Yakata means a mansion of exalted personage such as kuge (court nobles) and buke (samurai families). Under the reign of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and Edo bakufu, it also meant a title or a honorific title allowed to a head of any distinguished family or of samurai family who was credited with his achievements.
This is also called yakata-go (a title given to a yakata.)
It was around the beginning of Muromachi period that the system of giving yakata-go title was established, when the title was allowed to Ashikaga clans and other predominant Shugo daimyo (Japanese territorial lords as provincial constable) and Shugodai (deputies of Shugo, provincial constables) as well as to Kokujin (local samurai) who were credited with their contribution to the establishment of Muromachi bakufu and punitive expedition of rebellion. The synonims for yakata are yakatamono (a person who lives in a yakata,) yakatabune (a roofed pleasure boat) and so on.
Before the Establishment of the Yakata-go Titling System
The word 'yakata' is written either '屋形' or '館' in kanji (Chinese characters), but no difference existed between their meanings, since '屋形' is believed to have meant simply a residence, judging from the address of Yakata, Yokoshibahikari Town, Sanbu District, Chiba Prefecture, where TAIRA no Takamochi had set up an office for governmental affairs and let his son TAIRA no Yoshikane reside, as well as the current use of the word of 'yakatabune' (a roofed pleasure boat).
Before the Heian period, the term 'shiro' (castle) meant 'saku' (a barrier) or 'toride' (a fort), but not a residence. Subsequently, along with the rise of buke (samurai families), their 'shiro' with strategical advantages became important also as their residences, and the original meaning of 'yakata' had changed to become virtually nominal.
Social Status of Yakata-go Title
In the society of buke, 'tono' and 'tonosama' were generally used as the mainstream honorific titles for a lord. But, after establishment of the Muromachi bakufu, another compellation 'oyakatasama' became commonly used for daimyo (a Japanese territorial lord) who was awarded yakata-go by the Ashikaga shogun family, while some of their senior vassals with yakata-go were called 'oyakata' or 'yakata' for short.
Such daimyo were also respectfully called 'uesama.'
While a legal wife of a daimyo holding a title of yakata-go was referred to as 'urakatasama' or 'gotaiho,' his legitimate son was respectfully called 'shin-yakatasama' or 'uesama' in large part.
In the beginning, only shogun had the right to license a title of yakata-go to various daimyo, but later Mitsukane ASHIKAGA, Kamakura kubo (Governor-general of the Kanto region,) began licensing it to the daimyo in Kanto region and arranged a system of Kanto-hachi-yakata (Eight Yakata in the Kanto) which eventually paved a road to the establishment of a licensing system executed by both shogun and Kamakura kubo.
Also under the reign of Muromachi bakufu, the yakata-go titles were conferred to such families as of the Ashikaga clan who were treated with higher status than shugo (provincial constables,) and also to the prominent shugo families who had successively been engaged in important posts of the bakufu government or who were credited with some great achievements, as well to kokujin-ryoshu (local samurai lords) credited with their contribution to the establishment of Muromachi bakufu.
For example, Kaneyori SHIBA from an illegitimate family of the Shiba clan which belonged to the Ashikaga clan, received a title of yakata-go and accordingly named himself as Mogami yakata so that he is regarded as the founder of the Mogami clan.. Another example is a member of the Odachi clan, a senior vassal of the bakufu government, who referred to himself as Sekioka yakata after he was given a title of yakata-go when he became adopted by his wife's family, Kitabatake clan, who was shugo of Ise Province and an owner of gosho (Shogun's palace). Among kokujin-ryoshu, Miya clan, who served as bakufu's hokoshu (a military post in the Muromachi Shogunate,) was appointed as shugo of Bicchu Province and awarded with the title of yakata-go, in 1364. In 1438, Yoshinori ASHIKAGA conferred a yakata-go title to the Masuda clan, who was a prominent local samurai in Iwami Province, for their achievements in quelling rebellions and riots in the Kinai region. Also, Yoshitane ASHIKAGA allowed Taneshige CHIBA, kokujin ryoshu of Hizen Province, to hold a yakata-go title, meanwhile soke (the head family) of Chiba clan was also holding one of kanto-hachi-yakata. Judging from these facts so far, kokujin ryoshu were considered as eligible to receive yakata-go titles. However, we must acknowledge that any of these recipients of yakata-go title during the Muromachi period, like Miya clan of Bingo Province, Masuda clan of Iwami Province or Chiba clan of Hizen Province, were either provisionally appointed as shugo or were in fact a dominant samurai family comparable to an influencial position of kokujin ryoshu.
