Katanagari (sword hunt) (刀狩)

Katanagari (written as 刀狩 or 刀狩り) was a policy of heinobunri (separating warriors and peasants) which deprived those in the peasant class of their privilege of wearing swords, which highlighted the policy enacted by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI through the katanagari edict (at the same time, pirate ship interdiction) issued on August 29, 1588 in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (The first person who executed katanagari was Katsuie SHIBATA. In June 1585, before the edict was issued, Hideyoshi obtained pledges from monks in the Kongobu-ji Temple to disarm, which is regarded by some people as the first attempt at katanagari. Katanagari is generally known as a policy of seeking to disarm a farming village by prohibiting peasants from owning arms and confiscating them.

Hideyoshi's Katanagari

Katanagari edict issued by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI consisted of the three items below:

Strictly prohibit the peasants from possessing weapons including katana (sword), wakizashi (sword shorter than katana), bow (weapon), yari (spear), and muskets. Punish those who carry unnecessary weapons to disobey the orders of officials by refusing to pay land taxes or by staging ikki uprisings.

Melt confiscated weapons for use as nails and clamps to build Daibutsu (Great Buddha) which was under construction in the Hoko-ji Temple. Peasants would be rewarded for such deeds, and be saved in the next life as well.

If peasants possess agricultural tools alone and engage themselves completely in cultivation, their prosperity will extend to their descendents. We confiscate weapons from the peasants based on our compassion for them. The peasants should be obliged to us and assiduous in their farming.

In the development of katanagari, the government trumpeted that the confiscated arms would be made into material for the Great Buddha hall of Hoko-ji Temple. In the Japanese medieval society, an offering of sword to Buddha was generally accepted as an expression of belief such that when regent Yasutoki HOJO prohibited the Buddhist monks in the city of Kamakura from wearing swords in the Kamakura period, he declared that he would contribute the confiscated swords to Kotoku-in Temple.

It was recorded in some documents such as "Tamonin Nikki" (Diary of Tamonin) written by Eishun (a monk in the Kofuku-ji Temple) and the like that the primary objective of the katanagari policy was preventing ikki (political community based on a league). In other words, with katanagari policy, the government sought to directly deter the peasants from forming ikki by disarming the soson (a community consisting of peasants' self-governing association) which would otherwise have the physical power to have peasants form an ikki league and revolt against the government. Soson villages, which were autonomous organizations formed by peasants at the time, had jurisdiction as well as military forces and police authority required to protect their jurisdiction based on the right to rule themselves, and owned enormous amounts of weapons. They also possessed a large quantity of arms, and multiple soson were united to form an ikki league which would resist the lord of the land. In 1585, prior to katanagari edict, Hideyoshi confiscated weapons from negoroshu (armed monks with muskets at more than 500 temples in Negoro district collectively called Negoro Temple) and saigashu (or saikashu: musket troop of powerful families in Kishu who supported Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple), and Katsuie SHIBATA, a retainer to Nobunaga ODA, also executed a katanagari policy for putting down ikko ikki in the Echizen Province.

Actually, however, the katanagari edict developed as a means to deliver or confiscate swords and short swords, while arms used for religious ceremonies and muskets for getting rid of noxious beasts were still allowed, leaving a great deal of weapons in the villages even after the execution of the katanagari edict. In other words, Hideyoshi's katanagari edict could not completely disarm soson. In many cases, the katanagari edict was implemented on the basis of murauke (village-wide, collective responsibility for tax payment), that is, the right of jikendan of soson.

Throughout the medieval era, the possession of weapons prevailed in Japan with civilians customarily wearing swords. People would often resort to force to solve even trivial matters, and Hideyoshi addressed this by prohibiting any conflict resolution using weapons (kenka choji rei (edict prohibiting quarrel and fighting)) throughout the nation in parallel with katanagari edict, which was inherited by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun).

Based on the above-mentioned circumstances, the strongest theory as of late was that Hideyoshi's katanagari edict was aimed at the heinobunri, controlling the use of weapons by revoking the right for peasants to wear a sword and not aimed at disarming those in the peasant class.

Subsequent developments of katanagari

Later, upon introducing 'bunchi seiji' (civilian government), the Edo bakufu resumed control over the custom of sword bearing (in 1688, which was expanded throughout the nation in 1683). This was no more than a symbolic policy of control over wearing two swords which represents the status (see wakizashi), and fell short of eradicating the great deal of weapons stored in the rural villages. In the Edo period after civil wars had ended and the nation was stabilized, although the peasants formed ikki in spite of the ostensible prohibition and held demonstrations (goso) to demand their rights, a certain compromise had been reached, and those on the side of the ikki refrained from using such long range weapons as muskets and bows which were most effective in battle.

These cache of weapons in the rural villages were almost completely eradicated under the Occupation policy by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (GHQ) which was carried out after the Empire of Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration for the Pacific War and the Instrument of Surrender was signed. After the Firearm and Sword Control Law was enforced in 1946, civilians were prohibited from possessing firearms for use other than hunting and target shooting and Japanese swords for use other than works of art. After the enforcement of the law, as many as one million swords were allegedly confiscated. As such, the police completely enforced this law and completely confiscated such weapons. Since those who planned revolutions bore arms and gangs (yakuza) started conflicts, the law was reinforced and a several month examination (the period depends on the kind of firearms) was required to possess a firearm-related weapon, making the legal possession of firearms for the purpose of violence virtually impossible in any event in Japan.