Monk Warriors from the Heian Period

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While many individual monk-warriors are still recognized from the Heian period in Japan, the most notorious amongst them all in Japanese records and literature is Shinjitsu. Regarded as “Japan’s number one evil martial monk,”1 Shinjitsu comes across as more of an akuso (evil monk) than the “ultimate representation of the greedy and violent sōhei”2 that previous interpretations and literature make him out to be. In his book The Teeth and Claws of Buddha, Mikael S. Adolphson attempts to better classify Shinjitsu as the monk-commander and warrior-administrator he was, and it is this new interpretation that makes him so important. Shinjitsu, in historical records, was less likely to use his monastic position than use his ties in the imperial court and with other nobility to assert his control, and was in fact involved in the first event of the imperial court calling for help from monastic troops. Born in 1086, Shinjitsu belonged to a branch of the Minamoto clan, the Seiwa Genji, who were renowned for their military services and accomplishments. After Shinjitsu’s ancestor Minamoto no Mitsunaka helped the Fujiwara clan strengthen their position in the imperial court, members from their branch of the Minamoto family were called “the teeth and claws of the Fujiwara.”3 Shinjitsu’s grandfather and father (Yoriyasu) followed in this tradition, and Shinjitsu seems to have picked up traits from both of them, two of which are made obvious through the historical records concerning him.

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