Kizoku (nobles) (貴族)

Kizoku indicated persons whose social privileges were generally recognized due to their blood lines or their family statuses and also indicated the clans of such persons. This term was also used for indicating their social status. The Kizoku status was mostly inherited, but there were also persons who were promoted to Kizoku newly due to their distinguished contributions. In some terminologies, the clan of the monarch, which was called "Kozoku" (皇族), "Ozoku" (王族), or "Kozoku" (公族), was excluded from the coverage of the term of Kizoku.

The concept of Kizoku and its coverage

The range of meaning covered by the term Kizoku (nobles) depended upon the nation, and therefore, use of the term must be done carefully. In Japan in particular, the term Kizoku and that of Kazoku were used for almost the same meaning during the Meiji period and later, to generally indicate a social status class (Koshaku (公爵), Koshaku (侯爵), Hakushaku (伯爵), Shishaku (子爵), and Danshaku (男爵)) that was differentiated from Kozoku (the Imperial family) on the upper side and from Shizoku (the warrior class) on the lower side. However, in Europe, the term Kizoku (Nobility in English, Noblesse in French, and Adel in German) covers emperors, kings, and princes as well, and there is no terminology in which Imperial families and royal families are differentiated from Kizoku.

In Japan, the term of Shizoku (士族) was used for indicating, during the Meiji period and later, the former samurai class that was placed under the Kazoku class. However, Shi (士) was originally one of the terms indicating the Kizoku class in ancient China (the Shu period), placed under the Taifu (大夫) class, and there was also the term Shi-taifu (士大夫) that combined both Shi and Taifu. Therefore, Shizoku originally indicated Kizoku itself.

Therefore, Kizoku is used globally for indicating a broad class that was placed above the common people class and was provided with various privileges hereditarily, and sometimes includes the Kozou class, the Ozoku class and the priest class as well, depending upon the terminology. Therefore, when using this term, it is necessary to be careful about these differences in concepts involved in the term.

Kizoku in Japan

Taking a general view of Kizoku history in Japan, ancient Kizoku originated in the Gozoku (local ruling family) class that was first established during the period of Yamato sovereignty (ancient Japan sovereignty) period, and then in the first half of the Heian period, the Fujiwara clan and the Minamoto clan came to occupy the upper Kizoku class, replacing the former ancient Kizoku class. In the early medieval period, the Kuge (court noble) class was established based upon them. The Kuge class existed until the Meiji restoration era, though continued losing real power in economic affairs as well as in political affairs. On the other hand, during the medieval period, the movement to make the uppermost class of the samurai (called Buke-no-toryo: literally, the head of samurai families) join the Kizoku class continued, and entered early-modern times, as family status became fixed, the shogun family and the daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) class formed the Buke (samurai)-kizoku. Entering the Meiji restoration period, the socially upper classes, centered on Kuge-kizoku and Buke-kizoku, were included in the class called Kazoku, and then the Kazoku system was abolished after Japan was defeated in the Pacific War, making Kizoku extinct in Japan (however, excluding Kozoku or Imperial families).

Ancient times

It is considered that Kizoku in Japan was first introduced in the period from the latter half of the seventh century to the early eighth century when the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the Ritsuryo code) was established. The base of the Kizoku was the Gozoku class. In Yamato (Japan) in the seventh century and before, blood-related family groups, each called an Uji (clan), had been formed, and the Uji group heads formed the Gozoku class. The Yamato sovereignty (ancient Japan sovereignty) at that time had the characteristics of the coalition government of these Uji groups, or Gozoku, as well. However, in the Tenchi and Tenmu periods and later in the latter half of the seventh century, power was rapidly concentrated at the Emperor level (Okimi - great king) and Gozoku in the capital were reorganized into government officers.

