Shiki System (職の体系)

The shiki system is the term to indicate the stratified ruling structure in medieval Japan. The system was found mainly in western Japan from the mid Heian period to the taiko kenchi (the cadastral surveys conducted by Hideyoshi).

Shiki' originally meant the duty concerning land ruling, but a certain amount of authority on earnings associated with shiki authority was also called 'shiki.'
In this article the word shiki is used here in the sense of latter one.

Coming into existence

The collapse of the ancient family registration that had begun in the end 8th century did not stop in the early Heian period and the direct control of people by the central government became impossible in the mid Heian period. Therefore, the land tax collection system by the ancient government moved from the framework based on the rule over people under the Ritsuryo system into the one on medieval land ruling. The unit of the medieval land ruling is called myoden (rice field lots in the charge of a nominal holder), and at that period the wealthy class called Tato (cultivators) that came from gunji (local magistrates) and native provincial governors undertook the management of myo and came to be called Fumyo (tiller of the public rice field). Tato that became deeply involved in the management of Imperial demesne, obtaining the position of myoshu (owner of rice field), not only ran the management of cultivated land but also developed new rice fields by themselves, and became feudal lords or kaihatsu-ryoshu (local notables who developed the land).

And in order to avoid one's domain being confiscated into Koryo (an Imperial demesne), they donated their land as shoen (manor in medieval Japan) to Juryoso (career provincial class) and paid a certain amount of tax to Juryoso, maintaining effective dominion on the land as shokan (an officer governing shoen), which is called contribution with reserving authority. Juryoso that thus came to hold shoen was called ryoke (a lord of the manor), and because confiscating shoen by kokushi (provincial governors) who belonged to the same hierarchy as ryoke continued, ryoke donated their land to the upper kenmon (an influential family) class. Kenmon class that accumulated shoen were called honke (the head family). And among ryoke and honke, the ones who had the right of effective dominion were called honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor).
In the structure of stratified land ruling by shokan, ryoke and honke, the right held by each subject is called 'shiki.'

Shokan held azukaridokoro shiki (the right that azukaridokoro (a deputy of shoen manor lord) had), ryoke held ryokeshiki (the economical right as a lord of the manor) and honke held honke shiki (the right that the head family had).

In the meantime, kokushi who strengthened their rights by the contracting system of kokushi began to deal with Koryo as if it were their own property and appointed Tato as Zaichokanjin (the local officials in Heian and Kamakura periods) who were such as Goji (a local government of official under ritsuryo system) and hoji (an officer governing koryo, or public land) as their local government officials. Goji and Hoji paid certain amount of tax to kokushi, and kokushi paid certain amount of tax to Imperial Court respectively.

In this case, Goji were called Goshi shiki (sub district headships) and Hoji were called Hoshi shiki (executive officer of an Imperial demesne), and the difference between the shoen and koryo on actual local land ruling apparently almost disappeared.
The share that each shiki had for taxes was called sakuai, and the stratified land ruling like this is called the 'shiki system.'

In addition, recent studies question the concept of 'contribution with reserving authority' as the understanding of the shiki system in shoen.


By the 11the century, the manor regulation acts were often enforced in order to impose taxes for the purpose of rebuilding dairi (Imperial Palace) and main temples and shrines. Because of this, the shoen that had existed before the acts came to be officially recognized as the subject to the extraordinary taxation, and measures to integrate the shoen that had been scattered was taken. To the shoen that enhanced its integrity by the enclosure measures, the myoden system (field naming system) was adopted, and Ikkoku heikinyaku (taxes and labor uniformly imposed on shoen and kogugaryo (territory governed by provincial government office) in a province) to shoen and kokugaryo came to be enforced.

In the 12th century, as a result of the reduction in tax revenue caused by the expansion of the shoen, the Imperial Court was no longer able to pay salaries to high-ranked aristocrats, so it gave these nobles provinces as chigyo-koku (provincial fiefdom), as well as the right to appoint kokushi (provincial governors) and collect taxes. Similarly, as for Imperial families, Ingu bunkoku sei (provincial allotment system) was implemented, which means that the high-ranked aristocracy who were kenmon so (influential families), kokushi who were Juryoso (career provincial official class) and daimyo tato (powerful cultivators) who were Goji (local government official under the ritsuryo system) and hoji (an officer governing Kyoto, or public land) were connected with each other and the structure in the case of the Imperial family showed almost no structural difference from the shoen system. The system that shoen and kokugaryo (koryo) reorganized into gun (local district), go (sub local district), ho (Imperial demesne) worked as units for taxation were called shoen koryo sei (the system of public land and private estates).