For reference, what the word 'yakata' indicated was merely the family of the title holder, and, therefore, it was regarded as irreverent to use the title as honorific title of the head of the other families. Any daimyo authorized to hold a yakata-go title was allowed to have his retainers wear samurai eboshi (a lacquered hat), hitatare (a kind of court dress in old days) and suo (formal middle rank dress, usually includeing jacket and hakama).
No matter whether being titled or not, any daimyo being allowed to hold a yakata-go title was authorized to bear shirokasabukuro (a white umbrella cover), mosenkuraoi (a tufted saddle cover), nurikoshi (a lacquard litter) and saihai (a baton of command) by the Muromachi bakufu. Ashikaga shogun renshi (brothers and sisters of Ashikaga shogun,) kanrei (shogunal deputies,) and tandai (local military commissioners) were privileged to endorse licenses for yakata-go titles in order to abbreviate autographies.
During the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring Satets) in Japan, Tamekage NAGAO, shugodai (a deputy of shugo) of Echigo Province, was granted the use of a character from the real name of shogun, Yoshiharu Ashikaga for a part of the name of his legitimate son, Harukage NAGAO, which was a custom of henki (granting subordinates the use of a character from the real name of the superior,) due to his dedication to the expenses of the emperor's coronation and building of the Imperial Palace and his donation to the Muromachi bakufu as well, while Tamekage was authorized to identify himself as a holder of yakata-go title and to bear shirokasabukuro and mosenkuraoi, which meant that he was on an equal footing with shugo.
(Any one ranked as shugodai was usually authorized to bear karakasabukuro (a bag for oiled paper umbrella) along with mosenkuraoi and nurigoshi.)
After the downfall of the Muromachi bakufu, rulers of the whole country used the yakata-go titles for giving preferential treatment to daimyo, as in the case of Nobunaga ODA who authorized the Daihoji clan to hold a title of yakata-go since, as recorded, he had conferred the title on Yoshiuji DAIHOJI in response to his presentation of a falcon to Nobunaga, though Yoshiuji was reportedly so rude that he was called mal-yakata since then. Subsequently, during the Edo period, kakubetsu gosho (a special title of gosho) was allowed to the Kitsuregawa clan, who was regarded as a descendant of shogun families of the Muromachi bakufu, while yakata-go titles were licensed to the others such as gosanke (three privileged branches of Tokugawa family) of Owari Clan, Kishu Clan and Mito Clan, and other prominent shinpan (relatives of the Tokugawa family), as well as kyuzoku daimyo (feudal lords with ancestral status of shugo from the Muromachi period) including Shimazu clan of the Satsuma Clan, Satake clan of the Akita Clan and Uesugi clan of the Yonezawa Clan.
By Mitsukane ASHIKAGA, who was Kamakura kubo, yakata-go titles were awarded to various dominant shugo in the Kanto region. Among the yakata-go holders, specially privileged were the so called Kanto-hachi-yakata, also called Kanto-hachike (eight families of the Kanto region,) indicating Yuki clan, Oyama clan, Chiba clan, Satake clan, Nasu clan, Hatta clan (or Oda clan,) Utsunomiya clan and Naganuma clan (or Minagawa clan,) details of which are to be referred to the Kanto-hachi-yakata.
An anecdote about yakata-go in the "Hojo Genan Oboegaki"
When a daughter of Ujiyasu HOJO, busho (a Japanese military commander) in the Sengoku Period, was marrying Ujitomo KIRA who was an adopted son of Yoriyasu HOJO, Ujiyasu's granduncle, Genan HOJO, wrote a letter to the Ujiyasu's daughter in which he taught her in detail about family traditions and formalities of the Kira clan, daily manners and preparedness necessary for her to remain a lawful wife in the Kira family, and so on.
In his letter, Genan taught her that she should respectfully call her father in law, Yoriyasu KIRA, 'Oyakatasama,' and her mother in law 'Otaiho,' as well as her husband 'Uesama.'