Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) (廃藩置県)

Haihan-chiken was an administrative reform implemented on August 29, 1871 through which the Meiji government abolished feudal domains and established prefectures that were under the control of the central government. Concerning the process of disarming domains, refer to "chindai" (garrison in the Meiji era).

Osei-fukko (Restoration of Imperial Rule) declared on January 3, 1868 was a coup through which the actual power of central government was shifted from the Edo bakufu to the Imperial Court. In order to establish a centralized administrative system, however, there still remained the problem surrounding the existence of daimyo (domains) territory throughout the nation.

After hanseki-hokan (return of lands and people to the emperor) was ordered to 247 daimyo (feudal lords) on July 25, 1869, the Meiji government became the ruler of the lands and people. However, daimyo continued to rule domains (former territory of daimyo) as chihanji (hanchiji), and this system was the same as that of the Edo period though it was a step forward towards abolishing the eudal system.

On the other hand, bakufu-owned land and hatamoto (bakufu's direct retainer) territory became land directly controlled by the central government and prefectural governors (chifuji/chikenji) were dispatched from the central government. The above system was called fu-han-ken sanchisei (fu-han-ken tripartite governance system). In the meantime, "han" (domain) was a system newly established at that time and "han" didn't exist as a system of the Edo bakufu. Therefore, "han" is a system that existed only for two years from the time of hanseki-hokan in 1869 to the time of haihan-chiken in 1871.

As the regions of han and those of prefectures (land directly controlled by the government) became linked to each other at the time, this made fu-han-ken sanchisei inefficient. The main objective of haihan-chiken was to enable the new government to collect nengu (land tax), in other words to establish a centralized administrative system and stabilize state finance. The major premise of the above was to prevent the nation from being colonized by western powers.

However, haihan-chiken was the policy that led to massive dismissal of hanshi (retainers of domain), which was said to be about two millions across the nation. The government's army at the time was comprised of armies dispatched from domains and lacked solidarity. The confrontation between domains and the new governments of the Satsuma domain and Choshu domain continued. Some domains asked that domains be abolished due to the deteriorating financial conditions (Yoshinori IKEDA, Yoshikatsu TOKUGAWA, Morihisa HOSOKAWA, Nanbu domain etc).

On February 8, 1871, Shigenobu OKUMA, okura no taifu (a senior assistant minister of the Ministry of treasury), submitted a proposal on "the adoption of nationally-unified governance system" to Daijokan (Grand Council of State) and obtained approval. In order to construct the new nation, the above proposal argued the necessity of establishing four systems, namely a "military system" (military), an "education system" (education), a "judicial system" (judiciary) and a " financial/accounting system" (finance), and pointed out the inefficiency of the fu-han-ken sanchisei and proposed to adopt "sanchi-icchi" (conformation of tripartite governance) system under which fu, han and ken would adopt the same system. In unifying three different systems, it was obvious that the different nature of "han", which were governed by chihanji and hanshi unlike "fu" and "ken" that were governed by the government officials, became the biggest obstacle for "sanchi-icchi".

The eve of implementation
There were, however, twists and turns before it was finally implemented. Although there was a shared understanding within the government at that time that Haihan-chiken had to be carried out in order to move towards a centralized administrative system, Takayoshi KIDO (who insisted on radical reform) and Toshimichi OKUBO (who insisted on moderate reform) continued to hold differing views concerning practical procedures. Also, Kido empahasized the ability of individuals and appointed, along with Okuma, a former retainer of shogun Junzo GO and Eiichi SHIBUSAWA to posts within the new government. Okubo couldn't understand Kido's decision because he thought that the corruption among the retainers of the shogun was the cause of the Edo bakufu's fall and young people of Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa and Hizen who strived to bring about the Meiji Restoration should be utilized for the new government.

Okubo urged Takamori SAIGO, who was staying in Kagoshima in order to reform the politics of Satsuma domain, to serve for the government, tried to stabilize the new government and regain his power. When Aritomo YAMAGATA's plan of establishing goshimpei (army to convoy the Emperor) surfaced, Okubo went to Kagoshima as the Imperial envoy along with Tomomi IWAKURA and successfully persuaded Saigo to serve the government in order to establish goshimpei.

