Monday, June 21, 2010

Komuso: monks 僧 of empty 虚 nothingness 無

In Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600-1868 by Nishiyama Matsunosuke.

On page 124 the author says: "These monks formed an association that functioned as a kind of relief organization for masterless samurai. The way of the komusō was an honorable calling. As a member of the warrior class , a komusō might theoretically be summoned to rout an enemy. Komusō were thus granted freedom to travel anywhere they pleased. They were given the right to use ferries free of charge and even attended the theater without paying admission. Komusō often misused their privileges, however, and were known to wreck havoc on the road or in the villages through which they passed. The bakufu responded to such behavior by repeatedly issuing various prohibitions.

Komusō were required to tour either alone or in pairs; no large groups of komusō roamed the land during the Edo period. Moreover, komusō were not allowed to stay at a location for longer than a day; nor did they have the right to use horses or palanquins. The komusō were, however, never required to remove their basketlike hat. No matter how exalted a presence they might encounter on the road or at an inn, they were not obliged to show their faces. Hence on both the roads and at inns, komusō were highly conspicuous."