Official court titles for samurai (武家官位)

The Japanese term Buke-kani is used to refer to the official ranks (official posts and court ranks) that samurai were granted or adopted for themselves mainly from the Sengoku period (Japan) to the Edo period.


FormerJuryo (local officers) who were sent to rural areas as Kokushi (provincial governors) or Mokudai (representatives of Kokushi) and settled down in the area contributed significantly to the formation of groups of samurai. They used their official rank to dominate the area and extend their power. Once the power of warriors began to grow, those in power attempted to get them under their control by giving them official ranks. Since the official rank still held the power of authority even after the Ritsuryo system broke down and its actual meaning was lost, it was used to clarify the rank order of the warriors. At the same time, it was also used to show the domination of the Imperial Court over the warriors.

Once the military government was established, Yoritomo MINAMOTO banned Gokenin(low-ranking vassal) from being appointed to an official rank without Yoritomo's permission to tighten the control over them. A formal procedure was established later on to ensure that awarding a rank to warriors had to be dealt by the officers called Kanto-bugyo (a commissioner of the appointment to an office) and it was conducted in the form called Buke-shisso (an intermediary between the Court and the Shogunate government), which means it is formally requested from the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) to the Imperial Court. The Muromachi bakufu also followed the procedure.

The official rank in the military government from the Sengoku period to the Azuchi-momoyama period

In the Sengoku period (Japan), the power of the bakufu declined and the number of cases called Chokuso was increasing, which means daimyo directly negotiates with the Imperial Court and receives the official rank. When the Imperial Court was in short of money, daimyo donated their money asking for an official rank in return and the Imperial Court often issued one which was higher than their family status in return. For example, the post called Sakyo no daibu (Master of the Eastern Capital Offices) used to be a one which was only given to the four specific families called Shishiki-ke (four administrators' family: Yamana, Isshiki, Akamatsu, Kyogoku) among all the daimyo, however, during the Sengoku period even a low rank daimyo in a rural area was awarded the post and sometimes multiple daimyos were awarded at the same time. The official ranks started being used not only as a sign of authority but also as a legitimacy of the control of the territory as well as a justification of a battle. The main examples of above are the case that Ouchi Clan asked for the rank of Dazai-daini (Senior Assistant Governor General in Dazai-fu) to compete with Shoni Clan, and also the case that Nobuhide ODA, the father of Nobunaga ODA, Yoshimono IMAGWA, and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA were appointed to Mikawa no kami (the governor of Mikawa Province) to rule the Mikawa region.

During this period, there were also an increased number of warriors who used self-appointed posts without getting permissions from the Imperial Court. The post called Kazusa no suke (Assistant Governor of Kazusa Province) that Nobunaga ODA used in his early days is one of the examples. Some lords also started providing some official posts to their vassals as a prize by giving them a private letter called kanto no kakidashi (appointment of a government service) or juryo no kakidashi (written appointment of a government service) which allowed them to use the posts. The post called Chikuzen no kami (governor of Chikuzen Province) that Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI used when he was serving the Oda Clan as its general is considered to be one example of the above.

Once Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI succeeded in dominating the whole country as Kanpaku (chief adviser to the Emperor), the highest aristocratic rank, he started to try controlling daimyo throughout the country by giving them official ranks and incorporating them into the Ritsuryo ranking system. However, the promotion system of the official rank stopped functioning since too many warriors were awarded to the higher ranks while the official ranks to be given to the court nobles were already in short. As a result, there were no court nobles who were qualified to become Daijin (minister), and Naidaijin (inner minister) Ieyasu TOKUGAWA was the person possessing the highest rank at the time of death of Hideyoshi (1598), which considered to be an extraordinary situation. Hideyoshi also allowed a warrior called Korenori KAMEI who shared the view of overseas operation with, to identify himself as unique posts such as Ryukyu no kami (governor of Ryukyu Province, current Okinawa Pref,) or Taishu no kami (governor of Taishu Province, current Taishu, Zejiang Province in China) which didn't exist in the Ritsuryo system. Strictly speaking, this is a serious matter for the Imperial Court, however, Kamei's post returned to the one within the country after Hideyoshi's overseas operation had failed.

The official rank in the military government during the Edo period

Once Ieyasu TOKUGAWA established the Edo bakufu, leaning from the bad experiences during the Toyotomi regime, he started to reform the ranking system while still using it as a tool to control the warriors.
First of all, he separated the official rank in the military government from the one for the court nobles by dealing the former as Ingainokan (the posts exceeding the original limit) under the Laws Governing the Imperial Court Nobility,
This change prevented the situation which warriors possession of official ranks get in the way of the promotion of court nobles. It is also a part of the reform to appoint the posts such as Shosho (minor captain), Chujo (middle captain), Chunagon (vice-councilor of state), Dainagon (chief councilor of state) as a category called Gonkan (posts appointed exceeding the Ritsuryo quota). Also all the official ranks in the military government virtually had to be appointed by Shogun, and his permission was required even though some daimyos and shogunal vassals were directly nominated by the Imperial Court.

