Family registration system in ancient Japan (古代日本の戸籍制度)

Family registration systems in ancient times refer to family registers for keeping tabs on people under the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code) where were codes selected and compiled in the Asuka period. Major systems include the Koin no Nenjaku (the first completed register) and the Kogo no Nenjaku. Family registers from ancient times are left as Shibo-cho (a record of the dead), etc. in the Shosoin Treasure House. Family registers have been recently excavated from local josaku (official defense sites) and kanga (government offices) such as Akita-jo Castle, Taga-jo Castle and the remains of the provincial capital of Shimotsuke in the form of urushigami monjo (Lacquer documents); as well as from the provincial capital of Suo in the form of koseki mokkan (narrow, long and thin pieces of wood strung together that were used to write family registers), and are being deciphered with an infrared ray.

The first family registers

Old examples of family registers are as follows.

An article from August of 540 describes, "Those who have been naturalized from Shoban (clans coming from foreign lands), such as Hatahito (Hata people) and the Han (Chinese), were assembled, placed according to kokugun (provinces and districts) and their family registers were edited. There were 7,053 Hatahito families and an Okura no jo (an officer in charge of the large storehouse) became a Hatano Tomo no Miyatsuko"("Nihonshoki" [Chronicles of Japan]).

It is presumed that around the middle of the 6th century during the Kinmei Dynasty that the toraijin (people from overseas, especially from China and Korea, who settled in early Japan and introduced Continental culture to the Japanese) were the first to be controlled with the use of family registers.

In the spring of 569, an edict stated that many people were exempt from paying taxes even if they were older than ten years old because they were not listed in the family register in Shirai no Miyake, Kibi Province. The edict ordered a man named Itsu to inspect the block register of tabe (a group of peasants set for the cultivation of miyake, Imperial-controlled territory in ancient times). As Itsu followed the edict in April by conducting an exhaustive investigation into the yohoro (people liable to be in corvee service in early times) where he established registers and organized farmland registers, the emperor granted him the family name Shirai no Fuhito as a reward for his achievement and appointed him as tazukai (a superintendent of the miyake) ("Nihonshoki" [Chronicles of Japan]).

Block registers listed only adult males who were allocated to labor duty. It is speculated that farmland registers were created out of tabe in order to make family registers more accurate than block registers.

It is presumed that such a problem arose because registers were established only once instead of being created on a regular basis.

Furthermore, according to an article from October 574, SOGA no Umako, O-omi, was sent to Kibi in order to increase profits from Shirai no Miyake and tabe, and a Meiseki (a card showing official rank, name and age) of the tabe was granted to Itsu ("Nihonshoki").

Meiseki was newly created by Itsu. It is speculated that Meiseki were similar to family registers and keicho (yearly tax registers), which were created in later years.

These were new family registers for groups of toraijin or tabe in miyake (Imperial-controlled territory), and different from the family registration system for all the people based on the ritsuryo system.

Kogo no Nenjaku
"Kogo Nenjaku" is said to be the first national family registration system in Japan. This system no longer exists, however, so it is doubtful if family registers for all ranks of people were created on a national basis. In other words, it is doubtful that tabs were also kept on people controlled by chiefs and Gozoku (local ruling families) who had a family or clan name.

In 646, the Taika no kaishin no Mikotonori (Taika Reforms Edict) was issued for announcing political reform policies.
(However, it is a commonly accepted theory that the Taika Reforms Edict was created in later years.)

In an article from February of 670 in the "Nihonshoki," it is stated that "family registers were created and robbers and vagrants were regulated." It indicates that family registers were established not only in the Kinai region (provinces surrounding Kyoto and Nara) but also from Kyushu in the west to Hitachi and Kozuke Provinces in the east. It is believed that family registers served as a ledger for ascertaining the system of clans and hereditary titles.

