The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society

Paperback | September 3, 2003

byPierre François SouyriTranslated byKäthe Roth

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In the late twelfth century, Japanese people called the transitional period in which they were living the "age of warriors." Feudal clans fought civil wars, and warriors from the Kanto Plain rose up to restore the military regime of their shogun, Yoritomo. The whole of this intermediary period came to represent a gap between two stable societies: the ancient period, dominated by the imperial court in Heian (today's Kyoto), and the modern period, dominated by the Tokugawa bakufu based in Edo (today's Tokyo).

In this remarkable portrait of a complex period in the evolution of Japan, Pierre F. Souyri uses a wide variety of sources-ranging from legal and historical texts to artistic and literary examples-to form a magisterial overview of medieval Japanese society. As much at home discussing the implications of the morality and mentality of The Tale of the Heike as he is describing local disputes among minor vassals or the economic implications of the pirate trade, Souyri brilliantly illustrates the interconnected nature of medieval Japanese culture.

The Middle Ages was a decisive time in Japan's history because it confirmed the country's national identity. New forms of cultural expression, such as poetry, theater, garden design, the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and illustrated scrolls, conveyed a unique sensibility-sometimes in opposition to the earlier Chinese models followed by the old nobility. The World Turned Upside Down provides an animated account of the religious, intellectual, and literary practices of medieval Japan in order to reveal the era's own notable cultural creativity and enormous economic potential.

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In the late twelfth century, Japanese people called the transitional period in which they were living the "age of warriors." Feudal clans fought civil wars, and warriors from the Kanto Plain rose up to restore the military regime of their shogun, Yoritomo. The whole of this intermediary period came to represent a gap between two stabl...

Pierre F. Souyri is Directeur des Études at the École Français d'Extrême-Orient.Käthe Roth is coeditor of Judaism: Myth, Legend, History, and Custom, from the Religious to the Secular.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 7 × 9 × 0.68 inPublished:September 3, 2003Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231118430

ISBN - 13:9780231118439

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Table of Contents

Chronology of Japanese History with Emphasis on the Middle Ages1. The Curtain Rises2. Social Dynamics in the Late Heian Period3. The Crisis in the Late Twelfth CenturyWar4. Kamakura: The Warrior Regime5. Kamakura: A Society of Questions6. Kamakura: A Society in Transformation7. The Second Middle Ages: The Turning Point of the Fourteenth Century8. Warriors, Pirates, Peasants, and Priests9. The Splendor and Misery of the Muromachi Century: The Culmination of the Ashikaga and the Development of Trade10. The Splendor and Misery of the Muromachi Century: New Uprisings, New Culture11. The Sengoku Period: Communes, Religious Leagues, and Neighborhood Associations12. The Sengoku Period: Warlords Seeking PowerGlossary of Japanese Words and Names

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A masterful synthesis of current scholarship... brilliant... excellent.



A lively account of medieval Japan which builds on recent Japanese historiography, and which offers a wealth of new information on social organization. It is certain to challenge some of the received wisdom about medieval Japan and to stimulate discussion.