Blades, Bushi and Benkei: Weapons and Warfare in Premodern Japan

Ishibashi Lecture Series
Sunday 9 Dec 2018 | 1-4PM

Tokiwamatsu Hall
Kokugakuin University
Shibuya Campus, 4-10- 28 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Professor Mikael Adolphson
University of Cambridge

Professor Karl Friday
Saitama University and University of Georgia

Professor Uchikawa Takashi
Kokugakuin University

Sunday 9 December 2018, 13:00-16:00 (Doors open at 12:30)

13:00-13:05 Opening remarks
13:05-14:50 Session 1 – Lectures 1 and 2
14:50-15:05 break
15:05-16:00 Session 2 – Panel discussion

About the Talks


Monastic Warfare and Sōhei in Japanese History
Professor Mikael Adolphson

Benkei is an iconic figure in Japanese history, representing a group of monastic warriors known as sōhei. Prevalent in many representations from the late medieval and the eraly modern age, these sōhei are almost without exception depicted with head cowls and naginata, seen as typical for these warriors. But is this how they really fought? How can we know that such images represent the particular warfare strategies by monastic forces? These and other questions surrounding the weapons and battle strategies used by the so-called sōhei will be explained in this lecture.

Searching for the Swordsmen: A Short History of Battle
Professor Karl Friday

While early modern warriors worshiped swords as “the soul of the samurai,” and modern audiences, schooled on samurai movies, envision medieval battlefields as melees of close-quarter combat with bladed weapons, in reality swords played only a tiny, auxiliary role in premodern warfare. This lecture will explore the evidence supporting this conclusion; the social, cultural and political reasons why swords played such a small part in battles; and the difficulties inherent in efforts by earlier generations of historians to identify a point at which swords came to dominate Japanese battles.


Past Ishibashi Foundation Lecture Series

Admission Free. No booking required.
Seats will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis (300 places available).

About the Speakers

Karl F. FRIDAY (PhD, Stanford) is Professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Saitama University, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia. A specialist in the Heian and Kamakura periods, his publications include “Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan” (Stanford, 1992), “Legacies of the Sword: the Kashima Shinryu & Samurai Martial Culture” (University of Hawai’I Press, 1997), “Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan” (Routledge, 2004), “The First Samurai: the Life & Legend of the Warrior Rebel Taira Masakado” (Wiley, 2008), “Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850” (Westview, 2012), “The Routledge Handbook of Premodern Japanese History” (Routledge, 2017), and numerous shorter works.

Mikael Adolphson (PhD, Stanford) is Keidanren Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge. He is a broadly trained historian with a strong interest in medieval societies and he focuses on a wide variety of topics, ranging from social structures, ideologies, mentalitée, religious institutions, legal history, historical documents and international trade. In addition, he has a strong interest in how historical narratives have been and are constructed both in the past and the present. His publications include “The Gates of Power: Monks, Courtiers and Warriors in Premodern Japan” (University of Hawaii Press, 2000), “The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sōhei in Japanese History” (University of Hawai’i Press, 2007), and “Lovable Losers: The Heike in Action and Memory” (University of Hawaii Press, 2015) amongst others.

Uchikawa Takashi (PhD, Kokugakuin University) is Professor at the Organization for the Advancement of Research and Development, Kokugakuin University. He specializes in Archaeology and Museum Studies.

About the Ishibashi Foundation Lecture Series

The Sainsbury Institute is delighted to present the Fifth Ishibashi Foundation Lecture Series, sponsored by the Ishibashi Foundation and in association with the Organization for the Advancement of Research and Development, Kokugakuin University. Lectures will be given in English and simultaneously translated into Japanese. This Lecture Series aim to offer new perspectives in the studies of Japanese arts and cultures and contribute to the promotion of scholarly and artistic exchange between Japan and overseas.

In association with the Organization for the Advancement of Research and Development, Kokugakuin University

Sponsored by the Ishibashi Foundation


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