In Taiho Ritsuryo (codes during the Taiho era from 701 to 704) established in 701, former Gozoku were ordered according to their Ikai (court ranks). The Sanmi (third) and higher ranks were called "ki," and the Yoni (fourth) rank and the Goi (fifth) rank "tsuki." "Ki" indicated noble persons, and "tsuki" the class akin to noble persons. These "ki" persons, "tsuki" persons, and their clans were called Kizoku. The privileges given to the "tsuki" persons were significantly different from those given to the "ki" persons. Therefore, the "ki" persons ranked as the upper Kizoku, and the "tsuki" persons the middle or lower Kizoku. Lots of national revenue was given to Kizoku as an economical privilege. Iden (fields given based upon ikai, or court rank) was given to persons at goi (fifth) or higher rank, Iroku (stipends) to persons at yoni (fourth) rank at goi (fifth) rank, ifu (the families from which taxes could be collected) to persons in the sanmi (third) or higher rank, and shikiden (rice field) and Shikifu(the families from which taxes could be collected) to persons who were appointed to Daijo-daijin (Grand Minister), Left or Right Minister, or Dainagon (Major Counselor). In addition, servants were also provided based upon the rank or official post. A distinct difference was provided between the revenue of persons at the sami or higher rank and those at yoni or goi rank, and still more difference between the revenue of the persons at goi or higher rank and those at rokui (sixth) or lower rank. In addition, there was also a privilege called the Oni system in which a person's descendents could be awarded certain ranks based on his rank. Due to the Oni system, persons in the Kizoku class could make it easier for their descendents to inherit their various privileges.

A feature of the Ritsuryo system in Japan was that, when a political decision was made, importance was placed at Daijokan (the grand council of the state), a Kizoku consultation council. Under the Ritsuryo codes in Tang, the ministry called Chushosho, placed directly under the emperor, and the ministry called Monkasho, consisting of members from Kizoku, confronted political decisions. However, in the Ritsuryo codes in Japan, the Chumusho ministry, placed directly under the emperor, was placed under Daijokan. This fact indicated that Japan evaluated the roles of Kizoku more highly than China did.

The Kizoku persons who participated in deliberations of state affairs in Daijokan were called Giseikan (legislators) (Kugyo - court nobles), and the typical clans that produced Giseikan officers in the eighth century, when the Ritsuryo system started, included following: the Abe clan, the Otomo clan, the Fujiwara clan, the Tajihi clan, the Ki clan, the Kose clan, and the Ishikawa clan. It was customary that only one person from each clan could become a Giseikan officer, and therefore, the Giseikan was provided with the characteristics of a meeting of representatives from the clans. However, as more than one person from the Fujiwara clan became Giseikan officers from about 730s, the number of Giseikan officers from other clans gradually diminished, corresponding to the increase in the number of Giseikan officers from the Fujiwara clan.

Even in the Kizoku society as a whole, the number of Kizoku persons from the Fujiwara clan increased, while those from the other clans declined
It is said that it was towards the end of the eighth century to the early ninth century that such a trend accelerated. Akiko YOSHIE proposes the theory that the locality and ryozokusei (両属性) having been possessed by clans was lost in this era, making the clans reorganize. Toshinori UNE proposes the theory that Emperor Kanmu changed family names of the clans based on a policy different from that in the past, and therefore the order of clans in the Kizoku society changed drastically, generating a new Kizoku society order with the Minamoto clan, the Taira clan, the Fujiwara clan, and the Tachibana clan at its pinnacle.

