Kuji (公事)

Kuji (Oyakegoto) is one of terms in Japanese history and used in the following meanings.

Kuji as government affairs

Ceremony of the government affairs or the related affairs in the Imperial Court in the ancient and medieval Japan.

Kuji as an imposition

Imposition provisionally put at shoen (manor), koryo (an Imperial demesne), za (guild) and so on in the ancient and medieval Japan. In one case, it refers to miscellaneous taxes excluding nengu (annual tribute) and shoto (tax on rice field), and in another case, it's limited to statute labor.

Kuji as suits

It refers to trial or suit, specifically, civil suit, in medieval and modern times of Japan.

Kuji as government affairs

Initially, it referred to general government affairs of the Imperial Court. There is a wording of 'Kujifushigi 公事不私議' (Kyokurai 〔review of rites〕・ Shimo (the second of two volumes) 曲礼・下) in Shurei (Rites of Zhou), so it could be considered the words began to be used accompanied by introduction of the ritsuryo system from the Chinese continent. Also, in a more limited sense, kuji referred to kankai (audit) of shidonokumon (daikeicho, shozeicho, chocho and choshucho) created by kokushi to record the land tax collection such as soyocho (a tax system, corvee) and the income and expenditure of financial affairs.

After the Heian period, as ritualization's growing in the Imperial Court, the management of annual events that took place in every season such as Sechie (seasonal court banquets) and jimoku (appointment ceremonies) began to occupy the most of the government affairs, at the same time, consultation such as Jin no sadame (ancient cabinet council) and suit began to be integrated into it. The government affairs and the related rituals based on such sequence of annual events in the Imperial Court were called kuji. Kuji had been carried on based on the decree such as 'Engishiki (an ancient book for codes and procedures on national rites and prayers)' or various official or personal ceremonial books regarding 'Jogan gishiki (ceremony in the manner of Jogan period)', 'Saikyuki (record of court practices and usage, written by MINAMOTO no Takaaki in Chinese style)' or 'Hokuzansho (a representative book of ceremonies for the Heian period written by FUJIWARA no Kinto)' by court nobles including shokei (court nobles who work at Imperial Court as high rank post) who served as bugyo (administrator), and government officials such as Benkan (a controller of the Oversight Department), Geki (Secretary of the Grand Council of State) and Shi (recorder) (the risturyo system) who provided with clerical assistance, under the sponsorship of Emperor or Chiten no kimi (the retired emperor in power). In this process, court nobles wanted to hand down the knowledge on kuji to their descendants by writing down in diary or binding as book (Nikki no ie). By the establishment of the hereditary government office system, the immobilization of Kuge's family lineage and the heredity of the post of the government officials increased. This accumulation of the knowledge was later systematized into a lerning to be developped into Yusoku-kojitsu (knowledge of court rules, ceremony, decorum and records of the past).

However, as the Imperial Court losing its power after the Kamakura period, the political or financial support to maintain the events of the Imperial Court began to lessen, then, many kuji were downscaled or simplified and some of them were abolished. In the background of court nobles' creation of the books on the study of ancient courtly traditions and etiquette such as 'Kuji Gojuban Utaawase' by Yoshimoto NIJO and 'Kuji kongen (the Rules of Court, a book on court rules of ceremonies and etiquettes written in the Muromachi period)' by Kaneyoshi ICHIJO, there was their purpose to get back the power of the Imperial Court by restoring kuji, but after Onin War, kuji came to remain in name only.


In the medieval period, all of miscellaneous taxes excluding land tax called nengu, shoto or kanmotsu (tribute goods paid as taxes or tithes) were called kuji. It derived from the provisional imposition by the Imperial Court replacing yo or cho of Heian period, but along with the establishment of shoen koryo sei (manor and public land system), it began to be collected even in manor, public land and za, which continued until the establishment of a new taxation system by taiko kenchi (the land survey by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI).

