What on earth was the “military strength of a village”?
The beginning of the fifteenth century was the era of the Muromachi Bakufu. In autumn of the 6th year of Eikyō (1434), the people of the capital were in a state of distress, for once again rumour had reached them that the “monks of the mountain”, the warrior monks of Hieizan, had taken up the omikoshi (or ‘portable shrine’) of Hie shrine and were making their way towards the capital in protest. Should they reach the capital, the wrath of the gods could be frightful indeed. (p.62)
Having gotten word of the monks’ progress, the Muromachi Bakufu was in a state of high tension. To halt the progress of the monks into the capital, the Bakufu ordered its senior commanders (the so-called “three Kanrei”, along with four prominent warrior families under its direction) to place themselves in the north of the city, where they would directly face off against the monks, along with the central districts of the city that housed the residence of the shōgun and the Imperial palace. At the same time, the Bakufu sent out word to the various landowners around the capital, and through them to the villages of the estates located in Fushimi, Yamashina, and Daigo, ordering them to assemble the villagers for action. These events were referred to in two diaries, ① the Mansai Jūgō Nikki, and ② the Kanmon Nikki in the following manner.
① ＜山城の醍醐あて＞便宜のところへ罷り出て、東口へ落ち行く山徒ら候わば、打ち留め、具足等をも剥ぎ取り候べし。(To Daigo in Yamashiro province) Make your way to a convenient location, and should monks from the mountain arrive at the eastern entrance, stop them there and take their equipment from them)
② ＜山城の伏見あて＞ 伏見の地下人、悉く罷り出て、山徒ら神輿を振り捨て、帰る路を防戦すべし。(To Fushimi in Yamashiro province) Rouse up the lower classes in Fushimi, force the mountain monks to abandon their shrine, and cut off the monks’ route of escape)
What the Bakufu was asking was for the villagers in the estates to be mobilised and for them to lie in wait for the monks’ approach. Any of the monks who might fall behind following an attack by the Bakufu force were to be disarmed and have their belongings (meaning armour) stripped from them. The mention of the “convenient location” is particularly interesting. Exactly how the villagers mobilised themselves and carried out their attack was purely up to them. Since they knew the territory better than anybody, all the Bakufu wanted them to do was to capture any defeated monks. (p.63)
Speaking of capturing defeated monks, the Taiheiki, compiled a century earlier, was vivid in its description of the practice of attacking defeated warriors. Those warriors who, exhausted and defeated, attempted to flee to the villages surrounding the battlefield would face the following dilemma;
案内者ノ野伏共、所々ノツマリツマリニ待受テ、打留ケル間、日々夜々ニ、討ル丶者、数ヲ知ズ。希有ニシテ命計ヲ助カル者ハ、馬、物具ヲ捨、衣裳ヲ剝取レテ。。。(The locals that know the area lie in wait in various places both day and night, and should they happen upon a defeated warrior, spare his life if he surrenders his horse and belongings)
It certainly appears as though the activities of these locals were virtually identical to the content of orders released by the Muromachi Bakufu to halt the progress of monks heading towards the capital. It appears as though originally, any warrior wearing strange or unfamiliar armour who attempted to sneak into a village would be disarmed and stripped by the villagers and then sent on his way. This was the so-called provision for “the peace of the village”. In order to preserve the peace in the village and the surrounding region, the villagers themselves would act in defence of their interests. However they would not act if they were asked to do something that was beyond their ability to perform. The Muromachi Bakufu, by requesting that villagers use “a convenient location” to attack defeated monks, well knew the tactics and the limits of the actions that they could ask villagers to undertake. (pp.63-64)
While much was made of the military abilities of villagers, villagers certainly were not sent into the front lines during a battle, but were mostly used in the rear, conducting mopping up operations and the like. Rather than pointing to the skill (or otherwise) of villagers, what this tells us is that there was a very clearly delineated role for both soldiers and farmers in medieval society, a medieval version of the ‘division of samurai and peasant’ ideology that came to dominate later eras. (p.64)
So what happened at the Fushimi estate when they received the order from the Bakufu? The diary “Kanmon Nikki”, written by a landowner on the Fushimi estate, explained all in the following entry;
When the orders arrived from the Bakufu, the villagers on the estate did not immediately spring into action and took the news in their stride. Hence the “samurai”, those younger men in the villages who had responsibility for leading others in battle, had to hurriedly gather together a force. Firstly, the bells of Sokujōin, a temple located on the estate, were rung in earnest, signalling to the villagers to assemble. In the evening at the shrine of Onkōnomiya, again located at the centre of the estate, the villagers gathered together wearing an assortment of light armour (or 半具足, Hangusoku). There the villagers discussed what tactics they would use, and the name of each participant (making a total of more than 300) was recorded in a ledger as having “arrived” or presented themselves for duty.(p.66)
The original version of the ‘arrival’ ledger was almost exactly the same as the contents described in the diary. The original ‘seven’ samurai described at the beginning of the diary entry each had the epithet “child of” or “younger brother of” after their names. Thus when the village was called into action, these young “seven samurai” bore responsibility for the welfare of the village, and together with other troops (下人, Genin, literally ‘lower people’) combined to make a force of 50. These young men, as they were leaders of a military force, were thus referred to with a pseudo-honorific title of ‘lords of the fields’ (殿原若輩, Donobara Jyakuhai). (p.66)
The records of six villages in the estate also noted the number of participants from each village, thereby telling us that each village had a system in place for the organisation of a military force should it prove necessary. The members of these forces were civilian soldiers, often referred to as “凡下, Bonge”, or “commoners”. This combination of “samurai”, “lower people”, and “commoners” was a form of medieval social strata (similar to the early modern social order of “warriors, farmers, manufacturers, and merchants”) with those designated as “samurai” the leaders of this village system of mobilisation. Below them came the “lower people”, and then the “commoners”. (p.66)
From the ringing of the bells to the assembly of the villagers, such a rapid response was almost textbook. It would have been impossible for so many villagers to gather together, armed and ready for action, without plenty of practice and training. As proof of this, the records of the time note when each delegation from each village arrived, and the names of the participants. This was a military measure well known to warriors in camp, but less so concerning villagers. Hence the villagers themselves obviously had great experience in the ways of war, and had responded accordingly. (pp.67-68)
A century later, Akechi Mitsuhide, the betrayer of Oda Nobunaga, would be defeated at the battle of Yamazaki by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In the evening following the battle, and with his forces scattered, Mitsuhide would meet his fate at the hands of a ‘commoner uprising’ (土民の一揆) by the villagers of Ogurusu of the Fushimi estate. This was as described in the ‘Taikōki’(太閤記, or the Records of Hideyoshi), and was most certainly fact. Just thinking about this right now, the reference in the diary to the ‘commoner uprising’ was terribly discriminatory towards the villagers themselves, yet Mitsuhide’s defeated warriors had been set upon by the said villagers. Otherwise Hideyoshi, as part of his strategy, had made allies of the villagers of Fushimi estate and that hunting down defeated warriors was an aspect of this. (p.68)