Kuge-ryo (the land and land rights of the court nobles called the kuge) (公家領)

The term 'kuge-ryo' is the generic name for landed holdings belonging to 'kuge' (Japanese imperial court nobles) which includes 'kugyo' (high court nobles of third rank or above) and 'kanjin' (government officials), where the 'kugyo' consists of [1] 'ko' which includes the 'daijo daijin' (the Great Minister of State or Chancellor), the 'sa daijin' (Minister of the Left) and the 'u daijin' (Minister of the Right), and [2] 'kei' which includes 'dainagon' (Major Counselor), 'chunagon' (Middle Counselor) and 'sangi' (Consultants of senior fourth rank). In a wider context the term 'kuge-ryo' can include the estate of the imperial household.

In Ancient Japan

According to the Ancient 'ritsuryo sei' (Japanese legal system), the living of the nobility which consisted of 'kugyo' and lower-ranked 'kanjin' (government officials) was secured by the income based on the 'horoku seido' (stipend system) which was designated by the 'ritsuryo ho' (ritsuryo law). The stipend system according to the ritsuryo law, however, collapsed at an early stage, and the nobles attempted to develop their own infrastructures, involving 'guji' (chief priests of shinto shrines). Already in the Nara period, dominating nobles occupied the countryside and established their own territories by privatizing reclaimed lands in accordance with the Act for the Privatization of Reclaimed Lands in Perpetuity. At the end of the ninth century, manor houses are built by nobles so as to unlawfully seize and privatize the surrounding lands and 'shataku' (residence), which was followed by guji (shrine priests) who began to set up 'kanden' (imperial estates) and 'shoshiden' (tax-exempt lands that were provided to cover the labor cost of shoshi officials) in order to prepare 'horoku' (retainer's salary) to be paid to kanjin (government officials) and the other necessary expenses. It was in the 10th century when the system to undertake an actual tax collection by kokushi (provincial governors) was established, and accordingly, imperial households, high court nobles and guji financially depended upon 'shinno' (gifts) from the kokushi. On the other hand, some middle and lower class nobles, who had been appointed kokushi to rule a local province, decided to settle in the same area, whereas the others became 'zuryo' (custodial governors) and made fortunes or expanded shoen holdings, thus establishing relationships with the Imperial family and 'sekkan-ke' (the families which had produced the regents and the chief advisors to the emperor). Those zuryo and zaichokanjin (local officials) consolidated their positions as shokan (an officer governing shoen manor) by voluntarily donating shoen manors which they had created to influential magnates. Moreover, people who were personally subordinated to the imperial and the sekkan-ke families were granted kyumenden (tax free rice fields provided as salary), thereby becoming kugonin (purveyors to the imperial household) and thus creating shoen manors. In this way, rice fields which remained to the kokushi turned into de facto national estates (owned by the imperial court or the kuge [imperial] regime), and the 'ingu bunkoku sei' (provincial allotment system) and the 'chigyokoku seido' (possessory provinces system) were established on the basis of such national estates.

