The Conscription Ordinance (徴兵令)

The Conscription Ordinance (Edict of Dajokan [Grand Council of state] Non-number) (1889 Law No.1) was enacted in 1873, which stipulated the obligation of Japanese citizens to military service. It was fully revised in 1889 and shifted to the Military Service Law in 1927.

History before the Conscription Ordinance

The imperial army which fought the Boshin War, that is the army of the Meiji new government, consisted of the armies from various domains such as Choshu, Satsuma and Tosa under the commands of Masujiro OMURA, Takamori SAIGO and Taisuke ITAGAKI, respectively, and there had been no army the government recruited and organized on its own. The Goshinpei (army to convoy the Emperor) under the direct command of the Meiji Government was organized based on a part of the Choshu domain's army with recruited ronin (samurai with no lord) in Kyoto.

Omura, Tsugumichi SAIGO, Aritomo YAMAGATA (Ronshu ichifuhei) and others had been advocating the necessity of universal conscription since early days. This is because they understood that an army depending on personal fighting ability like the one used in the early modern times would be difficult to win modern wars. However, the universal conscription required to abolish the social and family status and introduce the equality of all people, which meant nothing but the dissolution of the samurai class that accounted for the largest part of the privileged class in the Edo period. Therefore, there were a lot of conservative people against it within the government, with Hisamitsu SHIMAZU as the leader, Issei MAEBARA, Toshiaki KIRINO and others, and Takamori SAIGO took a passive stance for conscription because he had his own plan of the volunteer 'sohei' military system in consideration of the middle to lower class samurai. Eventually, the conscription plan was miscarried once, partially due to the assassination of Omura.

On January 3, 1871, the conscription regulation was enacted based on Aritomo YAMAGATA's plan, which stipulated to recruit five people for every one million koku in each domain irrespective of shizoku (person with samurai ancestors), low ranking samurai or commoner. Then, on April 2, 1871, the armies from three domains (Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa) was organized as Shinpei (imperial guard,) adopting a part of Saigo's idea and, in July of the same year, the Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) was carried out with the backing of this military strength.

Subsequently, the necessity to create a national army for a modern nation under centralized administrative framework was recognized, and Takamori SAIGO finally supported Yamagata's opinion and turned down the opposing opinions by Toshiaki KIRINO and others, even after Yamagata was forced into resignation due to the Yamashiroya incident. On December 28, 1872, the proclamation of conscription was issued and, on January 10, 1873, the Conscription Ordinance became effective. Since then, the above date of enforcement became the day the new soldiers entered the army every year.

As a precondition to realize the nationwide conscription, the creation of Jinshin-koseki (family registries in Jinshin) in 1872 following the Family Registration Law enacted in 1871 should be mentioned.

Conscription Ordinance

The Conscription Ordinance required all male at the age of 20 to be selected by lottery and to serve in the army for three years (standing army) and to serve in reserve after finishing the service at standing army.

Though the idea was universal conscription, those who did not meet the physical standard or were ill were exempted, and the other exemptions included 'masters of the family,' 'heirs,' 'grandsons to succeed directly from their grandfather' (collectively successors,) 'those who had paid proxy fee (270 yen),' 'officials of central and local governments, students of military schools and public schools,' and 'adopted children living in their foster parents.'
Therefore, draft dodgers appeared one after another by being adopted in order to evade conscription, and even the instruction manuals on how to evade conscription were published. As a result, only about 3 to 4% of the male aged 20 and over were drafted (though it was never possible to draft all adult males due to the government's financial difficulty).

Moreover, uprisings against the conscription ordinance broke out in various regions.
It was assumedly because the proclamation of conscription included the word 'ketsuzei' (blood tax,) and the uprising was called 'ketsuzei ikki' (blood tax uprising.)
The uprisings were fierce especially in Okayama Prefecture.
Ketsuzei' was a direct translation from the French word 'impôt du sang' ('impôt' means 'tax' and 'sang' means 'blood.')

One passage of 'Proclamation of Conscription': 'A man should devote himself to the nation mentally and physically. The Westerners call it blood tax. This means a man should devote himself to his country with his own blood.'

At that time, a verse became popular: '徴兵 ('chohei' meaning conscription) and 懲役 ('choeki' meaning imprisonment)are only one-word different - saber at a waist or chain at a waist.'
This verse is considered to reflect the people's resentment that being drafted forcedly was the same with being imprisoned.

The conscription, initially subject to the people's resistance, was eventually accepted and organized resistance ceased thanks to the awareness of the need for national defense prevailing among the people by the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors and the Imperial Rescript to Education, and the victories of the Japanese-Sino War and the Japanese-Russo War and so on, but the sentiment of conscription evasion was a matter of natural sentiment so that various measures for conscription evasion were developed among the common people.
The initial exemption conditions of conscription were gradually reduced or abolished and,in 1889, a major revision was made for universal conscription (however, there were special cases, for example, those who volunteered after graduating from secondary school or higher education served for one year and those who became teacher after graduating from school for teacher training served for six weeks.)

The Conscription Ordinance was fully revised and the Military Service Law became effective in 1927.


Military service was considered as a measure to earn a living under depression. In addition, the contribution of conscription cannot be denied as it helped the modern system or living in the military service to spread to the local areas. Peasants thought serving military was easier than farming (even they received violence) and they could eat even white rice in military, so it was said that 'a man who entered the military became lazy' in the Meiji period.

[Original Japanese]