Holy vows and realpolitik: Preliminary notes on Kōyasan's early medieval kishōmon

Philip Garrett (Author)

Oxford University

Kōyasan, kishōmon 起請文, written vow,


This article concerns the written vows made at the Shingon Buddhist temple Kōyasan 高野山 in the early medieval period (1185–1392). The temple complex at Kōyasan is situated in the mountainous interior of modern Wakayama prefecture, Japan, which in the pre-modern era corresponded to the province of Kii 紀伊. In the early medieval period, Kōyasan was developing a system of local rule centred on control of private estates (shōen 荘園) in the area surrounding the temple. This was an era of decentralization, in which national authority and systems of rule were losing their potency in the face of rising localization and the increasingly central role of the warrior class. With warriors taking an ever greater share of estate revenue and assuming greater administrative control within shōen, estate proprietors such as Kōyasan were faced with diminishing income, leading to centrally-located temples and aristocratic families effectively losing all control over distant estates. Located in the mountains of Kii and overlooking the estates along the Ki river, Kōyasan by contrast was close to its land and was strongly involved in warrior society.  A major facet of this relationship with warrior estate managers was the kishōmon 起請文, or written vow, signed at the temple as both a performative act of submission to its spiritual authority and as a contract and code of conduct between proprietor and estate manager (shōkan 荘官).
How to Cite
Garrett, P. (2013). Holy vows and realpolitik: Preliminary notes on Kōyasan’s early medieval kishōmon. The E-Journal of East and Central Asian Religions, 1, 94–107. https://doi.org/10.2218/ejecar.2013.1.738
Emerging scholarship