However, the opinion which Saigo submitted before starting to work for the government ("Kichinosuke SAIGO's opinion") caused great controversy. Saigo argued that what was necessary for the new government was a strong military power based on samurai and an agriculture-oriented nation management. He further denounced the government as something like "a merchant" since it promoted modern industries and the construction of railways. The above was mainly targeted at Okuma, who was a key person in a series of policy planning, rather than the former retainers of shogun whom Okubo criticized. This was also implicitly a denunciation of Hirobumi ITO, Kaoru INOUE (who supported Okuma), and Kido (who recommended Ito and Inoue).

Okubo emphasized the necessity of Saigo's service and accepted his opinion. Saigo came to Tokyo in January 1871, and immediately understood the plan to appoint the persons of Satsuma etc. who rendered meritorious service in the Restoration to Governments posts. Saigo, however, was dissatisfied with the government's policy of national enrichment and the bureaucrats of Okurasho (Ministry of Treasury), including Okuma, who led this policy. Therefore, a clash between Saigo and Kido/Okuma was inevitable.

The new government began to experience turmoil due to the revolt of Gentaro DAIRAKU of Choshu domain, the assassination of Masaomi HIROSAWA that was said to have been done by the supporters of Gentaro DAIRAKU, and the plot to overthrow the new government that was attempted by court nobles Michiteru OTAGI and Mitsusuke TOYAMA (Nikkyo Jiken).

Okubo reshuffled the cabinet on August 11 and appointed only Saigo and Kido as sangi. He put himself in the position to check Okuma etc. as Okurakyo (Minister of the Treasury). When Yasukazu YASUBA, Okura Taijo (senior secretary of the Minister of the Treasury) who was recommended by Saigo, voiced his opinioin that Okuma should be impeached, Okuma and his supporters, including Shimpei ETO and Shojiro GOTO, uniformily opposed the move. Although the above impeachment was denied by Saigo and Okubo who didn't want to clash with Kido, the new government was on the verge of being split into the Saigo group and Kido group. Under such circumstances, the implementation of state affairs was stagnant, let alone haihan-chiken, and the new government faced a crisis of being split in two.

On August 19, Koyata TORIO and Yasushi NOMURA (both belonging to the Kido group), who were driven by a sense of crisis, proposed that Yamagata implement haihan-chiken immediately. They intended to reunify both groups recuperate its centripetal force by making the new government face off against the domains. They also intended to confirm whether Saigo intended to support the government in cooperation with Kido, a person who was pushing through haihan-chiken. Yamagata immediately agreed and began to persuade influential people along with the two persons.

The next day, the two persons won over Inoue, and on August 21, Inoue and Yamagata obtained the approval of Kido, Saigo, Okubo and Okuma. In order to break the political stalemate, Saigo also wanted to change the atmosphere of the government by implementing haihan-chiken. On August 24, the plan of haihan-chiken was secretly worked out at Kido's residence by seven people from Satsuma and Choshu, Takamori SAIGO, Okubo, Tsugumichi SAIGO, Iwao OYAMA, Kido, Inoue and Yamagata, and it was approved by Sanetomi SANJO, Tomomi IWAKURA, Taisuke ITAGAKI and Okuma etc.


At 2 pm on August 29, 1871, the Meiji government gathered chihanji at the Imperial palace and ordered the implementation of haihan-chiken. It was the second coup following the osei-fukko.

At 10 am, the government gathered chihanji of Kagoshima domain Tadayoshi SHIMAZU, Motonori MORI, chiji of Saga domain Naota NABESHIMA and Itagali, a proxy of chiji of Kochi domain Toyonori Yamanouchi, and read the Imperial edict of haihan. Thereafter, the Imperial edict was given to chiji of Nagoya domain Yoshikatsu TOKUGAWA, chiji of Kumamoto domain Morihisa HOSOKAWA, chiji of Tottori domain Yoshinori IKEDA and chiji of Tokushima domain Mochiaki HACHISUKA. In the afternoon, chihanji of 56 domains, in addition to the above chihanji, who were in Tokyo were called and given the Imperial edict.

