Posts Tagged ‘Goro Hani’

Japanese History: Twelfth Century Guild Power against Feudalism

December 17, 2017

This is the type of history you don’t hear much about from the Land of the Rising Sun. Much of our images of Japanese history and culture are based on Japanese feudalism and the samurai, who held power until the modernisation of the country in the later 19th century during the Meiji Restoration. But there was a period during the 12th century during a period of intense civil wars when the power of the daimyos began to break down. This meant that a number of towns began to shake off their yoke, and asserted their own independence. The ruling powers in them were the guilds, who organised local armies.

This is a period I’d love to know more about. The guilds weren’t trade unions – not in Japan, Europe or wherever. But they represented the ‘middling sort’ and the craftspeople, regulated trade and provided some welfare services. They were also a powerful inspiration to the British Guild Socialists – hence the name – who formulated a British version of continental syndicalism.

During the radical ferment of the 1960s there was a revival of interest in ideas of municipal anarchism following the publication of Goro Hani’s The Logic of the Cities. This can partly be explained by the alienation many Japanese felt through the Fascism of Imperial Japan during the Second World War, and the humiliation they felt at their nation’s defeat. it doesn’t look like Japan’s current economic decline, marked by rising homelessness and poverty, will lead to renewed interest in radical ideas over there. But this is period of the 12th century seems to me to be a fascinating period that should be a bit better known.