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Rulers, Peasants and the Use of the Written Word in Medieval Japan

Ategawa no shō 1004-1304


Judith Fröhlich

This book provides new insights into the creation and use of written texts in medieval Japan. Drawing upon lawsuits from Ategawa no shō in central Japan between the early eleventh and early fourteenth centuries, the author analyses the use of writing by various social groups – temple priests, warriors and peasants. Though these social groups had different levels of literacy and accordingly followed different communicative traditions, their use of writing had common features. In the semi-literate society of medieval Japan the dissemination and reception of written texts took place primarily through speaking and hearing. Documents of the medieval period therefore had a distinctly oral characteristic. Priests, warriors and peasants all alluded to motifs in their legal pleas that were in essence given by the oral world of tales, legends and gossip. By showing that literacy was not in conflict but interacted with orality, the author uncovers an important aspect of the use of the written word in medieval Japan.
Contents: Orality and literacy in the Medieval Period – The History of Ategawa no shō – Representing Land and Creating a Written Tradition: The Goshuin engi of Kōyasan – Documentary Proof and Oral Testimony: The Litigation of 1275 to 1276 – Peasants Vocalising Resistance: The Katakana Petition of 1275.