Domains became prefectures, and chihanji (former lords) lost their jobs and were ordered to move to Tokyo. Kenrei (prefectural governor) was dispatched by the central government to each prefecture in place of chihanji. On the same day, it was declared that hansatsu (bills usable only in a particular domain) be exchanged for government bills at the market rate of the day.

Since domains simply replaced prefectures, the number of prefectures was larger than those today; namely three fu (prefectures) and 302 ken (prefectures). Further, there were many enclaves and the cohesiveness of the region was weak compared to that of latter-day ken. Under these circumstances, the number of prefectures decreased to three fu and 72 ken during the period of October to November in 1871.

Thereafter, the number of ken decreased to 69 (1872), 60 (1873), 59 (1875), and 35 (1876) (the number of fu was unchanged). The merger finished in 1881 when Sakai-ken was merged with Osaka-fu. However, as the size of prefectures increased, various problems, including confrontation between regions and an increase in clerical jobs, came to light. Therefore, prefecture division was implemented and the number of prefectures finally became three fu and 43 ken (exclusive of Hokkaido) in 1889.

Many borders between prefectures that were created by the mergers corresponded to those of ryoseikoku (provinces in old days). It is said that the kokudaka (territorial land value) of prefecture was determined to be 300,000 to 600,000 goku (later 900,000 goku) so that prefectures could afford administrative expenses.

In order to appoint persons who had no relation with a former domain to a senior post such as kenrei, a policy to not appoint those that hailed from prefecture in question was adopted. However, this policy wasn't strictly applied to some powerful domains (nonetheless, most of kenrei hailed from the same prefecture were abolished by 1873). For example, Tsunayoshi Oyama, kenrei of Kagoshima Prefecture, served as kenrei for several years as if he had extraterritorial rights.

By contrast, kenrei who used to be a retainer of bakufu, a former "enemy "of the Choshu domain, was dispatched to Yamaguchi Prefecture (former Choshu domain), and contributed to strengthening the influence of hanbatsu (domain clique) in local administration. This policy was in effect until bunkan ninyoseido (government officials recruitement system) was established in 1885.

Appointment of Chij who hailed from the same prefecture
Up to 1872 : Shizuoka Prefecture, Tottori Prefecture, Okayama Prefecture, Tokushima Prefecture, Saga Prefecture
Up to 1873 : Kumamoto Prefecture
Up to 1875 : Kyoto Prefecture
Up to 1876 : Kochi Prefecture
Up to 1877 : Kagoshima Prefecture

Haihan-chiken fundamentally denied/changed the traditional way of ruling land, under which a specific lord ruled his territory, that had existed since the late Heian period, and was said to be "the biggest reform implemented in the Meiji Restoration".

However, many laws were required to be enacted in order to bring about the "nationally-unified government system" proposed by Okuma. The above jobs were left to rusu-seifu (government while heads of government are away) which led the Meiji government while Iwakura Mission was on a trip abroad. Various new systems were implemented by rusu-seifu, including Conscription Ordinance (kairiku keibi no sei), education system (kyoiku sotsuiku no michi), judicial reform (shinri keibatsu no ho) and land tax reform (rizai kaikei no ho).

Ryukyu domain
The Ryukyu dynasty, which was conferred peerage by Ming dynasty, had belonged to both Japan and China since the invasion of Satsuma domain in 1609. The Meiji government incorporated the Ryukyu dynasty into Japan as Ryukyu domain and further changed it to Okinawa prefecture. Ryukyu domain was the official name of Ryukyu that was used from October 16, 1872 to March 11, 1879.

Debts of former domains
Every domain had faced serious financial difficulties since the middle of Edo period, and barely survived by borrowing money from leading merchants in Osaka etc, so-called "daimyo-gashi" (lending money to daimyo), or collecting goyokin (money temporarily charged on farmers and merchants) from the people of the domain. Domains tried to improve the situation by implementing restructuring domain politics, but this required vast expenditures due to the political strain in the wake of the arrival of the Black Ships and some domain lords (hanchiji) wanted to return their territory before haihan-chiken was implemented.

In addition, it was required to call in hansatsu (bills usable only in a particular domain) issued by each domain and introduce a uniform monetary system throughout the country (hansatsu constituted a part of domain's debts since the domain guaranteed its repayment as the issuer).