There is writing on a bundle of mokkan (narrow strips of wood used for official messages) that were found abandoned in the remains of Asuka-kyo between 647 and 664 that says: "Shirakabe 50 families, ??? Tens units." The "???" is an unreadable character, but it is presumed to be the number "five." This indicates that an attempt was being made by administrative officers to comprehend the population by fifty-family units. Systematic laws are required in order to conduct such a unification of family registers and administrative comprehension of villages. It is stated in the preface of the Konin kyakushiki code (amendments to penal and administrative law compiled in 820) that "Twenty-two volumes of administrative codes were completed in the First Year of Emperor Tenmu called Omi-chotei-no-ryo (The Administrative Code of the Omi Court)," but it is believed that the Omi-Ryo (Omi Administrative Code) did not exist.

Koin no Nenjaku

Compilation of the Asuka Kiyomihara Code began in 681 and was completed in 689. On the basis of this Code of Households, the national family register 'Koin no Nenjaku' was established in 690. It does not exist any longer.

This registration system not only served as a starting point of "rokunen-ichizo" (literally, "one creation in six years) in which family registers were created every six years thereafter, but also made it possible to see the direct composition of each household by organizing households in terms of fifty households in ichi-ri on an administrative basis and describing each family member's name, age and relation to the household head in detail, and served as a ledger to conduct Handen Shuju (a regulation of land ownership) and jinto kazei (poll taxation). The function as an original record to determine each person's status seems to have been added to this registration system. This system provides concrete information on the age structure of populations and family forms.

Governing individuals began by keeping tabs on individuals via family registers organized in accordance with laws.

Organizing people according to area was nearly complete, and in the year 692, kubunden (farm land given to each farmer in the Ritsuryo system) began to be distributed in the Kinai region on the basis of Koin no Nenjaku. It is presumed that the Handen Shuju ho (the law of periodic reallocations of rice land) was put in force all over Japan at the same time.

As a comparison, the keicho is another example of historic material that provides as much information on populations in the Ritsuryo period as family registers.

Keicho and distribution of assignments

Keicho is a basic ledger to levy duties. It was prepared every year. The Satoosa (village chief) wrote in the population as well as each individual's gender, age and bodily characteristics in the keicho. The keicho was organized for each province and was a basic ledger to levy duties, including Soyocho (a tax system, corvee), Yo (Labor or alternative goods), zoyo (irregular corvee) and military service.

There were three steps in the creation of a keicho from which three types of documents were completed. The first was called shujitsu, the second was rekimyo and the third is mokuroku (catalogue).

Shujitsu was an application form prepared by the household head and submitted to the Kyoshiki (the Capital Bureau) or kokushi (provincial governors) before the 30th of the 6th month every year. It was a document that included the name, age and relationships of all the individuals (including the household head). In consideration of the literacy rate of the time, it is presumed that the gunji (district managers) and satoosa often prepared shujitsu for household heads. Rekimyo and mokuroku were prepared by government officials on the basis of shujitsu.

Rekimyo were account books that listed the contents of shujitsu of ichi-ri (fifty households), similar to family registers. Rekimyo are different from family registers in that they record the amount of choyo (taxes in tribute and labor under the ritsuryo system) to be borne by each household and probably the amount of choyo for the whole ri, and they provide detailed information on a comparison of household members from the previous year.

Mokuroku do not include the specifics of households. It is a statistical document consisting only of figures. The number of households and members for each province and district are minutely calculated according to whether duties are borne or not, and comparisons are shown with data of the previous year as well as the amount of choyo for that year. These mokuroku were keicho that were required by law to be submitted to Kyoto no later than the end of the eighth month every year, and Kyoto planned the revenue for each year and for the number of households (especially households bearing duties) throughout Japan with mokuroku. There was no provision in laws concerning the creation and submission to Kyoto for rekimyo.

Adult males between twenty-one and sixty years of age were called seitei and required to bear duties.

