Return of lands and people to the Emperor (版籍奉還)

The return of lands and people to the Emperor is one of the centralization enterprises undertaken by the Meiji government in Japan which was established on July 25, 1869. The return of demesne (land attached to a manor and retained by the owner for their own use) (territory) and people of the domain (family register) from territorial loads to the Emperor.

The new Meiji government was set up after the demise of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in April 1868, established a Fu-han-ken sanbusei (fu-han-ken tripartite governance system) under the Constitution of 1868 in which daimyo domains were made into han (domains) in the local system and daimyo (Japanese feudal lords) were assigned as governors, leaving the form of territorial lords being in control. In October, the government established a Han self-government policy which specified dissociation of the Han administration and vassals, subsequently, Han was controlled by the government. In January 1869 in the next year, Satsuma domain, Choshu domain, Tosa domain, and Hizen domain submitted a petition and in May, an inquiry was held at Jokyoku (a law-making body) and Kogisho, (the lower house) followed by the execution and declaration of the han domain system in September. In 1871, Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) took place with a military force by Goshimpei (army to convoy the Emperor) mainly consisting of samurai of Sacho (Satsuma and Choshu domains), leading to the establishment of a prefecture system.

The return of lands and people to the Emperor is a transitory measure until Haihan-chiken, but the Meiji government's authority over the han was weak at the time so orders to each han had to be made by Dajokan tasshi (proclamation by the Grand Council of State) which did not have binding power. To this end, it tried to bring a strong legal basis for han control through the return of lands and people to the Emperor. However, the lord of a domain changed to a non-hereditary Chihanji, (note that in fact, apart from the Fukuoka domain, whose rank changed by the 'kaieki' sanction (sudden dismissal and deprivation of position, privileges and properties) successors were of heredity) and since feudal retainers of the domain, who were baishin (indirect vassals) were also considered vassals (vassas of the king)of the Imperial Court (Meiji government), which are the same as Chihanji, it contradicted the relationship between the lord and vassal that was established by Bushido (the way of the samurai) based on Shushigaku (Neo-Confucianism) so resistance by domains were expected. So when the return of lands and people to the Emperor was executed, its meaning was made unclear by using an ambiguous expression and it sought agreement from people at Kogisho (the lower house) who consisted of domain representatives. Moreover, around this time, dissatisfaction by the lords of the domains and feudal retainers of the domains, who agreed to overthrow the Shogunate with the setting of Shotenroku (premium), reward grants of the Boshin War, were conciliated. For this reason, there were people who misunderstood that "the Imperial Count acted on daimyo chigyo (fief) instead, which comes with the changeover of Seii Taishogun", so it ended without a great deal of resistance.

When referring to han, the "shogunate system" is associated and it tends to be considered a system under the Edo bakufu, but strictly speaking, there was no official naming, "han," under the Edo bakufu system (only some scholars used it in their literary works). However, damiyo domains were commonly called "han" toward the end of the Edo period. The name "han" is from Chinese history. After the Meiji Restoration, the name "han" was officially used, but only for about two years as a public administration name, until han were cleared under Haihan-chiken.

[Original Japanese]