Ikki (Uprising) (一揆)

The term "ikki" refers to an attempt made by a community in Japan to achieve an objective when members of the community that share the same sentiment work closely together for a certain reason. "Ikki" can also refer to a group of people that form a political community by entering into an alliance or a contract to achieve an objective and to a resistance movement (which may employ armed force) formed by a group in opposition to the established government. Ikki is also used as a Japanese equivalent to the German word Putsch (for example, Munchen Putsch).


The word is derived from Mencius. During the Edo period, people were forbidden to form a political community by concluding an ikki in any form other than that which accorded with the existing order that was officially recognized by the shogunate government. That is why, in modern Japan, ikki was eventually mistaken for a word meaning a revolt or a riot. It is true that ikki sometimes embarked on a revolt or a riot using armed forces, but the use of armed forces doesn't necessarily constitute ikki. A "political community based on a league" that uses the armed forces constitutes ikki.

Because of the above-mentioned misinterpretation, the Japanese word "ikki" has generally been introduced to the world through its English translation as "riot" or "revolt," words suggesting violent behavior in a public place or an illegal, sometimes violent attempt to change the political system. Moreover, the "hyakusho ikki" in the early-modern period has been translated and introduced into English as peasant uprising. However, "hyakusho ikki" was started not only by the small-scale tenant farmers, as represented by the word "peasant." In fact, "hyakusho ikki" was led by affluent free-hold farmers who had leading roles in their villages. A proper English translation of the free-hold farmer is farmer, which means the person who manages a farm. Considering that the proper English translation is "farmer," translating "hyakusho ikki" as "peasant uprising" is not grounded in historical fact. Conversely, a riot and a revolt caused by commoners and a popular movement in world history, such as the Munchen Putsch, have been commonly translated into Japanese with the use of the word "ikki." However, it should be noted that those uprisings may appear similar but are in fact quite different from the ikki that occurred in Japan during the middle ages.

Consider the Japanese society of the later middle ages around the Muromachi and Sengoku periods (the Warring States period). In that society, people of nearly every level, from the commoners to the feudal lords in the daimyo (territorial lord) class signed contracts of ikki with others whom they considered to be of the same level. With that contract, the people secured the basis for the execution of rights. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that ikki was actually the social order. The daimyo of the Sengoku period would operate its feudal domain system precisely by accumulating the leagues of ikki. For example, the feudal domain system employed by the Mori clan daimyo of the Sengoku period was nothing more than an ikki formed by the Kokujin (local samurai) in Aki Province under a karakasa renpanjo (a covenant entered into by both parties affixing their seals in a circle as a sign of their equality). Therefore, although ikki sometimes caused revolts, riots and coup d'état, all of which occurred through efforts to overturn the regime, the word "ikki" should essentially be distinguished from those words (revolt, riot, coup d'état).

As such, in the later middle ages the social order was actually secured based on the league of ikki. Although ikki was ostensibly prohibited during the Edo period, there was actually a period of time during which the so-called hyakusho ikki (peasant uprisings) regularly broke out as the peasantry sought to exercise their rights. As a result of such events, the original meaning of ikki has been forgotten today and become difficult to understand. A good example of this can be seen in the Japan Broadcasting Corporation's historical drama "MORI MOTONARI," which depicts the life of the founder of the Mori clan, a daimyo who lived during the Sengoku period; in one episode, when the founder enters into a kokujin ikki with the kokujin of Aki Province, NHK substituted a more modern Japanese expression ("kokujin ryoshu rengo," meaning "local samurai-daimyo association") association") for the word "ikki".

In the later middle ages, the political community formed by a league of ikki would be armed. Accordingly, some people strongly associate ikki with the uprising of an armed group. One should note, however, that in this period communities at nearly all levels of the hierarchy were allowed to execute military and police powers and judicial power based on their right of jikendan (ruling and judging). Therefore, it isn't surprising that they prepared arms in order to secure their execution of such powers.

Significantly, after Japan entered the modern era following the Meiji period, and the Edo period became the latest "history" before the modern era, it is assumed that ikki began to mean "hyakusho ikki" to a certain extent. In reality, even if ikki was ostensibly prohibited, they virtually had to admit ikki as a social custom by which to execute rights by people of peasant status, as mentioned above. During this period, there was a discrepancy between the reality of the situation and the official prohibition regarding ikki; therefore, it is wrong to consider the types of ikki that were formed during this period to be typical of those that have been formed throughout Japanese history. Hyakusho ikki, which took place under the ostensible prohibition of making a league of ikki, was, due to its official nature, also written as the originally Chinese word 土寇 (doko).

In scientific field of Japanese historical research, a view based on the history of class struggle was once predominant. A view of ikki in that period asserts that ikki was a do-or-die rebellion among the commoners, or the weak, against suppression by samurai warriors (the strong), and the ikki had strong solidarity under the consciousness of equality. That view of ikki is still accepted by the common citizenry. Considering the above-mentioned circumstances, however, it appears that such a view of ikki is based on a particular aspect of ikki. Actually, ikki were frequently formed without regard for suppression by the rule of the daimyo. Additionally, there was ceaseless factional infighting for leadership within ikki. That kind of factional infighting is sometimes called "ikki within ikki." A well-known ikki within ikki occurred in the Echizen ikko ikki (religious riot) (see Raisho SHIMOTSUMA).

To conclude an ikki, a rite called Ichimi Shinsui (one taste of the gods' water) would be held, during which the members would make a written and spoken vow, after which they would drink, before the gods, the ashes of the document in which they had written their declaration and the penalties to which they would be subject should they fail to honor the ikki.

