The System of Clans and Hereditary Titles (氏姓制度)

Shisei Seido (the system of clans and hereditary titles) is a system made in ancient Japan in which the Imperial Court gave the nobles living in the capital and the powerful local clans a clan name and a hereditary title according to each person's degree of contribution to the state (Yamato Sovereignty) and the position the person occupies in the Government of the Imperial Court and let them kept the special privilege by the hereditary system. It is also called 'Uji Kabane no Sei' (System of Uji and Kabane); 'Shisei' is the Chinese style reading of the same kanji ('on' reading).

When Japan formed a nation under the ritsuryo codes after the Taika Reforms, the clan names and the hereditary titles became given to Bemin (people who belonged to the Yamato Dynasty); in other words, the system of clans and hereditary system was expanded to the general public and Uji and Kabane came to a way to reveal one's social position in the hierarchy of the state. People who did not have the clan (family) names and hereditary titles became only members of the Imperial family including Emperor and slaves.

The system of clans and hereditary titles as a political system

In the primitive community, a clan and a tribe became a social unit. The basis of the system of clans and hereditary titles was an extended family as a kin group, but it was reorganized as a political system of the state. The formation period was between the fifth century and the sixth century. The characteristic of this system of clans and hereditary titles is that a specific person within the same extended family was given a position which included Omi, Muraji, Tomo no miyatsuko, Kuni no miyatsuko, Momo amari yaso no tomo and Agata-nushi, and the Imperial Court granted the clan name and the hereditary title that corresponded each position.
The following is a list of each kabane (each hereditary title) and the major clans given this hereditary title:

Omi
The clans who were given the title of Omi were powerful clans that were once in the position to stand on par with the royal family and occupied the highest position in the Yamato sovereign, including such clans as the Katsuragi clan, the Heguri clan, the Kose clan, the Kasuga clan, and the Soga clan (these clan names were the place names in Yamato (around Nara Basin).)

Muraji
The clans who were given a position of Muraji were clans from powerful families and were subordinates of Yamato Sovereign as government officials and the duty they had in the court was made with their clan names and they played an important role in establishing the Yamato sovereignty; these clans included the Otomo clan, the Mononobe clan, the Nakatomi clan, the Inbe clan, and the Haji clan.

Tomo no miyatsuko
The clans who were given the position of Tomo no miyatsuko overlaps with those of clans who were given the position of Muraji; mainly these clans were powerful families who shared the duties of the divisions of the Yamato sovereignty. The clans that were given the position of Tomo no Miyatsuko included the representative naturalized clans such as the Hata clan, the Yamato no Aya clan, the Kawachi no Aya clan as well as the clans such as the Yuge clan, the Yazume clan, the Hatori clan, the Inukai clan, the Tsukishine clan and the Shitori clan. The clans who received the position of Tomo no Miyatsuko had the hereditary titles such as Muraji, Miyatsuko, Atai, and Kimi.

Momo Amari Yaso no Tomo
The clans that received the position of Momo Amari Yaso no Tomo were beneath the Tomo no Miyatsuko in its rank; many clans who received this title directly took control of common people. The clans who received the position of Momo Amari Yaso no Tomo had the hereditary titles such as Obito, Fuhito Sukuri, and Sukuri.

Kuni no Miyatsuko
The clans who received the position of Kuni no Miyatsuko were representative local clans; in certain aspect they were integrated into the local offices of the Yamato Sovereignty so that there were some clans that were in the position of Tomo no Miyatsuko in local sense and took control of the common people in the region. Most of the hereditary titles of Kuni no Miyatsuko were Kimi, and Atai; there were some clans that had the title of Omi.

Agata-nushi
The title of Agata-nushi existed before the Yamato regime employed the ritsuryo system; it seems Agata-nushi means the head of a region which is small in size. Every Agata-nushi's clan name was a place name.

As descried above, the system of clans and hereditary titles was born by making the 'Naoi no Uji' (naming of the title revealing what the person does); people with these titles constituted the Yamato sovereign and took responsibility by working in the various functions which are hereditary and these hereditary titles included Muraji, Tomo no Miyatsuko, Momo Amari Yaso no Tomo in that order in the rank. Later this giving the hereditary title was extended to the powerful clans that were originally in the same rank with the king.

