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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The shoen were largely cultivated by forced labour


The

second factor which contributed to the extension of manors was the bestowal of estates in perpetuity on persons of conspicuous ability, and afterwards on men who enjoyed Imperial favour. Land thus granted was called shiden and enjoyed immunity from taxation. Then there were tracts given in recognition of public merit. These koden were originally of limited tenure, but that condition soon ceased to be observed, and the koden fell into the same category with manors (shoen).

Finally we have the jiden, or temple lands. These, too, were at the outset granted for fixed terms, but when Buddhism became powerful the limitation ceased to be operative, and moreover, in defiance of the law, private persons presented tracts, large or small, to the temples where the mortuary tablets of their families were preserved, and the temples, oh their own account, acquired estates by purchase or by reclamation. The jiden, like the other three kinds of land enumerated above, were exempt from taxation. Owned by powerful nobles or influential families, the shoen were largely cultivated by forced labour, and as in many cases it paid the farmers better to rent such land; and thus escape all fiscal obligations, than to till their own fields, the latter were deserted pan passu with the development of the manor system, and thus the State revenues suffered dual reduction.

During the last quarter of the tenth century peremptory edicts were issued

to check this state of affairs, but the power of the Court to exact obedience had then dwindled almost to cipher. History records that during the Ho-en era (1135-1140), the regent Fujiwara Tadamichi's manor of Shimazu comprised one-fourth of the province of Osumi. On these great manors, alike of nobles and of temples, armed forces soon began to be maintained for purposes nominally of police protection but ultimately of military aggression. This was especially the case on the shoen of the puissant families of Taira and Minamoto. Thus, Minamoto Yoshitomo came to own fifteen of the eastern provinces, and in the tumult of the Heiji era (1159-1160), he lost all these to Taira no Kiyomori, who, supplementing them with his own already large manors and with the shoen of many other nobles and temples, became owner of five hundred districts comprising about one-half of the empire. Subsequently, when the Minamoto crushed the Taira (1185), the whole of the latter's estates were distributed by the former among the nobles who had fought under the Minamoto standard.

In that age the holders of manors were variously called ryoshu, ryoke, shoya, or honjo, and the intendants were termed shocho, shoji, kengyo, betto, or yoryudo, a diversity of nomenclature that is often very perplexing. In many cases reclaimed lands went by the name of the person who had reclaimed them. Such manors were spoken of as myoden (name-land), and those owning large tracts were designated daimyo (great name), while smaller holders were termed shomyo. Yet another term for the intendants of these lands was nanushi-shoku.

It will be readily seen that in the presence of such a system the lands paying taxes to the Central Government became steadily less and less. Thus, in the reign of the Emperor Toba (1108-1123), the State domains administered by the provincial governors are recorded to have been only one per cent, of the area of the provinces. In these circumstances, the governors deemed it unnecessary to proceed themselves to their posts; they remained in Kyoto and despatched deputies to the provinces, a course which conspired to reduce the authority of the Crown.


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