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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Who was usually the uji no Kami


style="text-align: justify;">The institution of slavery (nuhi) existed in ancient Japan as in so many other countries. The slaves consisted of prisoners taken in war and of persons who, having committed some serious offence, were handed over to be the property of those that they had injured. The first recorded instance of the former practice was when Yamato-dake presented to the Ise shrine the Yemishi chiefs who had surrendered to him in the sequel of his invasion of the eastern provinces. The same fate seems to have befallen numerous captives made in the campaign against the Kumaso, and doubtless wholesale acts of self-destruction committed by Tsuchi-gumo and Kumaso when overtaken by defeat were prompted by preference of death to slavery. The story of Japan's relations with Korea includes many references to Korean prisoners who became the property of their captors, and that a victorious general's spoils should comprise some slaves may be described as a recognized custom. Of slavery as a consequence of crime there is also frequent mention, and it would appear that even men of rank might be overtaken by that fate, for when (A.D. 278) Takenouchi-no-Sukune's younger brother was convicted of slandering him, the culprit's punishment took the form of degradation and assignment to a life of slavery. The whole family of such an offender shared his fate. There is no evidence, however, that the treatment of the nuhi was inhuman or even harsh: they appear to have fared much as did the tomobe
in general.


There are two kinds of territorial rights, and these, though now clearly differentiated, were more or less confounded in ancient Japan. One is the ruler's right--that is to say, competence to impose taxes; to enact rules governing possession; to appropriate private lands for public purposes, and to treat as crown estates land not privately owned. The second is the right of possession; namely, the right to occupy definite areas of land and to apply them to one's own ends. At present those two rights are distinct. A landowner has no competence to issue public orders with regard to it, and a lessee of land has to discharge certain responsibilities towards the lessor. It was not so in old Japan. As the Emperor's right to rule the people was not exercised over an individual direct but through the uji no Kami who controlled that individual, so the sovereign's right over the land was exercised through the territorial owner, who was usually the uji no Kami. The latter, being the owner of the land, leased a part of it to the members of the uji, collected a percentage of the produce, and presented a portion to the Court when occasion demanded. Hence, so long as the sovereign's influence was powerful, the uji no Kami and other territorial magnates, respecting his orders, refrained from levying taxes and duly paid their appointed contributions to the Court.

But in later times, when the Throne's means of enforcing its orders ceased to bear any sensible ratio to the puissance of the uji no Kami and other local lords, the Imperial authority received scanty recognition, and the tillers of the soil were required to pay heavy taxes to their landlords. It is a fallacy to suppose that the Emperor in ancient times not only ruled the land but also owned it. The only land held in direct possession by the Throne was that constituting the Imperial household's estates and that belonging to members of the Imperial family. The private lands of the Imperial family were called mi-agata.* The province of Yamato contained six of these estates, and their produce was wholly devoted to the support of the Court. Lands cultivated for purposes of State revenue were called miyake.** They existed in several provinces, the custom being that when land was newly acquired, a miyake was at once established and the remainder was assigned to princes or Court nobles (asomi or asori). The cultivators of miyake were designated ta-be (rustic corporation); the overseers were termed ta-zukasa (or mi-ta no tsukasa), and the officials in charge of the stores were mi-agata no obito.

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