People who were privately held as Bemin who belonged to the Yamato Dynasty
Clan name and hereditary title were originally held by people of the governing classes and these titles were such as Omi, Muraji, Tomo no Miyatsuko, Kuni no Miyatsuko composing Yamato Sovereignty (the king and his family were excluded). However, in the sixth century the clan name (family name) and the hereditary titles were also given to the common people. These common people were ruled and controlled by the Imperial Court namely Emperor, Empress, Imperial princes, and powerful families such as Omi and Muraji, and so forth. For this reason, naturally there came a group of people who worked for the Yamato Regime for various functions; these people included Shinabe who worked at the Imperial court, Nashiro and Koshiro who worked for king and prince, and Tabe who worked for the demesne as farmers. They were organized making each house one unit in an advanced community of people who belonged to the Yamato Regime; in the sixth century, their family name and hereditary titles were written down in their register book; in this way they had an official family name and hereditary title.

In contrast to people who directly belonged to the Yamato Regime, Kakibe, who were under the control of powerful local clans needed to go through the head of the local clan and to be included to Be (group of common people to work for the Yamato Regime in various functions) while keeping their original form of community; and the service of labor offered to the Yamato Regime were often done through the head of the clan. Therefore, it is not certain that the giving of clan names (family names) and hereditary titles was extended to the common people under the control of powerful local clans in the sixth century.

The reorganization process of clans by the Japanese nation under the ritsuryo codes

The Yamato Regime reorganized positions such as Omi, Muraji, Tomo no Miyatsuko, and Kuni no Miyatsuko under the system of clans and hereditary titles into bureaucrats of the nation under the ritsuryo codes and changed Bemin into citizen and made them uniformly belong to the nation by Taika Reforms.

In 664, the Imperial Edict 'Kasshi no Sen' was issued. This edict tried to revise the official rank existed since the Taika Reforms in that it tried to establish Ouji clan, Kouji clan, and Tomo no Miyatsuko clan and to clarify the clan head of each clan and the extent of clan members belonging to each clan. In other words, in this edict Daikini (Ouji) and Shokini (Kouji) namely clans who had the clan head whose rank can be positioned more than the fourth rank and the fifth rank in the ritsuryo system were established; by this prescription the Emperor tried to interlock the official rank system in the Imperial Court and the system of clans and hereditary titles. Furthermore, the edict limited the clan members who belong to the clan head to the direct blood kin by the paternal line and clarified the vague definition of the extent of each clan which were either by the principle of paternal line or maternal line up to that time. As a result, in principle, the compound surnames such as Mononobe Yuge, Abe no Fuse, and Soga no Ishikawa were to disappear after this edict.

In 684, 'Yakusa no Kabane' (eight official titles to be conferred upon nobles by Emperor Tenmu) was established. The object was to establish four hereditary titles of higher rank and they were Mahito, Ason, Sukune, and Imiki. It is said that the rank of Mahito is given to clans that are within the fifth generation from the Emperor Keitai and in this way clans close to the Imperial Family that are next to princes, princes who did not receive any proclamation to be an Imperial prince were specified; this method is common with the Asuka Kiyomihara Code (a collection of governing rules compiled and promulgated in 689 [late Asuka period]) in which the Code distinguished the official rank between princes, princes who did not receive any proclamation to be an imperial prince and nobles who served the Emperor. Therefore, the hereditary titles for nobles were Ason, Sukune, and Imiki. Those described above are a developed form of Ouji, Kouji, and Tomo no Miyatsuko in 'Kasshi no Sen' and the clan system was further reorganized to include 52 clans of Ason, 50 clans of Sukune, and 11 clans of Imiki.

In 701, with the Taiho Code a special privilege for nobles above the third and for bureaucrats above the fourth and fifth office ranks was made clear. The clan names and hereditary titles corresponding to the above privilege were also completed. It is said that in 702 the same treatment with the powerful clans in the capital was made for the powerful local clans by letting the powerful local clans to register the clan name and hereditary title of Kuni no Miyatsuko in the various provinces to the government.

With the general public, every one was to be registered in the family register by the ancient family registration system of 670 and the ancient family registration system of 690; thus, with the system of clans and hereditary titles of which the hereditary title of Be was predominant was completed. However, the existing register of Taiho 2 (the year 702) contains the parts in which family name and hereditary title were not written down; also there were considerable number of cases in which the name of a group such as Kuni no Miyatsuko group, Agatanushi group was written down; therefore, we can assume that there were many who did not have their own individual title and people who used the group name, to which they identified themselves as his hereditary title.

In 757, the Imperial government decided not to write down people with no hereditary title and people with group title as it is into the family register
This shows the following about peasants under powerful local clans.

