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Time in Medieval Japan

Time at the Market


© Alexandra Ciorciaro 2019

Dr. Kōhei Kataoka, Dr. oec. Georg Blind

This project investigates ideas and rules dealing with the phenomenon of time in the market. Markets can be observed wherever people, goods and eventually money gather, a definition that fully applies to markets in medieval Japan.

Goods markets in medieval Japan were generally located in front of religious institutions like temples and shrines. Through their function of localizing people’s faith toward Buddhism or Shintoism, these institutions developed into places where large numbers of individuals assembled. Consequently, the scheduling and frequency of these gatherings are related to the time regulated by these institutions and will be subject to this inquiry.


The time of individuals in medieval Japanese society happened to become or was made consciously, the object of trade in what one may consider precursors of modern labor markets. Devastating natural disasters, recurring periods of political unrest and military struggles caused substantial losses in property and income, eventually resulting in disastrous famines. Thus, according to contemporary sources, individuals attempted to sell their entire time in the medieval labour market – essentially a voluntary entry into slavehood - to overcome instances of even greater hardships linked to the events mentioned above. Accordingly, we inquire reports on natural disasters, crop shortages, and military struggle to investigate the emergence of early labour markets.

If producers wanted to draw the maximum profit, they needed to consider fluctuation of supply (for their inputs), and demand (for their outputs) in their organization of production. This requires a thorough reflection on the characteristics of both their inputs and finished goods such as seasonality or the possibility of preservation. If the quality of finished goods was indeed of concern to medieval artisans, so will have been quality considerations regarding their production process and raw materials procured. They will strive to accurately time their work not only because the supply of materials and demand of their products were subject to fluctuation, but also because seasonal changes of climatic conditions may have affected the quality of their products. Accordingly, our line of inquiry into medieval production scheduling reflects the considerations of contemporary individuals.

We will finally look into medieval capital markets by studying regulations referred to as debt cancellation bills (Tokusei-rei) that have been issued in recurring instances throughout the medieval period in Japan. While the Japanese term Tokusei originally signified the ideal policies a benevolent emperor was supposed to realise, the Tokusei-rei issued from the Muromachi era (1333-1578) on were concrete measures specifying interventions in real estate and financial markets. Namely, these regulations forced purchasers and creditors to renounce their ownership or claims. Given the recurring nature of these interventions, it is evident that economic agents were consciously dealing with the resulting uncertainty. Earlier research tended to interpret the phenomenon of Tokusei-rei as a mere by-product of disorder in medieval society. In contrast, this research aspires a re-evaluation from the viewpoint of time, where economic agents are considered as “reasoning with time” in a variety of aspects such as the restoration of historical points in time pertaining to property distribution, or the attempts of purchasers and creditors to cope with the possibility of future threats to their rights.

Weiterführende Informationen

Latest conference:

TIMEJ Online Conference 2021 

August 18–20th 2021

International Society for the Study of Time


Yamaguchi University Research Institute for the Study of Time


Read more about our joint coference of 2018 here.

Time in Medieval Japan

Prof. Dr. Raji C. Steineck


Time in Medieval Japan (TIMEJ) is a research project of the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies of the University of Zurich.

It is funded by the  European Research Council (ERC) with an Advanced Grant under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 741166)

Read about the outline of the project on the official CORDIS Webpage

Read more about the TIMEJ-Artwork