Yoro Ritsuryo Code (養老律令)

Yoro Ritsuryo Code is the fundamental law enacted in 757 during the ancient period of Japan. The code consists of the Ritsu book in 10 volumes with 12 sections, and the Ryo book in 10 volumes with 30 sections. This code was enacted as the succeeding fundamental law code to Taiho Ritsuryo Code and functioned as the essential laws and ordinances that prescribed the political system of ancient Japan; however, the code began to reveal the contradictions against the actual social and economic conditions in the Heian period, and even though the Kyakushiki code (amendments and enforcement regulations of the Ritsuryo codes) was also enacted to support it, it had become a mere name by the mid Heian period at the latest. There was no official announcement of abolishing it, and thus it perfunctorily remained until the Meiji Restoration period.

Establishment of Yoro Ritsuryo Code

In 701, FUJIWARA no Fuhito and others compiled and established Taiho Ritsuryo Code, and they continued the compilation of the contents of the code to have it meet the actual conditions of the country.
But, in 720, the compilation of the code was once suspended by the death of Fuhito. (However, there were still some attempts to revise it after that, and some study suggests that the finally established code reflected the results of those revisionary projects.)

Then, in May 757 during the reign of Empress Koken, FUJIWARA no Nakamaro took the initiative to establish the new Ritsuryo code, and finally it came into force long after the suspension of the compilation activities of Taiho Ritsuryo Code since in 720. This new Ritsuryo code is Yoro Ritsuryo Code. Although there were some important changes (ex. Koryo, family registration) made from the old Taiho Ritsuryo to the new Yoro Ritsuryo, overall there was no significant difference between them, other than the vocabulary, expressions of the words, and some amendments of inadequate laws and ordinances.

After that, Santei Ritsuryo (24 articles) and Santei Ryokyaku (45 articles) were made during the reign of Emperor Kanmu with the aim of revisions and additions to Yoro Ritsuryo Code, but those were abolished in a short period of time, and the Ritsuryo codes was never complied again in the history of Japan since then.

Restoration of Ritsuryo Code and notes on the restoration process

The Yoro Ritsuryo Code book itself does not exist, as it has been scattered and lost. However, with regard to the Ryo (the administrative and civil code) part, all rules and regulations except those regarding warehouse management and medical service are included in "Ryo-no-gige" (commentaries on the Ryo) and "Ryo-no-shuge," (commentaries on the Civil Statutes) which were produced as annotation books of the Ritsuryo codes in the early Heian period; thus it is possible to restore the contents of the Rho book. Also, those missing regulations of warehouse management and medical service have been mostly restored from other surviving fragments of the Ritsu book. Much of the Ritsu (the penal code) part of the code book was lost, but the intensive research had been made to collect and restore those missing parts of the code book, and the aggregation of the research was compiled as "Kokushi Taikei" (the compilation of historical and juridical texts from the fourteenth century). The restored Ritsu includes Meirei Ritsu, Eikin Ritsu, Shikisei Ritsu (Office Penal Laws), Zokuto Ritsu (Theft Laws) and part of Tosho Ritsu (Court Rules).

The original Ritsuryo Code, Taiho Ritsuryo Code, was scattered and lost entirely, and besides survived fragments of the document are also limited, so most of that has not been restored. In many cases, the contents of Taiho Ritsuryo Code are estimated from those of Yoro Ritsuryo Code. Therefore, the research on the Ritsuryo codes largely relies on the restored Yoro Ritsuryo Code.

The annotations of the existing part of Ritsu and the entire Ryo were compiled in "Ritsuryo" (the revision and annotation by Mitsusada INOUE and others) in the volume No.3 of "Nihon Shiso Taikei (A collection of philosophical thoughts in Japan)," published by Iwanami Shoten.

Significance of Yoro Ritsuryo Code

The actual operation and the management of Yoro Ritsuryo Code after its establishment were conducted in the similar manner to the operation of Taiho Ritsuryo Code, because both Codes did not differ largely from each other, and thus it is considered that Yoro Ritsuryo Code did not give a significant impact on the history of the Ritsuryo codes.

The significance of Yoro Ritsuryo Code is understood from the relationship with the political situation during the period it was in force. Yoro Ritsuryo Code was an incomplete code under development, so there should not have been any particular needs to enact it. Actually, there was no movement to enact Yoro Ritsuryo Code until 757. Looking back the political situation around 757, Emperor Shomu, who had reigned over the central government until then, died in 756, and multiple powerful groups inside the government started to fight to take the leadership of the government. Among those groups, FUJIWARA no Nakamaro rapidly raised his head in the government in coordination with Empress Koken. Judging from these contexts, it is believed that the establishment of Yoro Ritsuryo Code was produced by the political intentions of Empress Koken and Nakamaro to utilize the code which was the achievement of their common grandfather, FUJIWARA no Fuhito, aiming not only to announce their succession of the policy of Fuhito but also to seek for the stabilization of their political power.

On the contrary, there is also a study which positively evaluates the establishment of Yoro Ritsuryo Code, which says it provided a more suitable and reliable code which adapted to the actual conditions of Japan, through the process of revisions and amendments of Taiho Ritsuryo Code that had been in force for a half century since its enactment (the theory released by Hiroaki HARUNA).

Titles of the Ritsuryo Code book


Ritsu represents the penal code in the modern age.


Nihonrei (codes in Japan) varies considerably from Torei (codes in Tang Dynasty) in the titles of sections and chapters of the code book, and the order of them is also quite different. The large part of its provisions were changed into Japanese style.

[Original Japanese]