Feudal Lords (領主)

The term "feudal lord" is used to refer to a person who holds feudal dominion over a certain area of land and its residents (territory).


Feudalism was the form of government or local autonomy that was employed in feudal times, and the position of feudal lord was often hereditary. In Europe, as states were emerging as single entities during the transition from the medieval period to early modern times, many feudal lords were given positions as nobles in the state's political structure.

Cultivating the wilderness or wastelands and converting them into the appropriate condition for food production (agriculture) (breadbasket and flood control) exceeded abilities of individuals or small groups, and it was, by and large, still difficult to defend themselves from invasion by neighboring territories, even if they organized a militia. Feudal lords undertook these projects. Feudal lords acquired territory and made their fortune from products on their properties, because of this, trade circumstances, diplomacy, and a variety of problems related to public assistance for residents in the territory (people of the domain) were improved.

According to many stories, these feudal lords grew so arrogant and tormented the people of the territory or invaded surrounding areas occasionally; during the Sengoku period (the Age of Civil Wars in Japan), feudal lords devoted all of their time to fighting, imposing a heavy toll on the people of the territory. In the course of time feudal lords were gradually detached from the people and handed down their dominance as the absolute authority; however, some lords were better or so excellent that they were admired as wise rulers and became legends.

As states gradually changed into bigger political systems beyond the average person's understanding, feudalism was disolved by the pressure to organize; however, many lords partially preserved their autonomies and engaged in various industries in their regions, so there was a deep-seated aspect that prosperity or poverty in a region depended upon a feudal lord.

In many cases, divisions of land such as cities and prefectures that remain in various regions today, are the vestiges of feudal territories in such areas, and even after feudalism shifted to other political systems, these were still used for regional division in each successive political system.

Head Family, Ryoke, and Kaihatsu-ryoshu

Kaihatsu-ryoshu (local nobles who actually developed the land) is a generic name for those who secured a territory by extensive reclaimed land development after the mid Heian period, and who were originally influential peasants (Tato). Although privatization of rice fields was approved by kokuga (provincial government office compounds), the definition of rights was unclear; therefore, kaihatsu-ryoshu donated their reclaimed lands as shoen (private estates) to Juryoso (career provincial official class) as shoen (manors). Juryoso appointed kaihatsu-ryoshu as shokan (an officer governing a shoen (manor)) such as Geshi (lower ranked officer) and kumon (a local shoen official below the geshi in rank), and received regular tax yields in exchange for giving them effective control over the land. Juryoso who managed to own a shoen in such a manner is called ryoke (virtual proprietor of manor). Ryoke became increasingly more opposed to kokushi (provincial governors) who privatized Kokugaryo, and donated their manors to kenmon seika (powerful houses and influential families) or large temples to seek protection while paying regular tax yields in return. Influential families or temples and shrines who accumulated manors in such a manner are called Honke (head family). In the late Heian period feudalism consisted of Honke, Ryoke, and Kaihatsu-ryoshu. Kaihatsu-ryoshu also concurrently performed as Zaichokanjin (provincial government officers) and they remained in the Kokugaryo position when the relation with kokuga was more profitable.

Usurping of the Power of the Feudal Lords by the Jito

After the mid Heian period, due to the monopoly of official ranks by Fujiwara-Hokke's (the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan) regents, many lower-ranking nobles fell out of work in the national political arena and went to the provinces. There were many cases in which Kaihatsu-ryoshu established a master-servant relationship with these nobles to resolve disputes over manors. They sometimes armed themselves as samurai (warrior) while some lower-ranking nobles organized these warriors into armed groups; they were often called Toryo (leader) of the groups. In the course of time the Oshu Fujiwara clan and the Taira clan regime appeared from the leaders of samurai families, eventually forming the Kamakura bakufu (also known as Shogunate, a Japanese feudal government headed by a Shogun) at the end of the 12th century.

The existance of jito (manager and lord of manor) is well-known from the Kamakura period; however, jito was originally one of the names of shokan and was only given the authority to collect rice provisions for the army from manors and public lands under the pretext of hunting down and killing MINAMOTO no Yukiie and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune during the Bunji imperial sanction, not the authority to control lands. At first, installation of the jito position was limited to Heishi Mokkanryo (Land rights confiscated by Kamakura bakufu from the Taira family).

However, warriors also known as gokenin, who pledged their allegiance to the bakufu, were granted with the honor of appointment or recognition as Jitoshiki (manager and lord of a manor) and took local control of the collection of nengu (annual tribute) from manors and public lands, property management, and maintaining public order. Throughout the Kamakura period, jito's invasion to manors occurred frequently and disputes over land with manor lords intensified. A lord of a manor then made a contract of Jitouke to ensure delivery of their nengu payment in return for leaving the entire manor management to jito, while making an agreement of Shitaji chubun (physical division of land) to halve the land between the feudal lords and the jito. However, as a result, this accelerated jito's control over manors, which was contrary to the aim of the manor lords.

