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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Thus the shoen grew in number and extent



Thus, in the capital, Kyoto, where the Fujiwara family constituted the power behind the Throne, refinements and luxury were constantly developed, and men as well as women amused themselves composing Chinese and Japanese poems, playing on musical instruments, dancing, and making picnics to view the blossoms of the four seasons. But in the provincial districts very different conditions existed. There, men, being virtually without any knowledge of the ideographic script, found the literature and the laws of the capital a sealed book to them, and as for paying periodical visits to Kyoto, what that involved may be gathered from the fact that the poet Tsurayuki's return to the capital from the province of Tosa, where he had served as acting governor, occupied one hundred days, as shown in his Tosa Nikki (Diary of a Journey from Tosa), and that thirteen days were needed to get from the mouth of the Yodo to the city. The pageant of metropolitan civilization and magnificence never presented itself to provincial eyes.


Much has already been said on the subject of land tenure; but as this problem is responsible for some cardinal phases of Japanese history, a brief resume will be useful here. There were four chief causes for the existence of shoen, or manors. The first was reclamation. In the year 723, it was decreed that persons

who reclaimed land should acquire a de facto title of tenure for three generations, and, twenty years later, the tenure of title was made perpetual, limits of area being fixed, however--1250 acres for princes and nobles of the first rank, and thereafter by various gradations, to twenty-five acres for a commoner. But these limits were not enforced, and in the year 767 it became necessary to issue a decree prohibiting further reclamation, which was followed, seventeen years later, by a rescript forbidding provincial governors to exact forced labour for tilling their manors.

That this did not check the evil is proved by an official record, compiled in 797, from which it appears that princes and influential nobles possessed manors of great extent; that they appointed intendants to manage them; that these intendants themselves engaged in operations of reclamation; that they abused their power by despoiling the peasants, and that dishonest farmers made a practice of evading taxes and tribute by settling within the bounds of a manor. These abuses reached their acme during the reigns of Uda and Daigo (888-930), when people living in the vicinity of a manor were ruthlessly robbed and plundered by the intendant and his servants, and when it became habitual to elude the payment of taxes by making spurious assignments of lands to influential officials in the capital. In vain was the ownership of lands by powerful nobles interdicted, and in vain its purchase by provincial governors: the metropolis had no power to enforce its vetoes in the provinces, and the provincials ignored them. Thus the shoen grew in number and extent.

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