Myojitaito (苗字帯刀)

Myojitaito is a term indicating the social status of samurai during the Edo period.

If a person was provided with a myojitaito right, he was permitted to officially use a family name that originated in a territorial name, indicating that the family belonged to the territorial lord class (this means using an original name, not a privately given name), and was also permitted to wear two Japanese swords, a uchigatana (a sword worn inside the "obi " belt) (a long sword) and a wakizashi (a short sword). If a person was provided with a myojitaito right, it showed that the person belonged to a family concerned with military art.

However, it was not prohibited for persons other than samurai to possess a sword. Furthermore, it was permitted for persons other than samurai to wear a short sword on the waist as fashion. Therefore, the fact that the myojitaito right was given to samurai alone did not mean that people like farmers or merchants were completely prohibited from possessing any arms. Although persons like merchants or farmers were not allowed officially to possess their family names, there were many examples where family names handed down from the era before the Edo period were used privately. The reality was more likely that these family names were not permitted to be written in public documents, such as Shumon Ninbetsu Cho (religious and population investigation registers), and in some cases, these names remain as epitaphs on tombstones or family registers of deaths, both of which were provided strongly with characteristics of private documents. There were some instances in which an ordinary person brought a suit to the domain concerning his or her family name and the domain passed a verdict.

Daimyo or hatamoto (direct retainers of the bakufu, which is a form of Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) gave the myojitaito right to dominant merchants or farmers, depending on their lineages or distinguished services to them, and dealt with these persons in a way similar to that for samurai. However, the right given in such a way was effective only in the territory, and was not admitted by the Edo bakufu. Therefore, Tadataka INO, who was a nanushi (village headman) in present Sawara City, was permitted to use the family name of 'INO' in Sawara, but was prohibited from using the name outside the territory. At the age of fifty-seven, he was provided with the myojitaito right by the Edo bakufu due to his accomplishments of geographical measuring of the Ezo area, and it was after this that he became able to use the family name of 'INO' outside Sawara as well. The privilege of possessing a family name and that of wearing a sword were not inseparable. In one example, it was permitted to possess a family name, but not to wear a sword, and in another example, it was permitted to hand down a family name for later generations, but not have the right to wear a sword.

Actually, though belonging to the farmer class, some village officers were provided with the myojitaito right, and some were even treated as goshi (local samurai).

[Original Japanese]