The kokuga forces system (国衙軍制)

The kokuga forces system indicates a historical concept of a national military system established in the period from around the end of ancient times to the early medieval period of Japan (the 10th century to the 12th century). It is said that this system was established in the process in which the ritsuryo-code-based nation was changed to a dynastic nation and the Imperial Court entrusted its administrative rights to the local administrative organs (kokuga [provincial government offices] and zuryo [the head of the provincial governors]). The kokuga forces system is considered to have been closely related to the birth of military nobles and samurai.


The ritsuryo-code-based nation in ancient Japan employed gundan (troops) (in ancient Japan) as the military system. In the gundan-soldier system, one out of every three adults registered in the family registration system was conscripted to organize a gundan of around 1000 persons in a province. This system was established for Japan in the period from the latter half of the seventh century to the first half of the eighth century to cope with threat from foreign countries (Tang and Silla). However, the government changed its diplomatic policy against Silla in the latter half of the eighth century, and therefore, the scale of the gundan-soldier system for defense and invasion was reduced drastically. Therefore, the necessity of maintaining the family registration system having supported the gundan-soldier system diminished, and the control of individual persons through the family register, which constituted the base of the ritsuryo-code-based nation, rapidly became a dead letter in early ninth century.

As the control of individual persons in the ritsuryo-code-based system became weak, the hierarchical level of local societies advanced. Some farmers accumulated wealth through suiko (government loans made to peasants) and operation of private land, constituting the rich and powerful class and growing. Kokushi (provincial governors) in charge of local administration focused attention on gunji (district managers) and the rich and powerful class, and changed management of the province to control through local management by gunji (district managers) and persons in the rich and powerful class. Kokushi had the obligation of carrying and delivering, to the Imperial Court in the capital, choyo (tributes and labor) and fubutsu (products from fuko [the families supplied to each noble]). However, Kokushi came to assign gunji or persons in the rich and powerful class as the head persons responsible for the carriage and delivery. When choyo and/or fubutsu was lost or could not be delivered, the gunji or the rich and powerful person was obliged to make necessary private compensation.

Starting around the middle of the ninth century, robbers and pirates who plundered goods conveyed by the gunji or rich and powerful persons became rampant. Actually, these robbers and pirates were gunji or rich and powerful persons as well. To achieve respectable results, kokushi often made excessive requests to the gunji or rich and powerful persons. Therefore, the acts of the robbers or pirates were a style of protest against such requests, by gunji and rich and powerful persons. The plundered goods were used as substitutes for the lost goods or undelivered goods for which they had to compensate, or were used for accumulating their wealth. Bobbers and pirates appeared frequently, but the imperial court and kokushi could not cope with the situation using the gundan-soldier system that had become a dead letter and were forced to take a new measure to combat them.

The period in which the original style was established

In the middle of the ninth century, the Imperial Court and kokushi started taking measures based on specifications of rinji-hatsuhei (the special dispatch of troops) in Tsuibu-zainin no Jo (the article related to catching criminals who had fled) in bumo-ryo code (Penalties on escaping soldiers, Sakimori [soldiers garrisoned at strategic posts in Kyushu in ancient times], slave, and so on) in the Yoro ritsuryo code, to combat these robberies and acts of piracy. Rinji-hatsuhei indicated the following system: When an act of robbery or piracy occurred, the Imperial Court issued 'hatsuhei-chokufu' (an imperial order authorizing the mobilization of soldiers) corresponding to a request from a kokushi, and the kokushi sent soldiers in the province to combat the robbers or pirates. This system had not been used for a long period, but came to be employed to cope with the rampant state of robbers and pirates.

