Shidosen (mortuary funds) (祠堂銭)

Shidosen were funds donated to temples for memorial services for the deceased and for the management and upkeep of shido (also known as mitamaya (a place where spirits are enshrined) or jibutsu-do hall). In medieval times, the term Shidosen also referred to the financing provided by temples using Shidosen as capital.

Shidosen had existed since ancient times. Using gathered Shidosen funds, monks engaged in moneylending both inside and outside of the temples, using the interest for social work in addition to continuously managing and maintaining the temples. Especially during the early medieval period, as Zen became an emerging religious sect, monks turned to interest gained from Shidosen in place of shoen (manors in medieval Japan) which had been the financial resource for traditional religious sects. The Imperial Court and the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) banned Shidosen at first, but later on accepted it, protecting Buddhism by exempting shidosen from Tokuseirei (ordering a return of sold land and a dissolution of debts). Consequently, temples other than those of the Zen sect began to lend money as a way to manage surplus funds as well as Shidosen, and in the early Muromachi period, temples were operating similar to for-profit financial institutions.

Even though the official purpose of the moneylending was to generate funds to manage the temples and have memorial services for the deceased, the real purpose was for profit-making. As the interest for such occasions was as low as two monshi (monthly interest of two mon per one-hundred mon) there were many who depended on this system. In addition, due to political instability, a flurry of donations came in from people turning to religion and entrusting their properties to secure, well-built temple warehouses. As a result, many temples invested these funds as capital for Shidosen. On account of Shidosen being the property of a temple, people were afraid of being unable to rest in peace after death if they failed to repay their debts, which worked as psychological pressure to repay Shidosen. Even so, there were some who were unable to pay for their debts and when temples managing Shidosen sought Private Acts of Virtuous Government, they were sometimes targeted in Tokusei uprisings.

As it became the early modern era, Shidosen began to fade out due to the Edo bakufu controlling the temples,However, but still Shidosen lending and loans between temples and supporters was not unusual. Under the Aitai Sumashi Rei (Mutual Settlement Decree) specifying restriction of civil actions established by the Edo bakufu, the bakufu would not take up trials concerning interest-bearing loans. On the other hand, Shidosen that was to pay for the upkeep of a temple and memorial services was exempt from the decree, even when it was put out at interest.

[Original Japanese]