Viewing the Giseikan officer names during the early Heian period, the names of clans that had not existed during the Nara period, such as the Minamoto clan, the Tachibana clan, the Kiyohara clan, and the Sugawara clan, appeared suddenly, in addition of the name of the Fujiwara clan. About the 880s, the clan diversity of Giseikan officers was lost, with most of the officers being persons from the Fujiwara clan or from the Minamoto clan. The Fujiwara clan secured the Sessho (regent) and Kanpaku (top adviser to the emperor) posts, and was successful in making these posts inherited. Later, from the tenth century to the eleventh century, persons in the main linage of the Fujiwara clan (the Sekkan, indicating both Sessho and Kanpaku, family) were placed at the top of the Kizoku society by occupying the Sekkan posts for generations as a maternal relative of the emperor, or as a member of the Imperial family, establishing the political form called Sekkan politics from the tenth century to the eleventh century. However, contrary to the common understanding, the Sekkan families did not use their power exclusively for their own favors. Even persons at Sekkan families could not decide national political affairs autocratically, and all nationally important political affairs were decided through a conference, for example, Jin no sadame (ancient cabinet council), whose members were Kugyo.

In the era from the latter half of the ninth century to the tenth century when almost all of the upper Kizoku members became occupied by persons from the Fujiwara clan or from the Minamoto clan, as described above, other clan members started to find ways of remaining as middle or lower Kizoku class members. In the early tenth century when the nation-governing system changed to an ocho kokka (royal-court state) system, the Kanshiukeoisei system, in which Ritsuryo-based functions and rights were entrusted to specific persons, began. Then, middle or lower Kizoku members successfully entrusted with such a function or had the right position to acquire the function or the right to execute it as their family business, came to inherit it as a hereditary family business for generations. For example, middle or lower Kizoku families engaged in military art or military affairs were called "Tsuwamono no ie" (warrior families) and they became military Kizoku engaged in activities of seizing, searching, and capturing, or hunting down and killing criminals, constituting a base as samurai. Kanshiukeoi (actions based upon the Kanshiukeoisei system) and the inheritance of such family businesses came to appear widely in the Kizoku society during the eleventh century and later. Middle or lower Kizoku attempted to survive by inheriting such a family business or by acquiring a Zuryo (the head of the provincial governors) post. As family assets were accumulated through the inheritance of such a family business, the concept of "family" appeared in Kizoku society.

The first half of the tenth century, when Sessho and Kanpaku-based politics, the Kanshiukeoi system, and the inheritance of such a family businesses started, was also the era when standard styles of rituals in the Imperial court and religious rituals were established. For rituals consisting of numerous annual events, detailed etiquette and patterns were determined, and such books concerned with rituals like "Saikyuki" and "Hokuzansho" were written in order to smoothly execute these rituals.

The medieval period

The "family" concept that appeared in Kizoku society reached the Emperor in the latter half of the eleventh century, starting the Insei political style in which the head of the Imperial family administered the affairs of the state as the retired emperor. The "family" concept spread widely among upper Kizoku members as well, and the shoen (manor) territories were accumulated as family properties and were inherited from the father-side lineage. Until then, it was customary in Kizoku society to inherit assets from the mother-side lineage, but inheritance from the father-side linage became customary around the twelfth century.

Until around the eleventh century, a major economical base of Kizoku was placed on the iden and/or ifu supplied by the state, as in the Nara period, and not much income was available from shoen. In the era from the latter half of the eleventh century to the twelfth century, the number of shoen increased rapidly, and Kokugaryo (territories governed by a provincial government office) were reorganized correspondingly, establishing the medieval tax collection system called Shoen Koryo sei (the system of public lands and private estates). In addition, as chigyo kokusei (the system in which Kizoku members or others were entitled to control a province through tax collection right and personnel appointment right) was also established, the economic base of Kizoku gradually shifted to shoen and chigyo-koku (provinces controlled by them).

