Hyakusho (百姓)

The term "hyakusho," which can also be pronounced "hyakusei" or "omitakara," was originally a word of Chinese origin that indicates all people with a hundred (many) surnames, i.e., all the social class with surnames. The meaning of the term varies across the ages.

From the Zhou period to the Chunqiu period, the term indicated the Keishitaifu class (not the Kakyo [Imperial examination] elite in the Song period but the patriarch class in the ancient times) having a "surname," which was also a clan name of ancient times such as "Ji" and "Jiang." Thereafter, the clan dissolved, and a "family name," which even common people had merged with the original "surname" to end up with most of the common people having a surname.

Thus, the meaning of the term "hyakusho" changed into "all common people." The term "hyakusho" that indicates common people is often found in books that are considered to be edited in the Zhanguo Dynasty (China) into the current form, such as "Rongo Analects" and "Eki" (I ching). The meaning of the term did not change significantly from then until today, and the term "lao bai xing" in modern Chinese indicates common people.

In Japan, the original meaning of the term was also common people, as in China. However, since the late ancient times, the term became a name addressing a particular social status engaged in various regular vocations. Specifically, the social class directly ruled by the ruling class in the local societies was referred to as a hyakusho. This class included not only those who were engaged in agricultural management but also managers in commerce, handicraft, and fishery industries. However, a principle of agricultural fundamentalism stating that the sphere of hyakusho should be agriculture, which did not always match the reality, was gradually passed through and spread since the medieval period, and the term was begun to be understood generally as a person engaged in agriculture. As of now, that was "Sandaijitsuroku" (the sixth of the six classical Japanese history texts) edited in the late ninth century in which the term "hyakusho" indicated for the first time, a person engaged in agriculture.

Note that it is common to pronounce the term as "hyakusei," which is a mixture of the Han reading of Chinese characters and the Wu reading, in the case of a Japanese reading of a Chinese passage or a use in ancient Japanese that is used in the original meaning, or "hyakusho," which is the Wu reading, in a case of a use in Japanese in or after the medieval period. The term is pronounced as "hakusei" in the Han reading. In yamato-kotoba, words of Japanese origin, the Japanese reading "omitakara," which indicates "people who are great treasures of the country and should be cared for by an emperor," is given.

Changes in the portrait of hyakusho in Japan are as follows.

Ancient times
Japanese nation under the ritsuryo codes
In the ancient times, the concept of hyakusho was all classes with surnames that were classified as "Ryo" (law-abiding people) in a family register under the Ritsuryo system, i.e., nobles, government officials, citizens, and zoshikinin (lower-level functionaries in the provincial government), excluding emperors, humble or lowly people without a surname who were classified as "Sen" such as slaves, and Emishi (northerners) who were classified as social outcasts. The citizens, who were main constituents of people belonging to the hyakusho class, were organized by the gunji class, the descendants of classes of ancient local governments' heads up to the early Heian period, and the ruling and tax collection by kokushi (provincial governors) at kokuga (provincial government offices) were conducted through the gunji class.

However, after the late eighth century, as henko-sei (the organization of the people) by the Ritsuryo and domination over the citizens by Handen Shuju ho (the law of periodic reallocations of rice land) gradually loosened, the mechanism of domination and organization of people by the gunji class collapsed, and there were established relations in which children of native kokushi who were newly called the rich and powerful class, gunji, influential farmers and other people turned many citizens into their private slaves by suiko (government loans made to peasants).

