Medieval Landscape of Yamato Province

The Nara Basin is surrounded by mountains and highlands that were poetically called "Green Hedges." In the west, the Ikoma-Kongo Mountains separate the basin from the Osaka Plain. In the south, the Yoshino Mountains extend to the Pacific Ocean. To the east of the basin lies the Yamato Highland. In medieval times this area was called "San-nai (Mountain Areas)" in contrast with the Nara Basin, which was called "Kuni-naka (Inner Country)."

The medieval era of Japan is generally characterized as the age of warriors (samurai) and feudal lords (daimyô), but in Yamato Province (modern Nara Prefecture), Kôfuku-ji, a Buddhist monastery established by the Fujiwara family, occupied the seat of feudal power from which the province was ruled. Kôfuku-ji also subordinated almost all of the other Buddhist temples in the province. Only a few Buddhist temples were independent, including Tôdai-Ji in Nara, Tô-no-mine in Sakurai, and Kimpusen-Ji in Yoshino. Two monzeki (temples headed by priests from noble lineage), Daijô-in and Ichijô-in, occupied a central place in the power politics of Kôfuku-ji. There are several large Buddhist temples along the slope dividing the Nara Basin and the Yamato Highland. These temples, shown in the illustration below by green and purple dots, were subordinate to Kôfuku-ji. The authorities of Kôfuku-ji called them "San-ji (mountain temples)" and imposed tax and duties on them in the same way as on the other estates.

Since these temples were distributed along the edges of the Nara Basin, it is clear that the basin and the mountain areas were linked with each other and formed a cohesive region.

Rule by Kôfuku-ji over Yamato Province led to the organization of people within its territory into groups of warriors. The powerful families that led such regional groups of warriors had their settlements in the basin. But they also had hill forts in the mountains surrounding the Nara Basin. These families included the Ochi, Tôichi, Tsutsui, Furuichi and others. Links between these families and their regional bases are shown in the above illustration and the following table.

 Family  Hill fort
 Ochi  Takatori-jô
 Tôichi  Ryûôzan-jô
 Tsutsui  Tsubao-jô
 Furuichi  Hachibuse-jô

The Matsunaga family, who invaded Yamato Province in the 16th century, also built a hill fort in Shigisan. Settlements in the basin and hill forts in the mountain areas were typical features in the medieval landscape of the Nara region.

The distribution of Buddhist temples and hill forts reflects both contrastive and complementary relationships between the basin and mountain areas. Densely agglomerated settlements surrounded by moats (kango shuraku) are well known as a peculiar feature of the Nara Basin. However, I believe we can gain a better understanding of this region by focusing on the distribution of Buddhist temples and hill forts.

By Shuzo Murata, Osaka University

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