Kanbun-inchi was a law established through a series of documents, namely ryochi-hanmono (a shogunal letter of authorization for the possesion of and ruling over a fief), shuinjo (shogunal letters with a red seal) and ryochi-mokuroku (a document supplementing ryoci-hanmono indicating the details of a fief) which were simaltaneously issued by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) to daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) throughout the country on April 5, fourth year of the Kanbun era in the old calendar (April 30, 1664). Similar documents were also issued to kuge (court noble), monzeki (successor of a temple), temples, shrines and so on in the following year, and accordingly, the Edo bakufu established each daimyu's right to possess and rule its fief and the right of prople and institutions to control individual territories both nominally and virtually. Shuinjo which had been possessed till then by daimyo, kuge, temples and shrines throughout the country were returned first and new shuinjo were issued to them at the same time. As a result, this event was called Kanbun-no-shuin-aratame (renewal of shuinjo in the Kanbun era), and the newly issued shuinjo were particularly called 'Kanbun-no-shuinjo'.
Documents cncerning the granting of fiefs, such as ryochi-hanmono and shuinjo, used to be issued to individual owners at different times, but the bakufu gave an order to all daimyo over the nation to return such documents to it, on March 7 (according to old lunar calendar), 1664. Subsequently, ryochi-hanmono, shuinjo and ryochi-mokuroku, written in the same format respectively, were issued simultaneously to daimyo throughout the country under the name of Ietsuna TOKUGAWA, Seiitaishogun (seiitaishogun: barbarian-quelling generalissimo). These documents were issued to 219 families in total, excluding gosanke (御三家: three privileged branches of the Tokugawa family), the gosanke-equivalent Kofu Tokugawa and Tatebayashi Tokugawa families, and the Sendai Date clan for whom granting of the documents was put off to a later date because they did not agree to the way their two branch domains, Uwajima and Iyo Yoshida, were treated.
Subsequently, a similar order for the return of documents was given to kuge, monzeki, temples and shrines on March 1 (old lunar calendar), 1665, and the new ryochi-hanmono, shuinjo and ryochi-mokuroku, each prepared in an identical format, were issued successively from July on in the same year. New ryochi-hanmono, shuinjo and ryochi-mokuroku were individually granted to kuge, those temples and shrines which had received shuinjo from more than one Tokugawa Shogun in the past or which possessed a territory of more than 500,000 koku (of rice). For those temples and shrines which do not fit the conditions mentioned above, however, the documents such as shuinjo were granted on a collective basis to their higher institution, for instance, the head temple of their religious school. As a consequence, the documents were issued to 97 kuge, 27 monzeki temples, 27 convents, 12 inge (a branch temple to support services of the main temple), 1076 temples of other types, 365 shrines, and 7 others.
In the ryochi-mokuroku were specified the name of the provinces (as governed in accordance with the ritsuryo codes) including their counties and villages, and their kokudaka (stipend assessed in terms of rice production), granted by the Tokugawa Shogun family, thus concretely determining the range of a territory for each manorial head. The format and shosatsurei (letter-writing rules and etiquette) applied to ryochi-hanmono, shuinjo and ryochi-mokuroku issued thereafter by the Edo bakufu were standardized using those of the ones issued in 1664.
People engaged in practical business of issuing those documents as bugyo (magistrate, shogunate administrator) included Naganori OGASAWARA and Naotsune NAGAI, who covered the domains of daimyo, Masanori INABA, the territories of kuge, Masatoshi INOUE and Naozumi KAGATSUME, the territories of temples and shrines, and Masayuki KUBO (yuhitsu [amanuensis]) who was in charge of document drafting and amending. The total number of ryochi-hanmono, shuinjo and ryochi-mokuroku issued reached 1830. The contents of these documents were later compiled into a documentary literature called "Kanbun-inchi-shu" (or under some different names including "Kanbun-inchi-dome"). It is not known when or by whom Kanbun-inchi-shu was compiled, and there exist a number of manuscripts and alternative versions of this literature, which work as the basic documents showing how the Edo bakufu administered the nation in those days. Also, Kanbun-inchi-shu shows the then distribution of daimyo and each daimyo's kokudaka throughout the country almost completely, and the daimyo distribution map based on this literature is often used in school textbooks on Japanese history.
When Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA became the fifth shogun in 1684, a total of 4,878 documents including shuinjo was regranted to daimyo, kuge, temples and shrines including small-scale temples and shrines which had not been covered by Kanbun-inchi, which was called tugime-ando (tsugime: inheritance, ando: recognition and guarantee by the lord of a vassal's rights regarding a piece of land or an estate, tsugime-ando [only referring to ones carried out in the Edo period]: renewal of such recognition and gurantee by each shogun]). This tsugime-ando came to be carried out at each shogunal succession from the eighth shogun Yoshimune TOKUGAWA and thereafter.