The start of the Insei political system introduced families to Kizoku society, and then strife for gaining leadership among family members gradually became intensified. The Hogen war during the middle era of the twelfth century was the most extreme case of such strife. The political power struggle in Kizoku society was solved with arms, and this fact enabled the TAIRA no Kiyomori, clan, who achieved prominent accomplishments during the war, to rapidly gain power. Having been only a middle military Kizoku class member, TAIRA no Kiyomori could join upper Kizoku through the succeeding Heiji war. However, the TAIRA no Kiyomori clan became extinct after the Jisho-Juei civil war, and the government of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, who originated in Military Kizoku, won the war.
However, MINAMOTO no Yoritomo did not become a member of the upper Kizoku and was selected to become the ruler (Kamakura-dono) of the Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, the Kanto region in particular) government (Kamakura bakufu)

As the Kamakura bakufu, which served the Imperial court militarily, came to be called buke (military families), former Kizoku were called Bunkan, who served the imperial court in administrative affairs, or in other words, Kuge. While the bakufu, controlling the Togoku region, was called the Buke government, the Imperial court, located in the center of the nation, was called the Kuge government as well. From the twelfth to the thirteenth century, the social status of families in Kuge society became increasingly more fixed, with governmental posts that were reachable depended upon the social status of the family.

The controllable areas of the Kamakura bakufu was initially limited to the Togoku region, not reaching the Saigoku (the western part of Japan) region that was under control of the Imperial court. However, becoming dominant by winning the Jokyu war in 1221, the bakufu came to participate in the watch of the Imperial court as well as in deciding the person who would inherit the title of emperor, extending its control rights by advancing into the Saigoku region. The Imperial court (Kuge government) continued to exist thereafter as well, and sometimes made an effort, together with the bakufu (Buke government), to solve political problems, but gradually lost its political and governing powers.

Major income sources of Kizoku during the Kamakura period were Shoen territories and chigyo-koku as in around the end of the Heian period. However, during this period, jito (Shoen managers) who were samurai came to erode the Shoen territories of Kizoku with their military power as a background. Because, entering the Muromachi period, strong power was given to Shugo (the military commander and administrator in a province), Shugo, replacing Jito, eroded shoen more conspicuously.
In this way, the control of Shoen (manors) and Koryo (public lands) by Kizoku was gradually lost, and the Shoen Koryo sei had almost collapsed by the latter half of the fifteenth century, the middle era of the Muromachi era,
It was customary until the early Muromachi period for Kizoku to reside in the capital (Kyoto) and wait for an income that was to be brought to Kyoto from the shoen and Koryo concerned. However, after that, they sent his Daikan (representative) directly to his Shoen manor (called Ukeoi-daikansei: literally, a Daikan-entrusting system), and there were even cases where a Kizoku member himself went to his Shoen manor to control it.

Furthermore, following the start of the Muromachi bakufu whose base was located in Kyoto, the functions of the Kuge government were transferred to the bakufu as well, and the Kuge government almost lost its function as a government in the era of the Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA administration. Having lost the economic base as well as political power, persons in the Kizoku class suffered from dire poverty in the era from the middle of the Muromachi period to the Sengoku period (period of warring states) (in Japan).

Early modern times

In early modern times, after the Edo bakufu was established, the attempt was made to restructure the social status system that had become scarcely functional during the Sengoku period. For persons in the Kizoku class, the bakufu established Kinchu narabini kuge shohatto (a set of regulations that were applied to the emperor and Kuge nobles), forcing the Kuge society to be controlled by the bakufu. In Kuge society, family status had become fixed in the Kamakura period and later. However, entering the Edo period, the Kugyo (the top court officials) families from the Kamakura period were called Kyuke (old families), and those that joined Kugyo during the Azuchi-Momoyama period or later Shinke (new families), reorganized the Kuge family status.

Several hundred to 3,000 koku (approx. 180 liters/koku) of rice crops was allocated as a salary to each upper Kizoku class member, such as Kugyo, but only several tens koku of rice crop to each middle or lower Kizoku class member. Therefore, there were many Kizoku families who lived in poverty.

On the other hand, even in the samurai class that had been fluid for a long period of time, the family status of each samurai family became fixed corresponding to the stabilization of the society, and the shogun family and daimyo class families, which had inherited their upper samurai class positions, came to form the so-called Buke-kizoku (samurai Kizoku).

