Medieval Warrior Groups―Landlords Consolidating Roots in Their Territories
Period Tuesday, March 15 –Sunday, May 8, 2022
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries A&B, National Museum of Japanese History

Adults: ¥1000
college students:¥500
* Admission to permanent exhibitions included.
* Free admission for High school age and below.

Hours 9:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. (entrance closed at 4:30 p.m.)
* Open hours and days are subject to change.
Closed Mondays (When Monday is a national holiday, the Museum is closed the following Tuesday.)


Medieval warriors were both rulers of regions and hereditary military professionals. This form of regional governance was possible not because of the strengths of an individual warrior, but by forming organized warrior bands composed of a family and their retainers. In this exhibition, we look at warrior bands not as fighting groups but as ruling organizations. By focusing on 13th through 15th century developments and transformations, our extensive and detailed exhibition shows how medieval warriors formed ruling organizations and governed their regions. Specifically to present concrete aspects through landscapes of their strongholds, we analyze medieval written documents, archaeological sources, and art materials, while conducting field studies and examining pictorial maps and land ledgers from the early modern to the modern era. The examples highlighted here include the clans—Masuda of Iwami, Chiba of Hizen, and Wada of Echigo—whose rich materials are still preserved.

This exhibition displays the results of comprehensive regional studies using document-based research, archaeology, art history, folklore, and historical geography.

1. Illustrated Narratives Depicting the Former Nine Years’ War in Color on Paper (partial view), mid-Kamakura Period (1185-1333), National Important Cultural Property, National Museum of Japanese History Collection



Highlights of the exhibition

  • We have collected a mass of materials in connection with the regions related to the clans—Masuda of Iwami, Chiba of Hizen, and Wada of Echigo—and are exhibiting them together. The seated statue of the Buddha at Ikō Temple in Masuda, statues of two devas at EntsūTemple in Ogi, and statues of triads at Sangaku Temple are being shown in the Kanto region for the first time.
  • Through battle scene picture scrolls such as The Illustrated Narratives Depicting the Former Nine Years’ War in Color on Paper (National Important Cultural Property) and The Illustrated Narratives Depicting the Later Three Years’ War in Color on Paper (copy), you can enjoy learning about the medieval warriors’ outlook on the world as military professionals.
  • We exhibit the ‘Den Kuniyuki’ sword (National Important Cultural Property), a bonsho (temple bell) excavated from Shīki in Yatsushiro, and a portrait of Masuda Kanetaka.
  • The virtual guides that appear in the exhibition give concise and easily-understood explanations of the contents of the exhibition.

Exhibition Lineup

Chapter 1: Warrior Bands Fighting: Prologue

The phrase ‘medieval warrior bands’ suggests their warlike nature. By exhibiting illustrated narratives and picture scrolls as well as arms and weapons, this chapter reveals such warriors as having overwhelming military power and being cruel, backed by their abilities to shoot skillfully from horseback. They were brutal enough to attack even the vulnerable, such as women and children.

Did these warrior bands rule the population only through violence and fear by exercising brutal and overwhelming military power?

2. The second volume of The Illustrated Narratives Depicting the Mongol Invasion in Color on Paper (reproduced, partial view), the end of 13th century, National Museum of Japanese History Collection: the original is archived at the Sannomaru-Shōzōkan Museum holding the Imperial Collections

3. The third volume of The Illustrated Narratives Depicting the Later Three Years’ War in Color on Paper (copy, partial view), the Edo period (1603-1867), Tokyo National Museum Collection, Image: TNM Image Archives


Chapter 2: Warrior Bands Moving across the Archipelago: Traveling and Urban Life

The warrior bands of the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333) owned estates that were scattered over a domain or even nationwide. They had residences and lodging places in large cities such as Kyoto and Kamakura while moving widely around the Japanese archipelago. This chapter exhibits such aspects of the warrior groups, centering on written materials.

Medieval Japanese warriors are often depicted in the image of issho kenmei, which refers to the act of protecting their countryside territory that had been passed down to them from their ancestors and depended on the land as a means of livelihood. This chapter, however, shows some aspects that differ from such a commonly perceived image.

4. Shibuya Jōshin’s Instructions to his Descendants (partial view), Kangen 3 (1245), Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo Collection, exhibited during the first half of the exhibition period (from March 15 to April 10)

5. Shinkan Azuma kagami (The Newly Published Mirror of the East), Keichō 5 (1605), Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo Collection

6. Bonsho (temple bell) excavated from Shīki in Yatsushiro, Hōki 5 (774), National Important Cultural Property, National Museum of Japanese History Collection


Chapter 3: The Ruling Base of a Medieval Warrior Band: Their Headquarters in the Region

A medieval warrior band formed multiple territories, but they oversaw their core land from which they derived their surname. They built their residences on the land and developed it into their ruling base (honkyo). This chapter exhibits concrete aspects of their ruling base by reconstructing its landscapes particularly in the Kamakura period. Such landscapes were composed of various facilities such as residential buildings, traffic routes, collection and distribution centers, irrigation canals, temples, and shrines. We also illustrate the life of warriors at their residences and the roles of women in the warriors’ families.