Some peasants did not have kabane (hereditary title) because they were not under any powerful local clan. There were people who were made to tentatively identify thenselves using their group names by showing that they belonged to the community of Kuni no Miyatsuko or the community of Agatanushi. There were newly naturalized people to whom a hereditary title was not given. It shows that these things existed. The clan name and hereditary title were given to such people officially after this.

During the period between the eighth century and the ninth century there were many changes made in the hereditary titles; this change was geared to the people with the lower social position who were excluded from the rank of higher hereditary position in the Yakusa no Kabane Reform as well as these peasants. The order of Kabane (the hereditary title) is 1. no Kabane, 2. Miyatsuko, Kimi, Fuhito, Sukuri, Suguri, Hito, 3. Muraji.

This is the same treatment with the changes made in the Imperial Court of Emperor Tenmu in which the Kabane of the clan corresponding to the head of clan was changed into Muraji as the preliminary step before to get to Yakusa no Kabane (eight official titles conferred upon nobles by Emperor Tenmu in 684); Emperor Tenmu made this Muraji (above the rank of Shokini) a base point and changed into four hereditary titles of above Imiki.

Regarding the above Imiki that is the head of a clan, supplemental change of the clan name and hereditary title was made. Under the clan name the changes of Kasuga to Okasuga and Nakatomi to Onakatomi were made; also Sukune was changed to Osukune; accordingly the system of clans and hereditary titles came to penetrate more pervasively in general.

The general characteristic of these lies in the point that at the beginning the top rank is raised and then for the direct line that connected with the raised rank changes of clan name and hereditary title is made; because of this procedural order, an influential person is extracted. The right to give permission to change and grant hereditary titles was in the hands of Emperor.

Change in the Quality of the System of Clan Names and Hereditary Titles

By the regency politics, the Northern House of the FUJIWARA clan (one of the four Fujiwara family lines) became most influential in the ninth century. In addition, giving clan names and hereditary titles to princes by demoting them from the nobility to subject came to be executed quite often; examples include TAIRA no Ason from Emperor Kammu and MINAMOTO no Ason from Emperor Seiwa. For these reasons, the Shisei Seido (the system of clans and hereditary titles) that is related to the ritsuryo system came to hardly function as a system to appoint talented people effectively.

On the other hand, family registration system based on the ritsuryo system was gradually phased out; in the tenth century, people who became strong among powerful local clans became the retainers of the influential nobles and invaded clan names and hereditary titles; in essence, the phenomenon of so-called Bomei Kain (misrepresentation of one's clan name and hereditary title) became quite commonplace. Therefore, the clan name and hereditary title in Japan came to concentrate on such names as Minamoto, Taira, Fuji, Tachibana, Ki, Sugawara, Oe, Nakahara, Sakagami, Kamo, Ono, Koremune, Kiyohara and such. Also, this is because specific family lineage became fixed from the formation of family business.

For example, the Tsuruga clan of Echizen Province, the Atsuta-Daiguji family adopted a son from the Fujiwara clan and called themselves Fujiwara Ason; also they took the daughter of the Fujiwara clan in marriage and named 'Fujiwara Ason' by the maternal line; examples of other clan names and hereditary titles also exist. Warriors also invaded the clan names and hereditary titles of the head family or proprietors of manor as the land steward; many of them called themselves the same clan name and the hereditary title they invaded. In this situation, even among the people who share the same hereditary title, there arose the need to divide the clan name and in the case of nobles family name and in the case of the warriors surname came to be born.

Meanwhile, besides clan name and hereditary titles, Azana also developed at the same time. Azana was also called Kemyo or Yobina; it was a sort of unofficial name. There is already an example in "Nihon Genho Zen-aku Ryoik"i (set of three books of Buddhist stories, written in the late eighth and early 9th century); in this book FUMI no Imiki in the Ito County, Kii Province is called Saburo KAMITA. Kamita is a place name of Kamita no Mura, Ito County; Saburo means the third son.

A surname that replaced the clan name and hereditary title occurred in this way as a part of Azana and it seems that later it was separated from Azana and became independent. Because the early family name was one's place of residence and the name of territory, many times father, son and brothers have the different family names. However, gradually the family name meant the name of the family and the clan; with this shift in meaning, the family name became fixed and the name was to be kept even the family moved to other province.

Because of this a family name was used in the same way as a clan name and hereditary title after the 12th century. The characteristic of a family name in the current sense comes from this family name derived from Azana basically.