Muhon (rebellion) (謀反)
The word "muhon" can be written either as "謀反" or "謀叛" in kanji, Chinese characters used in Japanese writing. "Muhon" means "betraying one's master" (although there's a slight difference in the meaning of "謀反" and "謀叛" to be exact). The word usually refers to an armed or militarized rebellion, but "assassinating one's master by a small group" can be defined as "muhon" as well. It is unusual to use this term to refer to incidents in the modern times (basically the term can be used for incidents in the premodern times). Muhon was viewed as a severe crime in Confucian ethics which were familiar to people in East Asia.
Muhon in terms of ritsu (penal code)
The meaning of muhon
Muhon was the first one of the ten biggest crimes in Toritsu (penal code of Tang Dynasty China), as well as the first one of the eight unpardonable crimes in Yororitsu (penal code in the Yoro Period). In ritsu, "謀"(the character of "mu") indicates "planning a rebellion" (not performed). However, planning "反"(the character of "hon") alone was already a capital offence, so the provisions regarding "反" were included in the provisions of "謀反"(muhon). "反" indicates "killing or wounding the emperor", while "叛"(another character of "hon") is "betraying the court (country) while helping other countries". Thus two muhon, "謀反" and "謀叛", were considered different crimes. "大逆 (taigyaku)", which became synonymous with "muhon" later, indicated a different crime (damaging the imperial tomb or imperial palace) in ritsu.
"謀反" (muhon) is defined as 'conspiracy to jeopardize the state' in both Toritsu and Yororitsu provisions. The notes for ritsu said, that the the word "state" was used to avoid mentioning the honorary title directly, so "the state" is understood as "the emperor". In plain words, "反"(hon) is a murder or mayhem of the emperor, and 謀反 (muhon) is a plan for "反". Practically, an attempt to take power on one's merit or a conspiracy, among vassals, were also regarded as muhon, as described below. So the plain interpretation based on the meaning of the words in the ritsu provisions can not be denied.
According to both Toritsu and Yororitsu, those who were involved with muhon, principal offenders or accomplices, would be decapitated. A person who attempted muhon but failed for one's insufficient ability or power to mobilize people, would also be decapitated, but the punishment for enza (to be guilty for the relative's crime) charge was lighter and less people were affected. A person who attempted to damage someone by a spell, would be sentenced to banishment or a lighter punishment, for the charge of creating and using evil words.
Provisions regarding enza or complicity were different in Tang Dynasty China and Japan. The extent to which the charge of enza or complicity was applied was wider, and the punishment was severer, in Toritsu. According to Toritsu, the fathers and the sons (aged sixteen and over) of the muhon convicts would be hanged. Not only the convicts but also the fathers and sons were punished by the death penalty (only the execution methods were different). The sons (aged fifteen and under), the mothers, the daughters, the wives, the concubines, the wives and concubines of the sons, the grandparents, the grandchildren, the brothers as well as the subordinate people, assets, farmlands and housing lands of the muhon convicts were confiscated by the government. These confiscated family members became kanko (slaves to public ministries). The uncles along with the sons of the muhon convicts' brothers, were banished 3,000 ri (one "ri" is approx. 560m in China) away. The fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, wives, and the concubines of the people who failed muhon by lacking ability or power were banished 3,000 ri (one "ri" is approx. 560m in China) away..
Males aged eighty and over and females aged sixty and over, as well as disabled people were immune from confiscation. Those who had married into other families, become adopted by other families, or entered the priesthood, were immune from complicity, as well as the fiancées. If someone was charged with muhon, even family members-in-law would be involved for complicity.
The capital punishment was not carried out for enza in Japan. The fathers and the sons along with the subordinate people, assets, farmlands and housing lands of the muhon convicts were confiscated. The grandparents and the brothers were banished. People aged eighty or over as well as disabled people were immune from confiscation. Ladies, along with those who had become adopted by other families or entered the priesthood, were immune from complicity. If a person failed muhon by lacking ability or power, the father and sons of the convict were banished only (not confiscated). There was no enza (only the convicts themselves were punished) if the convicts were Buddhist monks, ladies, public slaves, imperial tomb guards, Kunuhi (government-owned slave), or Shinuhi (privately-owned slave).
謀反' and '謀叛' in Japan
In the provisions of Taiho Ritsuryo Code and Yoro Ritsuryo Code of the ancient Japan, '謀反,' pronounced "bouhen" or "muhen", was differentiated from '謀叛.'
謀反' was defined as a crime of attempting to overthrow the government or kill the emperor. It was considered the most serious of all crimes, and ranked first in the eight unpardonable crimes, which deserved decapitation. On the other hand, '謀叛' was a crime of attempting to overthrow the government without damaging the emperor (without high treason crime), as well as betrayal or defection to foreign countries. "謀叛" ranked third in the eight unpardonable crimes.