There are different ways to classify kuji. Corresponding to the officials that handled the imposition, there were chokuji (chokuyaku) (tax imposed by the Imperial Court), inji (inyaku) (imposed by In), kokuji (kokuyaku) (imposed by kokushi), shinji (shinyaku) (imposed by Shinto shrine), butsuji (butsuyaku) (imposed by Buddhist temple), tenyaku (provisional imposition for any emergency or construction), honjoyaku (imposed by administrative headquarters of manor), honkeyaku (imposed by head family), azukaridokoroyaku (imposed by custodian), gesuyaku (imposed by lower ranking officer), bukeyaku (general tax imposed in Kamakura and Muromachi Bakufu), jitoyaku (imposed by manager and lord of manor), shugoyaku (imposed by provincial constable) and so on. Corresponding to the tax payer, there were hyakushoyaku (peasant tax), tatoyaku (cultivator tax), 名役, shoyaku, gokeninyaku (shogunal retainer tax), shugoyaku (provincial constable tax), zuryoyaku (provincial governor tax), gesuyaku, azukaridokoroyaku, keishiyaku (household superintendent tax), honjoyaku and so on (some of those overlapped, but it's not a mistake, it shows some people in the middle rank could have been a tax imposer as well as a tax payer. Moreover, corresponding to the object that was subject to imposition, there were gokeninyaku, shoyaku, keigoyaku (guard tax), ninpuyaku (coolie duty), tansen (a tax on arable land), munebetsu (tax on building), ninbetsu (tax on people), mabetsu, ushibetsu (tax on cow), hobetsu (tax on sail), yamate (a toll collected at the station of the road), kawate (a toll collected at the checkpoint of the river), urayaku (coolie duty), sekisen (toll), tsuryo (a toll collected at a harbor), ichibasen (tax imposed to the market in shoen), zasen (reward paid by member of za to protector), sechiryo (food and drink of events or its expense), ikkonryo (reisen) (gift of money) and so on. Moreover, tax was imposed on a person, a person's house, or the area of a person's rice field in accordance with tax regulations.
(Tax was originally imposed on a person, but the imposition of tax on a person's house (including adjacent residential land, fields and residents) and that on the area of a person's rice field were established in later generations.)
Based on the details of the tax burden to be borne, tax at that time could be classified into 'compulsory service,' which was provided with labor service, or other categories such as 'zokuji' (statute labor) and 'manzokuji' (general term of compulsory service and miscellaneous tax). Zokuji is called just 'kuji' and distinguished from nengu (annual tribute, land tax) and shoto (tax on rice field). Zokuji had mainly been paid with local products and the processed goods (polished rice, sake, oil, rice cake, wheat, fish, firewood, fodder, vegetables, lacquer, paper, straw mats), but later bagan to be paid with money most of the time.

Kuji as a form of taxation

In the mid Heian period when annual events became organized as a part of kuji in the political affairs, the taxation system of the ritsuryo system fell apart, so the management cost of the Imperial Court including kuji became to be borne by zuryo (provincial governor) who were kokushi. The events in the established custome were alloted from nenryo (annual tribute) and ritsubun (ritsubun 〔the tax system where two-tenth of the tax delivered from the provinces to the Ministry of Finance at Heian-kyo were supplied to the tax storage called "ritsubun-do"〕) that is said to have replaced yo and cho, and the extra events were borne by each province in form of meshimono or shoka (imposition) allocated by gyojisyo or kurodo dokoro (the Office of Imperial Household Logistics). Moreover, the building or repairing cost of dairi (Imperial Palace) or temples and shrines were also born by Zuryo of each privince as a part of kuji, and if zuryo couldn't take all of it by themselves, it was allowed for them to impose the rest of the load they couldn't bear to people in name of rinji zoyaku (temporary odd-job tasks) or kuniyaku (public duties) (kokuga kuji). The land tax separately imposed from the original imposition such as nengu, shoto and kanmotsu in name of kuji began to be called 'kuji' (also referred to as 'kuyo'). In the 12th century, Ikkoku heikinyaku (taxes and labor uniformly imposed on shoen (manor) and kokugaryoi (provincial land) in a province) called 'shichikakuji' or 'hakkakuji' such as yakubukumai (a special kind of taxation on rice levied by the grand shrines) of Ise Jingu Shrine, zodairi-yaku (a public duty), service of daijoe (Great Thanksgiving), zononomiyayaku, kugyochokushiyaku and so on were established.

Development of kuji.

