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浄土真宗教学研究所、講座 蓮如 第六巻、平凡社、東京、1998年 (Institue for Jodo Shinshu Studies, Lectures on Rennyo, Volume 6, Heibonsha, Tokyo, 1998) 高島 幸次、「戦国期の近江と本願寺教団」(Takashima Koji, Omi in the Sengoku Era and the Honganji Sect), pp.379-394


浄土真宗教学研究所、講座 蓮如 第六巻、平凡社、東京、1998年 (Institue for Jodo Shinshu Studies, Lectures on Rennyo, Volume 6, Heibonsha, Tokyo, 1998) 高島 幸次、「戦国期の近江と本願寺教団」(Takashima Koji, Omi in the Sengoku Era and the Honganji Sect), pp.379-394

In relation to this article, the author states that there are probably other reasons to explain the development of Shinshū thought in Ōmi province besides the individuality of Rennyo and the methods of his proselytization. While not seeking to deny the link between Rennyo`s efforts and the growth of Shinshū belief, the author believes that there are some parts in the development of Shinshū that are in danger of being overlooked in the drive to emphasize the particular, `charismatic` elements of Rennyo`s character. (380)

Firstly, since ancient times Ōmi had been regarded as one of the more developed parts of Japan. Ever since the Nara period, Nara and Kyoto had been tied with the interior, coastline, and islands by Lake Biwa, which had functioned as a major route for itinerants and traders. It had proven so wealthy that Ōtsu had enjoyed a brief period as a substitute capital. The importance of traffic over the lake had been emphasized throughout Rennyo`s era and continued to be so into the Edo period. Until the development of western routed shipping lanes, Japan`s most important shipping route lay across Lake Biwa. The importance of this particular region was evident to all residents of the capital. It was probably for this very reason that Rennyo chose Ōmi as the initial point from which he would continue his message of the teachings of Shinshū. Moreover, since the time of Kakunyo and Sonkaku, Ōmi had been developing as a Shinshū region, not to mention the ties that Rennyo held with the province in the wake of Sonnyo.(382)

Certainly Rennyo may have had more than spiritual benefits in mind when he set out to convert the people of Ōmi. While it is not possible to draw upon data related to production rates in Ōmi at the time of Rennyo, by using the Taikō census carried out almost a century later, we find that among the 66 provinces of the realm, the most productive was the Mutsu and Dewa region with 16.7 million bales of rice, after which came Ōmi with 7.7 million. What one must understand here though is that until the division of the Tōhoku region into five districts in the first year of Meiji, the numbers given represented the entire Tōhoku, hence in terms of actual provinces Ōmi most likely possessed the highest output. While it is not the intention of the author to force these figures onto the reader, they do give some indication of the production capacity of Ōmi.(382-3)

Yet at the same time, Ōmi was a province heavily influenced by the figure of Enryakuji. After the destruction of Ōtani Honganji in the 6th year of Kanshō, Rennyo abandoned the area of Higashiyama Ōtani and made his way to the western and southern shores of Lake Biwa, to Katata in particular. Geographically speaking, Katata was not that much further away from Enryakuji than Ōtani Honganji had been. What is more, Rennyo took this opportunity within Katata to once again begin the process of proselytization. Rennyo`s ties with the area were strong through the activities of his father Sonnyo. Even Shinran had directly proselytized there. Yet in spite of this, why had Rennyo chosen to begin his activities right under the gaze of Enryakuji, an act that could be regarded as having been very provocative? (383) It is certainly very possible that Rennyo had turned his eyes to the high production capacity of Ōmi and the type of economic resources at its disposal. Given the state in which Rennyo found himself, dispossessed and in poverty, a move to establish Ōmi as the economic basis for Honganji seemed highly logical.(384)

Transformation of the sō to the kō

At the time Rennyo was proselytizing in Ōmi, sō villages, who had adopted self-government as a result of an increase in excess production, housed both members of the dogō and jizamurai classes, persons who were in the process of becoming small land owners through accumulation of rights to water and adding property to their holdings. By examining the spread of the Shinshū faith from the side of the sō village, the administration of the sō dōjō under the leadership of the Otona meant that villagers expected there to be a change in the regulations ruling their lives. On the other hand, both dogō and jizamurai took the initiative to become Shinshū Monto members themselves. By doing so, they were able to exercise their rule over the villagers who had also converted, thus allowing them to gain total control over the excess produce in their area. This is one particularly avid reason why sō villages were so strongly in favour of conversion. Hence from the beginning of Rennyo`s proselytization movement in Ōmi, both the dogō and the jizamurai were judged to be necessary elements in building the foundations for the development of the Shinshū faith (they would, in sum, become the `heralds` of the faith).(384)


