Zaichokanjin is a general term for a local government official who undertakes the practical business of kokuga (local area) administration from the Heian period to the Kamakura period in Japan. This does not mean that an official position actually called "zaichokanjin" existed. It is also called "zaicho" or "chonokan." Zaichokanjin was a practical government official who was locally employed by kokushi (government administrator sent from the central government), and was professionally an entourage of kokushi.
The government system in Japan underwent a great change from the ninth century to the tenth century. Before that, Japan had been ruled by the ritsuryo system of governance (a constitutional form of governance) built on an ancient family register system, tax book, handenshuju-no-ho (law on the distribution and collection of farmlands) and so on, but at that time, vagrancy, elopement, false family registration of the people dramatically increased and the ritsuryo system of governance ran into an impasse. On the other hand, the class called 'fugo-no-yakara' (rich guy) originated from kokushi, gunshi (local government administrator sent from the central government, working under kokushi), leading people, appeared, managed myoden (rice fields as the basic unit for levying taxes) and the duty of tax collection from kokuga and began to be economically stronger. Also, they took the place of the ruling-class since ancient times, forced the public into a servile position through suikyo (land lease at interest) and became dominant local governors of the people.
Under such a situation, the imperial court practically advanced national administration reform (the reform culminated during the Kanpyo and the Engi period around 900) and authority such as the right of tax collection, military affairs and so on were widely transferred to the leaders of kokushi (zuryo) in the local administration. Through the empowerment of zuryos, they incorporated the local ruling families leading the people into a kokuga government system, instead of the jo (the third-ranking local administrator) and sakan (the fourth-ranking local administrator) who were reluctant to accept the one-sided orders they issued because jo and sakan were also old administrative aides from the same class, in order to strengthen the governance of both tax collection and military affairs. They were the zaichokanjins.
Many zaichokanjin were employed from the above-mentioned 'fugo-no-yakara' (tato, leading farmer and fumyo, tax collector), took on the management of the kokuga region and tax collection and contributed to levying taxes by kokushi. Most zaichokanjin were from the class of local kokushi and old gunshi. Local kokushis and their offspring served sekkan-ke (five top court noble families of FUJIWARA family's offspring) as comparatively low-ranking military aristocrats, old gunshi class supported the local military forces as kondei (local military army), and both provided kokushis with the military forces. Zaichokanjin knew how to collect taxes and were familiar with military affairs. Later, those who were distinguished because of military contributions to maintain security, especially during the Johei and Tengyo War, would become the bushi class as the core group.
During the middle of the tenth century, the administration of kokuga came to be managed by zaichokanjins, some of the zuryos did not go to their place of assignment and often left administration to the zaichokanjins. This was called "yonin." Yonin kokushis sent their retainers to their places of assignment as an agent to supervise the zaichokanjins. The agents were called "mokudai." Under the supervision of mokudai, zaichokanjins undertook the practice of tax collection or military affairs in kokuga.
Duties of zaichokanjin and other aspects
Kokuga without kokushi were called "rusu dokoro," the department that handled tax collection called "zeisho," "saisho" and so on, "tadokoro," "daichosho" and "suitodokoro and so on," the department that handled military affairs was called "kondeidokoro," "kebiishidokoro," "umayadokoro" and so on, and the department that oversaw miscellaneous duties was called "mandokoro," "chosho," "saikudokoro," "zendokoro" and so on, were sent there and zaichokanjins belonged to these departments and performed their duties.
Zaichokanjin had a wide-range of responsibilities. When shoen (a manor) was newly approved, zaichokanjin set the demarcation line with the shoen party and placed tags indicating the borders. At that time in Japan, to ensure the tax collection from the kokuga region, ancient units such as gun and go were reorganized into medieval units such as gun, go, and ho, and zaichokanjin were mainly appointed as gunshi, goshi, and hoshi who supervised these units. Zaichokanjin were also involved in preparing Ota bumi (cadastre), in which details regarding the shoens, landlords of public domains, dimensions of rice fields, crops, and so on were recorded. And in the case of domestic conflicts, zaichokanjin were temporarily appointed as military officers of kokuga units called "tsuibushi" or "oryoshi" and functioned as the military forces that provided leadership over domestic bushis in order to maintain security. Also in times of peace, they went to kokushi-kan (house of kokushi) and served by rotation.
