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Thread: Housing in the Sengoku Era

  1. #1

    Default Housing in the Sengoku Era

    Disclaimer: A lot of this is taken from either lectures from class, original research or is again, considered to be common sense. I will note where original interpretations has been made (a section on castles come to mind).

    As a whole, however, I've noticed a substantial amount of things dealing with war and battle, but relatively little on daily life. I've written previously on food and dietary habits, so I figure housing is probably the next best on the list. Kesa and Greek-Guy-Sounding-Name-Starting-With-An-A (who wanted me to cover castles somewhere), this is dedicated to you.

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    What is best? To crush your enemies, see them scattered before you, and hear the lamentations of their women. If you asked an average bushi or peasant in the Sengoku era, though, they'd probably have answered with the phrase: To not be dead, to have enough to eat and not be taxed to death by my daimyo, and to have a decent place to live in. Housing has and always will remain to be an interesting topic to think about - while we see the remnants of great castles and palaces, the average person living day to day are not nearly as lucky.

    You may be offended slightly by my tone. I am not saying that Sengoku Japan was barbaric, or horrifying, or poor. Barring a rare few, I am simply saying that life was a struggle during the Sengoku era. Bear in mind, while conditions may appear to be very poor by our standards, back then they measured things differently. Nutrition, for instance, only increased substantially worldwide over the last 150 years or so, with rapid acceleration in the last 30 years. One of the paradigms I've always drawn from is resource availability and scarcity. In order to best understand the time period, it is only reasonable that we remove our rose-coloured glasses - legends and myths are reserved for the likes of Uesugi Kenshin and tales of great heroism.

    Today, we talk about the common folks first.

    Before we begin, it may be useful to understand Japan's land structure. In the Sengoku era, cities as we understand it isn't quite what one would find in this time period, with the exception of Kyoto which was a city designed after Chang'an, of the Tang dynasty. Most Japanese "cities" were basically housing structures centered around defensive fortifications - the castles in which the daimyo and his retainers lived in. Walled cities were nonexistent.

    Mhm. See, while no formal scholarship has been put forth on why walled cities didn't really exist, I offer two theories. Lack of materials to build wall on a large quantity is one, and the lack of manpower is another. Japan has always been pretty damn practical when it comes to it. Most Japanese castles are basically European keeps. If you build such castles on top of a hill, you only need a few hundred to a few thousand men to defend it. If you had long walls, you won't have enough manpower to cover all of your wall, so there was no need for it in the first place.

    By strict definitions, most city-dwelling peasants lived in the (まち). This was simply the immediate area around the castle itself. The term first appeared in the Tale of Genji, but there was little difference between peasants in the city, peasants out of the city, and low-class bushi. Others typically lived in little towns or villages, which would often to referred to as the same word.

    Typically, the average housing structure had a single main room and two rooms for storage. These rooms were constructed separately and arranged in such a way that resembles the Hojo triforce. As a whole, a small courtyard would be in the center, and a rudimentary fence, considered to be something of a luxury, would be constructed with branches or spare wood. Usually, one would raise a few posts to measure out the size of the house. The walls are often constructed out of a sort of hardened mud/clay brick, and the room would be made of straw. Wooden houses are rare in these town communities, and oftentimes wooden boards are reserved for doors. Most homes go without windows - paper was a luxury, and there are many folks who live for lifetimes without seeing what paper looks like. Those that could afford it, however, would often use paper for screens, which are in turn used for windows or doors.

    Inside one such home, it's pretty bare. No floor tiles - those don't exist. Usually, there are no floorboards either. Usually, there would be floorboards around the fireplace, which would be located at the center of the aforementioned arrangement. The fireplace was often a sort of square pit, and was probably the most important place inside their home. The average peasant family would sleep around here, cook here, depend on it for warmth in the winter and use it for light at night. For furniture, one would be lucky for a cabinet or a few chests for storage, some basic kitchen utensils like pots, and a clay tank for water.

    Also, bathrooms. Those didn't exist. You went in a patch of grass nearby or more commonly in a place where human waste was stored in order to be used later as fertilizer.

    Needless to say, these things were ridiculously fragile. Earthquakes were problematic, but the Japanese peasants figured out a smart way to fight off strong winds and typhoons by placing rocks and heavy objects on the house itself. It's also worth mentioning that typically, everyone went to bed after dark. Dinner, as I've mentioned elsewhere, is a luxury. It's much easier to go to sleep rather than to be hungry at night. If one had to do work at night, it would be at the fire pit. Oil lamps were ridiculously expensive and won't be common until mid-Edo period at the earliest.