As a result of political strife, many noblemen were killed for the charge of muhon between the seventh and eighth centuries,
In Japan, the ritsu provisions were different from actual punishment, and taking over the government by killing retainers or uprisings by Ezo (northerners) or Hayato people (an ancient tribe in Kyushu) were regarded as "反" or "謀反", even when the ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code) was fully realized. "謀反", "謀叛", and "taigyaku" had been confused since then, and in the late Heian Period, "謀叛 " and "謀反" became synonyms both pronounced "muhon".
From the Nara Period through the early Heian Period, most people charged with muhon were executed, but the extent of the prosecution and accompanying enza, or the severity of the punishment, were affected by political decisions. There was a tendency that differentiation between decapitation and hanging were disregarded, and only the principal offenders were killed, while enza convicts had lighter punishment than specified in the ritsu provisions.
People started to avoid the death penalty for nobles of the capital during the Heian Period, and few people were charged with muhon, as it was a severe crime leading to the death penalty. Japan was an island country and with its stable state system with the emperor, betrayal or defection to neighboring countries, as well as overthrowing the government without an emperor, was unlikely. Thus people started to use the word "謀叛" together with the word "謀反"for the same meaning.
Muhon after the Kamakura and Muromachi periods
When samurai gained power later, many conflicts happened among samurai in local regions. Some of these samurai had so much power that they got killed by the army dispatched by the central government, the Imperial Court (but actually the army consisted of other samurai) for the charge of muhon.
In the Kamakura Period, the relationship between the lord and the vassal among samurai became important. So people started to call a rebellion by a vassal samurai against his lord "muhon". During the Warring States Period, many muhon incidents called 'gekokujo' (revolt by vassals against their lords to take over daimyo [Japanese territorial lord]) happened. The Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), after finally settling this upheaval of the Warring States Period, made samurai learn the Neo-Confucianism ethics, to teach the vassals' loyalty to their lords.
We can find the word "muhon" in the historical documents regarding the Seinan War and Shusui KOTOKU incident (the case of high treason) in the Meiji Period as well as February 26th Incident in 1936. Today people use more modern terms such as "coup d'etat" or "hanran" instead of "muhon" for armed rebellions after Meiji.
The Emperor muhon
In the end of the Kamakura Period, the Kamakura bakufu called the Shochu Disturbance (1324) and the Genko Incident (1332), the Emperor Godaigo's attempt to overthrow the bakufu, "the Emperor muhon (or togin [the current Emperor] muhon), so ordinary people followed that. This expression is misleading if interpreted as 'the decline of the Imperial Court and the arrogance of the bakufu' according to kokoku shikan (emperor-centered historiography which is based on state Shinto).
After the late Heian Period, the Imperial Court slowly lost the power to maintain the social order with the police and the military, losing the right to judge criminal cases, thus samurai maintained the order in place of the Imperial Court. Samurai maintained the social order in place of the Imperial Court. On June 6, 1167, TAIRA no Shigemori of the Taira clan government (TAIRA no Kiyomori already became a priest then) was granted Japan's military and police authorities by the retired emperor Goshirakawa and the Emperor Rokujo. In 1181, the post of sokan-shoku (controller) was established for the Kinai-Kingoku area.
When MINAMOTO no Yoritomo established the Kamakura bakufu to head samurai groups in Japan, the Imperial Court granted the bakufu the right to judge criminal cases, for the maintenance of the social order (with 'Bunji Imperial permission' and 'Kenkyu law reconstitution'). The right to judge criminal cases was, however, held by the Emperor or the retired emperor, in the period of the Taira clan government through the early Kamakura Period. The Taira clan government and the Kamakura bakufu were considered as the law-enforcement agency under the control by the Emperor or the retired emperor, who sometimes exercised the police and military forces directly. Benkan (Oversight Department: division of the daijokan responsible for controlling central and provincial governmental offices) kudashibumi (document issued by a superior or office) was issued (on June 13, 1221) for shugo and jito (military governor and estate steward) appointed by the Kamakura bakufu, to search and capture Yoshitoki HOJO, when the Jokyu War took place. This is because the right to judge criminal cases was held by the Emperor or the retired emperor, and the enforcement was delegated to the bakufu.
However, the Kamakura bakufu won the Jokyu War and held the police and military forces, so the Imperial Court's right to judge criminal cases became a mere name. The court still held the power regarding the suits about territory of kuge (court noble) as well as temples and shrines, but as for the police and military, the court was only in a position to justify the bakufu actions. A rebel against the Kamakura bakufu, which was the only agency to exercise the right to criminal cases, was considered as a dysfunctional behavior in this period. The Emperor Godaigo's act was seen as an attempt to overthrow the state or government itself, namely "謀叛", when the Kamakura bakufu maintained the social order in Japan.
Well-known people who were considered as rebels
TAIRA no Masakado
MINAMOTO no Yoshichika