In Early Medieval Japan

Medieval kuge-ryo (landholdings of court nobles) included the land of their own residence, properties of goganji (a temple for the Imperial Family) and uji-dera temples (which had been built for praying clan's glory) and jisha-ryo (landholdings of temples and shrines), but the main source of income was their private shoen manors.
It was very different between the sekkan-ke families and the seiga-ke families (the second highest family status for court nobles) as to how they administered an estate (for instance, administration of the imperial estate was close to that of the sekkan-ke family.)
After the establishment of Gosekke (five top Fujiwara families whose members were eligible for the positions of sessho [regent] and kanpaku [the chief advisor of the emperor]), a set of the government post of sessho or kanpaku, the position of To-shi choja (head of the Fujiwara clan) and watari-ryo (or denka no watari-ryo, which was the land the Fujiwara family hereditary succeeded) were passed round among the heads of the Gosekke families. In addition to the watari-ryo, the Gosekke families possessed their own private estates which were called keryo (the original ancestral holding of a family). All the keryo consisted solely of lands which had honke shiki (the right that the head family had) or controlling shomu (shoen administration) as honjo (the principal, which was a chief tenant and almost always a religious institution), and there was no example of controlling kakyu shoshiki (a low class officer governing a shoen estate) of the other shoen including the imperial estate. In the case of a family whose class was as high as seiga-ke family, ryoke shiki (proprietorship) and azukaridokoro shiki (the right that azukaridokoro or a custodian held) of the imperial estates (of the retired emperor or empress in particular) were mainly controlled, and keryo which could become honke or honjo (property of the head family or the principal institution) was limited to those which had directly been developed by the family.
(This applied to some kuge whose class were lower that of the seiga-ke families, but the control of estate affairs was even harder for them without funds and political power.)
Even so, some of the kuge possessed chigyo koku (provincial fiefdom) and its succession was hereditary (e.g. the Nakanoin family of the Kozuke Province, the Saionji family of the Iyo Province, and the like). In the case of the other kuge who did not possess chigyo koku, they served as keishi (household superintendent) or kerei (lower class kuge who served the superior kuge) for generations, so that they were often granted the shoshiki (the right of an officer governing a shoen estate) of shoryo (fief) in the lieu of horoku (stipend). The shoryo (fief) of the kuge of a middle and lower class was largely classified into two kinds: 'soden' (hereditary succession) and 'onryo' (rewarded land). The former, soden, was a piece of land for which hereditary succession as the shoryo (territory) and shoshiki (the right of a shoen governor) by the descendents of an owner family was allowed, whereas the latter, onryo, was the shoryo and shoshiki which had been granted by the honke (the head family) and the honjo (the principal institution and a chief tenant) as the reward in return for service, and the right to grant or deprive of the fief was held by the honke and honjo. Note that, there were such exceptions that, in order to avoid being plundered by others, a soden was secured by the powerful honke and honjo, and that an onryo was approved as a soden by the honke and honjo, as a reward for longtime service. Therefore, a conflict occasionally arose between the honke (the imperial and sekkan-ke families) and the ryoke (the kuge of a middle and lower class) as to whether an individual kuge-ryo territory was a soden or an onryo. Meanwhile, there was a case that certain guji (a chief priest of a shrine) possessed guji-ryo territory by the hereditary succession of kashoku (profession and post which were inherited within a family, and particularly the privileges approved by the administrative authority in return for the retainership) (e.g. the Mibu Kanmu family of Shudenryo [which was also called Tonomoryo and was the Bureau of Grounds] and the Yamashina family of Kuraryo [Palace Storehouse Bureau]). Furthermore, as the monetary economy had developed in and after the Kamakura period, the kaeki-ken right (the right to levy duty, which was alternatively considered as the trade rights in Kyoto) was exercised against the 'za' (trade guilds) which had been descended from kugonin (purveyors to the imperial household) as well as merchants and traders (who had to provide guji on his behalf with the produce and products by means of production and acquisition), and an income which was resulted from the set-up of sekisho (barriers) and ritsubunsho (tax storehouses) supported both public and private economy. Kuge-ryo territory was originally inherited by founding a new branch family (e.g. the Takatsukasa family branched out from the Konoe family) based on the division and grant of keryo to the second or younger son, and, alternatively, matrilineal succession was possible, but in the late Kamakura period an expansion of kuge-ryo territory slowed down and merely a division of the kuge-ryo progressed. This caused a frequent occurrence of the conflicts concerning shoryo (fief), which resulted in increasing calls for judgments of the head family or the Chiten no kimi (the retired emperor in power), commencing the end of the Kamakura period, and the trend thus shifted to patrilineal inheritance to the eldest son (heir). In response to that, under the Kenmu regime the Emperor Godaigo adopted a mechanism such that katoku (family estate), kaki (family record) and residence were incorporated into 'kamon' (family), keryo (territory of a family) was positioned as the economic basis needed to maintain the kamon, collectively providing 'shoryo ando' (act of providing authorization for land ownership and guaranteeing feudal tenure) to kamon and keryo for each family, regardless of its being the honke or ryoke. This mechanism of the collective provision of 'shoryo ando' (which was called 'ikkatsu ando' in Japanese) with respect to the kamon and keryo was also adopted and succeeded by the Northern Court (of Japan) which had been established by toppling the Kenmu regime, thereby determining the shift to patrilineal succession to the eldest son (heir).