In the 12th century, as shoen koryo sei (The System of Public Lands and Private Estates) was coming to be established, court nobles, temples and shrines, that were also lord of the manor, began to apply for the exemption of imposition to their manor such as Ikkoku heikinyaku (taxes and labor uniformly imposed on shoen (manor) and kokugaryoi (provincial land) in a province) with the Imperial Court, and began to take in the peasantry that had belonged to both manor and koryo as their own shomin (people of the manor). At the same time, they began to impose 'kuji' in addition to usual nengu at the time of annual event or any extra event such as Buddhist mass. Also, in some cases, there was a coolie duty to deliver collected nengu or kuji to lord of the manor or other extra compulsory service such as guard or repair of the related facilities, which were also referred to as kuji. Azukaridokoro (custodian) that was handling the management in place of lord of the manor or feudal lord made a land survey to determine honzaike (or nanushi) (village headman) and imposed it as zaikeyaku (or 名役).

Moreover, even in the structure of kokuga managed by kokushi, mokudai (deputy) and Zaichokanjin (the local officials in Heian and Kamakura periods), they began to ask Kokugaryo (territories governed by provincial government office) under their control to bear the load of guard of kokushi's residence or repair of Kokubun-ji Temple or Ichinomiya, thus a land survey was carried on as in shoen to impose kuji as zaikeyaku.

As collecting methods of kuji, there were hibetsukuji corresponding to calculation on a daily basis, tsukiwarikuji corresponding to calculation on a monthly basis, myobetsukuji corresponding to the unit of myo, danbetsukuji corresponding to the size of land, kintomyosei in which the load of kuji was allocated corresponding to the size of myoden, bantosei in which banto (head clerk) selected from each ban that was a piece of land divided from shonai directed people in turn to impose kuji, tomyoshusei in which kuji was imposed to tomyoshu (honmyoshu, myodai, myohon) who appeared after disolution of myo system and so on. Moreover, in the Sengoku period (period of warring states) of Japan, there was a case that kujida was set up to collect only kuji. In addition, in the case that the statute labor was exempted because of bearing a particular kuji such as compulsory service, it was called menden (duty free agricultural field), menhata, menke or menzaike.

These kuji were on the extended line of the imposition on human body such as cho or yo in the earlier days, so it was considered that bearing kuji of 'myoshu hyakusho no eki' was for people living in the manor or kokugaryo an obligation as commoner peasants = free people (on the other hand, nengu and shoto were positioned on the extended line of so that was an imposition to rice field). On the other hand, people originally having no qualification as residents such as waki zaike (branch zaike), low ranked people, retainers and so on had no obligation to bear kuji. However, after Muromachi period when the myo system began to dissolve, the distinction between tax bearers and non-tax bearers became unclear, so even non-tax bearers began to be imposed kuji. Also, kuji that had been supposed to be paid with labor came to be load corresponding to financial power such as zaikebetsu or tanbetsu, and an imposition demanding money called daisenno or kujisen also began to be applied. Also, a method separately imposing 'nenguji' that was paid with nengu and 'kujiji' that was paid with kuji began to be applied, but power of imposition kuji had as well as existence of kujiji were denied by Taiko kenchi (Hideyoshi Toyotomi's nationwide land survey), then it turned to be a taxation system mainly paying with rice.

Service of Shokunomin (workers engaged in special vocations)

In the late 12th century when Kamakura bakufu was founded, Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"), a leader of samurai family, built a system of the political authority, government affairs and annual events as 'kuji' (as government affairs), and imposed 'kuji' to gokenin, vassals.

Gokenin was appointed as shugo or jito by shogun to be approved their shoryo (territory), and also given a protection such as exemption of kuji that were supposed to be imposed to commoners and peasants, but as a compensation, they bore different kinds of kuji called gokeninyaku (favour and service). Kuji borne by gokenin was collected in form of money through Mandokoro except something human. This was particularly called Kanto-kuji (public duties).

During the same period, nosyokumin (workers engaged in special vocations), who were non-peasants including jinin (shrine associates), yoriudo (a dependent, frequently one who served a noble house or proprietor) and kugonin (purveyors to the imperial household) who served another influential family such as Emperor, In, temples, Sekkan-ke (the families which produced regents) and so on were exempted from kuji that was supposed to be imposed to zaike (local cultivator household) (Menzaike), and as a compensation, they provided with service corresponding to their professional ability, which was also called 'kuji'. It later developed to kuji, which was to be imposed on za consisting of the same professional group such as merchants.

