Zuryo (The Head of The Provincial Governors) (受領)

"Zuryo" (受領) is a Japanese historical terminology referring to provincial governors. Details are described below.

"Juryo" (受領) is a term referring to the receipt of goods or services. It is used as a legal term referring to situations such as delayed deliveries. While some people read it as "zuryo", influenced by the reading of the number 1 above, there is no need or reason to be distinguished from the common reading "juryo".

During the Heian period and onwards, "zuryo" referred to the head of kokushi shitokan (four officials of the provincial governor), who was dispatched to an appointed province with administrative responsibility.


The zuryo was usually a position taken by a kami (長官, director) who was also a kami (守, governor) or a gon no kami (権守, provisional governor), but in shinno ninkoku (provinces whose gubernatorial posts were reserved as sinecures for imperial princes, and where the kami or the gon no kami was not dispatched), such as the provinces of Kozuke, Hitachi, and Kazusa, the position was fulfilled by a jikan (次官, assistant director) who was also a suke (介, vice governor of provincial offices) or a Gon no suke (権介, provisional vice governor). The lower-ranking aristocrats called Shodaibu, who belonged to no more than the shii (fourth rank)or goi (fifth rank), were usually appointed to this position. Jo (secretary of provincial offices) and sakan (clerk of provincial offices) who served as assistants to the Shodaibu were called ninyo (low-ranking "commissioned" provincial officers).

A "yonin" was a kokushi (provincial governor) who received all the benefits as the governmental officer without having ever gone to the place of appointment.


From the mid 9th century to the 10th century, the conventional administration based on the ritsuryo system (such as henko-sei, the organization of the citizens, and handen-sei, the ritsuryo land-allotment system) faced its organizational limit, and the central government promoted a nation-wide reform of the system to reflect the actual social situations in order to maintain the level of the tax revenue. The reform involved transferring a great part of the power to impose and collect taxes as well as the military power to the local officials (kokushi); in return for the secure payment of taxes to the central government, the kokushi gained the freedom to govern the province at his will.

The kokushi reorganized the kokugaryo (public fields administered directly by a ruler) in the province into the myoden (rice field lots in charge of a nominal holder), and by entrusting the myoden and tax management to the newly-influential wealthy class, they ensured the collection of taxes.
When the system of tax-management apparently became successful, the kokushi, and especially the higher ranking kami, was no longer required to be present in the appointed province
As a result, the kokushi, who was actually dispatched to the appointed province, started to assume various responsibilities as well as powers, which made him virtually the highest ranked officer in the kokuga administration. There was a provision at the time that, when the kokushi changes, the successor issues a document called geyujo (discharge certificates) to his predecessor; the kokushi who received the geyujo in the province was then called "zuryo".
This was the origin of the name 'zuryo.'

While the zuryo retained most of the power, the ninyo, who were assistants to the zuryo, lost their influences and were treated like private servants to the zuryo. Some of the ninyo who had been aggravating a grievance, attacked the zuryo by collaborating with the locally influential wealthy class of tato. During the late 9th century to the early 10th century, the ninyo, who were more likely to cause conflicts, were no longer employed to be dispatched to the provinces. The zuryo alone was dispatched to the province and carried out the practical business as the kokuga by appointing his private aides brought from Kyoto to the post of mokudai (deputy kokushi, or a deputy provincial governor); he also employed the locally influential and wealthy people as the zaichokanjin (the local officials).

By utilizing his immense influence, the zuryo was able to accumulate immense wealth. In fact, since the zuryo was in the position to accumulate an immense amount of wealth, it is said that an endless stream of people ingratiated themselves to the sekkanke (the aristocratic families of regents and advisers), which had a great influence over personnel issues, in order to attain the post of the kokushi. Furthermore, many zuryo, who accumulated wealth, remained and settled themselves in the appointed province after termination of their term.

In the 10th century onwards, the koden (the field administered directly by a ruler) in the province was reorganized as the myoden, and the fumyo system, in which the tato undertook the management of the myoden and tax, became more and more common. There were instances in which the different tax rate and tax items were decided for each myoden depending on the local conditions; such cases came to be accepted as "precedents" between the kokushi and the tato fumyo (cultivator/tax manager). However, since such precedents could have been merely a personal agreements between the kokushi and tato fumyo, a new zuryo could ignore the precedent made by his predecessor to impose a prescribed tax to the tato fumyo. There were indeed some zuryo who imposed more tax than is prescribed in order to further their own interests. However, from the late 10th century and onwards, there were frequent conflicts between the zuryo and the tato fumyo, and in some cases, the tato fumyo appealed to the central government about measures taken by the zuryo. Such cases are called Kokushi kasei joso (peasants' appeals or armed struggles against kokushi), among which the case of FUJIWARA no Motonaga, the kokushi in Owari Province, is well known.

Although there is an opinion that such cases reveal the harsh governance by the zuryo, when each case is looked at closely, clearly a great majority of the zuryo imposed tax according to the regulations, which shows that the zuryo were more law-abiding while the tato fumyo pursued their own interests. Far from being poor, the tato fumyo were indeed wealthy peasants who kept many servants, managed large scale businesses such as agriculture, and owned even many private warriors while accumulating immense wealth.

There were many realistic episodes about the zuryo in collections of tales, such as an episode about FUJIWARA no Nobutada, Shinano no kuni no kami (Governor of Shinano Province) in "Konjaku Monogatari-shu" (The Tale of Times Now Past), in which a phrase "a zuryo must grasp even dirt where he falls" is included, and that of FUJIWARA no Toshihito in "Uji Shui Monogatari" (Collected Tales from Uji), which later inspired Ryunosuke AKUTAGAWA to write "Imogayu"(Sweet-Potato Gruel).

[Original Japanese]