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Uji

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For the city near Kyoto, see Uji (city).
  • Japanese: 氏 (uji)

Often translated as "clans," uji were the basic unit of elite society in Japanese society from the beginnings of the Yamato period up into the Heian period. In contrast to "houses" or "families" (ie), uji were considerably larger, and fewer in number. In later periods, as ie became the dominant societal unit, uji grew less directly prominent, but retained considerable symbolic importance, as a mark of prestigious lineage. Numerous samurai houses, for example, including the Ashikaga and Tokugawa shoguns, and the Shimazu family, claimed descent from and membership in the Minamoto clan, or uji.

Genealogy played a powerful role in Yamato society, with lineage as the chief means of laying claim to political power and noble status.

Each clan had its own patron deity, or ujigami, which was regarded as the mythic progenitor ancestor of the clan. The head of each clan was also its head priest, and made offerings to the clan deity. The Yamato clan which came to dominate the kingship of the early Japanese state happened to have as its clan deity Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and as a result, she became the chief goddess associated with the Imperial lineage and the Japanese nation, and the shrine to Amaterasu at Ise came to be the most sacred shrine in Shinto belief.

References

  • Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, Second Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 7, 12.
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