Shikibunden (rice fields granted to government officials according to their position) (職分田)

Shikibunden are rice fields that were granted to government officials under the ancient East Asian Ritsuryo system.


The ritsuyo code of Sui and Tang dynasties adopted an equal-field system under which kubunden (rice fields given to each farmer under the Ritsuryo system) and inheritable fields were provided to all adult men, and shikibunden were granted separately to government officials. The code stipulated that shikibunden had to be returned on resignation from the governmental position.

Government officials (especially of low to medium ranks) devolved the right to cultivate shikibunden to peasants who only had equally allocated fields, and instead collected part of the harvest as a private land tax. Shikibunden functioned as an important income source for government officials.


In Japan, the Taiho Ritsuryo (Taiho code) enacted in 701 stipulated the rules for shikiden (rice fields granted to Dainagon and those with higher ranks) and kugaiden. Shikiden were rice fields provided to the government officials who were the members of Daijokan (Grand Council of State) and held the ranks of Dainagon (chief councilor of the state) or higher and to Gunji (local magistrates), and kugaiden were rice fields provided to Kokushi (provincial governors) and officials of Dazaifu (local government office in the Kyushu region).

Under Torei (codes in the Tang era), shikiden (or shikibunden) were provided to the government officials who held governmental posts and kugaiden were a source of revenue for governmental institutions, while under the Taiho code, both were provided to government officials and there were no fundamental difference between the two. Both shikiden and kugaiden were fuyusoden (tax free rice fields) and were exempt from soyocho (taxes in kind or service).

There is not enough information on shikiden and kugaiden before the Taiho code. There is a possibility that there were provisions under Omi-Ryo (Omi administrative code) or Asukakiyomihararyo (the legal code of Japanese ancient state) that preceded the Taiho code but since neither exists in print, details are unknown.

The Yoro ritsuryo code (Yoro code) enacted in 757 integrated shikiden and kugaiden into one and established it as shikibunden. The new rule continued to grant rice fields to the government officials who were the members of Daijokan (which meant Dajodaijin at the highest to Dainagon at the lowest), officials of Dazaifu, Kokushi and Gunji according to their government posts. In principle, such rice fields were fuyusoden but shikibunden provided to Gunjis were yusoden (rice fields subject to rice field tax). Reviewing the size of the fields provided to Gunji, it is clear that they were afforded far larger fields than Kokushi.

It is known that in view of the importance placed on education, shikibunden called Hakase-shikiden were provided to various professors in Daigakuryo (Bureau of Education), which was not the case under the Yoro code. In 791, Daijokanpu (an official document of the Daijokan sent to local governments) ("Ruiju sandaikyaku" [a statute book written in the Heian Period]) that afforded additional Hakase-shikiden to Daigaku Hakase (Professor of Education) and Myobo Hakase (Professor of Law) but retained the same distribution for Monjo Hakase (Professor of Literature and History), San Hakase (Professor of Arithmetic) and other professors was issued. Although details are not clear, this shows that Hakase-shikiden had been provided before that time.

By the 9th to 10th century the Ritsuryo system had become lax, and the officials of Dazaifu, Kokushi, Gunshi and others started to use shikibunden as principal to accumulate wealth. As a result, some of them became millionaires and some went on to become Tato (cultivators), who specialized in farm management and acquired economic power.

[Original Japanese]