Engu oshinke (院宮王臣家)

Engu oshinke is a collective term referring to a limited number of imperial families and nobles who gathered strength by taking advantage of their relationship with the Emperor in the early Heian Period (8th to 9th century).

Engu oshinke is written in Chinese characters as "院宮王臣家" and the character "院" refers to the Daijo Tenno (retired Emperor), the character "宮" refers to the Sangu (Empress, Empress Dowager and Great Empress Dowager) and the Togu (Crown Prince). The characters "王臣家" refer to the Emperor's family, such as the Imperial Prince, Imperial Princess and court nobles with a court rank of Jugoi (Junior Fifth Rank) or higher.

During the Heian period there was the kouchikominsei (a system of complete state ownership of land and citizens) which was effectively dysfunctional. As a result of this system there was a sharp increase in chokueiden (rice fields managed directly), such as Kueiden (land managed directly by the government to secure revenue) and Kanden (imperial estates), as well as privately-owned land, such as Shoshiden (land exempt from taxes provided to cover labor costs of shoshi (officials), Chokushiden (land developed by Imperial order) and Shiden (land donated by the Emperor). Under these circumstances, the Engu oshinke accumulated these privately-owned lands by protecting influential peasants and turning lower-ranking government officials into their own subordinates. This movement clearly demonstrates the shift from early stage shoen to kishinchikei shoen (shoen that were originally donated by developers for the purpose of tax-exemption etc.) (refer to internal link "Shoen").

In addition to the term "Engu oshinke," there is the term "Kenmon seika," which is similar in meaning but carries a broader concept, referring collectively to Engu oshinke, powerful religious institutions and samurai families.

[Original Japanese]