Early dynastic nation-state
Thus, instead of having all kokushi shitokan (four officials of the provincial governor) collect tax via the gunji class from each citizen unit registered in a family registry, kokuga collected tax from zuryo, the head of the provincial governors, who grasped people of the rich and powerful class and collected tax from them. This change resulted in a mechanism in which an area of a field administered directly by a ruler and registered in the standardized map of provinces in the reform of the national administration from Emperor Uda to Emperor Daigo in the late ninth century was allocated to the rich and powerful class, and the tax was collected according to the area. As a result of this, the Japanese nation under the ritsuryo codes was changed into the dynastic nation-state, or the early dynastic nation-state, from around the 10th century. A field administered directly by a ruler and reorganized as a unit of contract farming of the field was called myoden (rice field lots in charge of a nominal holder), a person who was registered as a contract farmer was called fumyo, and a wealthy person who was organized as fumyo was called tato. The tato and fumyo class thus formed constituted hyakusho rank of this period and thereafter. Hyakusho were responsible for tax payment according to a contract farming area, but they were free people having the freedom to move and to choose a place to live. Non-free people organized under them included low-ranked people, servants, and retainers.

In the Japanese nation under the ritsuryo codes, all citizens who were registered in the family register were under direct control by the state and were thus hyakusho. In the dynastic nation-state, the tato and fumyo class who organized people and collected tax from them were the only people the state found it necessary to control, and were thus hyakusho. In other words, it can be recognized that those people who were organized under the tato and fumyo class, such as low-ranked people, servants, and retainers, were placed outside the nation's interest. It should be noted that the scheme where hyakusho were the people of the class regarded by national and lord authorities as subjects of their control became the baseline in history thereafter.

In the early dynastic nation-state, the tato and fumyo class cooperated with kokuga's administrative affairs as local officials but at the same time, they often gathered country by country to appeal to the Imperial Court or to wage anti-zuryo conflicts such as attacks against zuryo. Samurai emerged as officials for practical works in military affairs who were responsible for suppressing or conciliating them. However, samurai in this period were also tato or fumyo who were guaranteed an economical base as a solder.

Late dynastic nation-state
In the middle of the 11th century, ikkoku heikin-yaku (taxes and labor uniformly imposed on shoen [manor in the medieval Japan] and kokugaryo [provincial land] in a province) was frequently imposed across the country as extraordinary taxation to build an inner court of the Imperial Court. To enable taxation with respect to accredited shoen, accreditation of shoen and unification of territories were carried out. The system was thereby changed to the late dynastic nation-state in which koryo (an Imperial demesne) dominated by kokuga and shoen as equal actors of right struggled in border settings and the like. The social structure constituted of shoen and koryo units thereafter called a shoen koryo sei (the system of public lands and private estates).

Hyakusho, i.e., the tato and fumyo class, was separated into hyakusho belonging to koryo and hyakusho belonging to shoen, and became parties of armed conflicts between shoen and koryo and as a result, the conflict forms observed in the early dynastic nation-state in which people gathered country by country disappeared rapidly.

Tax was collected from ikkoku heikin-yaku from the accredited and unified shoen through shokan (an officer governing shoen), and koryo underwent regional restructuring into new units of gun, go, and ho accordingly. Gunji, goji (local government official under the ritsuryo system), and hoji (officer governing koryo, or public land) were placed as persons in charge of tax collection, police, and trials, and tax was collected through them. Shokan, gunji, goji, and hoji were expected to be someone who could tolerate the armed conflicts between shoen and koryo, and there were increasing numbers of cases where the gunji families from the ancient times were overthrown and replaced by samurai to be appointed to the positions. Consequently, there emerged an established scheme in which with the qualifications of shokan, gunji, goji, and hoji, samurai dominated local hyakusho as a resident landlord.

Medieval period
When MINAMOTO no Yoritomo became Kamakura-dono (lord of Kamakura) as a result of the Jisho-Juei War and established the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), shogunal retainers (of the Kamakura bakufu) who were samurai serving kamakura-dono were substituted for the old gunji, goji, shokan and appointed to jito (manager and lord of manor). They served kamakura-dono as shogunal retainers, while serving kokuga and lords of shoen as jito who were in charge of tax collection, police, and trials to take over the duties of conventional gunji, goji, and shokan. Under this system, armed conflicts between shoen and koryo were concluded. Shoen and koryo were divided and organized into myoden as in the previous period, and hyakusho were appointed to nanushi (village headman) of the rice field lots to be responsible for payment of nengu (land tax), kuji (public duties), and buyaku (compulsory services). Nanushi hyakusho also had myoshu-shiki, which were the rights to dominate local lower-class people, such as hyakusho who owned little plow land, tenant farmers, and moto (new comers in a community), and the myoshu-shiki was transferred by heredity.


