Local Lord (在地領主)

A local lord (or "Zaichi ryoshu" in Japanese) is an appropriator with the authority to control farmers and fishermen in his territory by executing authority under the Shoen koryo sei (System of Public Lands and Private Estates) in Medieval Japan. His position was in contrast to the lord of the manor (shoen), who belonged to the nobility, and the temples and shrines that had their base in the urban areas (urban lords), or Kokushu (head of provincial governors) and Chigyo-kokushu (provincial proprietor) in the public lands. And according to the records of the time, they were generally members of the samurai class, served as proprietor of a house, and were called 'Konpon ryoshu' (local lord with fundamental ruling right) or 'Kaihatsu-ryoshu, ' (local lord who developed the land). Furthermore, the system for control of land by local lords was called "Zaichi ryoshu sei."


The local lord had his residence and adjacent farm land, called Kadotabata, in his local land. The local lord had strong private authority over his residential compound (Horinouchi/Doi), which was composed of his residence and farm land, even under restrictions imposed by the lord of the manor, followed by roju (vassals) and genin (lower ranked people). For protection, his residential compound was equipped with houses for roju and genin, as well as a stable, riding ground, bow and arrow training hall, moat, mound, and storage for seeds and farming implements. The moat constructed around the residence, which not only provided protection but also served as irrigation, enabled the local lord to enjoy high productivity in the manor.

With the residence as his home base, the local lord exercised his authority, such as in the promotion of agriculture (kanno), land survey (kenchu), and labor service and tax collection backed by his military and economic infrastructure, and afterwards, the local lord came to take the post of Koryojo (an officer of Imperial demesne) or the position of Shoen shokan (officers governing manors, including geshi and kumon). The land lord thus became a practical governor, and acquired such rights to judge criminal cases, to collect land tax and to order koji (public duties). Later on, it developed into gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate), or 'Sonraku ryoshu' (rural lord) and 'Kokujin ryoshu' (local samurai lord).

Land Lord System

It has been long recognized that during the middle ages, the urban lord class such as the nobility and the temples and shrines had gradually declined, and the samurai class had extended their real power in the political and social spheres. However, after World War II, Tadashi I SHIMODA wrote "Chuseiteki Sekai no Keisei" (The formation of the medieval world) and presented the idea of 'Zaichi ryoshu sei' (the local lord system) that relates the process of the dismantling the ancient nation with the institution of slavery sustained by the nobility and the temples and shrines, with the formation of the medieval nation with a feudal system supported by the samurai class. Ishimoda's idea, which had a big impact on the study of Japanese history, gave rise to much active research and discussion, including studies that related local lords with the formation of military governments (the Kamakura bakufu and the Muromachi bakufu), efforts to trace the process of rise and decline of local lords from the late Heian Period to the Sengoku period, as well as criticisms against the Ishimoda theory (which defined the local lord as a slave master, as well the 'non-lord theory,' which argued that the local lord was a mere officer in charge under the lord of the manor).

In the 1970s, with the advancement of the research on local lords, some scholars started to point out that the Ishimoda theory was not enough to capture the whole picture. For example, it was gradually revealed that the local lords could be divided into two types - those who transformed into Kokujin ryoshu who dominated a wide region by controlling local distribution systems and local kinship connections, and those so-called Sonraku ryoshu, such as local ruling families and village headmen, who were the equivalent of local lords within rural communities. Moreover, some researches pointed out that the evidence showing that samurai were not always equal to the local lord, the existence of local lords who were not local resident samurais, and the fact that the local people who were supposed to be dominated by the local lord did not always bear hardship, but were autonomous and self-determined. Also, the following ideas were presented: to link the local lord's authority to control over the job system, to look at it as an extension of control by 'Ie' (Japanese private family system), to place emphasis on its role as a 'wise elder,' who was managed local security and public functions. Some critics have argued that since Ishimoda's theory emerged, the samurai's function as local lords had been emphasized too much, and the fact that the local lord was a part of a violent military system of samurai had been forgotten.