Usurping of the Power of the Feudal Lords by the Shugo

Shugo (provincial constables) were installed at the same time as jito (1185), but they had a totally different role. Shugo were placed in each province as the local official of the bakufu and their duties involved Taibon Sankajo (three major tasks of peacekeeping), which was mainly composed of maintaining domestic security and Obanyaku (job to guard Kyoto), while jito were placed in each manor as tax collection officers. Takauji ASHIKAGA, who established the Muromachi bakufu in Kyoto in the first half of the 14th century, gave shugo a stronger authority to benefit himself from conflicts in the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) period. Takauji gave shugo approval for Karita-rozeki (to reap rice illegally) and the right to delegate judical authority to others besides Taibon Sankajo in the Kamakura period. Moreover, other policies were conducted, including hanzei and manor management in provinces, which shugo had control over. The policy, hanzei, allowed ryoshu to split nengu in half, out of all nengu that was supposed to be given to feudal lords as manor nengu and to a provincial governor as Kokugaryo nengu, to deliver to both feudal lords as nengu and the local warriors as rice provisions when needed. Supported by stronger authority, shugo encouraged increasing numbers of jito to become vassals of samurai families, and obtaining economic as well as military and police power as shugo daimyo (shugo that became daimyo), shugo strengthened territorial control over provinces under their control. This was called the Shugo-ryogoku system, and some shugo daimyo exercised a lot of power by taking charge of shugo in more than one province.

However, the shugo position originally grew out of the bakufu's authority and the existence of shugo could have been threatened if this background collapsed for some reason. This was why many shugo owned their residences in Kyoto and sent Shugodai (deputy military governor) to their posts. Since the shugo daimyo position was founded on various rights in manors, collapse of the manor system meant the loss of their economic base. Also, the master-servant relationship with warriors in the provinces did not grow out of territorial tranfers but of relations with commanding authorities in the military and the police. One of the limitations that did not allow shugo to become feudal lords was the disturbance of the Northern and Southern courts in the Muromachi period that led to the political instability and complications.

Feudal Lord Class after the Sengoku Period

The appearance of the feudal lord class which bore responsibility for local politics after the collapse of manorialism started in the Sengoku period (Japan). This plainly shows the fact that unlike shugo daimyo, sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lord in the Sengoku period) basically lived locally, enforced the law bunkokuho (the law individual sengoku-daimyo enforced in their own domain), and promoted new industry and fukoku kyohei (fortifying the country, strengthening the military) including mine development as well as the maintenance of agricultural water. In the Sengoku period, the master-servant relationship, in which the daimyo ruled as monarch, was developed with land as its base; leading to the Jigatachigyo system in the Edo period (provision of lands from a feudal government to retainers as salary).

Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, who was a peasant, ended the Sengoku period and launched the Taiko-kenchi (nationwide land survey) in 1582 and improved upon complicated landholding relationships such as when several persons held rights to the same land, resulting in a renewed property system. With the complete collapse of the manorial system, early-modern land holding based on the Kokudaka system was granted, and peasants assumed obligations to pay nengu in return for the right to cultivate, while the daimyo obtained territories in exchange for Kaieki (to forfeit rank of samurai and properties) and Kunigae (to transfer a daimyo from one fief to another).

Hideyoshi also conducted the Sword Hunt in 1588 to deprive the farming rank the right to wear a sword and to restrict the use of weapons which completed the heinobunri (separation of the warrior class from the soil) while creating the early-modern samurai rank. Samurai were permitted to adopt a surname and to wear a pair of swords, and was requiered to live in a castle town. Around that time, the study of family crests became popular among warriors.

Feudal ranks during the Edo period included the following: the Tokugawa Family in the Edo bakufu, daimyo with over 10,000 Goku crop yields (one domain per unit), hatamoto (direct retainers of the bakufu) who had less than 10,000 Goku crop yields but obtained the omemie privilege (privilege to have an audience with their lord), gokenin without the omemie privilege, and high-ranked vassal of daimyo with higher crop yields.

In the early Edo period, daimyo introduced the Jigatachigyo system in which property was granted to dominant Samurai (kyunin: upper class retainers); however, because kyunin sometimes freely collected nengu, daimyo expanded the territory under their control and the horoku system (salary) became a common system in around the 1690's. Afterwards, the numbers of domains who retained the chigyo system (enfeoffment system), accounted for 17% of all domains.

Due to the abolition of domains and the employment of prefectural governance after the Meiji Restoration, the central government terminated the chigyo system, and Samurai privileges were fully abolished by Haitorei (the decree banning the wearing of swords) and Chitsuroku-shobun (Abolition Measure of Hereditary Stipend).