Shoki Shoen (early shoen) (初期荘園)

Shoki shoen (early shoen) were shoen (manors) established through an accumulation of wasteland and a collection of reclaimed rice fields from the eighth to the ninth century. They were also called Kondenchi Kei Shoen (manors established by the reclaiming of fields). Land taxes applied to the reclaimed fields, indicating that they were still under the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code).


After the Konden Einen Shizai Law (a law allowing farmers to permanently own reclaimed fields) was enacted, temples and shrines, as well as nobles in the capital began reclaiming fields on a large scale with active support from the Kokuga (provincial government offices) under the ritsuryo code. At important points in the reclaimed fields, houses called "sho" or "shosho" were constructed for the development and management of the land. The combination of the sho and the reclaimed field came to be called "Shoden" (field within a manor) or "shoen."

There were many Jikonchi Kei Shoen in rural areas, in which vast wastelands were defined in order to develop the land with the aid of the Kokuga under the ritsuryo code, while, in the Kinai region (provinces surrounding Kyoto and Nara), there were many Kikonchi Ke Shoen, which were collected through purchase, exchange, transfer, and donation of well-cultivated rice fields called Konata. In general, nobody lived in the Shoki Shoen, so farmers from neighboring handen (allotted farmlands) worked the fields by renting them under the Ritsuryo system. The governance and management of Shoki Shoen was strongly dependent on the national authority. In the ninth century when the Ritsuryo system began to dissolve, the Jikonchi Kei Shoen were no longer able sustain a work force and quickly disappeared.

Nobles, powerful temples and shrines attempted to stabilize the management of the shoen by appointing a resident of an emerging wealthy class as a sho cho (administrator of a manor) and maintaining a labor force by accepting impoverished people who had run off due debts or escaped from their distributed assignments. The expansion of Kikonchi Kei Shoen due to donations from wealthy farmers created serious commotion on the financial base of the Ritsuryo system. In 902, FUJIWARA no Tokihira put into effect the Manor Regulation Acts without success, resulting in a dysfunctional handen-sei (Ritsuryo land-allotment system).

The shoen at the time, however, depended on the contribution of labor from vagrants and handen farmers for the reclaimed fields, and it is neither slave-labor system, nor the system under which the field and residents were controlled in an integrated manner. Furthermore, from the eleventh to twelfth century, cessation of state power, such as fuyu (tax exemptions) and zoyakumen (exception from all levies except regular land taxes) for contributors was not conducted on donated shoen (manors based on donation). As donated shoen, which were oriented towards total control of the fields and residents, were established nationwide in the late Heian period, Shoki Shoen were incorporated into the system and eventually disappeared.