Kuniyaku (Public duties) (国役)

Kuniyaku were duties imposed by the Imperial Court and kokuga (provincial government offices) from the Heian period to the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan). By extension, it refers to duties, such as tansen (a kind of provisional tax in medieval Japan), imposed on Shugo daimyo (Japanese territorial lord as provincial constable) and each province by the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), and duties imposed by the Shugo daimyo on their own territories.

After breakdown of the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code), the Imperial Court imposed duties including labor on territories governed by provincial government officrs and manors through provinical government officers in the name of public duty or yakubukumai (a special kind of taxation on rice levied by the grand shrines). In addition, the provincial government officers themselves also imposed duties and collected taxes under a similar pretext. Such imposition of duties by the provincial government officers came to be called the 'kuniyaku' after the middle of the eleventh century. In the twelfth century, the local officials in the Heian and Kamakura periods imposed taxes on residents as one of the kuniyaku (public duties) and strived to gain control over the domain.

In the Kamakura period, the Imperial Court began to develop the public duties with involvement by the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese territorial lord as provincial constable) and Shugo (provincial constable). During the formation of the Shugo-ryogoku system at the time of the wars between the Northern and Southern Courts, the Muromachi bakufu and Shugo daimyo, who controlled lands, took over the authority to impose or exempt public duties or taxes from the Imperial Court and provincial officials. The Muromachi bakufu gained financial revenues by imposing taxes on Shugo daimyo and each province under the Shugo daimyo. Shugo daimyo themselves also imposed Buyaku (labor service), zomotsu (a kind of tax), and tansen as shugoyaku (taxation on shugo) in the province. These impositions were collectively called the kuniyaku.

The kuniyaku disappeared with the fall of the Muromachi bakufu and Shugo daimyo. The Edo bakufu forced the various clans, vassals and peasants to perform engineering work (kuniyaku fushin) and this can be regarded as the restoration of the system of public duties (kuniyaku).

[Original Japanese]