Onsho (恩賞)

Onsho (reward grants) is defined as follows. In the battles fought before the early modern times, the master honored his kenin (retainers) or samurai warriors who rendered outstanding military service and granted them territories, written appointments, testimonials, goods, rank and office confirmations, or commendation to governmental posts. (Related term: Onkyu [reward from master to vassal]).

Ancient times

The practice of reward grants in Japan goes back to ancient times when the Imperial Court appointed those who rendered distinguished service in conquering Ezo or fighting rebellions as government officials or promoted them. In the ninth century when the private warrior bands (in ancient Japan) became nominal and effectively disappeared, gunji (district officials), the rich and powerful class, and fushu (the indigenous tribes of the north-eastern Japan who became allies of the Imperial Court) were formed as military forces under 'hatsuhei-chokufu' (an imperial order authorizing the mobilization of soldiers). The Imperial Court granted rewards to gunji, the rich and powerful class, fushu who were of great service. Around the end of the ninth century kokushi (provincial officials) (in the kokuga [provincial office structure]) who received 'tsuibu kanpu' (Warrants of Pursuit and Capture) from the Imperial Court were able to form, at their discretion, troops with gunji and the rich and powerful class. Those among them who carried out fine performance were rewarded by the Imperial Court. In the early 10th century, Kanbyo Engi Togoku War took place in the east, and Joheinankaizoku (rebellion by pirates in Seto inland sea) in the west. In suppressing these insurgencies, kokushi, military, the rich and powerful class (Tato fumyo [powerful cultivator who managed farm operations and collected tax] class) provided outstanding service which, however, was not sufficiently rewarded. Their discontent, which increased over time, in part led to the Johei and Tengyo War. In the course of these events, a military system centering on kokushi (the kokuga system); namely, the kokuga forces system was formed.

In the kokuga forces system, the kokushi who held supreme command in the military affairs held a decisive position. From the 10th to the 11th century 'the hereditary governmental offices' which were transmitted among certain families in the aristocratic society developed rapidly. It was in this context that warrior houses (tsuwamono no ie) whose 'family business' was martial arts and military affairs emerged. The warrior houses held zuryo (custodial governor) governorships and were also appointed Oryoshi (Suppression and Control Agents) or Tsuibushi (Pursuit and Apprehension Agents). Taking advantage of military expertise which they had acquired over many generations, they formed military forces in the provinces. Some formed personal master-servant relationships with Tato fumyo. In the 11th century the tsuwamono no ie evolved into military lords. In the mid-11th century the dynastic nation system transformed itself (to the late dynastic nation). Many Tato fumyo became local lords as they were militarized. {The kokuga forces system}, on the other hand, collapsed. The Ikkoku-toryo' (the provincial leader) who held the offices of provincial Oryoshi and Tsuibushi in place of the provincial officials organized military forces. Ikkoku-toryo who were also military nobles confirmed the territories of the Tato fumyo class and so on to guaranteed their hereditary prerogatives. The Tato fumyo class were given new holdings according to their meritorious performance in battle. This assessment and provision of rewards based on military performance was called ronko kosho. Suppressing revolts and rebellions by leading their private warrior bands (whose constituents were the Tato fumyo class who were also local lords) under 'tsuibu kanpu,' the military nobles earned rewards. They in turn recommended the Imperial Court to reward kejin, and were involved in kenin's appointment as governmental officials or their promotion. They were also granted new territory by appointed to shokan-shiki (estate manager). Among the military nobles, Seiwa Genji (the Minamoto clan) and Kanmu Heishi (the Taira clan), who were endowed with the high Shii (Fourth Rank), stood out as the chieftains of the warrior class, namely Buke no toryo (the leader of samurai families), that newly emerged in this period. While Buke no toryo distributed territories to their kenin, they actively sought to become kokushi, which would provide them both handsome income, or to obtain a higher rank, which would lead higher grade in the central government, or to access to the Imperial Palace to advance their political status in the Imperial Court. The toryo (leader) of the Minamoto clan and the Taira clan thus achieved their standing in the central politics as well as establishing their military power in the countryside through their military achievements.

Reward grants always raised the question of fairness. Those who reported distinguished services were zuryo, tsuibushi, and tsuitoshi (envoy to search and kill), and so on, who did not necessarily give detailed accounts. The reporter might have favored some over others. It can be said therefore that there was constantly latent dissatisfaction at granted rewards. For the warriors, rewards were of utmost significance in keeping up their family honors and permanence, in maintaining their political status and power.

Medieval Times

Following the Heiji War, the Taira clan established a new order both in the national political arena and the samurai warrior society. Consequently, the samurai who were originally mediators of rewards came to acquire the position of reward-giver. The Taira regime took control of many appointments and manors, thereby acquiring the position that enabled them to manage reward grants. They thus strengthened their power and ruled over the samurai in the provinces. However, many samurai were more or less discontent with reward grants given by the Taira clan. Their dissatisfaction is regarded as one of the factors that triggered the Jisho-Juei Civil War.

It was MINAMOTO no Yoritomo who established the military government after the Taira-clan regime. As the basis of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo's political power was the Kanto warrior bands, it was of utmost importance for Yoritomo to gain the Kanto samurai's support. He paid careful attention to ensure that Kanto samurai warriors were content with the rewards they received during the period between the Jisho-Juei Civil War and the Battle of Oshu. In the mid to late Kamakura period the concept of rewards became more diverse. Gokenin (shogunal retainers) were given rights to claim rewards for their meritorious performance in battle by submitting service citations. Their claims were examined by onsho bugyo (the office of rewards). Based on their examination result, they were given land and property rights in the form of the grant of holdings or the appointment to the posts of jito (military estate steward), manor manger, and governmental officer. If there had been any conflict in an existing holding, a holding confirmation could have replaced a reward. Rights to commend meritorious warriors to posts in the Imperial Court or to appoint them to posts in the Shogunate were also regarded as rewards. Assuring local gokenin as the position of shugo (provincial constable) led them become more powerful and extend their influence to the national politics. Kamakura-dono (lord of Kamakura) and regents began to give the names (in which one character was identical to that of the givers) to gokenin, which cannot be considered pure rewards, although the names given by the shoguns were regarded as the highest honors. The grant of written testimonials praising outstanding military services was instituted in the Kamakura period and onwards.

Early Modern Times

After the War the notions of honor, public recognition, commendation, and performance review have become common and the concept of onsho (rewards) has not been publicly used, however, when ruling-party politicians who rendered service in the formation of the government or cabinet are appointed to important posts or enter the cabinet, this is sometime ridiculed as onsho or reward-oriented appointments.