Ikai (the court rank) (位階)

"Ikai" (the court rank) is a ranking system of the government officials.

Combined with Kunto (order of merit) it was also called "Ikai Kunto" in Japan, and generally referred to what was stipulated by the Ritsuryo codes (the Ritsuryo System, a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code). (Particularlly from the Meiji to the early Showa periods, the Order of the Golden Kite was included.)
In the court rank system under the Ritsuryo system, four ranks called Honi (court rank) (the history of Japan) were separately set up for the court rank to the Imperial princes. The court rank was designed mainly for princes without the title of Shinno (Imperial Prince), members of the Imperial family, and their subjects, but after the Meiji period in which the Ritsuryo codes were abolished, the court rank became a rank of honor which was bestowed upon those who had been government officials or those who had performed significant services. At present, it is also a rank of honor under the Constitution of Japan, which is bestowed every year upon the deceased who have done distinguished services.

In addition, the conferment of a court rank is called "Joi," and the ceremony held in the Imperial Court in which the Fifth Rank and above are granted is also called "Joi" after the Heian period. (It is held on around January 5.). "Kani" (the official rank), which is often confused with the court rank, is referred to as "the official post and rank" and differs from Ikai.

The Japanese court rank system

The court rank system introduced from China with other political and administrative systems has developed independently in Japan. The Twelve-cap court rank system established in 603 was the first that imposed a ranking among government officials. After several changes (see The changes in the court and the official ranks), the foundation of the court rank system was established under the Taiho (701) and the Yoro (718) codes.

After 673, even gods were given ranks (see Shinkai, ranks granted to Shinto gods).


By connecting the court rank with the official post (the official rank system), the court rank system placed the right person in the right post regardless of heredity or power, and also avoided the hereditary transfer of the official post. The system that the Emperor used to impose a court rank also concentrated the authority and power in the hands of the Emperor, which led to the establishment of the political system that placed the Emperor at the top.

According to "Kani rei" 官位令 (the law concerning the official rank) of the Taiho and the Yoro Ritsuryo codes, the Imperial princes of the Imperial family were graded in four ranks from "Ippon" to "Shihon" (First to Fourth Rank); other Shoo (princes who didn't receive any proclamation to be an Imperial Prince) were in fourteen ranks from Shoichii (Senior First Rank) to Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade); subjects were in thirty ranks from Shoichii to Shosoige (Lesser Initial Rank, Lower Grade). The official post was determined by the court rank, and restrictions on costumes were imposed according to the court rank. It was stipulated that those who were of Fifth Rank and above were provided with "Iden" (rice fields provided depending on the court rank).

Under the Ritsuryo System, 'the nobility' were referred to as persons of Fifth Rank or higher, and granted the privilege of stepping into the Imperial Court.
In contrast to 'the nobility,' those who were of Sixth Rank or lower to no rank were called 'Jige' or 'Jigenin.'

Under the Imperial Court and the new Meiji government, the court rank and the official post were conferred on the deceased in the recognition of services done in their lifetime. The posthumous conferment of court rank and the official post were called "Zoi" and "Zokan," respectively.
e.g. Shoshii (Senior Fourth Rank, posthumously conferred); Naidaijin (Minister of the center), posthumously conferred

The reading of "正" in "正O位" is not "Sei" but "Sho," and the reading of "従" in "従O位" is not "Juh" but "Ju." In addition, the reading of "三位" is not "Sani" but "Sanmi,"; "四位" is not "Yoni" but "Shii"; "七位" is not "Nanai" but "Shichii."

"Oni no sei" (the system of securing court ranking for sons or grandsons of high-ranking nobles)

"Oni no sei" was a system that guaranteed a certain level of court rank for descendants of high-ranking nobles. It literally means the conferment of the court rank owing to one's ancestors. According to this law, court rank was given when the descendants reached the age of 21 and over; eligible persons for the system of "Oni" were as follows: the children of the Emperor's relatives or princes in the fifth generation, children and grandchildren of subjects of Third Rank or higher, and children of those who were of Fifth Rank or higher. The conferment of the order of merit and the posthumous court rank were applicable to the system of "Oni." "Oni no sei," which was based on the Chinese Ritsuryo System, had a narrow range of qualification, and the rank given was high compared with the Chinese one.

Imperial families and Shoo
The child of an Imperial prince would receive the rank of Jushiinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade)
The child of a prince without the title of "Shinno" would receive the rank of Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade)
The legitimate child of a fifth-generation prince without the title of "Shino" would receive the rank of Shorokuinojo (Senior Sixth Rank, Upper Grade)
(An illegitimate child was downgraded one rank.)

The legitimate child of a subject holding the rank of Ichii (First Rank) would receive the rank of Jugoinoge
Hereinafter, the rank gradually decreases;
The legitimate child of a subject holding the rank of Jugoi (Junior Fifth Rank) would receive the rank of Juhachiinojo (Junior Eighth Rank, Upper Grade)
(An illegitimate child was downgraded one rank, and an illegitimate grandchild was downgraded another one rank.)

Criminal privileges

As "Raiki" (the Book of Rites), which is a Confucian scripture, described that "Rei" (ritual and etiquette) governed the conduct of the nobles while "Kei" (rules of punishment) governed the common people, government officials of the Fifth Rank or higher, as a rule, escaped a prison sentences except for the death penalty, for eight unpardonable crimes (the Ritsuryo codes). (In fact, the death penalty was substituted with exile or expulsion.)