After haihan-chiken, domains' debts were separated from the families of former lords and the new government became responsible to repay these debts. The amount, however, reached 74.13 million yen (ryo), twice the government revenue at the time, and the new government couldn't afford to repay (in addition, the sum of debts which were made before the Tenpo era (1830 - 1843) was not included in this amount because of the reason mentioned below).

Under such circumstances, the new government divided the debts of former domains into three categories. As for the debts made after 1868, the government issued bonds with an annual interest of four percent and promised to redeem them by annual installments of 25 years after a three year grace period (shin-kosai (new bond)). As for debts made after the Koka era (1844 - 1847), the government issued bonds with no interest and promised to redeem them by annual installements of 50 years (kyu-kosai (old bond)). As for the debts created before the Tenpo era, the government did not inherit these, and declared them void (de facto tokuseirei (a debt cancellation order)). (The new government didn't inherit the debts of Edo bakufu, which became the Emperor's enemy, regardless of the time, and such debts were declared void except for foreign debts).

Thereafter, more than half of the above amount was declared void as the debts made before the Tempo era or the debts of bakufu, and the total amount of 34.86 million yen (shin-kosai: 12.82 million yen, kyu-kosai : 11.22 million yen, small amount debts that were repaid in cash: 10.82 million yen) were repaid by the new government (hansai-shobun (the policy on the disposition of the debts of feudal domains)).

As most of debts, especially the majority of daimyo-gashi, were made before the Tenpo era, all of them became void including the famous debt of "250 years installment" made by Hirosato ZUSHO of Satsuma domain. From the standpoint of merchants who lent money, daimyo-gashi was the nominal assets and the basis of their social status in spite of the fact that they were a kind of bad loan and their collectability was low. As a result of the above policy, however, all of daimyo-gashi became irrecoverable loans and some merchants went bankrupt. Osaka was particularly hard hit since many such merchants were in Osaka, and it became the cause for Osaka's fall from being in a position as the center of Japanese economy.

Lords of former domains and their vassals were completely exempt from repaying these debts and it is said that some of them lined their pockets by printing hansatsu immediately before the implementation of hansai-shobun.

List of prefectures
August 29, 1871
At the time when haihan-chiken was implemented on August 29, 1871, the names of prefectures were those of cities (prefectural capitals). Prefectures that inherited the territory of former bakufu, hatamoto or small domains had many enclaves located far from prefectural capitals.

December 10, 1871 - January 2, 1872
Thanks to the prefecture mergers implemented during the period from December 10, 1871 to January 2, 1872, the territory of each prefecture was reorganized into the unified region that was comprised of provinces and counties.

Mergers in 1876
Large-scale prefecture mergers were implemented on April 18 and August 21 of 1876 (especially August 21),
However, some of the newly created prefectures still have problems in regional confrontation and geographic inconsistencies to this day, and there are cases where a prefecture is actually divided into two regions.

Prefectures that were once abolished but revived later
March 2, 1880 : Tokushima Prefecture (separated from Kochi Prefecture)
February 7 : Fukui Prefecture (former Tsuruga Prefecture (divided and abolished in August 1876) that had been divided into Ishikawa Prefecture and Shiga Prefecture was revived and renamed)
September 12 : Tottori Prefecture (seperated from Shimane Prefecture)
May 9, 1883
Saga Prefecture (separated from Nagasaki Prefecture)
Miyazaki Prefecture (separated from Kagoshima Prefecture)
Toyama Prefecture (separated from Ishikawa Prefecture)
November 4, 1887 : Nara Prefecture (separated from Osaka Prefecture (former Sakai Prefecture))
December 3, 1888 : Kagawa Prefecture (separated from Ehime Prefecture)

The Meiji Government intended to divide Nagano Prefecture into two (Nagano Prefecture, Chikuma Prefecture), but the plan was cancelled because the prefectural government office of Chikuma was burnt down.

Separately, Hokkaido was once divided into Hakodate Prefecture, Sapporo Prefecture and Nemuro Prefecture during the period called sanken-ikkyoku era (1882 - 1886, refer to sanken-ikkyoku era).