Hikan (low ranking clerks) (被官)

Who were Hikan?

Under the Ritsuryo system (administrative and legal system adopted by Japan from China in the seventh and eighth century) the term "Hikan" referred to clerks who were attached to low ranked officials who in turn were attached to senior officials. The Hikan (low ranking clerks) were attached to bureaus within the eight ministries that existed under the Ritsuryo system and, were also attached to offices, sections and village offices in the provinces.
(Opposed to Shokan (Local Officials))

The term "Shokan" refers to samurai who were subordinate (i.e. of lower rank) to high ranking samurai. Shokan were mainly provincial lords who were subordinate to the shugo (provincial governor).

From the Edo period onwards, the term referred to peasants who were affiliated to a landlord.

Shugo Daimyo (shugo, which were Japanese provincial military governors, that became daimyo, which were Japanese feudal lords) and the Hikan
Hikan were also initially called Hihan-nin. They indicated the concept of those lower ranked bureaucrats attached to senior level bureaucrats. This changed from the Muromachi period following the appropriation of police powers by shugo where during the Kamakura period where a shift took place whereby local provincial lords became affiliated with daimyo as shugo daimyo. With this, the term "hikan" was also used to generally refer to the status of the populace of a province who were subordinate to the shugo. Also besides this, provincial feudal lords along with shoke (households not part of the family of the direct lineage chief), local clans and provincial samurai, influential peasants were also in certain cases considered to be hikan. The term was also used to refer to the general concept of those who were somewhat subordinate but not satisfying a fully independent master-servant relationship.

A governor's hikan or provincial folk was a general combination of: Regional lords (besides those in receipt of rank and titles from the imperial court), lower ranking vassals in the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and regional lords of manors. These were different to the true vassals of a governor.

In amongst these, were governors from governors' families who served as daikan (provincial magistrate governors) or shugodai (military governors). In cases where the governor vassals, there were lower ranked vassals who under pressure from the governor family were pressed into paying tributes. However, while many regional lords managed to exist independently and their situations mirroring the fortunes of the governor, it was not unknown for betrayal of governor families to occur, insurrections fomented by joining with groups of provincial folk and for rejection of a shugo's military command.

When fellow shugo battled each other, the hikan or regional folk and regional lords had a great influence on events. As such, when looking at cases where the hikan contributed to a victory, there is no lack of examples where the fortunes of battle shifted because of betrayals to hostile forces.

In this way, the hikan held a degree of influence stemming from autonomous self independence. However, with the onset of the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States) in Japan, the shugo and shugodai in turn forcefully oppressed the hikan in the provinces and in addition, through a feudal vassal system there was a power shift to Sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lord in the Sengoku period). There were more than a few regional lords who lost both status and the autonomy. On the other hand, as in the case of the Mori clan, there were examples of provincial folk who were subordinates of governors who managed to overcome the power of the shugo and shugodai and gained prominence as Sengoku Daimyo. Most hikan had to decided which power they should comply with, or how to keep their independent existence. The rule of force reigned and toyed with the fortunes of the hikan common folk.

In spite of this, throughout the Sengoku Period there were hikan common folk who maintained an independent existence. However, from around those times onwards, hikan were absorbed into the ranks of vassals of the bakufu or daimyo (with the exception of individuals who had gained status of Sengoku Daimyo or a more recent daimyo military lord).