The soldiers supposed in the specifications of rinji-hatsuhei were neither those belonging to gundan (in ancient Japan) nor strong adults, but farmers who were skilled at using bows and at riding a horse. The farmers who were skilled at using bows and at riding a horse were gunji, rich and powerful persons, or fushu, descendants of the emishi (people who resided in the northern areas in ancient times) who swore allegiance to the central government and were forced to move to various places throughout the country. This meant that, based on the application of the specifications of rinji-hatsuhei, gunji, rich and powerful persons and fushu were newly organized as military forces. In particular, the high-level fighting technique possessed by fushu strongly affected the newly formed military system. Fushu were superior in fighting on horseback, and the warabite-to (curved sword), an unsheathed sword used on a horse, became the original shape of Kenukigata-Tachi (hair-tweezers-shaped Tachi [big sword]) that developed into Japanese swords.

In the armed fushu's uprising that occurred in 883 in Kazusa Province (Kazusa Fushu War), the Imperial Court issued 'Tsuibu kanpu' (warrants of pursuit and capture) to the kokushi of Kazusa Province, instead of hatsuhei-chokufu. Tsuibu kanpu was a Daijokanpu (official document issued by Daijokan, Grand Council of State) that ordered the capture of criminals who had fled, based on the same bumo-ryo code. After this incident, based on Tsuibu-kanpu, kokushi acquired the right to mobilize laborers to capture criminals who had fled, coming to combat robbers and pirates actively. Then, among the kokushi, persons specialized in capturing robberies and pirates appeared. It is said that these persons were the predecessors of Tsuibushi (envoys to purse and capture), Oryoshi (Suppression and Control Agent), and Keigoshi (envoys to protect).

In the way described above, the original style of the kokuga forces system was established.

The period when the kokuga forces system was established

In the Kanpyo to Engi eras, that is to say, from around the end of the 9th century to the early 10th century, the national administration was reformed drastically. Because persons in the rich and powerful class paid carried choyo (national tax) and fubutsu (collected goods as tax) to Kyoto, Ingu oshinke (imperial families and powerful nobles) became related to these rich and powerful persons to secure the fubutsu that constituted their income. Persons in the rich and powerful class contributed their private land to Ingu oshinke as manors to avoid tax obligation to kokuga. In the reformation to reestablish the kokuga administration and the finance of the central government, the relationships between Ingu oshinke and rich and powerful persons was broken and much of the control right was transferred to kokushi. The control system established in this way was called a dynastic nation.

With the dynastic nation system starting, the system of rich and powerful persons' paying choyo and fubutsu to Kyoto was abolished, and kokushi (zuryo) came to convey tax to the central government. As a result, the activities of robberies and piracy aiming at the choyo and fubutsu paying to Kyoto gradually became weaker. In addition, various rights were concentrated in the zuryo, and the kokuga system was reorganized with the office directly controlled by the zuryo (called 'sho') at the center. Gunji and rich and powerful persons were built in the kokuga control system as Tato fumyo who managed farm operations and collected tax, and in addition, were affiliated with 'the sho' and came to play some roles in the kokuga administration.

In parallel with the national reformation described above, Kanbyo Engi Togoku War (Disturbance by robberies in Togoku during the eras between Kanbyo [889 to 898] and Engi [901 to 923]) occurred. For this, the imperial court issued tsuibu kanpu to the kokuga and took the measure of placing Oryoshi in each province as well. Provided with the right, for example, of mobilizing soldiers based on tsuibu kanpu, zuryo mobilized persons in the Tato fumyo class as soldiers and gave Oryoshi in the province the right of controlling the soldiers, to do the actual work of capturing the rebels. In this way, the kokuga forces system was established as the new national military system, first in the eastern region through the process of suppressing the Kanpyo Engi Togoku War. With tsuibu kanpu used as the legal basis for mobilizing soldiers, this military system worked as follows: The zuryo provided with the right to mobilize soldiers entrusted the right of controlling them to Oryoshi in the province, and the Oryoshi organized soldiers in the province into a military system to conduct activities to capture rebels. Kanpyo Engi kunkosha' (the persons who realized achievements in the Kanpyo Engi Togoku War), or the persons who contributed significantly to suppress the war, are considered to have been samurai at the initial stage. They constituted a new class: Persons which engaged in security duty under zuryo, while placing their economic basis on farm management.