The official ranks given to daimyo are matched to the House of Urin, and the ranks were as follows.
Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade), or Shodaibu (Fifth Rank) - ordinary daimyo
Jushiinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade), or Shihon (Fourth Rank)

The official posts were as follows.
Jiju (chamberlain)
Provincial officials (including the Kuroda family, the Nabeshima family) were in the rank of Jushiinoge-jiju (junior forth rank, lower grade chamberlain). The Nanbu family, the Yanagisawa family and assistant provincial officials (including the Niwa family, the Tachibana family) started as the rank of Jushiinoge or Jugoinoge and they were promoted to Jushiinoge-jiju later on. The Oda family was in the rank which was one below assistant provincial official in the early days of Edo period (its family status was demoted due to "Meiwa incident" and "Uda Disturbance"). A part of Fudai (daimyo who had been vassals of the Tokugawa clan for generations) such as the Sakakibara family were ranked as Jugoinoge and promoted to Jiju later on. A part of Fudainami (the non-fudai families who were treated at the same level as fudai), and Negai-fudai (the non-fudai family who became fudai by marriage or by request) such as the Sanada family were ranked as Jugoinoge and promoted to Jushiinoge later on. Gonshosho (Provisional Minor Captain) - A part of Kunimochi daimyo (daimyo having domain of one province or more), Shinpan (relatives of the Tokugawa family) such as Tsuyama domain and Fukui domain, Shinpan-nami (non-shinpan daimyo who treated at the same level as Shinpan) such as the Ikeda family in Tottori Domain, Renshi (the branch families of the three branch Tokugawa families) such as the Takasu family and the Saijo family, and the Ii family.
Gonchujo (Provisional Middle Captain) - the Hoshina family (the Aizu Matsudaira family), the Shimazu family, and the Date family
Sangi, also called Saisho (Royal Advisor) - the Maeda family, and Kamon, a part of the Tokugawa family (the Tatebayashi family, the Kofu family)
Gon Chunagon (a provisional vice-councilor of state), also called Komon -the Mito Tokugawa family
Gon Dainagon (a provisional chief councilor of state), also called Asho - the Owari Tokugawa family and the Kishu Tokugawa family
These official ranks in the military government were used to differentiate the status of families, such as by determining the seating order in shikoseki (anteroom seats for feudal lords and direct retainer of the shogun at the Edo-jo castle), and by securing some seats for daimyo at the forth order or above, etc. Also the gap between the status of families was created by subtly adjusting their initial posts or the speed of their promotion.

Special exceptions in the name of the official rank

Under the rule of the official rank in the military government, use of the post such as "kami"'〜守' or "kami"'〜頭' was not recognized as an official rank and regarded as the identification used by those who were conferred as Jugoinoge. However, use of the post required the permission of the bakufu, and they used it as a tool to control daimyo by setting special exceptions for some posts.
The details are as follows;

A ban on sharing a same post between the families having a same surname.

To avoid confusion

Among Kunimochi daimyo whose surname were Matsudaira, a prioirty was given to use their territory name for the posts.

Kaga no kami (the governor of Kaga Province) for Kaga-Maeda family (the surname Matsudaira was given by the bakufu), Echizen no kami (the governor of Echizen Province) for Echizen-Matsudaira family.

Among Kunimochi daimyo whose territory was large, a prioirty was given to use their territory name for the posts.

Mutsu no kami (the governor of Mutsu Province) for Sendai Domain, Satsuma no kami (the governor of Satsuma Province) for Satsuma Domain, Chikuzen no kami (the governor of Chikuzen Province) for Fukuoka Domain, and Hizen no kami (the governor of Bizen Province) for Saga Domain, or the like. There are also examples of Hidenari MORI being Nagato no kami (the governor of Nagato Province), Mitsuakira ASANO being Aki no kami (the governor of Aki Province), etc at the time of foundation of the bakufu, however, later on Jiju was the highest rank ever given to these families.

A ban on sharing the same post as the one of Roju (senior counselor) who does not have a seat in shikoseki of the Edo castle.

When one is promoted to Roju (senior councilor), the daimyo who has the same post and the bakufu officials in his charge get transferred.

The case that territory names were used by daimyo other than Kunimochi daimyo.

There were special exceptions such as the Matsuura family in Hizen Province (Hizen no kami, also Iki no kami), the Sanada family in Shinano Province (Shinano no kami, also Izu no kami), and the So family in Tsushima Province (Tushima no kami), etc. who were allowed to use their territory names.

The detested post

A ban on the use of the post such as Mikawa no kami (only allowed for the Tuyama Matsudaira family), Musashi no kami and Yamashiro no kami (from March 25th, 1867)

Standing in awe of the Bakufu and the Imperial Court, the above names were not used.

The posts such as Jibushoyu (Mitsunari ISHIDA) and Owari no kami (Harukata SUE, Norihide MATSUDA) were also detested.

It seems strange that the post of Kozuke no suke which had an ominous impression was used by many daimyo and shogunal vassals, and those such as Masazumi HONDA, Masanobu HOTTA, Yoshihisa KIRA and the Mikawa Oguri family all had a miserable end of their lives. Also there is no record that the post of Hyuga no kami (Mitsuhide AKECHI) was especially detested, since it was used for generations by the Mizuno family of Yuki Domain who were the descendants of Katsunari MIZUNO known as Oni-Hyuga (a devil in Hyuga) and also by the Echizen Matsudaira family who were the branch family of the Matsudaira family of Itoigawa Domain.

The post of Uemon no jo (Nagamori MASHITA) was avoided because of his opportunistic attitude towards both Eastern and Western troops, and the post of Uhyoe no jo (Masakage YAMAGATA) was avoided because he got promotion by the betrayal of his own brother, while the post of Uemon no suke (Hisamichi MATSUNAGA) was also avoided because both he and his father rebelled against the ruler of the nation at the time twice and killed themselves as a result of that.

However, the posts such as Sahyoe no jo (Hisama ASAI and Nobushige OYAMADA who made a wrong decision and had an unexpected miserable end), Saemon no kami (Yoshikage ASAKURA and Hideaki KOBAYAKAWA who disintegrated their family state) and Saemon no suke (Nobushige SANADA who fought against the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Battle of Osaka) were accepted without any bad impression and used by the Mito Tokugawa family, the Shonai Sakai family, the Kitsuregawa family (the Ashikaga family), the Kira family, and the Toyama family etc. Its reason and its criteria are unknown.