Life in Kamakura Period


Grade Level: 7, 8, High School, Young Adult

Keywords: Shinran, Japanese Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu


  • The students will experience what life was like in Kamakura Period
  • The students will know what are the major political factions in Japan during the Kamakura Period


  • Heian-Wa Game Families Sheet (Attachment)


  • Print out this sheet and Heian-Wa papers
  • Get some tokens for rice/money. (Need at least 60; even pebbles will work)
  • Optionally, you can type up the Heian-Wa rules (below) separately.


  1. Gassho
  2. Introduce the situation in Japan
    1. Show a map of Japan and East Asia
    2. Show where influences came from (Mongolia, Taiwan, Korea, China)
    3. Attempted to set up Chinese system during Heian Period 700 AD
    4. But this broke down due to bad transportation/communication/corruption by local officials/difference in sensibilities between Japanese and Chinese.
    5. Some nobles and all temples do not pay taxes
    6. Some families w/ military expertise used to oust Ainu
    7. Japanese used rice as money; taxes were high.
    8. Series of calamities at end of Heian Period: Floods, Earthquakes, Famine, Typhoons
  3. Heian-Wa Game
  4. Assign students into four families. Assign roles: Ruler, Dice roller, Treasurer, Treaty Keeper (keeps track of copies of written treaties), Minister (negotiates treaties), If there aren't enough people, one student per family can work. Also if there are only 3 students, use Fujiwara, Taira and Minamoto families.
  5. Ruler to make final decisions. Need at least a Dice roller and Treasurer.
  6. Have each team read their Family sheet to others (but not read their scores)
  7. Give each team their starting rice stock based on their economic score. The teacher is the judge.
  8. Have the Families play Jan-ken-po (rock paper scissors) to determine order of play for the Battle Phase.
  9. Each turn goes as the following:
    1. Negotiations Phase (5 minutes) : The teams negotiate to set up treaties which may be of short duration or long. They may exchange rice now or later at the "completion" of the deal. It may be written or not.
    2. Battle Phase : This proceeds in the order that was determined. Each family may:
      1. "Harvest" 1 dice worth of rice
      2. Go into Battle
        1. Pay 1 dice worth of rice to the teacher and go into Battle
        2. There are 3 kinds of Battles: Military (War), Economic (Embargo), Political (Embarrassment)
        3. At this time, the alliances are declared (Allies do not need to pay rice)
        4. Depending on the type of Battle, the corresponding Points are added up for the attackers and the defenders. This includes the Allies points.
        5. Attacker roll first, Defender rolls. Each sides add their Points to their roll. The larger side wins. If attacker wins, they gain 1 dice (attacker rolls) from the defenders. If defender wins, then they gain 1 dice (defender rolls) from the attackers. A tie is a tie.
        6. For example, let's say that Fujiwara is attacking the Minamoto in a Political battle.
          1. Fujiwara rolls a die and rolls a 6. They pay 6 pieces of rice. If they cannot pay, they harvest rice.
          2. Fujiwara are allied with Taira at this moment for Political battles. Minamoto are allied with the Imperial Family.
          3. Fujiwara has a political strength of 7. Taira: 5. Minamoto: 5 Imperial Family: 9
          4. Attacking side has a total of 12. Defenders have 14. So Attackers are -2
          5. Both Fujiwara and Minamoto roll a die. Fujiwara rolls a 5 and Minamoto rolls a 4.
          6. Since Attackers have a -2: 5 - 2 = 3. Since 4 > 3, the Defenders win.
          7. Minamoto rolls a die and gets a 1. So they get 1 rice from the Fujiwara.
    3. The traditional winner is the family with the most rice, but "winner" is all in the "eye of the beholder".


  • After the game has concluded, tell them what actually occurs (below), then ask:
    • Who were the families?
    • Who uses what strategies?
    • Think about what life might have been for the families that lost. Shinran's family, Hino, was a Fujiwara retainer.


The game is designed so that the it's most likely that the Minamoto Family wins over Taira and gradually takes over to become the first Shogun which is what actually occurs. However, it is designed so that anything is possible with alliances.


1068 Emperor Go-Sanjo forces Fujiwara out of the regency

1156 Hogen Rebellion - Fujiwara support Minamoto & Taira to restore Regency, but is destroyed

1159 Heiji Rebellion - Minamoto & Taira fight for control. Taira wins. Taira places their daughter as the Emperor's wife.

1180 Genpei War - Minamoto with Hojo family fight with Taira

1185 Victory for Minamoto. Taira Family decimated. Minamoto moves the military capitol to Kamakura

"Hei-an-Wa" is a ironic name since: it's a combination of "Heian" and "Wa" (peace). Although Heian was peaceful and lasted nearly 500 years, the last 100 years was anything but peaceful. The pun (in Japanese) is also intended ("wa" meaning peace and also translated as "is" i.e. "What is Heian?").


M. Nishimura, San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, 2010