Cho were the special local products of an area that consisted of a variety of goods, including fiber products such as silk, thick silk fabric, threads, cotton and cloth, marine products such as salt, abalone, seaweed and katauo (solid dried fish), iron, as well as Cho no sowaritsumono (the subordinate tax to cho [a tax paid by tribute]) such as oil, dyes, marine products and mountain vegetables.

Yo was the substitute for labor in Kyoto for ten days a year.

Family registers and shihai monjo
According to the Code, family registers were to be stored for thirty years and then discared, but instead of being thrown away, it was common to send them to other government officials and kanji (state-sponsored temples) to use the other side (shihai monjo) since paper was so valuable in those days. A number of the documents stored in Todai-ji Temple Shosoin (Shoso-in monjo [documents of Shoso-in]) are written on reused family registers and provide a great deal of valuable information to historians in a different sense from the other treasures in the Shosoin.

Chronology of events related to family registers

In 681, compilation of the Asuka Kiyomihara Code began.

In 689, twenty-two volumes of one code (Asuka Kiyomihara Code) were distributed among shoshi (officials). In August, family registers were created and vagrants were regulated.

In September 690, Koin no Nenjaku was established under the Code of Households.

In March 691, rules were set for distinguishing the status of individuals. In April, the status of freed slaves was ascertained in Koin no Nenjaku. In October, the system of Ryoko (Imperial tomb guards, one kind of senmin) was established.

In 692, distribution of kubunden was started in the Kinai region. It was also conducted throughout Japan. In September, the handen taifu (master of the allotted farmland) was sent to Shikinai (four provinces close to the Capital: Yamato, Yamashiro, Settsu, Kawachi).

In January 693, peasants were to wear yellow, and yakko (attendants) were to dress in black. In March, cultivation of mulberries, flax, pears and chestnuts was promoted in order to add to the five main cereals.

In 694, the capital was moved to Fujiwara-kyo.

In 697, Emperor Jito abdicated from the throne and Emperor Monmu ascended the throne.

In March 700, vassals were obligated to learn the letter of the law. Ritsujo (law of itemized form) was selected. Pasture lands were specified in various provinces for cows and horses to graze. In June, Imperial Prince Osakabe, FUJIWARA no Fuhito and others were ordered to select Taiho Ritsuryo.

In June 701, politics were carried out under the new code. In August, selection of Ritsuryo was completed. Myoho hakase (Professors of Law) were sent to the six main roads, except for Saikaido, in order to give lectures about the new code.

In 702, the Taiho Code was made public. In June, lectures were given about the new laws. In October, Taiho Ritsuryo was distributed among the provinces. In December, Jito Daijo-tenno (the ex-Emperor Jito) passed away.

In 703, Kogo no Nenjaku was made an original record of family registers.

In 706, the law on denso (rice field tax) was established and each town was required to supply fifteen bundles (成斤の束).

In 710, the capital was moved to Heijo-kyo.

In 711, shoshi was ordered to enforce Ritsuryo rigorously.

In 713, five articles were established concerning scales and measures, choyo and giso (stockpiling warehouses). In April, three provinces (Tango, Mimasaka and Osumi) were established. In May, the names of districts and go's became obligated to bear koji (letters which signified a positive meaning and often used for a person's name or place name).

In May 715, choyo was levied on vagrants who had been running from their duties for more than three months at the place to which they had fled.

In September 715, sato was turned into go and go was divided into a few sato.

In April 717, peasants were prohibited from unlawfully becoming a priests, and Gyoki's activities were suppressed. In May, formalities of 太計帳, seibyobo (the register of standing crops) and yusocho (the field-tax report, same meaning of socho) were distributed among provinces. In May, four provinces (Noto, Awa, Iwaki and Iwase) were established. The number of eji (guards) for each province was established. In this year, FUJIWARA no Fuhito was ordered to select Ritsuryo.
(Yoro Code)

In 719, fields were distributed among minko (private houses) all over Japan.