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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Ordinary taxes and commuted taxes


the same time stringent regulations were enacted for the control and guidance of the provincial governors. They were to take counsel with the people in dividing the profits of agriculture. They were not to act as judges in criminal cases or to accept bribes from suitors in civil ones; their staff, when visiting the capital, was strictly limited, and the use of public-service horses* as well as the consumption of State provisions was vetoed unless they were travelling on public business. Finally, they were enjoined to investigate carefully all claims to titles and all alleged rights of land tenure. The next step was the most drastic and far-reaching of all. Hereditary corporations were entirely abolished, alike those established to commemorate the name of a sovereign or a prince and those employed by the nobles to cultivate their estates. The estates themselves were escheated. Thus, at one stroke, the lands and titles of the hereditary aristocracy were annulled, just as was destined to be the case in the Meiji era, twelve centuries later.

*Everyone having a right to use public-service horses was required to carry a token of his right in the shape of a small bronze bell, or group of bells, indicating by their shape and number how many horses the bearer was entitled to.

This reform involved a radical change in the system and method of taxation, but the consideration of that phase of the question is deferred for

a moment in order to explain the nature and the amount of the new fiscal burdens. Two kinds of taxes were thenceforth imposed, namely, ordinary taxes and commuted taxes. The ordinary consisted of twenty sheaves of rice per cho* (equivalent to about eight sheaves per acre), and the commuted tax--in lieu of forced labour--was fixed at a piece of silk fabric forty feet in length by two and a half feet in breadth per cho, being approximately a length of sixteen feet per acre. The dimensions of the fabric were doubled in the case of coarse silk, and quadrupled in the case of cloth woven from hemp or from the fibre of the inner bark of the paper-mulberry. A commuted tax was levied on houses also, namely, a twelve-foot length of the above cloth per house. No currency existed in that age. All payments were made in kind. There is, therefore, no method of calculating accurately the monetary equivalent of a sheaf of rice. But in the case of fabrics we have some guide. Thus, in addition to the above imposts, every two townships--a township was a group of fifty houses--had to contribute one horse of medium quality (or one of superior quality per two hundred houses) for public service; and since a horse was regarded as the equivalent of a total of twelve feet of cloth per house, it would follow, estimating a horse of medium quality at L5, ($25.), that the commuted tax in the case of land was above 5s.4d., ($1.30) per acre. Finally, each homestead was required to provide one labourer as well as rations for his support; and every two homesteads had to furnish one palace waiting-woman (uneme), who must be good-looking, the daughter or sister of a district official of high rank, and must have one male and two female servants to attend on her--these also being supported by the two homesteads. In every homestead there was an alderman who kept the register, directed agricultural operations, enforced taxes, and took measures to prevent crime as well as to judge it.

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