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Unformatted text preview: figurines of armor-clad warriors and their mounts and the
numerous military accoutrements dating from the protohistoric tomb
period are plain evidence that the fighting traditions of the Japanese go
back to remote antiquity. There is, moreover, the strong likelihood that
these traditions were nourished uninterruptedly in the provinces even
during the centuries when an elegant and refined cultural life was evolving under continental influence in the central region of Japan.
One of the principal steps taken by the court to strengthen its control
as a central government following the Great Reform of 645 was the establishment of a military system of militia units in provinces throughout the
country. These units, which were under the control of the provincial
governors, comprised foot soldiers conscripted from the peasantry and
mounted fighters, drawn from locally powerful families, who served as
officers. From the beginning, however, the peasant foot soldiers, who,
under Chinese influence, used the crossbow as their principal weapon,
proved to be unsatisfactory in battle. This was particularly evident during
the fighting in the north against the Emishi tribesmen in the late eighth
and early ninth centuries (described in Chapter 3).
In 792, two years before the move of the capital to Heian and even
while expeditions, recruited from the militia units, were still being sent
against the Emishi, the court abandoned conscription. Thenceforth it
sought to use the locally powerful families to provide mounted fighters,
when necessary, to deal with rebellions and other disturbances in the
provinces. Although court administration of the provinces in general declined during the early Heian period, its provincial governments continued to be important sources of weapons and supplies for these fighters
on horseback, who began to take shape as a distinct warrior class from
about the late ninth or early tenth century.
The mounted fighter of ancient Japan relied primarily on two weapons,
the sword and the bow, of which the latter w...
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- Spring '13