Ikko-ikki (Japanese warrior monks)

The Ikko-Ikki were a mass movement Buddhist sect who became powerful during the 15th century in Japan. They appealed to the lowest members of Japanese society and gained power through military campaigns. Ikko means single minded or devoted and the followers of this sect (called monto) were fanatical in their worship of Amida the supreme Buddha who they believed would welcome followers into paradise on their death. Despite this being of the Jodo sect they welcomed all and did not insist on any meditation or any other intellectual path to salvation, which also appealed to the masses. The monks of this sect were also not required to be celibate or become withdrawn from the material world so were able to mix with the peasants more easily. Ikki means league but can also mean mob or riot and it was through rioting mobs that the samurai first became aware of the sect. During the 15th century the head of the sect was Rennyo who died in 1499. He became so popular that rivals burn his house down and forced him to flee. Establishing himself in Kaga province he then got the sect involved in the war between various samurai clans. With their belief in a paradise waiting for them the warrior monks of the Ikko-Ikki were fearless and eager warriors proving very useful to whichever side they were aiding at the time. In battle they would often use mass chanting (nembutsu) to strike fear into their enemies and improve their own morale. In 1488 the Ikko-Ikki rebelled and seized control of Kaga province for themselves, from here they spread out into areas around Kyoto. By 1570 they had two main bases and were a major force in Japanese politics. The first base was the swampy fortress of Nagashima, which the monks defended with a variety of water traps and dykes, which allowed them to flood areas to confuse and trap attackers. The second was the mighty fortified cathedral of Ishiama Honganji, which stood on the site of the famous Osaka castle. Oda Nobunaga finally destroyed this powerful fanatical army in 1580 after a long and an incredibly bloody campaign, which included the Siege of Mount Hiei massacre.
Japanese Warrior Monks AD 949-1603 (Warrior S.), Stephen Turnbull, Wayne Reynolds (Illustrator). Osprey 2003, 64 pages. A fascinating and detailed osprey book on a subject, which has always attracted a lot of interest in the west. This book covers training, history and tactics over a long period and is full of colour and black and white illustrations. Written by Dr Stephen Turnbull the leading western expert on this period of Japanese history
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How to cite this article Dugdale Pointon, T. (8 November 2005) Ikko-Ikki, articles/weapons_ikko.html

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