Challenges to Survival: Responses of Outcasts and Commoners in Early Medieval Japan
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Despite living under different social circumstances, both outcasts and commoners in medieval Japan actively fought for their own survival. Scholars have often imagined these groups to be simply the victims of exploitation, unable to assert any control over their respective situations. However, as illuminated by visual and written materials such as the Ippen Shonin Eden and the laws of the Kamakura bakufu, outcasts and slaves clearly exerted a measure of control over their own lives. Outcasts were not simply subjugated but played essential soteriological and secular roles for medieval communities through their relationship with religious institutions. Faced with significant challenges, commoners created a number of strategies to combat the problems faced in everyday life including the sale of one's self, relatives, or retainers into servitude. Although commoners had few options, they actively entered into these agreements to assuage their suffering or the suffering of their family members.