Kubunden (a term related to fields) (口分田)

Kubunden indicates a field supplied uniformly to common people in the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code). It is considered that a bare field in the equal-field system in Northern Wei (in China) was the predecessor of kubunden. After that, kubunden was specified in the Tang ritsuryo code. It is considered that, in Japan, kubunden was introduced as it was in Tang, because the system in Tang was used as a reference in establishing the ryo (or ritsuryo) code in the Asuka period.

Prehistory (Bare fields in the period from Northern Wei to Sui)

The equal-field system started in Northern Wei. The objective of the equal-field system was to supply a field uniformly to the common people, in order to make them pay taxes and to make them work for military purposes.

The system in Northern Wei was as follows: A bare field (arable field) of approx. 1.87 hectares and a field for hemp of approx. 0.47 hectares were supplied to each of the males at the age of 15 or older, and a bare field of approx. 0.93 hectares and a field for hemp of approx. 0.23 hectares to each female, and these fields had to be returned when the age of 59 was reached. It is considered that this constituted the origin of kubunden in later eras. A mulberry field of approx. 0.93 hectares was supplied to each male additionally, and it was specified that this field was inheritable. It is considered that this was the origin of hereditary fields, and in addition to human beings, each head of cattle was also supplied a field of approx. 1.2 hectares (however, it is also said that these fields might have been supplied up to four heads of cattle for four years). Bare fields of the same sizes were also supplied. These fields were called baiden (double fields) to prevent the same field from being used over consecutive years, and resultantly, a field of approx. 55.8 hectares were supplied to a pair of husband and wife. Mulberry fields were supplied in the area where silk was produced, and fields for hemp were supplied in other areas.

The term of kubunden appeared for the first time in the Northern Qi which was separated from the Northern Wei, and Sue that succeeded the Northern Qi also employed an equal-field system. In the equal-field system in Sui, it was specified that a bare field of approx. 3.72 hectares and an inheritable field (segyoden) of approx. 0.93 hectares should be supplied to each male (the system to supply fields to wives, slaves and cattle was abolished). The bare fields were confiscated when the specified time arrived, but it was permitted to inherit segyoden from generation to generation.

Kubunden in Tang

In 624, Tang established a new ritsuryo code based on the ritsuryo code in the previous dynasty of Sui. Kubunden was specified in the field-related ryo code in it. In the field-related ryo code, it is specified that a field of approx. five hectares should be supplied to each adult man (teidan), of which approx. four hectares was supplied as kubunden and the remaining approx. one hectare as segyoden (this term was changed to eigyoden later).

It was specified that while eigyoden could be inherited from generation to generation, kubunden should be confiscated when the age of 60 was reached. It has been seriously argued whether the field people used for a long time could be confiscated smoothly. It is considered that, to maintain the public position, part of the field that had been used for generations might have been called eigyoden and the remaining one as kubunden actually.

Extinction of kubunden

Towards the end of the Tang era (towards end of the eighth century), persons owning large land areas increased, gradually destroying the equal field system. It is considered that kubunden became extinct in this trend.

Kubunden in Japan

It is said that, in the ritsuryo code in Japan, a field of approx. 24 ares was supplied to each male as kubunden, and a field of approx. of 16 ares to a female as kubunden, and tax was collected from the crops from these fields.

Specifications in ritsuryo codes

In the field-related ryo code in the existing Yoro ritsuryo code, kubunden is specified as follows:

Article 3: A kubunden of approx. 24 ares should be supplied to each male, and that of a female should be reduced by one-third. No kubungen should be supplied to a person of five years old or younger. In areas where lots of land is available or in areas where not enough land is available, the common law in the area should be followed. In the case of Yakuden (fields not much fitted for growing crops), an area twice that of kubunden should be supplied. After kubunden was supplied, its boundaries (Shishi (the northern, southern, eastern, and western boundaries of a tract of land)) should be clarified.

Article 21: The field should be supplied every six years. When a person dies, its kubunden should be confiscated when the kubunden-supplying year arrives.

Article 23: To have a field supplied, its application must be made to Daijokan (Grand Council of State) by the 30th of January of a kubunden-supplying year.

Article 27: To each slave owned by the government (slaves in the kanko status), the same amount of kubunden as that for an ordinary person (called ryojin) must be supplied. To each privately-owned slave (called keninnuhi), a field whose area is one-third of that of an ordinary person, or an area dependent on the availability of land in the area, should be supplied.

The history of the introduction and decline of kubunden

It is considered that the original kubunden system began to be formed around the Taika Reforms, or in the middle era of the seventh century, and was established towards the end of seventh century when the ritsuryo system was formed. According to the records available, fields were supplied to people (called handen) steadily throughout the eighth century (or the Nara period), but the supply of fields stopped after 800. It is considered that the kubunden system would have declined correspondingly. This suggests that a certain amount of tax became to be able to be secured without using the kubunden system.

However, even in the era when handen-based field supply was being provided as specified, all did not always function smoothly. Although paddy fields should have basically been supplied as handen, fields with no water supply available were sometimes supplied because paddy fields available were limited. There were the following cases as well: Based on the common law of the area (or area-dependent law), a field smaller than the one specified was actually supplied, or kubunden was supplied at a far away place. In the Shima Province in particular, deals with paddy fields in the Ise and Owari Provinces as the kubunden of the Shima Province were approved, because available paddy fields there were extremely small.

Although it was prohibited to trade, transfer and pawn kubunden, problems, such as pawning kubunden, began arising starting towards the latter half of the Nara period. When handen-based field supply became unstably provided, kubunden were traded or transferred. When handen-based field supply ceased, kubunden effectively became owned by farmers.

Differences between kubunden in Japan and that in the Tang

The ritsuryo code in Japan was basically an imitation of the Tang's ritsuryo code, and specifications in the Tang's ritsuryo code were used for those of the kubunden system in Japan as well. However, some modifications were made depending on situations in Japan.
These differences between the kubunden system in Japan and that in the Tang were follows:

The persons eligible for the supply: both males and females in Japan, and males alone in the Tang

The ages eligible for supply: Six years old or older in Japan (until one dies), and only adult men in the Tang (until the age of 59 is reached)

The size of the land area supplied: approx. 16 to 24 ares in Japan, and approx. five hectares in the Tang

Eigyoden: No specification for eigyoden is made in Japan.

From those described above, it could be roughly said that the range of eligibility for the land supply is larger in Japan, but the size of the land area supplied was smaller in Japan. This could be considered coming from the fact that, at that time, arable land was more scarce in Japan and the population was smaller in Japan as well. It is estimated that the population of Japan in the Nara period was approx. five million and the arable land area was approx. 1.2 million hectares (compared with approx. 4.8 million hectares in early 21st century).

口分田 (Kubunden) remaining as geographical names or family names

A geographical name of 口分田 (pronounced as kumode in this case) remains in Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture. 口分田 is also used as a family name, which is considered to originate in this place, and actually, the name of the honorary chairman of the wild bird society of Shiga Prefecture is 口分田 政博 (Masahiro KUMODE). In the past, a person with the name of 口分田 was included in the those related to the Genroku Ako Incident (an Ako province-related incident that occurred in the Genroku era (1688 - 1704)).