On the other hand, piracy occurred frequently in the Seto Inland Sea in the Johei era (in Japan) (in the 980s) ('Joheinankaizoku' [literally, pirates in the southern area in the Johei era]), and in 936, KI no Yoshito, who was appointed Tsuibu Nankai Doshi (the officer to capture criminals in the southern area), and FUJIWARA no Sumitomo, his subordinate, succeeded in convincing the pirates to submit themselves to surrender. The pirates were actually persons in the rich and powerful class, and held the position of Efutoneri (guard officers in the imperial court). Efutoneri had the right to collect tairomai (rice as food), but in the Engi era (in the 900s), the Imperial Court announced the key policies of depriving the Efutoneri of their vested rights one after another. Facing the loss of their economic basis due to the deprivation of the vested rights in the Engi era, the Efutoneri along the Seto Inland Sea continued claiming their rights, and entering the Johei era, took the action of piracy. The largest contributor of having incorporated them into the control of kokuga as Tato fumyo was FUJIWARA no Sumitomo. In the process of suppressing the activities of the pirates, Keigoshi, including Sumitomo, were placed in provinces along the Seto Inland Sea. The Keigoshi placed in the western region corresponded to Oryoshi and Tsuibushi in the eastern region. The person appointed Keigoshi by the zuryo, who obtained the right to mobilize soldiers based on tsuibu kanpu, organized gunji and persons in the rich and powerful class in the province into a military system and exercised the right to command in the event of an emergency. In this way, the kokuga forces system was established in the western region as well as in the eastern region.

Development period

It is considered that the Johei and Tengyo War in the Tengyo era (from the end of the 930s to the latter half of the 940s) occurred because conferment for distinguished services in the Kanbyo Engi Togoku War and Joheinankaizoku was not sufficient. In either of the Kanbyo Engi Togoku War and Joheinankaizoku, the samurai at the early stage who made efforts to suppress the rebellions and to maintain security did not consider their rewards sufficient. The samurai at the early stage who accomplished the distinguished achievements belonged to honorable blood lines and aimed at returning to the imperial government, based on their military art. However, because their efforts failed, they started protests, resorting to force.

Resultantly, those who protested with force were suppressed as rebels. The samurai who suppressed the rebels were rewarded sufficiently based on their achievements. The persons who realized achievements at this time were called Johei Tengyo kunkosha (the persons who realized achievements in the Johei and Tengyo War). Most of them belonged to noble bloodlines but their governmental positions were extremely low, or were of the middle or lower class. However, reviewing why such a war occurred, the Imperial Court advanced their positions to middle or lower-class nobles, or the class of zuryo who were at the rank of Goi (Fifth Rank) or Rokui (Sixth Rank). Therefore, in the noble society in the latter half of the 10th century, Johei Tengyo kunkosha and their descendants came to be recognized as family lines specialized in military affairs, that is, tsuwamono no ie (samurai families). Then these tsuwamono no ie became the basis of military nobles or samurai.

By the way, in the period from the time when the dynastic nation system was established to the middle 11th century, zuryo had a significant right to collect kanmotsu, a main tax. Zuryo entrusted tax collection work to Tato fumyo who came from gunji or the rich and powerful class, but often confronted them with tax rates or tax reduction rates. The zuryo whose terms of office were approaching the end was often engaged in relentless exploitative activities according to the law and regulations, to accomplish respectable achievements. Therefore, some Tato fumyo assaulted zuryo or took the measure of lodging a complaint with Daijokan (Grand Council of State) (refer to an article of Kokushi kasei joso [appeals against kokushi's harsh administration]). In particular, the former, the persons who assaulted zuryo, were called 'gangsters' as carrying out an anti-national act, and were targeted for military suppression. For these gangsters, the kokuga system led by zuryo played the role of actually capturing them.
In the following, a flow of capturing criminals is described:

When gangsters started a criminal act, the kokuga sent a report about it (called Kokuge) to Daijokan in the central government. Receiving the report, giseikan (legislators) (consisting of Kugyo [the top court officials]) held a meeting at Daijokan and issued and sent 'tsuibu kanpu' to the kokuga. Receiving the kanpu and provided with the right to mobilize soldiers for military purposes, zuryo ordered Tsuibushi, Oryoshi, or Keigoshi, who was the leader of military affairs in the kokuga, to take the actions of searching for and capturing gangsters. The Tsuibushi who was ordered to search for and capture gangsters carried out necessary activities by mobilizing samurai in the province. After gangsters were captured, the kebiishi (a police and judicial chief) at the kokuga interrogated the criminals, and zuryo sent to Daijokan a report describing how the criminal investigation was conducted.