The certified shoen lords collected Soyocho (a tax system, corvee), yo (tax in kind) and yoeki (corvee under Ritsuryo system) in addition to jishi (land tax) on rice fields, and similarly in koryo the taxation system was consolidated. The consolidated tax came to be called nengu (land tax).

With the establishment of shoen koryo sei (the system of public lands and private estate), the local lords armed themselves to settle their land disputes and began to become samurai. By the establishment of the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by shogun), in most cases samurai in Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region) became gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate in the Kamakura and Muromachi through Edo periods) to serve Kamakura bakufu and were appointed jito with their rights to rule their shoryo (territory) guaranteed by Kamakura bakufu. At first there was no such thing as Jito shiki (manager and lord of a private estate), but among shokan, Goji and hoji only the ones who established the relationship between lord and vassal with the bakufu were called jito. However, after the Jokyu War, shoen in which shokan and jito stood abreast were also seen mainly in western Japan and, as described below, with the beginning of Jitouke (the contract system that manor's owner entrust a jito to manage his manor and pay the customs) the conception of Jito shiki gradually took root.


By the fact that the jito's rights to control local land ruling were guaranteed by the bakufu and the unstable legal status of jito to kokushi seen in the scenes of local land ruling were stabilized, the jito tried to dissolve the existing relationship with the stratified land ruling, and came to direct the monistical land ruling. Such a monistical land ruling was called Ichien chigyo (monistical ruling), and the Jitouke that jito undertook to collect nengu in place of shoenryoshu (lord of manor) or kokushi began. In this case, the rights of jito were called Jito shiki (manager and lord of manor). In the meantime, in Saigoku (western part of Japan (esp. Kyushu, but ranging as far east as Kinki)) as the peasants strengthened their territorial bond and formed villages, Hyakushouke (the contract system that the manor's owner entrust a peasant to manage his manor and pay the customs) began to appear in addition to Jitouke. In addition, as a solution to dissolve disputes over sakuai (share that each shiki had for taxes) between jito and shoenryoshu, Shitaji chubun (physical division of the land) was started.

After the mid-Kamakura period, as a part of Tokuseirei (ordering return of land sold and dissolution of debts), shinryokogyorei (a policy to show divine shows based on thoughts of Confucianism in Kamakura period) were issued in succession based on the belief that it was by the grace of gods that kamikaze (divine wind) had blown at the Mongolian invasion attempts against Japan. By this, Ichien chigyo was carried out not only from the side of jito but also from the side of shokan (an officer governing shoen (manor)) and ryoke (a lord of manor) toward the direction that it would tend to remove interference from honjo (proprietor of guarantor of manor) and jito (manager and lord of manor). As a result of such movements, jito that held the right of ryoke shiki (as an economical right as a lord of manor) and ryoke that held Jitoshiki appeared, with the conventional structure beginning to collapse and the role of ryoke shiki or jito shiki would greatly change. Moreover, at the Kenmu Restoration honke shiki and ryoke shiki in various provinces were abolished and Kansha (shrines) kaiho (liberation) edict was issued, therefore the monistical ruling was rapidly advanced.

Under such circumstances, the concept of territory of kuge (court noble) and territory of samurai families took root and the provisions in the various laws on the premise of Ichien chigyo began to appear. In the meantime, with the strengthened authority of Shugo (provincial constable), aiming for the establishment of the Shugo-ryogoku system (the system that a Shugo dominates a manor), Shugo lowered the social position of jito and kokujin (local samurai) of Kamakura period to hikan (low-level bureaucrat) and began to take over kokuga (provincial government offices) and their territory. In this period, Shugouke, the contract system that Shugo undertook nengu collection from shoen and koryo within Shugo's territory for honke, ryoke, and chigyo-kokushu (provincial proprietor) was spreading, and such a right was called shugo shiki.

By this period, the right to cultivate by sakunin (local cultivators) was established as saku-shiki (the right of the cultivator), and the formation of soson (a community consisting of peasants' self-governing association) began to appear. Moreover, shiki itself became mere tokubunken (the right to share of profits of each shiki) from the one indicating the class difference, and the cases that honke (head family) and ryoke held the shiki containing the feature of local lords and vice versa came to be seen. In addition, by Muromachi bakufu's structure to harmonize the interests of court noble and samurai, the reorganization of shoen was advanced by Shitaji chubun (physical division of the land) etc., and ichienryo (ichien territory) and bukeichienryo (ichien territory of samurai families) took hold.


In the Sengoku period (period of warring states) daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) in the Sengoku period who took over Shugo daimyo (Japanese territorial lord as provincial constable) further advanced Ichien chigyo, and the manorism collapsed.

Eventually, by taiko kenchi (the cadastral surveys conducted by Hideyoshi), only the right of direct cultivator was admitted to the land, and the previous stratified ruling structure disappeared both in name and reality.

[Original Japanese]