In the Edo period, a person who possessed (1) a field and (2) a house and land (farmer described in the cadastral register) and paid both (3) nengu and (4) miscellaneous taxes was regarded as hyakusho (hon-byakusho [peasant] or yakuya [peasants]) ("early hon-byakusho"). Hyakusho in wartime was regarded as a person who bore compulsory service in wartime for transporting provisions. In the early villages, the hierarchy which was inherited from the previous period was significant, and there were a large number of families who lacked any of (1), (2), (3), (4), and (5) (peasants who owned little plow land or various subordinate people). In regions of the yakuya (peasant) system, there are cases in which they were divided into honyaku (the predetermined amount of tax to be the tax standard for people), hanyaku, shihanyaku, mizuyaku and the like according to an amount and type of fueki (slave labor) to be borne.


Feudal lords, exemplified by the Edo bakufu, made efforts to increase and maintain the number of such hon-byakusho, and as the peaceful period continued to realize social stability, cultivation of land was developed. Gradually, hon-byakusho was branched and subordinate people became "independent," and in the middle of the 17th century and thereafter, villages of the murauke system (village-wide, collective responsibility for tax payment) were established and a farmer called takamochi-byakusho (a person managing a farm by employing farm workers) who possessed (1) a field and (2) a house and land came to be recognized, as hon-byakusho. Collection of nengu and miscellaneous taxes was difficult without relying on the influential power that early hon-byakusho had in the villages, but it can be evaluated that a system that could rely on the murauke system was completed.

However, in principle, the conditions (1), (2), (3), (4), and (5) were carried through. For example, there were some people in the eta outcast group living in villages who were takamochi. Although they bore (a part of) (3) nengu and (4) miscellaneous taxes according to their farm, since they did not bare (5) compulsory services in wartime, they were not hyakusho. There were mountain villages (communities) and villages by the coast without (1) a field. Even such villages certainly had (2) houses and land, and takamochi-hyakusho who possessed them were regarded as hon-byakusho.

As a result of social changes in the middle and the later Edo period, the disparity between rich and poor in hyakusho became significant ("dissolution of the peasant class"). Hyakusho who fell from being takamochi were called mizunomi-byakusho (landless farmers), tenants, and the like. On the other hand, hyakusho who accumulated wealth grew from murakata-jinushi (influential landowners in the villages) to be wealthy farmers. Hyakusho who held the position of a village officer were called omae-byakusho (wealthy farmers), whereas hyakusho who did not hold such a position were called komae-byakusho (small farmers).

Various vocations

People with various vocations lived in actual villages. The image hyakusho=peasants was an old, popular saying from the Edo period, but the actual scope includes a wide range of vocations similar to today's "part-time farmer."

Carpenters and smiths were practiced by people who belonged to the craftsmen rank, or by mizunomi (landless farmers), tenants, or hyakusho.

Sawyers, roofers, plasterers, hairdressers, and tatami mat makers were practiced by mizunomi, tenants, or hyakusho.

Religious people
Shinto priest: In the Edo period, the Yoshida family and the Shirakawa family (Hakke) competed as honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor) to gain shrines and Shinto priests across the country. However, nationwide organization by the families did not end even at the end of the Edo period, and there was a significant proportion of "hyakusho priests," who served as Shinto priests while staying at the farming rank. There were cases in which a hyakusho priest, who desired to obtain the Shinto priest rank, and a village, which desired to keep the hyakusho priest at the hyakusho rank, had different wishes and repeated trials. There also were hyakusho priests who refused to serve under honjo.

Buddhist monks: All were of the Buddhist monk rank.

