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Meitokuki: Spirit Pacification and Political Legitimacy in the Late Medieval Japanese Epic


  • S. A. Thornton

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, Arizona State University
    • Correspondence: School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-4302, USA. Email:

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Meitokuki (1392–1396) is the first of a very small group of pieces of Japanese battle literature produced in the 15th and 16th centuries identified as gunki monogatari or epic. One of the chief characteristics of this genre is the relationship to the Kaku'ichi version of the Heike monogatari (by 1371), with which it shares descriptions of salvation/spirit pacification, especially that represented by the story of Kumagai Naozane and Taira Atsumori. Hyōdō Hiromi has proposed that the third Ashikaga shogun 1) assumed the position of head of the Minamoto clan, and 2) took over control of the guild of performers of the Kaku'ichi Heike in order to use the text as an assertion of political legitimacy and 3) to pacify the vengeful spirits of the dead killed in the process of consolidating Ashikaga power, which was his responsibility as clan chief. As a much smaller text with a much shorter performance history, the Meitokuki can be used to test the thesis that gunki monogatari were actually used in pacification rituals. The article examines the content and circulation of the Meitokuki to reevaluate the religious function of the text.