In Later Medieval Japan

However, the hanzeirei (an order allowing military governors, or shugo, to collect half of the taxes from manors and demesnes as military fund) was enacted by the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) during internal disturbances between the Northern and Southern Courts, and besides, the shitaji chubun (the territorial division of a shoen between competing central and local claimants) was performed with shugo daimyo (shugo, which were Japanese provincial military governors that became daimyo) with an exception of the case of watari ryo (the land which the Fujiwara family hereditarily succeeded) including the territories of the imperial household and the sekkan-ke families, due to the Jisha honjoryo no koto Act (an act issued by the third shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, which was a collection of basic policies of the Muromachi bakufu regarding territorial lawsuits). It was impossible, however, to resist the kuge administration which was maintained by the military force of the Muromachi bakufu. In addition, as Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA began to take hold of the political authority (sovereignty) which the Chiten no kimi used to possess, Yoshimitsu also took control of the authority to perform the 'ikkatsu ando' which was also held by the Chiten no kimi, thus requiring not only the rinji (the personal edict of the emperor) but the shogun's migyosho (a documented shogunal order) and gonaisho (a letter issued over the signature of the shogun) which were issued at the Muromachi dono Palace, even after the Yoshimitsu's reign. The emperor's rinji (order) played a role of providing an authorization called 'ando' for the ownership of the family estate and guaranteeing the family business, while the shogun's migyosho and gonaisho played a role of providing an 'ando' authorization for the ownership of keryo (territory of a family). Note that the question of which authority, the emperor or the shogun, took the initiative with regard to the 'ando' authorization depended on the period of time. Even at the time of Yoshimochi and Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, there could be seen many cases of the kamon ando (guarantee to a family) by the Muromachi dono (the Shogun), but after the Kakitsu Incident, it was mainly the emperor who first provided the ando authorization to the families, which was then followed by the shogun providing the ando authorization to keryo territories. Further, in contrast to the keryo ando which was handled by the shogun, there was the confiscation of the shoryo properties of the kuge who had objected a decision of the shogun, as the Hirohashi family who was deprived of the keryo property by Yoshimochi and Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, the two successive seii taishogun (literally, the "great general who subdues the barbarians"). It is clear that the Muromachi dono (the Shogun) did not completely lose his authority to grant the keryo ando after the Onin War and the Meio Coup, from this two following facts: (1) when Haruyoshi NIJO and Haresuke KAJUJI disputed the Inoie sho manor in Kaga Province at the end of the reign of the Muromachi shogunate, despite the Emperor Ogimachi's decision to provide an ando guarantee to Haresuke, the Shogun Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA neglected this imperial decision and provided the ando to Haruyoshi on the grounds that Haresuke had supported the previous shogun Yoshihide ASHIKAGA, (2) Nobunaga ODA who backed up Yoshiaki issued shuinjo (a shogunal license for foreign trade which was bearing the scarlet seal of the shogun) to the kuge nobles in response to Yoshiaki's 'gyo' and 'gogeji' (shogunal directive). During the time between the beginning of the internal disturbances between the Northern and Southern Courts and the shitaji chubun (the territorial division of the land, shoen, between competing central and local claimants) which was handled according to the Jisha honjoryo no koto Act, the land and land rights of a large number of kuge-ryo territories outside the capital area (Kyoto and the neighboring regions) were unlawfully seized by local warriors ('bushi') and no longer functioned as chigyo ('fuchigyo'), thus plundered ex-chigyo remained nominal and ceased to be the source of income for its lawful proprietors. The income from the kuge-ryo in Kyoto and the surrounding area, along with the revenue of the tax levied on the trade guilds ('za') and the merchants and tradesmen, as well as the income from the barriers ('sekisho') and tax storehouses ('ritsubunsho'), managed to be sustained to the Muromachi period by the shogunal guarantee on the family estate ('keryo ando'). After the Onin War, however, most of the kuge-ryo turned to 'fuchigyo' which ceased to function properly due to the unlawful seizure of land and land rights by the local warriors ('bushi'), and the confused status of economy and social security made it difficult to maintain the income of barrier fees. The nobles ('kuge') in need had to flee from Kyoto to distant regions where they resorted to the Sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lord in the Sengoku period) for help, or alternatively, some of them embarked on the direct management ('jikimu') of their own shoen manor wherein they lived.

In Early Modern Japan

The two prominent Sengoku daimyo, Nobunaga ODA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, guaranteed ('ando') the remaining landholding ('shoryo') of the kuge nobles and provided them with new fiefs ('chigyo'). Next, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, on his victory at the Battle of Sekigahara, commenced the research on the kuge-ryo (the land and land rights of the kuge nobles), thereby allotting the fiefs ('chigyo') among the court nobles, which included the kinri goryo (the imperial property), the kuge-ryo and the monzeki-ryo (the property of an imperial priest of a temple at which the head priest had always been a member of the imperial family or of the nobility). On that occasion, the sum of the size of the landholdings of the Miyake (house of an imperial prince) and the kuge was nearly 30,000 koku, wherein the Miya-ke families included the Hachijonomiya family of 3,000 koku and the Fushiminomiya family of 1,000 koku, whereas the kuge included the Konoe family of 2,295 koku as the top, and a newly founded family of 50 koku which was not rare. Incidentally, in the middle of the Edo period, the sum of the size of the landholdings of the Miyake and kuge, 106 families in total, was 46,600 koku.
It depends on various conditions, such as the family status ('kakaku'), the length of the history of a family, and a question of whether a family was close to the Edo bakufu or the emperor (some kuge nobles called 'jikkon shu' [literally, people on friendly terms] had large 'keryo' landholdings even if their family status was not high.)
When the shogun guaranteed fiefs ('chigyo ando') to the kuge nobles, the document with autographic signature of the seii taishogun which was called 'hanmono' was granted to the daijin-ke families (the third highest status for court nobles) or the superior and those of the Junior First Rank, and the 'shuinjo' letter to the others of lower rank (in the case of warrior households called 'buke,' the hanmono was granted to those of 100,000 koku or more, and the shuinjo to the others of less koku than that.)
Further, there were some cases that landholding called 'horyo' (fief) was granted to a court attendant ('shusshisha') who was the heir of a family and was called 'okata,' on condition that the grant was available until he inherited his family estate. Except for a few families, however, the okata was merely granted fief ('chigyo') which was as little as the low stipend ('sho rokudaka') samurai, and therefore, they had to endure poverty.