Inokuma Kaneki: Research in the Material Culture of the Old Japanese Royal Court

4:15-4:45 Prof. Inokuma Kaneki, Tokyo National Museum

“Research in the Material Culture of the Old Japanese Royal Court”

In the kind of class-structured society that existed in the pre-modern era, a person’s lifestyle corresponded to that person’s rank in the class hierarchy. Members of the court sought to pass down their ways of life to their descendants based on the formal manners and customs of the court, with the aim of preserving their special hierarchic status. The body of knowledge concerning these formal customs is known as 有職 (yūsoku). The essential aim of the court’s formal customs was to maintain order in the hierarchy. Courtiers were kept in line by their bureaucratic position, class, and ancestry. This order was physically embodied in the practice of ceremonial rituals that made use of the palace, furnishings, and costumes. In other words, the buildings, implements and clothing of the court were not only tools but also articles of material culture that, through their form and design, had the social function of signifying a courtier’s position and lineage, and the state of court ceremonial. As such the style of the court was formed through these articles of material culture. This use of material culture to differentiate between members of society and ceremonial events is a universal phenomenon that can be seen throughout world history.

It is particularly marked, however, in 礼制 (J: reisei, C: lǐzhì, or the system of protocol) that developed in ancient China. The form of government of the Chinese court, called 朝廷 (J: chōtei, C: cháotíng), which was based on the principles of protocol, was not only passed down to successive dynasties in China. Since it was a universal system of government that spread to the Japanese archipelago, the Korean peninsula, the Vietnam region, and the Ryūkyū Islands, the Chinese court style also influenced courts in other parts of Eastern Asia.

My discussion of the style of the monarch’s court in Japan is divided into the categories of rituals 祭祀 (saishi), the New Year’s Imperial Greeting ceremony 朝賀 (J:Chōga, C:Cháohè), and official events 公事 (kuji).  1)  祭祀 (saishi) The items of material culture used in the 大嘗祭 (Daijō-sai), or Great Food Offering ceremony were devices intended to project ancient customs. By preserving them, those ancient customs have been passed on down to the present day. 2)  朝賀 (Chōga) In embodying the principles of the chōtei court, the court style was formed by material culture such as palaces, furnishings and costumes that imitated items used in the Chinese icourt of the Tang Dynasty. 3) 公事 (kuji) The characteristics of era, region and ethnicity in courtesy-based East Asian imperial courts are most apparent in their inner courts (private space). In Japan’s inner court, annual events of the season emerged to form a court culture that was rich in elegance.