Akuto (悪党)

"Akuto" generally refers to a person who disturbs the order of society, or a group of people who commit wrongdoing, but in Japanese history, it refers to a person or class rebelling against the existing system in the middle ages. This section describes the details of akuto in Japanese history.


The term akuto first appeared in historical materials as 'Jusen akuto' in the imperial decree in the May 21, 716 section of "Shoku-Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued), but the second appearance is in the 'Senbuanko bunsho funshitsu joan' ('占部安光文書紛失状案') (March 21, 1165) in the late twelfth century, which is much later in history. However, the term akuto is detected frequently from then on.

The 12th century was a time when shoen koryo sei (The System of Public Lands and Private Estates), the medieval socioeconomic system, finally established, and the examples of akuto in the late 12th century all referred to those who infringed upon the system or ideology of dominance in shoen (manor in medieval Japan) and kokugaryo (territories governed by provincial government office). For example, the Gunji (district chief) of Nabari District, MINAMOTO no Toshikata, and the monks of Kofuku-ji Temple who broke into Kuroda no sho (Nabari District, Iga Province), a territory of Todai-ji Temple, in 1175 were referred to as akuto in documents of Todai-ji Temple. As seen in this example, those who attempted to invade or disturb the system maintained by manor lords and shokan (an officer governing shoen (manor)) from outside the manors and Imperial demesne, were considered akuto.

The situation did not change largely in the Kamakura period, and until the Bunei years (1264 - 1275) in the late 13th century, the tendency to call external invaders and intruders from the point of view of the honjo (proprietor or guarantor of the manor) (manor lord) continued. The akuto conflict was in reality a territorial conflict among honjo-ichienchi (land collectively controlled by honjo) or between honjo-ichienchi and the jito (manager and lord of manor) class, and the akuto from one honjo's viewpoint was the feudal lord of the honjo-ichienchi of the opponent.

Honjo suffered from akuto activities since the 12th century, but akuto circumvented pursuit by honjo by escaping to other territories, etc. Honjo frequently requested the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) to pursuit the akuto, but the bakufu was passive about it, pointing out that conflicts among honjo were originally under the jurisdiction of the Imperial Court. Article 32 of the Goseibai shikimoku (code of conduct for samurai), established by the bakufu in the early 13th century, specified that concealment of thieves and akuto in the territory was a crime, but bakufu was not active in suppressing the akuto. However, in the Shoka years (1257 - 1258), when akuto activity increased due to worsening famine, the bakufu decided to equate akuto with night burglars, robbers, bandits, and pirates (1258, Article 320 of the Kamakura bakufu tsuikaho - additional law), and finally embarked on suppressing them.

Background of the change

Meanwhile, a major shift in medieval society began around the middle of the 13th century. Since the end of the 12th century, the Kamakura bakufu, based on the samurai class, had reallocated its territory to the samurai through several wars to meet the self-propagating desires of the samurai forces, but when the Hoji Battle of 1247 resulted in complete Tokuso sensei (autocracy by the shikken [regent for the shogun], who were members of the Hojo clan) and political stability was established, wars, that presented opportunities for territory reallocation, stopped occurring. Consequently, samurai forces that repeatedly self-propagated through succession and property division to soryo (heir) and shoshi (child born out of wedlock), lost the opportunity to obtain territory and shifted to single succession, where territory was inherited by the soryo only.

With the single succession as a momentum, soryo consolidated their territories scattered in various quarters and engaged in the management of their residing territory. In the process, the fall of the samurai class centering around shoshi occurred, while territorial conflict between honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor) and the residing samurai became radical.

Focusing internally on manor governance, while honjo strengthened their control on the manor to prevent invasions by samurai, shokan who were in charge of the practical business of manor governance, were working to establish their own management authority. The conditions for the conflict between honjo and shokan to occur were all there, but their conflict intensified due to the spread of a monetary and distribution economy, which was progressing rapidly at that time.

The various contradictions within the samurai class or manor governance led to the mobility of medieval society, and resulted in the increase in akuto activities from the late thirteenth century onward. Additionally, genko (Mongol invasion attempts against Japan), which occurred around this time also intensified the various contradictions, and induced the increase of akuto activities.


In addition to akuto who invaded manor governance from the outside, ezo (northerners) and kaimin (people who lived and worked on the seas) who committed piracy were also called akuto, which based on the concept of seeing outsiders of the system as akuto. For this same reason, it is believed that entertainers and wandering monks who traveled in various provinces were considered to have akuto-like characteristics. Ezo, kaimin, entertainers, and wandering monks were all people who drifted about, living outside the system of private manors and public land system, and many had atypical appearance, with eccentric clothing indicating they were outside the system. Yoshihiko AMINO described these 'akuto' as bearers of the distribution and capital economy, which developed rapidly from the mid-13th century, and as one of the main constituents opening the way for a new phase in medieval society.

