Sunaga Shinobu: Kingship and Local Elites in Eastern Japan in the Sixth Century

Kingship and Local Elites in Eastern Japan in the Sixth Century 古代王権と東国豪族

SUNAGA Shinobu, Ph.D. Candidate in History, Meiji University 須永 忍

This paper discusses the relationship between the king in the central government and local elites in eastern Japan in the sixth century. The king depended upon local elites in eastern Japan because those elites were militaristic in nature. As exemplified by the Jinshin Rebellion of 672, the central government looked to local elites in eastern Japan to recruit soldiers. Royal guards were usually recruited from among the loyal and brave soldiers who were relatives of local elites in eastern Japan. Indeed such elites played an important role in ancient history.  

Archaeologically, large quantities of horse trappings, iron armor, decorated swords, and bronze bowls have been excavated from sixth- and seventh-century tumuli in eastern Japan, thereby demonstrating the militaristic culture of eastern local elites. Decorated swords and bronze bowls that reflect the heavy influence of Buddhism reflect a strong relationship with the central government.

In the six century and after, the number of tumuli drastically increased. There must have been many reasons for this, and I interpret this as a result of local elites competing with one another and of unstable assertion of local dominance. In order for local elites to cope with these difficulties, I speculate that local elites in eastern Japan sought for a closer relationship with the central government. This was the reason why local elites were willing to provide the central government with royal guards and other soldiers. In return, local elites were given horses and iron armor as well as other prestige goods. Owing to these give-and-take relationships, in the sixth century the king in the central government and local elites in eastern Japan became more dependent on each other than they had been earlier.

Presentation handout