Doctors: Mostly practiced by mizunomi, tenants, or hyakusho. However, there were cases where they were treated as "ronin" (masterless samurai), depending on the relationship with a feudal lord or history such as one's origin (roots).

Merchants: Practiced by mizunomi, tenants, or hyakusho. There was no merchant rank in the Edo period, and "sho" (merchants) in Shinokosho (hereditary four-status order consisting of warrior-rulers, peasants, artisans, and merchants) indicated townspeople.

Fishing people: Practiced by mizunomi, tenants, or hyakusho. There was not an established "fishing people" rank in the Edo period.

As described above, there were people in villages who earned their living by various vocations. It can be seen that the social rank they belonged to depended on movements of honjo organizing the social rank and maturity of the social rank. The differences largely depended on the types of vocations as well as time and regions.

Formation and transition of modern conception of hyakusho
In the modern times when western modern history was introduced, analysis of Japanese history based on the idea of the evolution phase concept of history, exemplified by Marxist history, was carried out, and it became a common theory that the historical hyakusho rank was defined as a serfdom in the feudalism phase. Due to such history, an idea emerged that hyakusho were peasants and ruled people who were exploited under the feudal system. The modern secondary and tertiary industries were established by recruiting people from the local village societies, which were places of the hyakusho rank's activities, and a concept emerged that people who were engaged in conventional vocations in comparison with modern vocations were hyakusho. Combined with the conventional concept that cities were sophisticated whereas the countryside was vulgar, there was a tendency in the postwar society to recognize that the term "hyakusho" was a discriminatory term with respect to agriculture workers and, thus, except for cases in which an agriculture worker calls himself or herself "hyakusho," use of the expression "hyakusho" is often refrained in mass media and the like. In TV programs taking up a historical issue, it is common to replace the term with "peasant" even when the term indicates its original meaning which is the hyakusho rank. In TV dramas such as "Mitokomon," Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA uses the term with the prefix "o," i.e., "ohyakusho" when addressing a peasant. Before self-restraints became popular, there were many scenes in fiction such as cartoons and films about mafia and conflicts between juvenile delinquents where the term "hyakusho" is used to refer to someone whom he or she is fighting with. This is mere vilification without any serious meaning among juvenile delinquents and mafia who valued appearance, in the picture that hyakusho = peasants = country fellows = unfashionable people. Thus, the term can be put otherwise in any way and there is certainly no intention to diminish peasants, and the term is less heard due to self-restraints as described above.

In recent years, historian Yoshihiko AMINO revealed that people who belonged to the hyakusho rank in the medieval and modern societies engaged in a wide range of vocations including peasants, mountain people, fishing people, craftsmen, and merchants, and criticized the conventional historical view of "hyakusho = peasants" to collectively refer to them. In today's historical science, the unilinear evolution phase concept of history focused mainly on Western Europe is sharply criticized. Thus, there is less recognition that the term "hyakusho" is a discriminatory term.

It is not always true that actual agriculture workers considered the term "hyakusho" as discriminatory, and some practical farmers who are proud of themselves, call themselves hyakusho. Some of these practical farmers find their identity in revival of the fact that people of the historical hyakusho class engaged in various vocations and grew various crops to avoid monoculture. They project the meaning of the Chinese character "百" (hundred) of the term "hyakusho" onto the diversity of vocations and crops, and often defines people who engage in agriculture with such diversity are the "hyakusho."

It should be noted that the meaning of the term "hyakusho" used by a person to refer to himself or herself is completely different from that used by a third party. Specifically, in view of the Marxist history described above, although the term "hyakusho" originally had a discriminatory meaning, when the term is recognized as self identification of his or her rank, it comes to have a meaning of demonstrating his or her identity to other people as a converted stigma. Specifically, it is not exaggerated to say that the phrase "we hyakusho are..." has a meaning that contains connotations of pride. On the contrary, use of the term "hyakusho" to address an individual peasant would be considered as a strong derogatory term, because that causes the peasant to accept the stigma as a negative meaning.