The persons who Tsuibushi mobilized based on an order from zuryo were samurai in the province. It is considered that, to mobilize samurai in the province, the way of circulating a document for requesting the mobilization one after another (called 'kaibun') was used. Each of the samurai in the province wrote under his written name 'Accept' when accepting the request or 'Will not participate' when not accepting. It is considered that, after gangsters were captured, their territories and assets were confiscated and were supplied as a reward to the samurai who participated in the capturing actions.

It is said that zuryo obtained information about samurai in his province by the following procedure:
Immediately after moving to the office, zuryo ordered officials at his office to submit a document in which situations of the province were described (called 'chumon'). Based on the chumon, a list of samurai in the province, called 'bushi-komyo' (literally, samurai name list), was generated under the zuryo. The samurai who were registered in 'bushi-komyo' were those who realized distinguished achievements in the Johei and Tengyo eras and their descendants, or the persons who inherited martial arts from generation to generation.
The index to check whether or not a person was a samurai was whether the person's name was listed in 'bushi-komyo.'
In other words, samurai indicated the persons who were recognized as masters of the martial arts by kokuga. It is estimated that the number of such masters of martial arts in a province was several to slightly more than ten.

What motivated samurai in a province to participate in the activities to capture criminals was the assurance that their achievements would be rewarded. An issuance of tsuibu kanpu assured that the persons who participated in the activities to capture criminals and realized distinguished achievements were to be rewarded. The act of capturing criminals with no tsuibu kanpu was considered a private fight, and no reward was provided for the achievement. When a samurai refused to accept a mobilization request, he could be punished.

Transformation period

In the middle era of the 11th century, the dynastic national system was reformed. There is a concept of separating the dynastic nation system after 1040s from that before 1040, with the earlier one called the early dynastic nation system and the later one the late dynastic nation system. Based on this concept, it can be said that the late dynastic nation system was established corresponding to the start of national taxation (for example, Ikkoku heikinyaku [taxes and labor uniformly imposed on shoen [manor] and kokugaryo [provincial land] in a province). Until then, local administration functioned under zuryo's authority, and the manors that had been developed by gunji or rich and powerful persons could exist by obtaining approval from the kokuga (kokumensho [the manor whose obligations were exempted by kokushi]). However, when, starting with the burning-down of dairi (Imperial Palace), the central government levied national taxes as a temporary measure, the manor side came to apply for tax exemption to Daijokan in the central government, instead of kokuga. The manors, acquired tax exemption privilege, started enlarging their territories through the unification of their territorial control and encroaching on the kokugaryo territories controlled by kokuga. Then the conflicts in which persons of the Tato fumyo class fought against zuryo ('gangster'-like acts) almost ceased, and instead, disputes and armed conflicts between manors and Koryo (an Imperial demesne) began occurring frequently.

