Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
THE KAMAKURA PERIOD
WITH the establishment of the Shogunate, or military vice-royalty by Yoritomo of the Minamoto family at Kamakura, in 1186 A.D., begins a new phase of Japanese life, whose main features continued till the Meiji restoration of the present day.
This Kamakura epoch is important as the connecting-link between the Fujiwara on the one hand and the Ashikaga and Tokugawa epochs on the other. It is characterised by the development in full form of the notion of feudal rights and individual consciousness. And it is interesting, like all transition periods, by the fact that it contains, in solution as it were, those developments whose complete self-display had to await a later era. Here we find the idea of individualism struggling to express itself among the decaying debris of an aristocratic rule, inaugurating an age of hero-worship and heroic romance akin to the spirit of European individualism in the time of chivalry, its woman-worship restricted by Oriental notions of decorum, and its religion — by reason of the freedom and ease of the Jodo sect — lacking the severe asceticism of that overawing popedom which held the Western conscience in iron fetters. The division of the country into feudal tenures, headed by the noble and powerful family of Minamoto at Kamakura, led each province to find amongst its own lords and knights some central figure who represented for it the highest personification of manhood. The influx upon the people who lived in the trans-Hakone region of the so-called Eastern Barbarians with their simple bravery and unsophisticated ideas, broke down the effeminate complexity left by the over-refined formalism of the Fujiwaras. Each local knight strove hard as against all others, not only in martial prowess, but in the power of self-conquest, courtesy, and charity, which were qualities considered above muscular might, as the marks of true courage.
"To know the sadness of things" was the motto of the time, so bringing to birth the great ideal of the Samurai, whose raison d'étre was to suffer for the sake of others. Indeed, the very etiquette of this knightly class during the Kamakura period points as unmistakably to the conception of the monk, as the life of any Indian woman to that of the nun. Some of the Samurai, or military officers, grouped around their chiefs or daimyos, and followed in turn by their own clansmen, wore a priestly garment over their armour, and many even went the length of shaving the head. There was nothing incongruous with religion in the art of war, and the noble who renounced the world became one of the militant monks of his new order. The Indian idea of the Guru, or giver of spiritual life, was here projected upon the Samurai's war-lord, whoever he might be, and a surging passion of loyalty to "the banner-chief," became the motive of a career. Men would devote their lives to the avenging of his death, as in other countries women have died for their husbands, or the worshipper for his gods.
It is possible that this fire of monasticism has been the great influence in robbing Japanese chivalry of its romantic element. The idealising of women would seem to have been an instinctive note of early Japanese life. Were we not of the race of the Sun-goddess? Only after the Fujiwara epoch, with its exploration of the realm of religious emotion, the devotion of man to woman amongst us assumes its true Eastern form, of a worship the more powerful because the shrine is secret, an inspiration the stronger because its source is hidden. A reserve as of religion seals the lips of Kamakura poets, but it must not be thought on that account that the Japanese woman was not adored. For the seclusion of Oriental zenanas is a veiled sainthood. It may have been in the Crusades that the troubadours learnt this secret of the strength of mystery. It will be remembered that their most binding tradition was the obscurity in which the name of "my lady" was involved. Dante, at any rate, as a singer of love, is entirely an Eastern poet singing of Beatrice, the Oriental woman.
This was an age, then, of silence as to love, but it was also an age of epic heroism, in the midst of which looms large the romantic figure of Yoshitsune, of the house of Minamoto, whose life recalls the tales of the round table, and is lost, like that of the knight of Pendragon, in poetic mist, so as to furnish the imagination of a later day with plausible grounds for identifying him with Genghis Khan in Mongolia, whose wonderful career begins about fifteen years after the disappearance of Yoshitsune in Yezo. His name is also pronounced Ghengi Khei, and some of the names of the generals of the great Mogol conqueror bear resemblance to those of the knights of Yoshitsune. We have also Tokiyorie, the regent of the Shoguns, who, like Haroun-al-Raschid, travelled through the Empire alone as a simple monk, inquiring into the state of the country. These episodes give rise to a literature of adventure, which, centring on some heroic character, is rigorous in its rude simplicity, in contrast to the elegant effeminacy of preceding Fujiwara writings.
Buddhism had to be simplified in order to meet the requirements of this new age. The Jodo ideal now appeals to the public mind, through grosser representations of retribution. Pictures of purgatory and the horrors of hell are for the first time presented, in order to overawe the rising populace, who under this new régime were becoming more prominent than before. At the same time, the Samurai, or knightly class, adopted as its ideal the teaching of the Zen sect (perfected under the Sung dynasty, by the Southern Chinese mind), that salvation was to be looked for in self-control and strength of will. Thus the art of this period lacks both the idealised perfection of the Nara and the refined delicacy of the Fujiwara epochs, but is characterised by the vigour of its return to the line, and by the virility and strength of its delineation.
Portrait statues, so significant a, production of the heroic age, now claim the foremost place in sculpture. Among these may be mentioned the statues of monks of the Kegon sect in Kofukuji in Nara, and several others. Even the Buddhas and devas assume personal characteristics, as may be seen from the great Nioo of Nandaimon in Nara. The fine bronze Buddha of Kamakura is not exempt from the human tenderness which is absent from the more abstract bronzes of Nara and Fujiwara.
Painting lent itself, besides portraiture, to the illustration of the heroic legends, generally in the form of makimonos, or rolls, in which the pictures are interspersed with the written text. No subjects were too high or too low for the artists of the day to illustrate, as the formalist canons of aristocratic distinction were discarded in the new-born enthusiasm of individual consciousness; but what they most delighted to paint was the spirit of motion. Nothing is more illustrative of this than the wonderful street scenes, depicted in the makimono owned by Prince Tokugawa, of Bandainagon, or the three battle-scenes of the Heiji stories, owned by the Emperor, Baron Iwasaki, and the Boston Museum. These are falsely attributed to Keion, an artist whose very existence is without foundation.
The gorgeous succession of depictments of the terrors of hell in the makimonos of Jigokusoshi and Tenjinengi of Kitano where the warlike spirit of the time seems to delight in the awful spectacle of destruction and sublime horror — suggests the imagery of Dante's Inferno.
Shogunate. — Shogun is an abbreviation of Seiyi tai Shogun, or Commander-in-Chief of the Armies that fight the Barbarians. This title was first conferred on Yoritomo of the Minamoto family, who destroyed the Tairas. The long succession of military regents of Japan, after this date, were called Shoguns, and of them, the Minamotos reigned in Kamakura, the Ashikagas in Kyoto, and the Tokugawas in Yedo (Tokio).
Sakti. — A Sanscrit word meaning force or power, the cosmic energy. It is always symbolised by the feminine, as Durga, Kali, and others. All women are supposed to be its embodiment.
Sûtras. — Sûtra, in Sanscrit, means thread, and is a term applied to certain of the ancient texts, which consist of aphorisms or part-aphorisms, and are necessarily obscure by reason of their conciseness. They belong to the. old system of memorising, and are really a series of suggestions covering the whole ground of an argument, in which each sentence is intended to revive the memory of certain steps. The corresponding word in Chinese is warp, that which is to be woven upon.