Michelle Damian: All Ports Are Not Created Equal: A Typology of Late Medieval Inland Sea Ports

All Ports Are Not Created Equal: A Typology of Late Medieval Inland Sea Ports 中世後半期瀬戸内海港の比較と類型
Michelle Damian, Doctoral Candidate in History, USC

In this talk I will introduce a working hypothetical framework for assessing the types of port communities along the late medieval Seto Inland Sea. Though most of the islands were populated and many of their port names appear in the written record, different areas played different roles. I am exploring the concept that ports can be broadly categorized as “production ports” or “shipping ports.” While these were not mutually exclusive functions, ports tended to have one role or another. The former were usually smaller ports in residential areas, close to a production center for a particular item. Ports such as Yuge (Iyo province), which was known for its salt production, or Inbe (Bizen province) near the kilns famous for producing Bizen pottery, were possible representatives of production ports, with the goods shipped from those ports largely corresponding to the locally produced items. The best known and most studied “shipping ports” were larger ports such as Onomichi and Hyōgo, which became central hubs for shipping and transshipping goods.   

I contend that shipping ports were not exclusively large ports, however, and that certain smaller ports played a vital role in transshipping specialty items in particular. For instance Takasaki and Kamagari in Aki Province were critical stopping points for goods from Kyushu, and Yura on Awaji was an important center for processed lumber (planks) that possibly originated from the Kii peninsula. I will look at “what makes a port” – the infrastructure, setting, and people associated with the location – and I will also explore the different types of ports so that we can better understand shipping networks in the late medieval Seto Inland Sea.