In this manner, Honganji managed to create support for its endeavours among the sō village institution, however eventually many within the dogō/jizamurai class realized that their excess production (and its distribution) would be far better used in the service of the burgeoning daimyō class (thus their decision to split from Honganji to devote their allegiance to local warlords). This particular process is outlined in the example given below in relation to the Inoshikai family, originally of dogō status and affiliated with Kenshōji. Following the defeat of Honganji forces at the battle of Katata in 1570, the Inoshikai abandoned the ikki and chose to become a hikan retainer of Nobunaga.



二月廿七日                           秀種(花押)
惣中                              (384-385)

文中の「堅田孫右衛門」は堅田の猪飼野孫右衛門、「高島南市祐珍」は、顕証寺蓮淳から三浦の統轄(とうかつ)を任されていた祐珍、「丹後殿」は本願寺の坊官下間丹後法眼証念、差出の「秀種」は本願寺の坊官下間光頼の取次を勤めた井上彦左衛門秀種である。(385) (In relation to the formation of the 10 day 講) これらの今津浦・海津浦、および大津の僧俗によって構成された諸講が、のちに近江における一向一揆の蜂起に大きな役割を果した「三浦講」の原型となる(関連史料:天文御日記 真宗史料集成 三巻 同朋舎 一九八三年) (願慶寺文書)(386)

Ever since the era of Rennyo, there had been a degree of antagonism held between the dogō, jizamurai, and Monto class peasantry with regard to excess production. As such, there became a need to re-envision the formation of the Shinshū structure, supported as it was by the older `sō` institution based on the leadership of the dogō and jizamurai class. In areas where the sō institution was found to be insufficient and lead to disputes, there emerged a growing consciousness that the kō, a monthly meeting organized for the sake of the Monto in which all faithful were to be admitted, would be a suitable substitute for the sō. However, in relation to the latter incidents of ikkō ikki, the intermingling of these two institutions became one of the defining characteristics of the ikkō ikki. How this manifested itself can be seen in the `Genki no Kishōmon` written in the 3rd year of Genki (1572), in which the addressee, in the case of the sō, is referred to as the Chido no Otona (地土長), whereas right along side it comes the addressee for the `Bōzu chū`, who were ordinarily the centre of kō activity.(387)


Village leaders and Rennyo`s teachings: There is a particularly famous example in Rennyo`s words of his attitude towards the conversion of village Otona, Toshiyori, and Bōzu: 蓮如上人ツネ~仰ラレ候。三人マツ法義ニナシタキモノカアルト仰ラレ候。ソノ三人トハ坊主ト年寄トチョウト比三人サヘ、在所々々ニシテ仏法ニ本付キ候ハバ余ノスヱ~ノ人ハミナ法義ニナリ仏法繁昌(ハンショウ)テアラウスルヨト仰ラレ候 (栄玄聞書)(真宗史料集成 二巻)(387-388)

As a result of the proselytization of Rennyo towards the `priests, councilors, and village heads`, the sō institution was transformed into a Monto, which brought about the conversion of dogō and jizamurai to the Shinshū faith. In regards to the figure of the `priests`, Kasahara Kazuo stated that… `This refers to priests of Shinshū sects not affiliated with Honganji` `This points to priests who had adopted the Honganji faith, but had not yet taken an appropriate degree of sincerity of belief in the teachings of Honganji Shinshū`.(388)

The problem with the first point is that in the case of Ōmi, Honganji was far more likely to encounter priests of the Tendai sect and other non-Shinshū related faiths. On the second point, Rennyo was most likely referring to those priests who… 坊主達ハ人をさへ勧化セラレ候ニ、我ヲ勧化セラレヌハ浅間敷事ナリト被仰ケリ (蓮如上人仰条々 真宗史料集成 二巻) (388)