Change in the situation where only outside intruders of the system were called akuto occurred during the Koan years (1278 - 1288). During this time, conflicting relationships within the manor governance finally became apparent, resistance activities by the shokan against the honjo could not be suppressed, shokan and the resident feudal lord class began being called akuto by the honjo, and engaged in territorial conflicts with the honjo. Looking at the samurai class, musoku (without land) gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate in the Kamakura and Muromachi through Edo periods) who lost their territory due to single succession, etc. remained in their old territory, and were called akuto when they disturbed the governance of the new jito. These affairs indicated that insiders were also treated as 'akuto,' and this was a sign of a major change in the concept.

At this stage, the shokan class in conflict with honjo is believed to have included the drifting akuto described above. Some of them were involved in trade while traveling in various places, accumulated capital as a bearer of distribution economy, and were called utokujin (the rich). In some cases, such utokujin were assigned as shokan due to their economic power, and became engaged in territory management. Additionally, honjo who were in conflict with the residing shokan had to secure their own distribution route to transport the annual tributes, and the ones who carried out this role of annual tribute distribution were the drifting akuto.

Since the late 13th century, akuto were active in the Kinai (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto), Tohoku, and Kyushu areas, and there were cases of akuto and jito unions prohibited in the Goseibai-shikimoku. The activities of akuto led to mobilization of the system, and to respond to this, the bakufu began actively suppressing the akuto from the end of the 13th century.

Originally, honjo held jurisdiction over law enforcement and judicial power at the honjo-ichienchi, and the Imperial Court would rule. However, due to the extreme infestation of akuto, honjo strongly requested the bakufu to suppress them. Thus, in the early 1290s, the following suppression procedure was established. First, the honjo files a complaint to the Imperial Court, and if the accused (akuto) does not answer the summons, it is considered a disobedience against the Emperor, and the Imperial Court orders the bakufu to commence prosecution and conviction. The order received by the bakufu is called ichoku rinji or ichoku inzen. Upon receiving the rinji (the Emperor's command) or inzen (Cloistered Emperor's declaration), the bakufu appointed two gokenin as envoys (ryoshi). Ryoshi were allowed to enter the honjo-ichienchi, which were off-limits to shugo (provincial constable), in order to execute their duties, and in some cases, were authorized to order shitaji jungyo (implementation of decisions regarding land) to the honjo side. This procedure which began as a way to pursue akuto, became the root for the right of shisetsu jungyo (process for implementing bakufu's decision on conflicts regarding property ownership) during the Muromachi period.

A prominent akuto from this period was the Oe clan, 'Kuroda akuto,' who was successful in the Kuroda no sho (Iga Province), a territory of Todai-ji Temple, from the 12th to 14th century. The Oe clan, who served as geshi (shokan in charge of practical business in the field) in this manor for generations since the 12th century, planned to strengthen their rule over Kuroda no sho during the late 13th century until they were eventually called akuto after conflicting with Todai-ji Temple, and was ultimately suppressed by Rokuhara Tandai (an administrative and judicial agency in Rokuhara, Kyoto) which received a request from Todai-ji Temple. However, the Oe clan family, who in turn was appointed as the shokan of the manor also came into conflict with the Todai-ji Temple by not paying the annual tributes, called themselves kugonin (people serving the Imperial Palace and offering food and crafts to the Emperor) to try to directly connect with the Imperial Palace, and managed to practically rule Kuroda no sho by uniting with the shugo and gokenin of Iga Province who were supposed to suppress them. In the end, the Oe clan was suppressed by Rokuhara tandai once again, but in any case, this is a classic example of resident feudal lords, who were trying to grow financially, becoming akuto when faced with oppression by the manor lords. Additionally, it is believed that Masashige KUSUNOKI (Kawachi Province), Akamatsu clan (Harima Province), Nagatoshi NAWA (Hoki Province), and the pirates of Seto Inland Sea, who took sides with Emperor Godaigo when the Kamakura bakufu collapsed, were so-called akuto.

Akuto were also active in the period of Northern and Southern Courts (Japan), but when the civil war ended in the late fourteenth century, the manor and public land system was weakened due to akuto activities, and when the countervailing power of honjo weakened as invasion of honjo-ichienchi (manor) by shugo and kokujin (local samurai) increased, the picture of akuto invading honjo's rule gradually disappeared.

Research history

The concept of akuto was presented by Naokatsu NAKAMURA in the 1930s ("Shoen no Kenkyu" (Studies of Shoen) 1939), and its aspects were revealed by Tadashi ISHIMODA ("Chuseiteki Shakai no Keisei" (Formation of Medieval Society) 1946) and others after the war.

In historical science after the war, akuto was positioned among feudal lords, but when Yoshihiko AMINO, Shinichi SATO, etc. introduced a picture of medieval history focused on craftsmen and entertainers whose social foundations were not agricultural, akuto was discussed in connection with them, and from the end of the 20th century, Ichiro KAIZU and others were attempting to position akuto in the context of social change such as genko and Tokuseirei (ordering return of land sold and dissolution of debts).