    In the Sengoku era, with the prevalence of war and bandits, an average community would have scores of these little homes, often arranged in a loose circle. This is where an observatory tower would be placed, if one existed, and where the local daimyo would come to recruit troops/collect taxes and the like. If you've read my other posts, you know I refer to the dogou frequently. You can think of the dogou as the leaders of these little communities. The dogou's home may be a little more luxurious than the rest of the village. for starters, their homes are typically constructed of wood. The houses are larger, and tatami sheets can probably be found on the floors.

    If you were living in the city next to a daimyo's castle, on the other hand, you wouldn't really be in the houses above. Many peasants lived in what are sort of like apartment complexes, theorized to have arisen from dormitories designed to house warriors. Basically, it was a loooooooooong wooden house with many many little walls in between. Each family would live in one of these. They were tiny and crowded, and not-sound-proof to the point where you could probably hear the couple argue with each other from nineteen doors away. No fireplaces like the town houses above. Instead, there would often be public kitchen areas. The reason they do this is because of two things. One. fuel was expensive in cities. Two. If everything's out of wood, it is very easy to go up on flames. Fires were also pretty common at the time, so the design was definitely sensible.

    Homes of bushi may have been much better. Typically, these houses are made completely from wood, and a platform would be raised from the ground. That way, the floor won't get muddy or wet during rainy seasons. Now, these homes are beginning to look like an actual house. They're much more substantial in size. They do have screen doors. An antechamber would probably be present for the guest to wipe their feet from. The main living area would have a separate bedroom built further inside of it, with tatami and bedding. A kitchen of substantial size would probably be build, and the richer ones may have their own bathes and raise chickens in the front yard. Some would even plant fruit trees if they had the resources or emulate their daimyos and have little ponds in their homes.

    By the way. Something like this would probably have a bushi of about 2000 koku. They'd be a kaiyro in a low-ranking daimyo. An average bush ranged from 10-50 koku. It is safe to say that most samurai would never get to something like this.

    Alright. Since we're talking about high-ranking bushi, let's talk castles for a second. Castles are typically divided into two categories. 山城(やまじろ) and 平城(ひらじろ). One are built around hills, and can be considered to be the archetype of the older style of the Tensho. For a better example, I point you to my picture tour of Kenshin's Kasugayama. The latter is built around the plains - such as Oda Nobunaga's Azuchi castle. These castles are more designed with the aim for commercialization, and relied much more heavily on manpower for defense.

    I'll return to this at a later time. I plan to address towns as well before moving onto castles themselves.

  2. #2
    Erwin Rommel's Avatar EYE-PATCH FETISH
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    Default Re: Housing in the Sengoku Era

    You should been here when people clamored for the existence of walled cities on Shogun 2 then just berating that it must be CA's fault.

    Dammit I was close to posting a nice picture of Heian-Kyo with nice little garden walls. But maybe they'll just think that Heian-kyo must be a typical Japanese city and must therefore apply to known locales like Osaka, "Tokyo" or Haneda Airport.






    Btw. Did the Kansai Regional Accent existed during the Sengoku Jidai?

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  3. #3

    Default Re: Housing in the Sengoku Era

    Few questions. I can't claim to be a serious historian like you so take them for what they're worth.

    - 砦 (not sure what the English pronunciation is) - my impression was that these earth-mound palisade things were everywhere back in the day - were they purely military structures or were these things what the dogou and his men lived in? I'm guessing these had a tenshu-lite and a bunch of storehouses - or were there the clay houses too? Are these the defensive fortifications you speak of? Did these 砦 have 城下町? Or was that only the later castles with multiple kuruwa like Azuchi et al?

    - Where do the jizamurai fit into all this? Do they get the wooden bushi houses? I'm guessing full blown samurai had the same but bigger? Am I wrong in thinking these things looked like that thing in the opening cinematic for S2 campaigns?

    - Surely even the poorest peasants would have straw mats of some kind????

    - On the roofs, wasn't there some investigation after the Tohoku earthquake this year which basically said the heavy roofs in Japanese architecture were meant to protect against typhoons and the like? And that it made things worse during an earthquake? I'm guessing the peasant houses back then did not have the typical slanted roofs? Did they use tiles? or just a flat roof like in Arab countries?

