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Unformatted text preview: nated the epoch of the Northern
and Southern Courts, inasmuch as Godaigo and his successors maintained an opposition Southern Court at Yoshino during this period that
challenged the legitimacy of what it regarded as the puppet Northern
Court of the Ashikaga in Kyoto.
The era of the Restoration and of fighting between the Northern and
Southern Courts was one of great confusion and deeply divided loyalties.
It also marked the last time in premodern history that either the throne
or the courtier class played an active role in the rulership of Japan. In
1392 the Ashikaga, promising a return to the earlier practice of alternate
succession, persuaded the Southern emperor (Godaigo’s grandson) to
return to Kyoto and thus brought to an end the great dynastic schism.
In fact, the Ashikaga never kept their promise about returning to alternate succession and the southern branch of the imperial family slipped
into oblivion. Even the northern branch, although left in possession of the
throne, retained no governing authority whatever, and from this time on
the emperorship was little more than a legitimating talisman for the rule
of successive military houses.
Probably the single most important historical record of the fourteenth
century is a lengthy war tale, covering the period from about 1318 to
1368, with the incongruous-sounding title of Taiheiki or Chronicle of Great
Peace. Although unquestionably inferior in literary quality to The Tale of
the Heike, the Taiheiki has in some respects had a more profound influence on the way in which the Japanese have viewed their premodern age
of the samurai. Like The Tale of the Heike, the Taiheiki has also been a
rich source for itinerant storytellers and chanters, and in subsequent centuries its most exciting episodes became just as familiar to Japanese everywhere. But whereas The Tale of the Heike has been enjoyed purely as a
military epic, the Taiheiki has become a kind of sourcebook for modern
Although the Southern Court lost in its struggle with the Ashikagadominated Northern Court, later gen...
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- Spring '13