So-okite (惣掟)

So-okite was a statute defined independently by peasants within a soson (a community consisting of peasants' self-governing association) in medieval Japan. It is also known as muraokite (village rules) and jige okite (lower class nobles' rules).

So-okite was usually resolved in an assembly with all members of a soson. Therefore, so-okite was strongly effective to the members of soson. The penal regulations were very severe; in particular the crimes that disturbed the order of community (such as theft, arson and homicide) resulted in the death penalty in almost all cases.

On the other hand, although penal regulations for other violations were banishment from a soson or confiscation of property, they were usually pardoned after a fixed period (several months to several years) by the public discussion of the soson.

Before the early medieval period (from the Heian to Kamakura periods), the general public (peasants etc.) were regulated only by the laws established by rulers, such as the Ritsuryo codes, court noble law, honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor) law, and samurai law. Therefore, only the rulers, such as the lord of a manor and Kokugaryo (territories governed by provincial government office) and the lord-of-a-manor samurai, could exercise the jurisdiction and police powers (criminal cases) to the general public.

However, the ruling structure based on the myo (rice field lots in charge of a nominal holder) system deteriorated from the late Kamakura period to the early Muromachi period. The peasants who had lived individually, started to live in a new village and form a soson community with strong autonomous concerns and sense of common bonds. Although soson was technically governed by the lord of a manor and Imperial estate or shugo and jito (military governor and estate steward), the people of soson had not necessarily accepted the control of these rulers obediently. They often demanded their rights from rulers as one group. The autonomy of the soson was increased through such demanding actions. Moreover, rulers could no longer issue a statute and regulation for a soson without consent.

Thus, the soson acquired various rights through negotiation with their rulers. These rights were stipulated and became regulation within the soson. This was the so-okite. Moreover, in order to refuse a certain right to judge criminal cases of the rulers, people of the soson needed to exercise their own. Then, provisions that a soson member should follow were also often stipulated as a domestic statute. This was also the origin of so-okite.

In the Kinai region (provinces surrounding Kyoto and Nara), which was an advanced region at that time, so-okite was most developed quantitatively as well as qualitatively. The so-okite had reached its peak in the middle of Muromachi period and lasted until the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States). However, as Sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lord in the Sengoku period) started to rule the entire region, the autonomy of the soson was divested, and the autonomy of the so-okite thinned out or disappeared.

Examples of so-okite