Friday 12/6/2013, 3-3:45 PM, Waite Phillips Hall 104*
Land-based Power of Retired Royal Ladies (Nyoin) in Early Medieval Japan: A Case Study of Senyōmon’in (1181-1252), an Unmarried Royal Daughter
Sachiko Kawai, Ph.D. Candidate, USC History Department
My research explores the economic and religio-political roles of late Heian and Kamakura nyoin, whose titles made them female equivalents of male retired monarchs. And although women had ceased to ascend the throne, nyoin owned a large number of royal properties, that helped them attain economic, political, and even military influence. But my research demonstrates that they did not automatically succeed in wielding that influence. They had to overcome challenges in securing material and human resources from their estates. Through this case study of Senyōmon’in, I explore the challenges and coping strategies that nyoin used in managing their estates. By closely analyzing a list of miscellaneous dues levied on estates, The List of the Chōkōdō Estates that dates from the late twelfthcentury, I have investigated the religio-political roles played by Senyōmon’in as an unmarried royal princess while also reconstructing the material culture and economic power she was able to obtain from her estate holdings.
Through this analysis I argue that Senyomon’in utilized three strategies: first, she strengthened her control over land by raising royal offspring and sponsoring memorial services (for whom?) to justify her levy and collection of dues; second, she stabilized her income by supporting the political advancement of her officials and providing them with estate management positions to ensure their economic prosperity; and third, rather than maintaining independent control over her land, she capitalized on alliances and the influence of other powerful authorities. By explaining the complex relations between socially acknowledged rights over estates and the ability to actually acquire resources, this research contributes to the understudied but nevertheless important issues of medieval nyoin and women’s land-based power.