Japanese medieval trading towns: Sakai and Tosaminato
By Richard Pearson
Japanese Journal of Archaeology, Vol.3 (2016)
Abstract: Trade was essential to the development of urban forms in medieval Japan. In this paper, Richard Pearson introduces discoveries at two important medieval trading centres: Sakai, in the Kinai region, comprising the modern prefectures of Osaka, Nara and Kyoto, the longest established urban areas in Japan; and Tosaminato, headquarters of the Ando clan at the northern tip of the main Japanese island of Honshu, centre for the northern trade with Hokkaido.
Introduction: This paper is based on a presentation originally delivered at a conference in 2004 in Norwich, UK organized by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures on the ‘Archaeology of Medieval Towns in Japan and Europe.’ A volume arising from this and subsequent research will be published later in 2016 under the title of The Archaeology of Medieval Towns: Case Studies from Japan and Europe, edited by Brian Ayers, Simon Kaner and Richard Pearson, and published by Archaeopress of Oxford. Pearson’s paper refers to research undertaken up to the later 2000s.
The paper is divided into two main sections. The first part is a review of the historical and social background to the rise of medieval urban centres in Japan in general. Pearson identifies a series of major social and economic trends which underlay the development of towns: village nucleation; trade, with a particular focus on ceramics and coinage; changes in land tenure and local government; the development of new economic institutions including the appearance of shipping agents who acted as middle men between the rural estates which produced commodities and the markets, and co-operative guilds; changes in the composition of social classes, most notably the rise of the provincial warrior class and an urban merchant class; and changes in religion important for understanding the development of urban areas around temples of shrines.
The second section of the paper presents detailed summaries of the archaeological discoveries at Sakai and Tosaminato, which are related to the social and economic trends discussed in the first section. Combined with the results of the broad area excavations at Kusado Sengen on the Inland Sea coast, these summaries introduce the reader to the diversity in medieval Japanese trading towns and to the factors which led to their development and demise.