As a sociological term from the Muromachi period to the Edo period, ikki referred to military forces that had not been officially recognized by the central government or the local government; such forces included monk-soldiers (known in Edo period as sohei, meaning "armed priests"), who the shrine authorities used to submit claims such as a goso (a petition lodged directly with the Imperial Court or the shogunate government). Ikki also referred to a state in which the uncertified military forces would carry out a resistance movement, including the use of armed forces, against the existing regime based on a claim. Particularly, ikki of the Muromachi period is called kuni-ikki (provincial uprising).

It is commonly accepted that when the Soryo system (a system in which the eldest son would succeed as head of the family) collapsed, the branch families began to act independently from the main line of the house, which led to them maintaining relationships with other branch families by forming ichizoku ikki (family ikki) with them, and this is said to have developed into the forming of kokujin ikki based on territorial connections. In reality, ichizoku ikki wasn't so easily transformed into kokujin ikki.

Generally, ikki was based neither on lineage nor dominated by a leader who had overwhelming military forces. In most cases, ikki locally ensured equal treatment for all members within a democratic council system, as symbolized in ikki keijo (ikki deed) which is represented by the "renpanjo" hansei. Therefore, ikki had no quick-responding ruling leadership. Even if ikki once boasted great power, most ikki were weakened by internal factionalization or the like, which caused most ikki to be defeated on an individual basis. There were cases in which a person of higher rank such as a shugo (provincial constable) used its influence over small and middle-class samurai in the area to organize ikki. Thus the higher rank person virtually could use that ikki as a group of vassals.

From the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) to the Muromachi period, groups of small and middle-class samurai such as Musashi-shichito parties (seven parties of samurai in Musashi Province) had formed many kokujin ikki in the Kanto area including shirahata ikki and musashi hei ikki. Eventually, the main part of ikki was gradually transferred from kokujin ikki, which was a group of people of the same kind, to kuni ikki, which was a group of people in the same area. Kuni ikki such as Yamashiro no Kuni ikki, Iga so koku ikki and Koga gunchu so appeared mostly in the Kinai region (the provinces surrounding Kyoto and Nara). In Kaga Province, the powers of ikki expelled the Togashi clan, which belonged to the Eastern Camp in the Onin War and had served as the shugo. Thereafter, the powers maintained their republican regime over 100 years until the (Japanese) Sengoku period and this is the biggest and only excellent example of ikki. However, in the Kaga case merely the circumstances in neighboring provinces facilitated the success. In fact, a change in the circumstances triggered internal dissension, whereby the powers confronted Nobunaga ODA and they were defeated by him.

In the Edo period, the shogunate government prohibited ikki. Ikki uprisings abated after the Shimabara War of 1637, and a form of struggle called hyakusho ikki, including goso and chosan (farmer's desertion from his land as a form of resistance), began to comprise the majority of ikki. From the time of the Toyotomi government, cases of daimyo kaieki (punishment of a feudal lordship by seizing its territory) for a riot within the daimyo's territory began to be seen. Therefore, even commoners would exert great pressure on the daimyo (feudal lord) or daikan (local magistrate) by publicly showing that the territory wasn't properly administered, without preparing the military forces comparable to their lord because the lords were very afraid of having their responsibility questioned. The form of struggle represented by hyakusho ikki can be classified into daihyo osso (illegal direct petition made by a representative of the village), so hyakusho ikki (political appeal made by all the peasants in a village under the control of officials), murakata sodo (infighting that develops into accusation), kokuso (or kuniso; a legal petition made by peasants tied up across the border of the province), etc. In the Tenmei and Tenpo eras of the late Edo period, extensive ikki began to occur again. At the end of the Edo period, yonaoshi ikki (peasant uprising to reform society) occurred. In the Meiji period, uprisings in objection to the policies of the new government, including choheirei hantai ikki (conscription ordinance objection uprising), kaihorei hantai ikki (edict of Grand Council of State objection uprising), and chiso kaisei hantai ikki (land-tax reform objection reform), occurred.

Tsuchi ikki (or Do ikki, peasant uprising)
Tokusei uprising
Bashaku (shipping agents who used horses) ikki
Kuni ikki (provincial uprising)
Shouke ikki
Ikko ikki (uprising of Ikko sect followers)
Hyakusho ikki
Yonaoshi ikki

Ikki Cases
Medieval Period
1368: Musashi Hei Ikki no Ran (Musashi Hei Riot Rebellion)
Tokusei ikki
1428: Peasant uprising of the Shocho era
1441: Tokusei uprising in the Kakitsu era
1429: Uprising in Harima Province
1485: Yamashiro no Kuni ikki

The Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods

Uprising of Ikko sect followers in Kaga

Hokke uprising (Tembun-hokke no Ran, or Tembun-hokke Rebellion)

Saiga Ikki

Iga so koku ikki
1587: Kokujin ikki in Higo Province
1590: Kasai-Osaki ikki
1592: Umekita ikki

The Edo Period
1608: Yamashiro-Keicho ikki
1637: Shimabara-Amakusa ikki (Shimabara War)
1677: Gujo ikki
1686: Jokyo sodo (Jokyo uprising, or Kasuke sodo, Kasuke uprising)
1739: Genbun ikki (or Kanemon sodo)
1761: Ueda sodo
1764: Tenma sodo
1768: Niigata Meiwa sodo
1771: Niji no Matsubara ikki
1786: Sukumo ikki
1793: Buzaemon ikki
1814: Hokuetsu uprising
1825: Akamino uprising
1831: Tenpo ikki in the Choshu domain
1836: Kai ikkoku uprising
1856: Shibuzome ikki
Although wrongly considered as ikki, it was actually goso.
1847: Sanhei ikki

Modern Times
1869: Bandori uprising
1873: Chikuzen Takeyari ikki
1884: Chichibu Incident

[Original Japanese]