Cover image for The world turned upside down : medieval Japanese society
The world turned upside down : medieval Japanese society
Souyri, Pierre.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Monde à l'envers. English
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xxiv, 280 pages : maps ; 24 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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DS857 S6813 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

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 .

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The Japanese middle ages have long been a no-man's-land between the romantic age of Genji and the renaissance time of Bash. Of course, there have been notable studies and texts covering the period between 1200 and 1600. For example, The Tale of the Heike has recently been excellently translated by Helen McCullough (CH, Nov'88); Mary Berry's The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto (CH, Dec'94) surveys the end of the period; and Andrew Goble's Kenmu: Go-Daigo's Revolution (CH, Nov'97) examines a major intermediate episode. Nonetheless, for most beginners, the introductory text in English remained George Sansom's History of Japan, 1334-1615 (1961). Now Souyri has produced a compact survey of the entire period, notable for range, depth, and linkage. He covers culture, history, political and military organization, and economics, exploring many of these in considerable and convincing detail. Most engagingly, he shows how they all tie together. The linked-verse tradition (renga), for example, is directly tied to the growth of peasant leagues (ikki); communal celebrations featuring group versifying were means by which to bind villagers politically and militarily. Souyri dexterously handles historiographical controversies with a light and kindly touch. Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above. R. B. Lyman Jr. Brandeis University

Table of Contents

Chronology of Japanese History with Emphasis on the Middle Ages
1 The Curtain Rises
2 Social Dynamics in the Late Heian Period
3 The Crisis in the Late Twelfth Century
4 Kamakura: The Warrior Regime
5 Kamakura: A Society of Questions
6 Kamakura: A Society in Transformation
7 The Second Middle Ages: The Turning Point of the Fourteenth Century
8 Warriors, Pirates, Peasants, and Priests
9 The Splendor and Misery of the Muromachi Century: The Culmination of the Ashikaga and the Development of Trade
10 The Splendor and Misery of the Muromachi Century: New Uprisings, New Culture
11 The Sengoku Period: Communes, Religious Leagues, and Neighborhood Associations
12 The Sengoku Period: Warlords Seeking Power
Glossary of Japanese Words and Names