around the earlier half of the 16th century (the Tenbun era, 1532-55). Members of the family (of dogō status) were placed in the temple of Neraiji Seishin-in, thus allowing them to acquire much more of the temple`s territory.

If one looks closely at the record of territorial acquisition, in the ninth year of Ōei (1402) the breakdown of signatures to the deed of acquisition totals three, from the 3rd year of Chōroku through to the first year of Kanshō (the period of famine) the number of signatures comes to three. From the first year of Bungen (1501) through to the first year of Eishō (1504) the number of signatures jumps to 20. From the 14th year of Eishō through to the 16th year (1517-1519) the number of signatures rises to 24, and then from the 8th to 9th years of Tenbun (1539-40) the number of signatures reaches 27. All of the increases occur during years of famine in which other natural disasters have occurred. These famines meant that peasants were selling their lands (mostly likely 小百姓), which proved a winfall for the Nakage in accumulating larger plots of territory. Hence this process led to a breakdown in the social structure of village communities, with some reduced to vagrancy whilst others increased their authority.(71)

Though this is but one example, the famine of Kanshō provided an impetus of sorts for structural change, for the dogō (or yutokunin) within a village could substantially increase their prestige (albeit at the expense of other less-fortunate villagers).(71) (there follows a chart for the Nakage family and their acquisition of territory, showing increases in signatures during years of natural disaster – any records of a similar kind from the Hokuriku might show the same trend for the period 1401 to 1590).(72)

© Greg Pampling. This page was modified on 2011