This week we turn away from politics to discuss religion, art, and the economy during the age of the Ashikaga. Why is this era such a moment of societal flourishing despite the constant warfare and instability of Ashikaga rule?

Sources

Collcutt, Martin. Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan. 

Adolphson, Michael S. The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sohei in Japan.

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1334-1615.

Parker, Joseph D. Zen Buddhist Landscape Arts of Early Muromachi Japan.

Lu, David J. Japan: A Documentary History, vol. 1. 

Grossberg, Kenneth A. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Images

A Noh performance. Note the mask, the musical performers behind the actor, and the fan in the actor’s hand — all hallmarks of Noh.

The gardens of Tenryuji.

A Noh stage; this should help you get a sense of the unusual layout of Noh performances.

Autumn landscape by Sesshu Toyo, c. 15th century.

Images of warrior monks were popularized during the Edo period, with depictions of historical figures like Musashibo Benkei (shown here with his friend Minamoto no Yoshitsune) becoming extremely common. In practice, few monks were actual warriors — instead, monastic armies consisted mostly of lay people hired to defend monasteries.

A mon (a type of coin) from the Muromachi period. The expansion of coinage helped grow the economy of the Muromachi era substantially.

Plum Tree Screen door by Kano Sanraku, c. 18th c. The Kano school emerged in the Muromachi period, and dominated the painting scene in Japan for the next several centuries.