In Japan, based on the Chinese "Hachigi"system (the Eight Deliberations) or "Hachiheki"system described in "Shurai" (the Rites of Zhou), "Rikugi no sei " (the Six Deliberations) was established in the Meirei-ritsu (Japanese criminal law); those who were of Third Rank and above received the favor of a lesser punishment as the sixth condition of "Ki" (high officials), and those who were of Fifth Rank and above were also applicable to such a case by taking the procedure of "Sho" (criminal previleges for the nobles).

When a high-ranking official was sentenced to punishments less than exile, his sentence was always reduced by one degree; he could expiate his crime by giving up his title, which is, "Kanto." The commutation of a punishment by a dismissal of an official post or demotion was common because the official posts became important in the middle Heian period. It was also generally accepted that only those who were Sani (courtier without post) or Hikan (a person of the lower rank) could escape imprisonment and expiate crimes by giving up official posts or by offering copper coins.

The emasculation of the court rank system

The court rank system was originally designed for the purpose of avoiding the hereditary transfer of an official post, setting the court rank based on ability and giving the appropriate official post for the court rank and level of ability. However, it contained such a condition to allow the hereditary transfer of the official post from the start: the establishment of "Oni no sei". For all these reasons, the court rank system became an empty formality in the early Heian period, resulting in that some high-ranking nobles monopolized the hereditary transfer of the official post.

When the Ritsuryo codes were abolished in the Meiji Restoration, the court rank system continued in Daijokan (Grand Council of State) for a while. (Shokyui [Senior Ninth Rank] and Jukyui [Junior Ninth Rank] were established instead of Daishosoi [Greater and Lesser Initial Rank] on August 20 1869 according to the old calendar.)
On August 10 1871 according to the old calendar, the court rank system was temporarily abolished because of the introduction of "Kanto" (the government official rank system).


In 1887, the "Joijorei" (Regulations concerning the Conferment of Court Rank: Imperial Ordinance No.10 1887) was enacted, and the court rank system was restored.
After the "Joijorei" was enacted, the rank was divided into sixteen grades from Shoichii to Juhachii. (including "Joijorei")
The "Joijorei" stipulated that "Court rank is conferred on Peers, officials of the "Choku nin" and "So nin"ranks, persons who have rendered distinguished services to the State or persons of such merit as to warrant public notice." (Article 1 of "Joijorei")
According to the "Joijorei," the court rank from Jushii upwards was conferred by "Chokuju" (Imperial grace through the Minister of the Imperial Household), and that from Shogoi (Senior Fifth Rank) downwards was conferred with "Soju" (Imperial approval and made public by the Minister of the Imperial Household). For the ranks from Jushii upwards, treatment was accorded corresponding to Peers. Persons of Juichii (Junior First Rank) were treated corresponding to the title of Prince; persons of Shonii (Senior Second Rank), Marquis; persons of Shosanmi/Jusanmi (Senior/Junior Third Rank), Count; and persons of Shoshii/Jushii, Baron.

1926 to the end of the war

In 1926, "Ikai rei" 位階令 (the decree concerning the court rank: Imperial Ordinance No. 325 1926) was enacted. So, the court rank system has benn maintained as a system of awarding honors along with the conferment of orders and medals (Japan). Unlike the conferment of decorations, persons who has lost or abandoned their nationality are deprived of the rank, and foreigners are not entitled to the conferment of court ranks.
The court rank was conferred on only civil subjects; the Imperial family were not entitled to the conferment of court ranks. (Those who lost their status as a member of the Imperial family enjoyed the conferment of court ranks.)
"Sochitsuryo" (a bureau of the Minister of the Imperial Household) was a section in charge.

As for the "Ikai rei," the sequential order of eligible persons for the conferment of court ranks in the former "Joijorei" was changed as follows: "Persons who have rendered distinguished services to the State or persons of such merit as to warrant public notice," "Persons who possess the titles of nobility or the legal heir who is entitled to succeed to the titles of nobility," "The holder of a government post and the holder of a position." Accordingly, the aspect of awarding honors was more emphasized.

The form of conferment from Shonii downwards was not changed, but Shoichii/Juichii (Senior/Junior First Rank) was especially conferred by "Shinju" (personal investiture by the Emperor). (A diploma of court rank was bestowed personally by the Emperor upon the recipiant in the ceremony of Imperial conferment of decoraiton.)

1964 to Present

After the Second World War, the conferment of court rank was suspended for a while along with the conferment of decoration. Then, it was restored in 1964, limiting the recipients to the deceased. So, at present, it has strong implications of praising and commemorating the achievements done by the deceased. The eligibility criteria for the recipients are almost the same as that of the conferment of decoration, but the details differ, such that the eligibility criteria depend on what kind of achievements done. The Cabinet Office Decoration Bureau (the Prime Minister's Office Decoration Bureau before the reorganization of the central government) is a section in charge of the conferment of decoration; the Cabinet Office Minister's Secretariat Personnel Division (Prime Minister's Secretariat Personnel Division before the reorganization of the central government) is a section in charge of the conferment of court rank. Those who served long in public office (members of the Diet, government officials, fire officers, members of a fire brigade, teachers, etc.) are often conferred court ranks.

A diploma of court rank is issued to certify the conferment of the court rank. The following contents are stated vertically in the diploma of court rank.

Persons of Jushii (Junior Fourth Rank) upwards


Jushii (Junior Fourth Rank) conferred

Privy Seal of Japan


Name of Prime Minister

Persons of Shogoi (Senior Fifth Rank) downwards


Shogoi (Senior Fifth Rank) conferred

Date (Seal of the Cabinet)

Name of Prime Minister the proclamation of senji (imperial decree)

The court rank system of China

See "the Nine rank system" about the Period of Three Kingdoms (China) to the time of Emperor Wen in the Sui Dynasty.

[Original Japanese]