Muromachi Culture (室町文化)

Muromachi culture was a Japanese culture of the Muromachi period in which the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) was established in Kyoto by the Ashikaga clan. Following the culture of the Northern and Southern Courts, Muromachi culture evolved as Kitayama culture at the time of the third Shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, and matured as Higashiyama culture at the time of the eighth Shogun Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA. In the the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States), the popularization and spread of culture to local regions were accelerated. Broadly speaking, Muromachi culture occasionally includes the culture of the Northern and Southern Courts.


Muromachi period was the time in which the warrior class politically overwhelmed court nobles, and its culture largely developed. Since many high-ranking warriors including powerful Shugo (military governor), especially Seii Taishogun (literally, great general who subdues the barbarians) Ashikaga clan, lived in Kyoto, they frequently came in touch with the traditional culture of court nobles. As the culture of the continent including Zen Buddhism was introduced by the trade with foreign nations, the warrior class, even after being influenced by it, blended the strength and simplicity of its own culture with the traditional beauty of court noble's, and created a new culture of the warrior class.

Meanwhile, as the social status of the common people rose with the development of commerce and industry, the merchant class and peasants emerged as supporters of culture; the broad cultural interaction was encouraged, and local or plebeian characteristics of culture were enhanced. Typical examples were the development of the popular literature and the spread of Kamakura New Buddhism (new schools of Japanese Buddhism founded during the Kamakura period) to local regions. Sarugaku (form of theater popular in Japan during the eleventh to fourteenth centuries), Kyogen (farce played during a Noh play cycle), and Renga (linked verse) became popular in both urban and rural areas; tea drinking customs also spread in the form of Chanoyu (the tea ceremony). These performing arts, which were more or less characterized by the concept of harmony or "Ichimi doshin" (working together with one mind), reflected the ordinary lives of the warrior class at the time, and were perfectly fit for the everyday life of people in So (a community consisting of peasants' self-governing association) as well as of urban citizens.

Muromachi culture had two climaxes in its history. One was Kitayama culture established at the end of the fourteenth century, and the other was Higashiyama culture at the end of the fifteenth century. This means that the warrior class emerged as a leading figure not only in politics and economy, but also in the field of culture. This trend spread widely to local regions in the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States) in the sixteenth century, resulting in the creation of a national culture.

Kitayama culture

It was a culture that was established during the time of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA; it was full of vitality in that the mixture of various cultures dramatically developed such that the culture of the continent mixed with the Japanese culture, or the culture of court nobles mixed with the culture of the warrior class; however, Kitayama culture had a vulgar aspect as well. The third Shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA built a magnificent villa in Kitayama, Kyoto; an architectural style of a golden pavilion constructed there is a blend of traditional Shinden-zukuri style (the palace style characteristic of Fujiwara period architecture) and Zen temple style, embodying a distinctive feature of this period; hence the name "Kitayama culture."

Higashiyama culture

It was a culture that was established at the time of Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA; it retained simplicity and an air of austere elegance of the spirit of Zen, based on the spiritual keynote of grace, quiet beauty, and elegant simplicity of the traditional culture. Muromachi culture, which flowered as Kitayama culture, and whose artistic quality was adopted in people's lifestyle, took root as a new original culture. After the Onin War, the eighth Shogun Yoshimasa built a villa in Higashiyama, Kyoto (Kyoto Prefecture), where he constructed a silver pavilion after the example of his grandfather Yoshimitsu. The culture in this period was symbolized by the villa in Higashiyama, so it was called Higashiyama culture.

Culture in the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States)

After the Onin War, as the regional autonomy was enhanced, the income from local territories dried up. Some of the impoverished court nobles or priests in Kyoto left their places devastated by war, went down to prosperous local cities, and asked local daimyo (feudal lords) and kokujin (local lords) for help. For example, Kanpaku (Chancellor) Norifusa ICHIJO went down to his family's territory, Hatanosho district in Tosa Province (present-day Shimanto City, Kochi Prefecture), and later his descendants became Sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lord in the Sengoku period) as Tosa Ichijo clan. Norifusa's father Kanera ICHIJO, the greatest intellectual figure of that day, also went down to Nara and subsequently to Mino Province. Meanwhile, with the development of commerce and industry and the establishment of Gosonsei system (the self-governing system of coalitions of villages), a new style of culture developed among commercial and industrial workers in urban areas (Machishu) as well as peasants.

Among Sengoku daimyo, the Asakura clan in Echizen Province, the Imagawa clan in Suruga Province, and the Ouchi clan in Suo Province were particularly interested in culture. Since the Ouchi clan accumulated wealth by the tally trade and adopted the culture of the continent, many priests, scholars, and court nobles including an artist monk, Sesshu, gathered at its castle town in Yamaguchi City, where a publishing business called "Ouchi printing" was also carried out.

Renga (linked verse) was extremely popular among the warrior class; some linked-verse poets like Sogi wandered throughout the country, from Kyushu to the eastern part of Japan. These linked-verse poets' pilgrimage to many lands contributed to the spread of culture among daimyo, samurai, and ordinary people.

Confucianism also began to be recognized as the learning essential to daimyo. When Genju KEIAN, who returned from the Ming dynasty, traveled around Kyushu, he was invited by the Kikuchi clan in Higo Province and the Shimazu clan in Satsuma Province to give a lecture; and later, he established the Satsunan school (school of Neo-Confucianism in Satsuma). In Tosa, Baiken MINAMIMURA, who lectured on Neo-Confucianism, became known as the founder of Nangaku (Neo-Confucianism in Tosa); in Hokuriku region, Nobutaka KIYOHARA lectured on Confucianism for various daimyo such as the Hatakeyama clan in Noto Province, the Takeda clan in Wakasa Province, and the Asakura clan in Echizen Province.

Meanwhile, in the eastern part of Japan, Norizane UESUGI reestablished the Ashikaga Gakko (Japan's oldest academic institution) by adding a collection of books, so priests and warriors from all over the country gathered to learn. For the Ashikaga Gakko, the Gohojo clan in Odawara provided protection later; Francis Xavier, a missionary of the Society of Jesus, who propagated Christianity in Japan, described that "the Ashikaga Gakko is the biggest and most famous academy of Bando in Japan (the university of eastern Japan)." Shukyu BANRI, a priest and a composer of Chinese-style poems, went down to Mino Province in the Onin War, and then left for Edo at Dokan OTA's invitation; he traveled all over the Kanto region, Echigo Province, and Hida Province. The above-mentioned Sesshu visited the Risshaku-ji Temple in Yamagata City, Dewa Province.

In this period, local lords and local clans considered it indispensable to acquire skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic for the management of their territories. A growing number of land deeds were written by peasants, which means that literacy was widespread even among the commoner class. "Teikin Orai" (Home Education Text Book), "Joe-shikimoku" (legal code of the Kamakura shogunate), and "Jitsugokyo" (a text for primary education) were widely used in shrines and temples as textbooks for the education of children of the warrior class.

It was in the Sengoku Period that the following books were published: "Setsuyoshu" (a Japanese-language dictionary in iroha order) written by Soji MANJUYA, and "Ishotaizen" (The Complete Book of Medicine), a medical book in Ming's language, translated by ASAI no Sozui, who was a merchant in Sakai City and a physician.

[Original Japanese]