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In Session: Connections, Networks, and Ties that Bind: Rethinking Centers and Peripheries in Medieval and Early Modern Japan
2: Official and Unofficial Intermediaries in Medieval Japanese Disputes: A View from Fushimi
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Princeton University, United States
Intermediaries traversed the landscape of Muromachi Japan (1336-1573). Many held formal positions linking various organs of Muromachi government—court and bakufu, central and local administrators—and were much more than simple messengers, with authority to advise and negotiate. Yet official intermediaries were also vulnerable, I argue: multiple people often held the same office and were of lower status than those whom they connected. When a retired emperor closed his doors in anger to one court-bakufu liaison, that liaison had little purpose or recourse. Disputants seeking advantage therefore converged on certain unofficial intermediaries, widely recognized but not appointed as negotiators. These intermediaries achieved independent standing through portfolios of cultural accomplishments, social connections, political offices, and a close personal relationship with a major power; they thereby served as more reliable channels than the official ones. Private chronicles from the fifteenth century, including several written by intermediaries themselves, provide detailed perspectives on their activities. Prince Sadafusa's Kanmon nikki in particular shows how one household and estate in Fushimi, south of the capital but closely connected to it, utilized intermediaries. Sadafusa and his people shifted, sometimes adroitly and sometimes in mortal desperation, between the official channels of a court-bakufu liaison or commissioner assigned to their case, and the unofficial connection to a noted court scholar and the shogun's former tutor. In addition, Sadafusa sent his own negotiator to speak for him with estates in other provinces. Their choices reveal the interplay of official and unofficial intermediaries in navigating Muromachi dispute resolution.