free ebooks

A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The samurai were free to accept or reject it



It being now considered safe to advance to the next stage of the mediatization of the fiefs, the Emperor issued an edict abolishing local autonomy; removing the sometime daimyo from their post of prefectural governor; providing that the local revenues should thereafter be sent into the central treasury; declaring the appointment and dismissal of officials to be among the prerogatives of the Imperial Government; directing that the ex-feudatories should continue to receive one-tenth of their former incomes but that they should make Tokyo* their place of permanent residence, and ordaining that the samurai should be left in continued and undisturbed possession of all their hereditary pensions and allowances.

*Yedo was now called Tokyo, or "Eastern Capital;" and Kyoto was named Saikyo, or "Western Capital."

These changes were not so momentous as might be supposed at first sight. It is true that the ex-feudatories were reduced to the position of private gentlemen without even a patent of nobility. But, as a matter of fact, the substance of administrative power had never been possessed by them: it had been left in most cases to their seneschals. Thus, the loss of what they had never fully enjoyed did not greatly distress them. Moreover, they were left in possession of the accumulated funds of their former fiefs, and, at the same time, an income of one-tenth of their

feudal revenues was guaranteed to them--a sum which generally exceeded their former incomes when from the latter had been deducted all charges on account of the maintenance of the fiefs. Therefore, the sacrifice they were required to make was not so bitter after all, but that it was a very substantial sacrifice there can be no question.


The above edict was promulgated on August 29, 1871; that is to say, nearly four years after the fall of the Tokugawa. The samurai, however, remained to be dealt with. Feudalism could not be said to have been abolished so long as the samurai continued to be a class apart. These men numbered four hundred thousand and with their families represented a total of about two million souls. They were the empire's soldiers, and in return for devoting their lives to military service they held incomes, some for life, others hereditary, and these emoluments aggregated two millions sterling annually. No reformer, however radical, would have suggested the sudden disestablishment of the samurai system or advocated the wholesale deprivation of incomes won by their forefathers as a reward for loyal service to the State or to the fiefs.

The Government dealt with this problem much as it had done with the problem of the feudatories. In 1873, an Imperial decree announced that the treasury was ready to commute the samurai's incomes on the basis of six-years' purchase in the place of hereditary pensions and four years for life-pensions, half of the money to be paid in cash and the remainder in bonds carrying eight per cent, interest. This measure was in no sense compulsory; the samurai were free to accept or reject it. Not a few chose the former course, but a large majority continued to wear their swords and draw their pensions as of old. The Government, however, felt that there could be no paltering with the situation. Shortly after the issue of the above edict a conscription law was enacted, by which every adult male became liable for military service, whatever his social status. Naturally, this law shocked the samurai. The heavy diminution of their incomes hurt them less, perhaps, than the necessity of laying aside their swords and of giving up their traditional title to represent their country in arms. They had imagined that service in the army and navy would be reserved exclusively for them and their sons, whereas by the conscription law the commonest unit of the people became equally eligible.

eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us is a collection of free ebooks that can be read online. Ebooks are split into pages for easier reading and better bookmarking.

We have more than 35,000 free books in our collection and are adding new books daily.

We invite you to link to us, so as many people as possible can enjoy this wonderful free website.

© 2010-2013 - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us