Keiun no kaikaku (Political reform in the Keiun era) (慶雲の改革)

Keiun no kaikaku is a political reform of Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on Ritsuryo Code) at the imperial court under the reign of Emperor Monmu, which was carried out since 706 at the end of the Asuka period.

The flaw of Taiho Code
After the death of Emperor Tenmu, who was enthroned as the first 'emperor' in the Japanese history succeeding his victory at the Jinshin War and implemented a drastic political reform, Empress Jito assumed the throne. To abide by the last wishes of Emperor Tenmu, she embarked on the construction of Fujiwara-kyo, which was the first large-scale capital city in Japan, and continued with streamlining Ritsuryo Code as well as the compilation project of a national history, including the establishment of Asuka Kiyomihara Code with reference to Tang. Empress Jito has abdicated the throne in favor of her grandson Emperor Monmu; during his reign, the establishment of Ritsuryo Code, which was to become the culmination of the reform since the time of the emperors Tenmu and Jito, was implemented, and it came to a realization in the form of Taiho Code in 701. Despite the fact that the people such as IKI no Hakatoko who once visited Tang Dynasty and SATSU Kokaku who was originally Chinese and became naturalized in Japan were involved in the project of compiling Ritsuryo Code, the leaders of the project such as Imperial Prince Osakabe and FUJIWARA no Fuhito were not experts of the system of Ritsuryo in Tang, and as such, what was decided as Taiho Code was idealistic in its tendency. As a result, contradictions and flaws came to be recognized once it was in force. After the Retired Empress Jito passed away in 703, establishing of more detailed regulations as well as the reform of the Code itself was called upon, as there was a gap between the Code which was then in effect and its realistic administration.

Further, as a result of a series of famine occurred from 703 to 704 and the flaws in the tax system, there were many peasants who suffered of serious poverty. As such, the rescue plan for the situation was required.

The return of Kento-shi (Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China)
In 701, AWATA no Mahito, who was involved in the compilation of Taiho Code, was appointed as a Kento-shi (Shissetsu-shi), and was given setto (a sword given by the emperor in the symbol of his trust to the appointment of someone to a mission) by Emperor Monmu. It was indeed 32 years since the last Kento-shi was dispatched in 669. The envoy departed from Chikushi and arrived in Tang. The purposes of this extremely important envoy of Taiho era were to restore the diplomatic relations with Tang which had been precarious since the Battle of Hakusukinoe, to proclaim to Tang the establishment of the full-scale capital and Ritsuryo system in Japan as a result of the reform since the time of Emperor Tenmu, as well as the foundation of the title of the emperor and the name of the country as 'Nihon' (Japan).

However at that time, as the Japanese government did not know about the usurpation of Tang Dynasty by Busokuten (Empress Sokuten) and the fact that it had been succeeded by Bushu Dynasty, AWATA no Mahito and others led to a slight confusion when they got there. Further, they found that the actual state of the capital city of Changan and the administration of Ritsuryo system were similar but different to what they had imagined in Japan. For example, in Fujiwara-kyo, the palaces (Fujiwara Palaces) including Daigokuden(Council Hall) were located in the center of the capital, however, in Chinese capital cities such as Chang'ancheng, the Imperial Palaces including Taikyokugu (太極宮) was normally located at the northern center of the city. The administration of the Ritsuryo system in Changan was different from that employed in Japan; codes to amend defects found in the Ritsuryo, etc. were established. AWATA no Mahito and other Japanese envoys, who returned to Japan in 704 after experiencing a significant shock during their visit to Tang, reported the differences of the capital cities and Ritsuryo system between Japan and China, and their report was taken in earnest by the Emperor Monmu's administration in order to carry out the reform.

The details of the reform
In April 705, after the fixed number of Dainagon (Major Counselor) was reduced by two people, the post of Chunagon (Middle Counselor), which had been abolished at that time of the establishment of Taiho Code, was revived as giseikan (Legislature) (the start of 'Ryoge no kan' (newly-established governmental posts which were not included in Ritsuryo Code)), TAKAMUKO no Maro, AWATA no Mahito and ABE no Sukunamaro were newly appointed. Also, the Uneme no hireda (rice fields which were kept in one's home province to appropriate the cost to keep maids-in-waiting at the court) was revived. In November of the same year, jikifu (a vassal household allotted to courtier, shrines and temples) was switched to ikuro (stipends paid to people who were in the fourth rank and the fifth rank), and in the following year, the regulations of Taiho Code were modified, and Shii (Forth Rank) was added to be qualified as ifu (families provided to the third rank and higher). Further, the reform of the system of governmental posts was carried out, such as the shortening of grading of the years, which influenced the appointing of posts of the governmental officials, by two years, and adjustment of the system of granting oni (the automatic promotion system in which the persons at the age of 21, whose parents are from Imperial to the fifth rank or whose grandparents are upper than third rank, are conferred an Imperial title). The regulation on the imperial heir (Imperial Family), which was originally prescribed to include up to the grandchildren of the fourth generation, was changed to include up to the grandchildren of the fifth generation.

On the other hand, the tax system and the rescue plan were implemented in order to lessen the burden of peasants in the time of the continuing famine. This meant that the various policies were made such as switching the system to collect So yo cho (taxes in kind or service) on the basis of individuals to the system to collect it on the basis of units of households, cutting down of yo (tax in kind) by half, and alleviation of the way to collect gisomai (the system to collect and store rice and grains to supply the poor in case of famine). However, many of these various reformed policies were reviewed as early as the early Nara period, and as such, the evaluation on their effectiveness are divided. An imperial edict was issued to demand lords and retainers to strictly observe Taiho Code, as there were cases in which they illegally occupied lands (hills, rivers and marshes) and undermined the peasants' interests.

As seen from the above, the political reform in the Keiun era was carried out in order to adjust the flaws experienced when administering Taiho code, and its fundamental characteristic was to strengthen the national polity.

The transition to the reign of Empress Genmei
In the middle of the reform in June 707, however, Emperor Monmu passed away. Because her bereaved child Prince Obito (later to become Emperor Shomu) was still too young, Princess Ahe, the mother of Emperor Monmu, ascended the throne in an unprecedented measure and became Empress Genmei.

During the reign of Empress Genmei, the national reform further accelerated, and in 708, the first currency Wado-kaichin was issued and an imperial decree to announce the transferring of the capital to Heijo-kyo, which was the full-scale capital modeled after Changan, was issued. (As in Changan, Daigokuden in Heijo-kyo was located at the northernmost part. The transfer of the capital was realized two years later in 710.)
In the same year, Ideha district (later Dewa Province) was establshed in Dewa Province, and the subjection of indigenous inhabitants in north-eastern Japan, using Dewa Castle as the home ground, was started. As a part of project, the remote regions was also positively occupied as a national territory such as encouraging Hayato (an ancient tribe in Kyushu) to pay tribute to the government in south (in 713, Osumi Province was designated). During this period, the amendments and enforcement of Ritsuryo as well as the revision of Ritsuryo itself were carried out by a group led by FUJIWARA no Fuhito, and this led to the establishment of Yoro Ritsuryo Code at the later stage.

[Original Japanese]