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In Session: Connections, Networks, and Ties that Bind: Rethinking Centers and Peripheries in Medieval and Early Modern Japan
1: New Views on the Circulated Pattern of Itabi in Early Medieval Japan
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Tokyo, Japan
Japan’s early medieval period is known for many new innovations for Buddhist thought and practice. One such innovation that has received less attention, however, is the spread of flat, votive stone steles known itabi. Approximately 40,000 examples can be found across the Kantō region (eastern Japan) alone. Dedicated to those who sought rebirth in the pure land, these itabi were regarded as stone stupas in the medieval period, leading the few modern scholarly attempts to analyze them to adopt the perspective of folk religion. Scholarship that addresses the dissemination of itabi proposes that they were brought by warriors from the Kantō region (home of Kamakura, the warrior capital) to distant regions (Kamakura’s peripheries). In this paper, I reconsider itabi culture by focusing on its political and material aspects to propose a revised view of how itabi spread throughout medieval Japan. With the migration of eastern warriors who were designated local lords to other regions, itabi radiated from the northwest area of the Musashi Province to many other regions concentrically. However, with the development of local transportation routes during the fourteenth century, many concentrated bases of itabi established complex networks to exchange stone materials as well as religious symbols. Drawing on examples from places including the Sendai region, this reconsideration proposes two circulated patterns of itabi in early medieval Japan, implying that there was not one center (Kamakura) but rather multiple centers that promoted the use of itabi in various hinterlands.