Modern times

In 1869, the Meiji government created the Kazoku system for the new Kizoku class. The Kazoku members consisted of former Imperial family members, Kuge, Daimyo, and those who distinguishingly served during the Meiji Restoration. Privileges in social statutes as well as in property were given to Kazoku members, and when the Constitution of the Empire of Japan was established in 1889, they were given the privilege of becoming members of the House of Peers (in Japan).

However, when the Constitution of Japan, stipulating the prohibition of the Kizoku system and equality under the law, was enforced, the Kazoku system was abolished, ending the Kizoku status in Japan. However, the Emperor system, a form of a Kizoku system, had been conserved as an exception.

Kizoku in ancient Rome

In republican Rome, citizens were divided into two classes of Kizoku (patricius) and common people (plebeius), and initially, politics were controlled by Kizoku, with administrative rulers, including members of the Chamber of Elders, exclusively occupied by Kizoku.

However, over time, the power of common people was strengthened, the tribune post was established, and common people could become administrative rulers. Towards the end of republican Rome, the power of Kizoku and that of common people became almost equal, with only a few privileges remaining still. As for political group names, the common people group and the Kizoku group existed, but these terms did not indicate their actual status.

Entering the Roman Empire period, the title of Kizoku was newly given to those who distinguishingly contributed to the empire, in addition to traditional Kizoku. The titles of local government posts in the Roman Empire (duces and comes) became the origins of duke and count.

For more information, refer to "patoriki" (Patricii).

Kizoku in China

Refer to Kizoku (in China).

Kizoku in Korea

Refer to Yangban (traditional ruling class or nobles of dynastic Korea during the Joseon Dynasty)

Kizoku in Ryukyu

Refer to ikai (court ranks) in Ryukyu.

Kizoku in Europe and in Russia

Feudal Kizoku in Europe was based on the Germanic system, and the system in the Frankish kingdom in particular.

Refer to peerage as well, to check the corresponding comparisons between the five peerage titles in Japan and the peerage titles in Europe. Each German Kizoku member attached "von" or "zu" before its name, and each French Kizoku member "de."

Local officials in the Frankish kingdom later became counts.

The local officials in national-boundary areas were called Markgraf, later becoming marquis.

Powerful local ruling families, other than those described above, were later called baron.

With the Germanic tribe system still remaining in Germany, the tribe heads who possessed a vast territory become duke (a title). In other regions, persons who are, for example, a member of a royal family and are given a vast territory, became duke.

The title placed under count, initially called vice-count became viscount.

A Knight was initially a honorary title for warriors who fought on a horse, but later became one who held the no Kizoku title.

On the other hand, the Kizoku system in city states in northern Italy (such as Venice and Florence) followed the tradition in republican Rome, and Kizoku consisted of hereditary members of the Chamber of Elders and new members of the Chamber of Elders who were selected by using money or due to their contributions. However, over time, powerful persons in many city states became signore, and also established small principalities by obtaining titles from the pope or from the Holy Roman Emperor (for example, the Medici family in Florence -> Grand duke of Toscana).

Entering early modern times, as the king's rights were strengthened and power became increasingly more centralized, feudal Kizoku lost their territories and became Kizoku in the court, and officers for King and persons who contributed significantly, militarily or administratively, were newly appointed to Kizoku. In England as well, most of present Kizoku were appointed newly to Kizoku in this era.

Through people's revolutions in modern times, titles of Kizoku were abolished in many nations, or remained nominally with no privileges allowed. In the nations where a monarchy is still maintained (such as England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, and the three Scandinavian nations), a few privileges of Kizoku still remain, but almost all of them are only nominal (some marquis family heads work as company employees or government officers). Some nations (Italy and Portugal) maintain a Kizoku system, even though having abolished the monarchy. In these nations, Kizoku possess a few privileges as well.
Refer to Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels or the category (CategoryAdelsgeschlecht)
In addition, some name lists include a Kizoku member list.