After Muromachi bakufu was founded, in the process of establishing Shugo-ryogoku system, it became difficult for lords of the manor such as kuge, temples and shrines to collect nengu and kuji unless they relied on the military power of shugo, on the other hand, shugo made a use of their position to impose their original kuji to shoen and koryo in form of tansen (a kind of provisional tax in medieval Japan), so that they could have enhanced the control over daimyo's territory and built financial base.

Kuji on the spot

On the other hand, there was a case that local lords (azukaridokoro, shokan or jito) managing each shoen or koryo on the site imposed their original statute labor as necessary, apart from kuji from lords of the manor or kukoga. For exemple, it refers to food or altarage necessary for annual events which were held in the house of local lord, or cultivation service (rice planting, weeding, reaping) in the fields directly managed by them. The service in the field was basically offered for three days per house. Also, it was common that the local lord rewarded the people who had borne statute labor with sake and a big meal.

These local lords who imposed statute labor were also bearers of kuji imposed by lords of the manor or kokuga. For example, they would go to Kyoto or Kamakura to perform a form of buyaku (labor service), such as Kyonoborihu (a statute labor in Kyoto) or Kamakurahu (a statute labor in Kamakura) by serving under a feudal lord. When envoys that had been sent by the lord of the manor or kokuga that been sent to conduct a land survey or kanno (encouragement of agriculture) or to deliver nengu or kuji, the local lords would meet them and any visitors under their protection at the border to welcome them and entertain them with a mikkakuriya (a three-day banquet). If necessary, they had to arrange attendants such as geifu and sofu. These loads were borne by local lords themselves, and as necessary, they also demanded peasants to share the burden.

The pattern that local peasants accepted to bear the load in name of kuji imposed by local lord in exchange for a right of constituent member of the province as well as free people took root in the province for long time. And, when the system of shoen and koryo and the system of myo declined followed by formation of So (village) that let appear self-govermental element's in town and village, kuji also began to be imposed to peasants for any events in town or village. On the other hand, however, it began to be considered that accepting kuji was an obligation to protect their right as a constituent member of the community.

Kuji concerning trial itself

After the Sengoku period (of Japan), warring lord's doing trial as kogi was called 'kuji', and this word appeared in bunkokuho (the law individual sengoku-daimyo enforced in their own domain) ("Chosokabe Motochika Hyakkajo 〔bunkokuho by Chosokabe clan〕", "Koshu Hatto no Shidai 〔the Law in Koshu〕"). Also, in kanjogata (accounting officer) of Edo bakufu, the department concerning civil administration was called 'kujikata (a post in charge of civil suit)' against 'ginmikata' concerning financial affairs, and a legal code called Kujigata-osadamegaki was established to prescribe suits regardless of civil trial or criminal court, thus, 'kuji' continued to be used for long time to refer to the whole trial or legal proceedings. In addition, the use of the term 'kuji' requires special attention with regard to trials or lawsuits in the Edo period because there were two kinds of 'kuji'—one meaning a general trial or lawsuit and the other meaning a civil trial (explained in a later section)—and these terms were sometimes used simultaneously.

The following is the reason why the word "kuji," which originally meant a responsibility that was imposed by a higher-ranking person on a lower-ranking person in order to secure their right to be a member of the community or a free citizen, began to be used to mean an appeal to a higher-ranking person by a lower-ranking person:
Any conflict that occurred within a community, such as a village or town, was supposed to be settled out of court in accordance with the autonomy, rules or custom of the community; in special cases, however, it could be handed over to a person outside of the community for settlement. This is said to reflect the thinking of that time, where people accepted the authority of the person or body that held jurisdiction. This shows that towns and villages of the times had a strong sense of autonomy enough to eliminate interference of outside as much as possible, on the other hand, in the logic of the settlement out of court based on the autonomous function of community, feudal authories considered the conflict between people was supposed to be settled in the community, and that governors (kogi) were only taking a position that could give a right of appeal to people as a 'benefit'. Moreover, in the Japanese (and east Asian) society before modern times that premised absoluteness of domination and order by governors, it gave an effect to deny people's right to ask for trial and to confirm that governors had no obligation to give people a legal protection.

