Taikyoku`s diary, titled the `Aoyama Nikki` (碧山日記), contained a particularly disturbing entry for the date cited above. Before entering into an examination of that particular day, it might pay to first detail the context behind which Taikyoku decided to record his entry. As many medieval scholars of Japanese history have noted, the mid fifteenth century experienced what could be described as a `minor ice age` prompted by unusual degrees of volcanic activity that affected global weather patterns (a point well illustrated in the book `大飢饉、室町社会を襲う！` by Shimizu Katsuyuki - 清水克行). Instability in the weather resulted in the outbreak of drought in the 3rd year of Choroku, which was followed in the 8th month of that year by a typhoon that struck the capital region, which swept large numbers of dwellings belonging to the poorer residents of the capital into the Kamo river where they subsequently drowned. In the 1st year of Kansho (1461), drought returned to the capital region, forcing many of the residents of local shoen estates to abandon their fields and head to the capital in the hope that some of the tribute (in coin and produce) that they paid to the estate owners (normally either large temple complexes or aristocratic houses) would still be available to head off starvation.
Unfortunately, such were the large numbers of people streaming into the capital every day that soon the streets became clogged with the destitute and the dying, for what charity the temples could provide was soon exhausted by the sheer scale of the humanitarian disaster unfolding before them. It was during this crisis that Taikyoku sought to note an episode that shocked him, the language of which still retains its powerful imagery in spite of all subsequent tragedies on a similar scale that followed. The original diary entry read as thus;
Translation: The 30th day during the cycle of Kanotoshi. I entered the capital in order to conduct some business. While looking down at the river from the railings of the Shijo bridge, I saw countless numbers of corpses lumped together like so many tiles and stones. Indeed there were so many that they interrupted the flow of water, and you cannot imagine the smell that they made. I then crossed from the east of the capital to the west, all the while struggling to contain my tears and harden myself against such scenes. It is said that from the first month of this year through till this month, the number of dead within the capital has reached 82,000. One might ask how I came to know this. It is said that there is a monk who resides in the north of the capital. This monk prepared 84,000 small wooden funeral markers, which he then proceeded to place on each and every corpse he came across. They say that now he only has 2,000 markers left. This should indeed be noted. However they say that there are still bodies within the capital and lying outside it in the fields and along the riverbanks that have not been marked. In the midst of all this, the Ganami (願阿, monks tasked with distributing alms to the poor and other duties in the capital) had no choice but to remove the dwellings of the destitute.
What compounded this tragedy was the seeming indifference showed by the shogun at the time, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政), to the suffering that was so vividly present in the capital and the surrounding region. In the midst of such tragedy, Yoshimasa initiated a series of renovations on the Hana no Gosho (花の御所) palace, in addition to directing work to begin on the construction of the Silver Pavilion in the north of the capital. In spite of protestations from the Emperor Gohanazono (後花園), who well understood the financial straits in which the estates found themselves, Yoshimasa`s obstinance fueled resentment at the profligacy of the Bakufu in the midst of hardship, and contributed to the rise of individuals such as the Kanrei Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sozen, who recognised that in Yoshimasa they had a weak ruler driven by self-interest over stability, a factor that would eventually split the Bakufu in two and provoke the outbreak of the Onin War in 1467.
What Taikyoku managed to show in his diary entry was both the best and worst of human nature at work in the midst of a crisis. The monks of the temples in the capital tried their best to relieve the suffering of the people, going so far as to provide the unnamed and unburied corpses littering the capital with some semblance of a funeral. At the same time, the knowledge that while this was continuing the Bakufu was otherwise occupied with trying to rebuild its private dwellings (ostensibly to show that the process of regeneration and rebirth had begun), appears callous in the extreme, and it is small wonder that this led to a loss of respect for the institution of the Bakufu.
In my next post, I will include a translation of the first chapter from Shimizu Katsuyuki`s book, which explores the medieval Japanese fear of the `other`, more specifically, the Mongols. The experience of the Japanese during the 13th century in coming into contact with the Mongols, and the trauma this produced, influenced Japanese attitudes towards any perceived threat from the continent for the next two hundred years. Even those quite distant from Kyushu and the western provinces would accept any rumour of an invasion as truth, and promptly fret about what this would mean for their personal safety and that of their property.