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In Alms and Vagabonds, Janet Goodwin describes the effect of Kanjin campaigns upon the general populace of Kamakura Japan. She claims that Kanjin campaigns helped to spread Buddhist thought and infrastructure, and to reinforce the sense of community through the entire population. Dr. Goodwin is currently a professor at the University of Aizu and has taught at several universities in California since obtaining her doctorate from UC-Berkley. Her transience makes one wonder as to how much support she receives from scholarly society. However, she makes effective use of support materials from a variety of authors, some of whom seem to have substantial clout (they are well-published at any rate). Her bibliography is varied (geographically and temporally) and large, and it seems to indicate a significant amount of general support for her premises and inspiration. Goodwin does an excellent job of documentation (though the in-text method makes reading slower and more difficult) and seems to be concerned that her premises are well-backed up. Although it is hard for me to analyze the historical veracity of her statements, I am tempted to simply acknowledge them due to the substantial citation.
Structurally, Alms and Vagabonds is well set-up. The goals for the entire book and for each chapter are clearly stated at the introduction and conclusion to each section. Arguments from opposing points of view are occasionally brought forth and discussed, which lends credence to Goodwin's work. She also addresses the reliability of historical sources (like personal diaries and written accounts of the kanjin progress) and makes reasonable conclusions about their veracity-her ability to analyze such documents seems to be quite impressive. Each chapter progresses from clearly stated goals to a recapitulation of what was to be gleaned from the section. The book operates in the same fashion regarding movement from the introduction to the last chapter. However, each chapter seems to be lacking in sufficient logic.
While it is easy to know what the author desires for you to learn, it is not so easy to see how she wishes you to learn it. On several occasions, passages critical to the support of a chapter's thesis lack fluid argumentation. Instead of using her premises and building a path which leads the reader to her conclusion, she often relies upon statements which actually leave the reader questioning, "how so?" After one direct quote from an imperial edict she says, "The edict goes on to emphasize further the value of small donations to the project" (78). Goodwin should have included that part of the edict. There is no reason for the reader to simply take her opinion on the matter. Since she admits (implicitly) that she must directly quote the edict to prove one point, she should quote the edict to prove another.
Often, she gets so bogged down by side-details that she fails to prove the main point. It seems as though she is using space simply to convince you that she knows what she's talking about. In that way, she can convince you of one point, and then hope that you'll accept the next without a solid logical foundation. Her writing style does not fit that effort, and so the reader is left wondering at the end of some chapters wondering if the main point was really argued at all. At one point (page 80), Goodwin seems to dismantle her entire book's argument by stating that Chogen (a kanjin hijiri) almost certainly met with no success in his efforts to raise money at a given time. It is hard to see how Buddhism was being spread, or the community reinforced, when people aren't even talking to the Buddhist, and when nothing is being accomplished.
Some of Goodwin's tangents even leave the reader wondering about their significance. Her discussion of internal politics and daikanjinshiki seems to bear no relevance upon the argument. The selection of Chogen's heir in Todaiji either has nothing to do with the spread of Buddhism, or else the reasoning to make that clear is lost among the author's other thoughts. The most bizarre issue of significance is Goodwin's insistent comparison between Kamakura Japan and medieval Europe. Her comparison does not strengthen her point, it only leads to more dismay in the reader's mind. It doesn't seem necessary to use Europe to prove that Japanese society was becoming more integrated. Not only does the comparison seem superfluous, but some of the statements about Europe don't seem to coincide with her statements about Japan. Goodwin claims that Christian missionary statements citing divine assistance is analogous to kanjin statements of human zeal (134). The comparison is bizarre, and I think, quite questionable. Even worse, Goodwin later seems to be saying that medieval Europe was characterized by a growing class of moneylenders, and that that class spurred religious and social changes analogous to the growth of the warrior-farmer class of Kamakura Japan (146). One is left wondering how thoroughly Goodwin researched medieval Europe and its growing middle class before writing her book. The entire work suffers from the comparison to Europe because the comparison is poorly structured and argued upon questionable premises.
In the conclusion, Goodwin implies that hijiri were viewed as clownish by Kamakura society. Not only does that idea lack any support in her text, but it is never even mentioned until the penultimate paragraph in the conclusion. This is a very weak way to end a paper, and left me wondering once again, "what's the point?" For the entire book, muen hijiri are portrayed as effective administrators and supplicators, so to now state that people were amused by their antics serves only to prevent the reader from taking the book seriously.
The major weakness to Goodwin's thesis lies in her discussion of communitas. She claims that kanjin campaigns brought about a sense of community through Japanese society. She says that widespread contribution to kanjin campaigns brought the people together in a common interest. That common interest supposedly created a bond among the separate classes. However, Goodwin doesn't prove that the lower classes really contributed in, or displayed interest in the kanjin campaigns. The campaigns were based upon a "no gift is too small" premise, but the author does not show the reader that this goal was followed up by the poor. These kind of campaigns seem to be the most frequent, but details and reasonable associations regarding them are lacking in the book. She does not even address the presence (or significance of the lack thereof) of data regarding participation in the campaigns by the poorer segments of society. It is difficult to see her argument when part of it is missing, for whatever reason. She also claims (in two separate passages) that: 1) voluntary kanjin campaigns were the most effective and 2) "involuntary" campaigns made more money. What are her criteria for effectiveness and how important is the issue of money to the significance of the campaigns? Goodwin's social bond is very vague at best, and possibly non-existent.
Although this part of the thesis is resting upon treacherous ground, the rest of Goodwin's thesis is well-argued. The spread of Buddhist infrastructure (temples, bridges, etc.) was well-documented and very reasonable conclusions were drawn from that spread. Goodwin shows how the people's lives were affected by the kanjin campaigns and how the Buddhists were able to share their own teachings through them. It is easy to see how many of Goodwin's conclusions would be the direct result of her statement of historical events. In particular, kanjin campaigns to help local cultivators, like the building of bridges or improving irrigation, would create an atmosphere of cooperation in which the Buddhists could share their religion with the peasants. Furthermore, Goodwin accurately describes the way the muen hijiri would have been able to move through society with a freedom which other classes (including the established religious set) lacked. Their pivotal role in the kanjin campaigns is clear and understandable.
Goodwin doesn't seem to have any particular bias in writing the book. There is no noticeable slant benefiting one particular individual or group, but there also seems to be no particular direction for the subsequent scholarly attention. Although Goodwin claims that she is suggesting ground for further research, the last few pages of her conclusion seem to mainly just reiterate insignificant points she made in the body of the text. The text has a place in understanding the methodology of Kamakura Buddhists, but doesn't hold much water as an analysis of Kamakura social structures.
Unless someone had a particular interest in Kamakura Buddhism's spread, or the advancement of Kamakura Japanese infrastructure, I would not recommend Alms and Vagabonds. Goodwin's premises (the ones about Japan, at any rate) are well-backed up, but her conclusions are not. Its questionable logic combines with an obtuse writing style to make it a very difficult and joyless read.