Considering the above, zaichokanjin seem to have been obedient servants of kokushi, but in fact, they were not. Zaichokanjin were originally the leaders in the local region and were also the representing the interests of the region against the kokushi sent from the central government. Thus, they formed complicated networks through marriage and if the measures and policies by kokushi were inappropriate for their interests, they often resisted kokushi. Especially in the eastern regions, this class of leading men had a distinctive character and even though they were zaichokanjin, they often defied kokushi or caused armed conflicts. And when zaichokanjin were appointed as gunshi, goshi, and hoshi, they were likely to deal with public domains and public rice fields in gun, go, and ho as their own lands. Some of them even donated to high-ranking aristocrats and leading temples and shrines (kenmon seika, socially privileged family or group). Many zaichokanjin took on the role of developer-landlords or shoen managers as well as that of proper zaichokanjin.
Thus many zaichokanjin developed into local landlords and as bushi after the middle of the Heian period (from the eleventh century to the twelfth). In the process of development, economic and military tensions, concerning the interests of kokuga and tato and fumyo classes from where most zaichokanjin originated, were involved and frequently armed conflicts broke out. Zaichokanjin took the side of the tato and fumyo classes representing their interests, and other times they took the side of those who oppressed tato and fumyo classes as soldiers to ensure the power of the imperial court and kokuga, and came to have the actual power in the local regions. The tendency was strong, especially in the eastern regions, and movement aiming at pushing out the power that was a nuisance to zaichokanjin such as mokudai in kokuga or azukaridokoko (management position in trust) in shoen, would lead to the establishment of the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). In fact, many leading gokenin (retainers) of the Kamakura bakufu were from the zaichokanjin.
The status of zaichokanjin
It is known that there were the disparities in social standing among zaichokanjin. In the case of Hitachi Province during the Kamakura period, we can see in documents that there were status distinctions such as takokushajin, kunizoshiki, kokusho, kokushoji and miko in jokan, chuza, shosei and ichibun. Jokan is, as the name suggests, were regarded as localized lower-ranking kokushi descendants such as jo or sakan, and jokan often attained official ranks such as ikan and so on in emonfu (bureaucracy in the ritsuryo system of governance) and seemed to have been in a position of leadership within the kokuga. Chuza, shosei, and ichibun were second to jokan and takokushajin, kunizoshiki, kunisho, kunishoji, and miko are regarded as practical bureaucrats.
Zaichokanjin after the Kamakura period
Even during the Kamakura period, the kokuga administration centering on zaichokanjin continued. However, jito (management post of shoen or public domain) located in various regions by the Kamakura bakufu began to penetrate the dominion of zaichokanjin. Also in the eastern regions, many zaichokanjin formed a master-subordinate relationship with seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"), attained the status of gokenin (retainers) and were also appointed as jito. Genko (Mongol invasion attempts against Japan) during the mid Kamakura period triggered the invasion of the power of the Kamakura bakufu towards the western regions and the administration of kokuga by zaichokanjin gradually weakened.
During the Muromachi period, the strong authority was assigned to shugo (local military commander) and kokuga were put under the governance of shugo. The power of kokuga and that of shugo were unified and the administration of kokuga ceased to exist. Thus, zaichokanjin lost their status and raison d'etre and were transferred to a class called "kokujin" (the bushi class originally from the jito class).
Many zaichokanjin who became kokujin were incorporated into the bureaucracy of shugo, kokuga regions managed by zaichokanjin were reorganized into the shugo regions governed by shugo and led to the establishment of shugo ryokoku sei (governmental system by shugo). On the other hand, to avoid becoming under the control of shugo, some old zaichokanjin tried to struggle to maintain an independent existence as kokujin. Also, considering the anarchy in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan), some zaichokanjin grew up to be shugo (for example, the Ouchi clan).