In addition, Kasahara also believed that the Toshiyori and Otona (年寄・長) were equal with the position of 乙名, who were predominantly responsible for the activities of sō villages and were the `central part of the myōshu class`. Whilst the terms 長 and 乙名 were synonymous, would it be correct in ascribing to the Toshiyori the same class level as Otona and satajin? When analyzing the terms 坊主ト年寄ト長ト比三人, one must understand the meaning behind these titles. According to the 邦訳日葡辞書, a Toshiyori (年寄) was mostly understood in its most radical form to refer to 老人, which means that the Toshiyori shū was an organization that was recognized as being separate to the myōshu. Hence the Toshiyori would be better thought of as being 老人. Hence the author believes that the reference to `priests, councilors, and village heads` was related to 1. the degree of influence of the `priests` at religious meetings such as the kō, 2. the influence of the Toshiyori on private matters of the household, and 3. the influence of the village elders in public spheres such as the sō yoriai.(388-389)

As explained below, Prof Kinryū stated that the persons Rennyo wished to convert into the fold were those who exercised rights over the peasantry such as the Otona and Toshiyori, and the `priests` of the village shrine or temple. If one looked at the declaration of Rennyo purely from the point of view of agricultural rights, those persons that would be difficult to convert would include the Otona, Toshiyori, and Bōzu. Hence when looking at the application of proselytization against peasants of priestly, Toshiyori, and Otona backgrounds, Rennyo considered not merely their spiritual influence, but also their economic influence.(389)

金龍 静氏が指摘したように、蓮如の教えを受容しがたい人々は、惣村において現実の問題として勧農権を行使している「長・老」であり、村堂・村社の「坊主」であった。(388)


In order to come to a correct understanding of the characteristics of Ōmi at the time of Rennyo, one must also review the economic activities of the temples and priests, and how this would have affected the spread of the message of Honganji in the latter half of the fifteenth century.

Professor Miyashima Keiichi has reviewed the social position of regional temples in Ōmi in the wake of the Bunmei war, from which he was able to understand that regional temples of the Sengoku period 1. controlled temple territory, 2.held rights over the distribution of interest from excess produce, 3.held rights over the profit gained from mountain hunting and coastal gathering, 4.were engaged in lending money and rice at high interest rates, 5.conducted economic surveys over new land or land being developed, all of which meant that these temples had a very large impact on local communities.(389)

Whilst we cannot speculate whether the temples that Miyashita examined equalled the village temples and shrines referred to by Prof Kinryū, as the latter also noted that interest gained from produce formed the basis of the economic strength of local temples, the influence of these temples on regional economies cannot be ignored.(390)

In the region of Ōmi, from the mid fifteenth century onwards, peasant land rights were established, thus leading to an increase in production. The distribution of this produce led to the development of the independent organization of the sō, and the growth of dogō and jizamurai into small land holders. In the end, a regional community was formed encompassing relations between the peasantry, dogō, and jizamurai classes, which in turn led to the organization of new political relations, laws, and articles on class. In the midst of these changes, the local temple took on an added importance, thus leading to the creation of `regional temples`. These regional temples, when compared to the dogō and jizamurai, had a much greater economic strength, and as a whole were comparable to the local `landholder` or lord. In the case of Prof Miyashima, he was mostly interested in the Sanmon temples of the northern and eastern edges of Lake Biwa rather than Shinshū temples, yet as Prof Ōkichi Naohiko has shown, the same thing could be said about Shinshū temples (大吉直彦 中世後期本願寺未寺の歴史的性格―近江国堅田本福寺、その収取体系よりみた側面)(日本の宗教と文化)(391)

Hence the Ōmi that Rennyo chose to begin his proselytizing in was in the midst of a new beginning in terms of political relations, laws, and class distinctions. These changes would eventually be brought to the entire nation by the likes of Nobunaga and the Edo Bakufu. Within the society of Ōmi, no one expected that the unification of a number of political rights would lead to the arrival of a revitalized system of laws, yet as Prof Miyashima has shown, if the institution of regional temples could take on these new laws, one would expect that these institutions were then expected to become the centre of the spread of these laws, which would then bring the temples to the apex of their existence. In this sense, the creation of the sō dōjō, together with the proselytization of Rennyo, allowed this new regional system of laws to meet the demands of the local community. Hence an issue that still requires exploring is how the peculiar characteristics of the latter fifteenth century that enabled the arrival of the regional temple influenced the development of the Honganji institution.(391)

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© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in December 2011