Honjo law (本所法)

Honjo low was enacted and enforced by honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor) for the purpose of ruling over their privately owned Shoen (manor in medieval Japan) as part of their Shomuken (the authority of the jurisdiction and the administration of Shoen).


A class called 'lord of the manor' was established on the basis of stratified ruling structures composed of Shiki systems (Shiki is a unit or an agency of sharing revenues and rights commended by landowners or name holders in Shoen system). Among a variety of shiki, 'Honjo' exercised legal control over Shoen with the authority to carry out Shomu (management and control of encouragement of agriculture, taxes and so on in Shoen) or judicial, administrative and police activities (The word, 'Honjo' is also used when referring to Ryoke and Honke, but it is not the original meaning of the word.). There were two main origins of the Honjo law: one was in a legal structure that had governed the influential families called honjo, which owned Shomuken (the authority of the jurisdiction and the administration of Shoen), and the other was the common law in Shoen that became approved by the honjo. In addition, there existed other laws that were enacted by honjo in keeping with the local circumstances.

In the time when the system of the ownership of all lands and serfs by the emperor was functioning, government officials including kokuga (provincial government offices) exclusively owned judicial and administrative authorities. However, as Fuyu no ken (the right of tax exemption) and Funyu no ken (the right to keep the tax agents from entering the property) were established upon the formation of Shoen, the government officials and their legal authorities were excluded from the Shoen and the honjo acquired the judicial and administrative rights instead. Nevertheless, as a matter of practice, among donators of Shoen or officers called shokan who practically administered Shoen, many served concurrently as zaichokanjin (the local officials in Heian and Kamakura periods). Therefore, there were few cases in which the influence of the kokuga was totally excluded from the Shoen. Furthermore, many of the influential families that became the honjo had belonged to kuge (court noble), which presided over the management of government officials including the kokuga, or to temples and shrines which were avidly protected by the kuge. For this reason, the early honjo law was often constrained by court noble law and Jisha-ho (laws regarding shrines and temples) that governed the classes to which the honjo had originally belonged as the influential families, as well as by regionally specific regulations, such as local common law or Kokurei (a common law based on actual state of affairs in each area), which was enacted by the kokuga. The honjo's statuses as shiki in the Shoen and their influences over their own regions and the central government varied with each Shoen. This makes it difficult to find an element common to all the Shoen in these respects. Additionally, in some cases, honjo law was divided into two different kinds of laws, Kamu-ho, which was enacted to regulate domestic economies for the honjo themselves, and Shoen-ho, which was directly applied to the Shoen ('Shoen-ho' also refers to another law which was enforced on Shoen by the imperial court and shogunate), both of which were collectively called Hojo-law. Nevertheless, honjo laws were continuously enacted for the purpose of retaining the Shoen structure itself, maintaining the production system or the public order, and securing the stable supply of nengu (land tax) and kuji (public duties). It was enforced by shokan (an officer governing Shoen), who exchanged kishomon (sworn oath) and ukebumi (the reply) with the Honjo's side including Kuge, such as Keishi (household superintendent) and Mandokoro (Administrative Board), and temples, such as Sango (three monastic positions with management roles at a temple).

In the Kamakura period, jito (manager and lord of manor) was adopted by the Kamakura bakufu.

As a result, the discretionary power of the hojo law was reduced by the execution of Taibon Sankajo (three major tasks of peacekeeping) and jitouke (the contract system that the manor's owner entrusts a jito to manage his manor and pay the customs) by the jito.

In addition, the Kamakura bakufu acquired the right to approve the domination over the whole region of Shoen, which rather allowed provincial constables to intervene into Shoen as the representatives of the Kamakura bakufu. As a consequence, the role of the honjo low became nothing more than a compliment to Buke-ho (the law system for the samurai society and the military government), and the honjo law was abolished upon the dissolution of shoen koryo sei (The System of Public Lands and Private Estates).