Reading Medieval Ruins

By Morgan Pitelka

Morgan Pitelka. Reading Medieval Ruins: Urban Life and Destruction in Sixteenth-Century Japan. Cambridge University Press, 2022. 


The city of Ichijōdani thrived for approximately one century.

The Japanese provincial city of Ichijōdani was destroyed in the civil wars of the late 16th century but never rebuilt. Archaeological excavations have thoroughly uncovered the most detailed late medieval urban site in the country. This volume uses the material culture from Ichijōdani, supplemented by documentary and visual evidence, to examine daily life in this late medieval Japanese city. The book considers the settlement’s spatial layout, as well as the objects excavated from residential and commercial sites in the city, ranging from the palace of the ruling Asakura warlords to the modest homes of neighborhood artisans. It considers the politics, religious practices, and cultural life of the residents of the city, as well as the remarkable story that led to its destruction in 1573. It concludes by interrogating the preservation of the site and the complex representational strategies that archaeologists and museum curators have deployed to celebrate the city’s heritage.

Timeline of the Asakura family of warlords, rulers of Echizen Province and founders of the city of Ichijōdani

1337: The Asakura enter Echizen from Tajima Province.

1342: The Asakura establish a family temple (ujidera), Kōshōji, in what is now the Kanaya neighborhood of Fukui. 

1429: By this point, the Asakura are vassals of the Shiba, along with the Kai and the Oda.

1450: Ichijōjō (一乗城)—meaning either a castle located in Ichijō or a fortified settlement in Ichijō—is completed around this time.

1467: The Ōnin War begins, and Asakura Eirin fights for the side of the Western Army

1471: Eirin switches to the side of the Eastern Army, and is appointed to the position of Governor (shugo) of Echizen

1487: Asakura forces take part in an attack on the Rokkaku clan of Omi. The attacking side is led by the ninth shogun, Ashikaga Yoshihisa. 

1506: The Asakura, led by Asakura Sōteki, suppress the Single-Mind league (ikkō ikki) in Echizen.

1527: At the request of shogun Ashikaga Yoshiharu, Asakura Sōteki leads an army into Kyoto and fights against the forces of the Hatakeyama and Miyoshi, ending in a deadlock.

1531: Asakura Sōteki leads an attack on Single-Mind league forces in Kaga Province.

1544: Asakura Sōteki leads an attack on Inabayama Castle in Mino.

1555: Asakura Sōteki leads an attack on Single-Mind league forces in Kaga Province.

1556: Asakura Sōteki dies

1559: After mediation by shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru, Asakura forces withdraw from Kaga Province.

1564: Asakura Yoshikage leads an invasion of Kaga Province.

1565: Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru is attacked in his Kyoto Palace, and dies.

1566: The shogun’s younger brother, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, takes refuge in Echizen.

1567: Ashikaga Yoshiaki moves into An’yōji, a temple in Ichijōdani.

1568: Ashikaga Yoshiaki joins forces with Oda Nobunaga and is appointed Shogun in Kyoto.

1570: Battle of Anegawa, in which the armies of the Asakura and Azai are driven back by the armies of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

1573: Oda Nobunaga’s armies defeat the Azai and the Asakura, invade Echizen, and destroy Ichijôdani.

Morgan Pitelka

Twitter @mpitelka