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State of War
The Violent Order of
Fourteenth-Century Japan
by Thomas Donald Conlan, Bowdoin College

A landmark in the study of premodern Japanese history. Informed by easy mastery of a wide range of largely untapped primary sources and thoughtful conceptualization, Professor Conlan has produced the most comprehensive study of warfare for any period of Japanese history. It is the first serious study of how warriors actually engaged in battle, and of the full range of logistic, intellectual, and religious factors that surround their lives; to his credit, the author conveys well the human side of the story. The attention to issues of social change and technology is particularly welcome. – Andrew Goble, Assoc. Professor of History, University of Oregon.

This path-breaking study of the transformative power of war and its profound influence on 14th century Japan presents a fundamental revision of Japanese history. By illuminating Japan through the lens of war, Conlan provides insight into how state and society functioned, as opposed to how they were portrayed in ideal. He recreates the experience of war from the perspective of one warrior, and then reconstructs how war was fought through statistical analysis of surviving casualty records. Conlan also shows that the battles of the 14th century mark a watershed in Japanese history. The fiscal exigencies of waging war led to a devolution of political power to the provinces. Furthermore, the outbreak of war caused social status to become performative, based on the ability to fight autonomously, rather than being prescriptive, or determined by edicts of investiture. This work bridges the intellectual gulf between then and now by exploring how the seemingly contradictory categories of ‘religion’ and ‘war’ were integrally related. The 14th century belief that the outcome of battle was determined by the gods meant that religious institutions warred both ritually and physically, and that religious attitudes frequently underpinned warrior behavior. State of War rehabilitates warfare as a focal point of historical inquiry and provides a fascinating overview of premodern Japanese history.

Published by Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan
Michigan Monographs in Japanese Studies No. 46
Published 2004, 300 pp., b/w & colour illustrations
ISBN 1 929280 16 5, hardback, £44.00
ISBN 1 929280 23 8, paperback, £18.99