Honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor) (本所)

Among honke and ryoke, both of which are the lords of the manor of Nihon-shoen (manor in medieval Japan), honjo was the lord that had the right to assert Shomu (management and control of encouragement of agriculture, taxes and so on in shoen), or in other words, had the effective dominion over the shoen.


In the late Heian period, there were rapidly growing numbers of donated manors, shoen donated to central nobles, temples or shrines by local lords asking for their protection of the shoen from shuko (confiscation) by kokuga (provincial government offices) and so on. There were even cases in which the nobles, the temples or the shrines that had received a donation from the shoen further donated it to the more dominant nobles, temples or shrines in the upper-class. In the shoen governing system formed in this way, the lords who had effective dominion over the shoen were called honjo. In many cases, the honke became the honjo. In some cases, the lords of the manor in general, except for the kokuga and the lords of samurais, were called honjo.

Deriving from the above meaning of honjo, a person who assumed control over za (trade association) also came to be called honjo during the later medieval period (the Muromachi period). Closer to our own times, during the Edo period for instance, a Court noble, included in organizations of groups of every walks of life throughout the country, were also called honjo. Besides, some places governed by the honjo were also called "Honjo," and this is the reason why there are places named Honjo throughout Japan. Especially, Honjo in Sumida Ward, Tokyo Prefecture are famous for that.


In the middle of the Heian period, around the late tenth century to eleventh century, development and privatization of rice fields by locally influential farmers called Tato (cultivators) were accelerated. Owners of these developed rice fields were called kaihatsu-ryoshu (local notables who actually developed the land) but their land ownership lacked legal basis and was so unstable that there was high possibility of the shuko by the kokuga. This made many kaihatsu-ryoshu donate their shoen to dominant nobles, temples or shrines in central capital in order to secure the dominion and the management rights over the shoen. The recipient of such donations was called ryoke (lord of the manor).

At that time, Manor Regulation Acts were often enforced as 'a new government' when a new emperor ascended the throne, and the kokuga, who did not admit the shoen, often tried to incorporate the shoen into koryo (an Imperial demesne). As a result, in some cases, the ryoke authority alone could not maintain ownership of the shoen. For that reason, the ryoke sometimes donated the shoen to the Imperial family or Sekkan-ke (the families which produced regents), which had more authority than the ryoke. These lords of the manor at the top of the ownership chain were called honke.

Among the honke and ryoke, the lords of a manor that had effective dominion over the shoen, were called honjo. Among the lords of the manor who had multilayered structures, the honke, who often occupied the most advantageous position in the real world, became the honjo in many cases. However, even other lords of the manor, such as the ryoke, were also called honjo when they actually assumed the authority of administration and administration of justice at their shoen, or in other words, the right to assert Shomu. The honjo protected the shoen from the kokuga or other shoen by exercising their own authority. In return, they gained a certain amount of profit from the shoen. In the Kamakura period, there were more cases in which lords of a manor were collectively called honjo by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) or samurai.

The honjo was granted extensive authority because it could exercise real power over their shoen. Therefore, a variety of services and obligations against the honjo, such as nengu (land tax) and kuji (public duties) were called Honjo-yaku and regarded as the most significant among the burdens on people at the shoen.

Honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor) law

The honjo, which had maintained effective dominion over the shoen, came to exercise its own jurisdiction over the management of the shoen. As a result, a legal system independent from the Ritsuryo codes, the primary law, was developed to form a new legal system called honjo law. In the event of any dispute arising in the shoen, a trial was held at the honjo's domestic governing institutions such as Mandokoro (Administrative Board), and persons mainly concerned with the dispute and officials of the honjo participated. The honjo law, which was the applicable law in such cases, consisted of court noble law, descendant from the Ritsuryo codes, local common law, and other laws. The honjo law inflicted a variety of punishments, including punishment by seizing assets, such as asset forfeiture, as well as punishment by imprisonment or the curtailment of liberties, such as internment or banishment. However, the death penalty and punishment that involved pain, such as the capital punishment that involved using a blade, were rarely executed.

[Original Japanese]