7. The first volume of The Illustrated Biography of Holy Ippen in Color on Silk (copy, partial view), Shōan 1 (1299), National Museum of Japanese History Collection: the original is stored at Shōjōkō Temple (Yūkō Temple), exhibited during the first half of the exhibition period (from March 15 to April 10). 8. Relics excavated from the ruins of Shitamachi Bōjō, 13th century, Education Board of Tainai City Collection


Chapter 4: Warrior Bands’ Control of Ports and Harbors: Connecting the Inside and Outside of Regions

The warrior groups had control over transportation and physical distribution as feudal lords. What mattered in coastal areas was how they gained control of ports. In this chapter, focusing on the case of the Masuda clan of Iwami, we exhibit medieval landscapes of seaports, shipping routes, and aspects of port control by warrior bands.

Many of the ships used in medieval Japan were coastal freight vessels. They sailed at low speeds and moored in ports at night. Innumerable ports and port towns, large and small, were built as infrastructure for these vessels. Larger ocean-going vessels also connected various locations in Japan with overseas regions.
9. Records of the States across the Sea to the East, 1471, National Museum of Japanese History; the original is stored at The University of Tokyo’s Historiographical Institute. 10. Pictorial Map of Iwami of the Genna Era, around Genna 3-5 (1617-1619), cultural property designated by Shimane Prefecture, Education Board of Hamada City Collection
11. Picture Scroll of the Record of the Great Peace (below) (partial view), 17th century, National Museum of Japanese History Collection
12. Reconstruction of Medieval Japanese Cargo-Passenger Ship, National Museum of Japanese History Collection
13. Printed Book of the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Dharma, no. 8 (partial view), 1345, National Museum of Japanese History Collection


Chapter 5: Warrior Bands Supporting the Prosperity of Regional Sacred Grounds: Awakening as Ruling Figures

Warrior bands, which were principally professional fighting groups, did not originally have a mandate to govern local communities. They therefore decided to align with religious groups that preached salvation of communities to acquire legitimacy as rulers by maintaining existing temples and shrines or establishing new ones, which developed as the holy bases for both religious and warrior groups.

Contacts with religious groups provided warrior bands with opportunities to realize how they should act as rulers. They learned from the religious groups the concept of consideration for the people, which would help them gain popular support, and aimed to understand this idea through experience; however, there was a conflict between this ideal and the reality of needing to take human lives to retain power. At this point, they took the step of renouncing their character as brutal fighting groups that used overwhelming military power. This chapter deals with these changes.

14. Wooden Standing Statues of Vaiśravaṇa and Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Einin 2 (1294), Important Cultural Properties of Saga Prefecture, Entsū Temple Collection, Image: Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art

15. Statues of Buddha Triads at Sangaku Temple, Einin 2 (1294), Important Cultural Property of Saga Prefecture, Sangaku Temple Collection, Image: Saga Prefectural Museum
16. Wooden Seated Statue of Buddha, Ōan (1371), Ikō Temple Collection, Image: Iwami Art Museum
17. A Dialogue Collection of the Jōdo Sect of Japanese Buddhism (Kōgi zuiketsu shū) (copy), Kenchō (1256), Taisho University Library Collection


Chapter 6: Warrior Bands Transforming: Epilogue

The warrior bands began to construct fortified residences and mountain castles as strongholds in response to the increase in hostilities and conflicts after the outbreak of civil war during the Northern and Southern period (1336-1392), which added more militaristic elements to their ruling bases. Because villagers, temples, and shrines in local communities that hosted bases of warrior bands suffered damage due to these increased wars and conflicts, they began to depend on the warrior bands for security. The proliferation of wars and local conflicts increased the value of warrior bands, with their overwhelming military power, causing local communities to unite around them.

During the Muromachi period (1336-1573), many warrior bands attempted to hold on to their territories by allying themselves with the Shogun of Muromachi. These warrior bands engaged in the same rituals as well as elegant leisure pursuits and accomplishments as in Kyoto, to make a show of their direct relationship with the shogun and demonstrate their cultural superiority. By doing this, they tried to gain authority and unifying power over their local communities. In this chapter, we will show how these warrior bands actually settled in local communities and exemplified their legitimacy by bringing high culture with them.

18. Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka by Sesshū, Bunmei 11 (1479), National Important Cultural Property, Sesshū Memorial Museum Collection, exhibited during the first half period of the exhibition (from March 15 to April 10)
19. Landscape Painting (attributed to Sesshū), 15th century, Iko Temple Collection
20. Blue and White Porcelain Meiping Vase Excavated at the Ruins of Lord Egami’s Residence, 13th century, Important Cultural Property of Tainai City, Education Board of Tainai City Collection
21. Records of Art Theories and Connoisseurship (Kundaikan sōchōki) (partial view), Eiroku 3 (1560), National Museum of Japanese History Collection