Places, Images, Times & Transformations


(landed estate). One of the most important institutions for organizing the economic life of medieval Japan. The first landed estates appeared in the 8th century, and the last of them did not disappear until the 16th century during the turbulent Warring States period (1467-1568). The mature estate, emerging in the mid-11th century, proved to be an extremely successful way of securing a balance between the demands of the ruling class for income and the demands of the populace for a stable livelihood. Not only did the shōen serve as the primary means through which the ruling class tapped the wealth of the countryside, but it also provided the residence, the workplace, and the source of sustenance for peasants and estate managers alike. As one of the primary production units in medieval Japanese society, the shōen held a central place in the economic and social history of Japan. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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