Kuji concerning civil trial

In Edo period, there was civil case called deirisuji against criminal case called ginmisuji, and suits concerning deirisuji that was civil case was called 'kuji', or kujideiri or deirimono. But actually, in the case being settled out of court or without arbitrator, the necessary procedures were also called 'kujideiri', so attention should be required (In this case, kuji means general trials or suits). Kuji could broadly be classified into three categories such as honkuji, kanekuji and nakamagoto, and after receipt of petition, bugyo or daikan (local governor) who were supposed to handle the trial determined which category it corresponded to. Honkuji referred to conflict related to right for family estate, land, border, adultery (excluding flagrant offender), kosaku (tenant farming), work as servant and so on, while kanekuji referred to suits related to loan subject to interest, deposits or right of pledge. As it was defined in Kujigata-osadamegaki (the law of Edo bakufu) that 連判証文有之諸請負徳用割合請取候定・芝居木戸銭・無尽金, nakamagoto referred to suits concerning profit-sharing inside a group such as joint enterprise, mutual loan association, admission of play, fee of prostitute and so on. However, this distinction was complying with Bakufu Law, so there was difference in classification of case or way to call depending on han, and even in Bakufu Law, classification of case was changeable between honkuji and kanekuji according to times. Moreover, suit of kuji was conducted by jisha-bugyo (magistrate of temples and shrines), machi-bugyo (town magistrate), kanjo bugyo (commissioner of finance) as well as local governors beneath them, but suit in the area governed by another bugyo, suit with a counterpart living in another territory, or suit between shiryo (private land) was handled by Edo bakufu Hyojosho (conference chamber). Honkuji contained an element of public benefit, so the suit was basically received by bakufu, but kanekuji was not always received. This was because, in Confucian feudal society, it was thought that deal accompanied by interest was vulgar, that it should had been based on the mutual trust, and that it was an issue basically to be settled inside. Nakamagoto couldn't be received because of thinking that it could be built on a strong relationship between two parties, that contents were for the sake of seeking their own interests against feudality and morality, and that the conflict was an issue of responsibility inside group. Moreover, in thought of law in Japan of the times, executive power and judicial power were not isolated (for example, machi-bugyo 〔town magistrate〕 held both of administration power and judicial power in Edo), on the contrary, securing public security through ginmi (investigation) of ginmisuji that was criminal case was considered a core of public administration. In addition, as mentioned above, there was a traditional tought that encouraged settlement out of court or without arbitrator, so when people sued, they needed to get through a lot of obstacles before petition was received, such as having nanushi put signature on plaintiff's petition, and in case of suit involving another territory, also attachment of an accompanying letter (daimyo) and another letter called tenkan (hatamoto) from feudal lord, and if documents had deficiency, the suit was turned down. Also, children's sueing parents and follower's sueing a master were regarded as criminal. Moreover, bugyo and daikan didn't try to give trial seriously even if received petition, and particularly as for kanekuji, they cooperated with machiyakunin (municipal official) and village officer to insist on their basic policy such as encouraging turning down suit or settlement by talk between both parties such as settlement out of court and without arbitrator (for the purpose of blocking suit to be held). Accordingly, it was thought a critical problem that investigation by ginmisuji stagnated due to increase of kuji (specifically kanekuji), so aitai sumashi rei (mutual settlement decree) with which machibugyosho (a town magistrate's office) could refuse receipt of kanekuji itself was often put in force. People who were taken away their right to sue in kuji were compelled to accept without saying anything. Moreover, in actual legal proceedings, agreement of settlement out of court or without arbitrator, or pursuance of trial was impossible without arbitrator called kujiyado or kujishi that was well informed about legal proceedings. Kujiyado referred to accomodation that received people who had been approved by magitrate's office and came down from a distance for kuji (suit), and kujishi referred to non-certificate agent that handled legal proceedings such as kuji (suit) and trial out of court. However, some owners of kujiyado also provided with the same service as kujishi or ran a placement agency of kujishi, so there was no big difference between them. However, there were also some bad kujiyado and kujishi, and they often caused distress to people by cheating and taking away their property.

These things instilled a sense of distrust in people with regard to trials and lawsuits, as well as in the absoluteness of the ruling authority's governance and orders and in the political concept of an appeal being a 'beneficial action'; all of which had a critical impact on the development of the concept of 'rights' and the 'law' in Japan. This deficiency in the system for lawsuits was one reason why the Western powers were unable to give Japan legal protection for its private rights equal to those of Western countries after it opened itself up to the rest of the world; consequently, Japan was forced to accept unequal treaties such those granting extraterritorial rights.