The purpose of the kokuga forces system was to capture gangsters. However, in disputes between manors and koryo, it was decided that the manor side did not constitute gangsters. Therefore, the kokuga forces system could not be used for suppressing conflicts between manors and koryo. Consequently, as a measure against manors, zuryo entrusted the management of koryo and security duty mostly to the Tato fumyo with the samurai status who had military abilities, to maintain koryo. In taking such measures, among the Tato fumyo with the samurai status in a province, those in the same gun (county) competed with each other. Therefore, kokuga took the measure of raising the status of the areas formerly placed under a gun, for example, go (villages), to a status equal to that of the gun. It is considered that, resultantly, each of the competing samurai came to be provided with the same social status and to be appointed the manager of a koryo. In this way, koryo was reorganized into gun, go and ho (community), and samurai came to be in charge of the management and security maintenance of gun, go, or ho as gunji (an official in charge of a gun), goji (an official in charge of a village), or hoji (an official in charge of a community). Based on the tax collection right, the right to judge criminal cases, and the right to promote farming, all of which were entrusted by zuryo, these samurai grew into local lords. In addition, some Tato fumyo with the samurai status donated their privately operated fields to kenmon seika (powerful houses and influential families) (Imperial families, powerful nobles, or powerful temples or shrines), making them manors and being appointed to shokan (the officers governing these manors). In other words, while acting to maintain kokugaryo territories as gunji or goji on the Kokuga side, they also attempted to enlarge manors as shokan on the manor side. In this way, more and more samurai became local lords. The samurai who became local lords participated in kokuga administration as officers in the kokuga office, and at the same time, also established a relationship called a samurai group, through marital relations. The position of the koku (province)-tsuibushi or koku-oryoshi assigned to each province gradually became hereditary, being monopolized by a specific family line. Such successive koku-tsuibushi in a province organized samurai in the province as the leader of the samurai in the province, or as 'Ikkoku-toryo' (the provincial leader).

After the latter dynastic nation was established in the middle of the 11th century, the kokuga forces system stopped functioning. Samurai in a province came to follow the leadership of 'Ikkoku toryo' provided with the position of Tsuibushi, instead of the mobilization order by zuryo. MINAMOTO no Yorinobu, who was appointed tsuitoshi (the person in charge of searching for and capturing criminals) in the TAIRA no Tadatsune War in 1030, made Tadatsune surrender immediately. After that, the Imperial Court frequently started employing the tsuitoshi-using system as the military system replacing the kokuga forces system. MINAMOTO no Yorinobu, a military noble, established master-servant relationships with many Bando Bushi (samurai in the eastern region) through the success of the searching and capturing activities, becoming the first person who could be called 'Buke no toryo' (the leader of samurai families). In an emergency, such a 'Buke no toryo' was appointed tsuitoshi, and the leader mobilized samurai under 'Ikkoku toryo' with whom he had a master-servant relationship, to carry out necessary military activities.

After the Jisho-Juei Civil War (the Genpei War) towards the end of the 12th century, the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) at its initial stage gained the approval of the Imperial Court to establish Sotsuibushi (government post in charge of police and military roles), inheriting the rights of koku-tsuibushi, in each province. Sotsuibushi had the role of controlling samurai in the province, and this system can be evaluated as introducing the framework of the kokuga force system. After this, the system of using Sotsuibushi developed into the Shugo (provincial constable) system.

Research history

In the past, it was said to be most plausible that samurai originated in the armed farmers who defeated the ancient aristocratic control system. However, as research about the kokuga system was advanced by Yoshimi TODA and Susumu ISHII (each of them a historian) in the 1960s, it became impossible to consider that samurai originated in armed farmers. The papers that pointed out the possibility of the kokuga forces system and discussed the relation of the system to the origin of samurai include "A viewpoint concerning research about the military system in the early medieval period" written by Susumu ISHII ('Shigaku zasshi' (Journal of Historical Studies), No. 12, vol. 78, in 1969) and "The process in which the kokuga forces system was formed" written by Yoshimi TODA (recorded in 'Power and the general public in the medieval period,' published by Sogensha, in 1970).

After that, research about the origin of samurai was conducted centered on job-function-based theories, and theories based on the kokuga forces system were almost forgotten. However, in the period from around the end of the 1970s to 1980s, Tatsuhiko SHIMOMUKAI and others actively promoted research and raised various issues from the latter viewpoint. The theory by Shimomukai and others connects the establishment of samurai to the dynastic nation theory and the shoen koryo sei (The System of Public Lands and Private Estates) theory consistently and systematically, and in the early 21st century, has been positioned as one of the most promising theories concerning the establishment of samurai.

[Original Japanese]