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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

These were called kondei or kenji


The

system, being thus discredited, fell into abeyance in the year 739, but that it was not abolished is shown by the fact that, in 780, we find the privy council memorializing the Throne in a sense unfavourable to the drafting of peasants into the ranks. The memorial alleged that the men lacked training; that they were physically unfit; that they busied themselves devising pretexts for evasion; that their chief function was to perform fatigue-duty for local governors, and that to send such men into the field of battle would be to throw away their lives fruitlessly. The council recommended that indiscriminate conscription of peasants should be replaced by a system of selection, the choice being limited to men with some previous training; that the number taken should be in proportion to the size of the province, and that those not physically robust should be left to till the land. These recommendations were approved. They constituted the first step towards complete abolishment of compulsory service and towards the glorifying of the profession of arms above that of agriculture. Experience quickly proved, however, that some more efficient management was necessary in the maritime provinces, and in 792, Kwammu being then on the throne, an edict abolished the provincial troops in all regions except those which, by their proximity to the continent of Asia, were exposed to danger, namely, Dazai-fu in Kyushu, and in Mutsu, Dewa, and Sado in the north. Some specially organized force was needed
also for extraordinary service and for guarding official storehouses, offices, and places where post-bells (suzu) were kept. To that end the system previously practised during the reign of Shomu (724-749) was reverted to; that is to say, the most robust among the sons and younger brothers of provincial governors and local officials were enrolled in corps of strength varying with the duties to be performed. These were called kondei or kenji. We learn from the edict that the abuse of employing soldiers as labourers was still practised, but of course this did not apply to the kondei.

The tendency of the time was against imposing military service on the lower classes. During the period 810-820, the forces under the Dazai-fu jurisdiction, that is to say, in the six provinces of Chikuzen, Chikugo, Hizen, Higo, Buzen, and Bungo, were reduced from 17,100 to 9000. Dazai-fu and Mutsu being littoral regions, the conscription system still existed there, but in Mutsu there were not only heishi, that is to say, local militiamen of the ordinary type and kenji or kondei, but also chimpei, or guards who were required to serve at a distance from home. Small farmers, upon whom this duty devolved, had no choice but to take their wives and children with them, the family subsisting on the pittance given as rations eked out by money realized from sales of chattels and garments. Thus, on the expiration of their service they returned to their native place in a wholly destitute condition, and sometimes perished of hunger on the way. In consideration of the hardships of such a system, it was abolished, and thus the distinction between the soldier and the peasant received further accentuation.


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