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Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan (Harvard East Asian Monographs) Paperback – January 6, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0674304987 ISBN-10: 0674304985

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Editorial Reviews


Five Mountains is a fine piece of historical writing and one of the richest sources now available in English for information on Japan's medieval age...Martin Collcutt deserves much praise for this book. It is an outstanding contribution to the literature in English on medieval Japan. (Monumenta Nipponica)

This book should be read widely by students of history, Buddhism, and history of religions for its fascinating contents as well as its methodological astuteness. (American Historical Review)

This study...explores many areas of Japanese monastic life not thoroughly examined before by Western scholars...[A] rich and competent study of major significance. (Journal of the American Academy of Religion)

About the Author

Martin Collcutt is Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University.

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvard East Asian Monographs (Book 85)
  • Paperback: 399 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Asia Center (January 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674304985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674304987
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,294,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Hakuyu on July 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
Not everyone wants to explore the history of Rinzai Zen as an Institution - but, if you do, Martin Collcutt's study is a veritable treasure trove. Potted within its pages (382, excluding the index and bibliography), you will find fascinating references to just about everything of significance concerning the formation of the 'Gozan' or 'Five Mountain System' - its precedents in Sung China, its patrons and supporters in Japan, the temple builders, key figures, secular and religious, all the regulations, and all the myriad processes involved in the maintenance of these inter-linked temple complexes.

Even at their best, studies like this can be tedious, in places, but this well informed account is never dry. It explores macrocosmic factors, and surveys microcosmic details. Collcutt conveys an almost organic picture of the entire complex of processes - social, technical,human and spiritual - which brought the 'Gozan' system into being and made it a living entity. While all of this was ultimately directed to one end - the spiritual life nurtured in the Sodo or monks hall, Collcutt's study makes us keenly aware of the managerial and administrative skills required to run such large complexes. Rather like their equivalent in medieval or late medieval Europe, these monastic institutions virtually became thriving 'businesses'- running large landed estates, even employing hired labour. Beating the Medici family to the game by several centuries, the Chinese Buddhists were the first people to print paper money - and lend it at interest. As with the European monastic institutions, corruption and worldliness sometimes took over. Similar traits sometimes characterised life in the Japanese temples. Collcutt's study can be statistical in places, but this is always tempered by the human interest - the notable figures and events which have shaped life in these temples. It details the virtues, vices and the vicissitudes, which have left their mark upon the Gozan system.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jomo K on March 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Most readers who come to this text are, no doubt, overly familiar with the more playful spiritual intensity of Japanese Zen, whether it be through the writings of stoic mountain hermits (say, Dogen); the peripatetic musings of hip flask, sake swilling outcasts (say, Santoka Taneda or Ryokan); the no nonesense monastic types (say, Hakuin); the earthy, gritty advice for living in the modern world (say, DT Suzuki); or even the American literati influences (say, Gary Snyder).

Far fewer readers, however, will be familiar with the logistical organization of Zen temples in Japan. As esteemed Japan expert Edwin O. reischauer writes in the brief preface, "It is ironic that Zen philosophy, which is commonly charaterized as being beyond words, has inspired millions of words in English print, whereas Zen instituions, though vastly important in many aspects of medieval Japanese civilization and in no way beyond description, has drawn so few."


Yet, does a book about the logistical organization of Rinzai's Gozan ("Five Mountain") temples sound boring?

Perhaps. But let me tell you: this text is anything but boring! Author Martin Collcut takes a seemingly mundane subject and delivers a delightfully informative product that will not disappoint even the most discerning reader. Moreover, he neatly ties the development of the temple system into the existing socio-political milieu of Medieval Japan.

Quite frankly, this is a dream book for a Japanese history "otaku" (lit: "buff," or worse, "nerd" or "geek") like myself: clear and detailed but highly readable, unlike so many other academic texts.
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