    - How did the bushi and daimyos go to the bathroom? Chamber pots? Or did they have proper latrines? Have seen various European castles which had latrine holes that opened to the outside (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mytravelphotos/954701803/) - did the tenshu have something similar or did servants carry chamber pots and emptied them somewhere? What of these legends of Kenshin being stabbed while being on the latrine? If there were latrines in the tenshu that opened to the outside then the excrement were released onto the honmaru?
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  4. #4

    Default Re: Housing in the Sengoku Era

    Btw. Did the Kansai Regional Accent existed during the Sengoku Jidai?
    You know what, I have no idea. Why don't you go ask -

    I'm not a serious historian either. I was just there when all this happened. And yes. I'd say that the accent was there. In the same way that people from Echizen and Echigo had a distinctive accent as well.

    To answer your question: You need to understand that these clay houses were reasonably durable for their purpose. The term you refer to is Sai, but I would have called it Toride. These were basically equivalent to the tensho for a village. And yes, a "tensho-lite" would be a good way to put it. Minus the actual construction material, there's quite a number of similarities, up and including the size and design. Technically, that's also where the observation tower and such things would have been located. You have to understand that at this point in time, castles were sprinkled all over the place. It simply isn't safe for people to live in isolated homesteads. This is to the point where even monasteries were fortified out of necessity.

    Ieyasu had the right idea when he ordered castles removed so that each province would be left with one. In the end, he realized that having such fortifications were a direct threat to his rule.

    Basically, a toride has a machi. A machi as she defined it was simply an area immediately beneath a castle where people lived. Strictly speaking, however, only castles of substantial sizes would have a real machi - something we associate with a town. I.e. public baths, markets, small shops and craftsmen. She'll probably write it up the next morning when she's not busy with work.

    Jizamurai: Short answer: it depended on where they lived and how wealthy they were. Below Kasugayama, for instance. Certainly. In a local community... that really depended on their fortunes.

    Long answer: This term is loosely defined, and can sort of be interchanged with dogou. Dogou were local leaders. Think of them as essentially mightier peasants. A jizamurai was often a low-ranking member of the bushi class. Typically, however, a dogou would have certainly been a jizamurai or have claimed to be one. The big thing is that the jizamurai do not swear loyalty to the Shogun as many samurai are supposed to actually do. Instead, they swear their loyalty to the "land" or the "owner" of the land or hold no oath.

    Amakatsu Kagemochi, for example, (one of my favorite generals) was originally considered to be a jizamurai. He cannot trace his lineage to any of our noble ancestors, but that didn't matter in the Sengoku Jidai. His family was not directly in service to my own branch of the Nagao clan, but his father was a substantial dogou near where I lived. Naturally, we've never viewed him as anything but a full-fledged retainer of the Nagao-Uesugi house, but I've pulled some strings and have one of his brothers marry into the clan. Congratulations. He can now claim relation to the Taira.

    Straw mats: You'd be surprised. Consider this. At the time you could make a very decent living making straw mats. It was not that a peasant couldn't afford one, but rather that they'd get worn out quickly - far too quickly to make it worthwhile to replace on a regular basis.

    Roofs: The earthquakes are unfortunate. But yes, you were correct. It is difficult to reconstruct roofs, but the slant was not nearly as significant - it was nearly flat, basically. I have no idea where Arab countries are, so I can't answer that question.

    Latrines: Chamber pots were common. There was actually a retainer whose role is nothing but to carry the chamber pot around. They were of much more substantial size, however, than what you would expect.

    Toilet paper was actually considered to be a luxury good, by the way. The average peasant used their hands or a handful of leaves/straw.

    I did not get stabbed by the latrine. Oda didn't have the guts to send an assassin after me. Underestimate not my own Sarutobe ninjae.
    Last edited by Ying, Duke of Qin; October 18, 2011 at 01:39 AM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Housing in the Sengoku Era

    Quote Originally Posted by Ying, Duke of Qin View Post
    These were basically equivalent to the tensho for a village. And yes, a "tensho-lite" would be a good way to put it. Minus the actual construction material, there's quite a number of similarities, up and including the size and design. Technically, that's also where the observation tower and such things would have been located. You have to understand that at this point in time, castles were sprinkled all over the place. It simply isn't safe for people to live in isolated homesteads. This is to the point where even monasteries were fortified out of necessity.
    As I understand it pretty much every settlement had a toride of some sort, and the people basically lived in militia communes that revolved around the machi surrounding each toride..?

    Would the old, young and weak and womenfolk go hide inside the toride/castle during battles? When Kenshin "sieged" Odawara in 1561 he basically burnt down the machi and left?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ying, Duke of Qin View Post
    Sarutobe ninjae.
    Wasn't Sarutobi Sasuke an Edo period invention of a Sanada ninja?? Didn't you had some blonde woman as your ninja?
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  6. #6

    Default Re: Housing in the Sengoku Era

    I should really start a "ask Uesugi Kenshin anything" thread and see what the response rate would be.

    As I understand it pretty much every settlement had a toride of some sort, and the people basically lived in militia communes that revolved around the machi surrounding each toride..?

    Would the old, young and weak and womenfolk go hide inside the toride/castle during battles? When Kenshin "sieged" Odawara in 1561 he basically burnt down the machi and left?
    Not only the old and the young. The men would man the walls and either defend it or fight the enemies outside of the walls. Typically, these enemies would be raiders or bandits. For an actual war, most would flee to the towns.

    Wasn't Sarutobi Sasuke an Edo period invention of a Sanada ninja?? Didn't you had some blonde woman as your ninja?
    What blond woman?

    (I really feel like I've already commented on this elsewhere.)

    Er, not Sarutobi Sasuke. Kato Danzo. "Flying Legs Danzo". "Flying Monkey". "Soaring Eagle".

    (vaguely) Historically, Kato Danzo was Uesugi Kenshin's ninja. The popular tale attributed his discover and subsequent exile to Naoe Kanetsugu, despite that it would have been his uncle Kanetsuna who would have been serving Kenshin. Legends generally agree that Kenshin was very young (20-25) when he enlisted Kato's service, and historians do agree that he somehow left the Uesugi and was executed by Takeda Shingen, who suspected him to be a double agent from the Uesugi.

    Supposedly he belonged to a clan of very good scouts and spies, which is where the Sarutobe ninjas came about. It has nothing to do with the Sanada Ten Braves character or Naruto, if you were wondering.

  7. #7
    Erwin Rommel's Avatar EYE-PATCH FETISH
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    Default Re: Housing in the Sengoku Era

    Do villages spring out of monasteries and was there even a ryokan complete with onsen at this early period?

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  8. #8
    DeMolay's Avatar Senator
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    Default Re: Housing in the Sengoku Era

    Thanks for taking the time to post such informative posts Ying , i really appreciate reading them , you deserve rep , keep it up !

  9. #9

    Default Re: Housing in the Sengoku Era

    Nvm
    Last edited by Dru32; October 18, 2011 at 05:48 PM.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Housing in the Sengoku Era

    Quote Originally Posted by Erwin Rommel View Post
    Do villages spring out of monasteries and was there even a ryokan complete with onsen at this early period?
    I don't know. Ask Kenshin about that.

    Second thing: Yes. An interesting note to you: we have seen so far very little evidence suggesting that the genders were separated in these onsens during the time. Onsens as a whole didn't become genderly segregated until westernization.

    Actually, onsens are surprisingly common, and made for very public gathering spots. It made Japan somewhat unusual in that baths were pretty much a daily occurrence. Even the poorest peasants can often afford a bath on a somewhat regular basis, because oftentimes bath houses charged only a thousandth of a kan (this is a Sengoku monetary unit. Oftentimes 2 kan = 1 koku, give or take. An average low-ranking bushi could probably make at least several kan a month, if not more) for entry.

    Equipment was usually pretty nice. Towels are provided, and it's also popular for two reasons in addition to being an inn as you've noted. The reasons were sex and gambling.

    Oh. Before I talk about that. Just a note. Restaurants and eateries are sort of unusual during this time period, and formal restaurants did not become commonplace until the late Azuchi period and heading into the Edo period. If you find references to tea houses in ancient texts, those are usually eateries. The reason for this is that traditionally, as it has been for a while, taverns and inns in Sengoku Japan did not supply any kind of food whatsoever for a few reasons. It wasn't safe to keep large stocks of food around, and the profit margins were very low.

    Anyways, in terms of taverns: typically, such inns are large versions of the dorm-esque sort of housing above. Bigger stores have stables, but these taverns were notoriously bad for their lack of security.

    Thanks for taking the time to post such informative posts Ying , i really appreciate reading them , you deserve rep , keep it up !
    I try. Thank you.

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