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These governors usually possessed
large domains, acquired during their period of office. The Court
endeavoured to check them by despatching inspectors (ansatsu-shi) to
examine and report on current conditions; but that device availed
little. Moreover, the provincial governors exercised the power of
appointing and dismissing the district governors (gunshi) in their
provinces, although this evil system had been prohibited in the time
of Gemmyo. In connexion, too, with the rice collected for public
purposes, there were abuses. This rice, so long as it lay in the
official storehouses, represented so much idle capital. The
provincial governors utilized it by lending the grain to the farmers
in the spring, partly for seed purposes and partly for food, on
condition that it should be paid back in the autumn with fifty per
cent, increment. Subsequently this exorbitant figure was reduced to
thirty per cent. But the result was ruin for many farmers. They had
to hand over their fields and houses or sell themselves into bondage.

Thus, outlaws, living by plunder, became a common feature of the
time, and there arose a need for guards more capable than those
supplied by the system of partial conscription. Hence, in the reign
of Shomu, the sons and brothers of district governors (gunshi)
proficient in archery and equestrianism were summoned from Omi, Ise,
Mino, and Echizen, and to them was assigned the duty of guarding the
public storehouses in the provinces. At the same time many men of
prominence and influence began to organize guards for their private
protection. This was contrary to law, but the condition of the time
seemed to warrant it, and the authorities were powerless to prevent
it. The ultimate supremacy of the military class had its origin in
these circumstances. The Government itself was constrained to
organize special corps for dealing with the brigands and pirates who
infested the country and the coasts.

It has been well said by a Japanese historian that the fortunes of
the Yamato were at their zenith during the reigns of the three
Emperors Jimmu, Temmu, and Mommu. From the beginning of the eighth
century they began to decline. For that decline, Buddhism was largely
responsible. Buddhism gave to Japan a noble creed in the place of a
colourless cult; gave to her art and refinement, but gave to her also
something like financial ruin. The Indian faith spread with wonderful
rapidity among all classes and betrayed them into fanatical
extravagance. Anyone who did not erect or contribute largely to the
erection of a temple or a pagoda was not admitted to the ranks of
humanity. Men readily sacrificed their estates to form temple domains
or to purchase serfs (tera-yakko) to till them. The sublimity of
these edifices; the solemn grandeur of the images enshrined there;
the dazzling and exquisite art lavished on their decoration; the
strange splendour of the whole display might well suggest to the
Japanese the work of some supernatural agencies.

In the Nara epoch, the Government spent fully one-half of its total
income on works of piety. No country except in time of war ever
devoted so much to unproductive expenditures. The enormous quantities
of copper used for casting images not only exhausted the produce of
the mines but also made large inroads upon the currency, hundreds of
thousands of cash being thrown into the melting-pot. In 760 it was
found that the volume of privately coined cash exceeded one-half of
the State income, and under pretext that to suspend the circulation
of such a quantity would embarrass the people, the Government struck
a new coin--the mannen tsuho--which, while not differing appreciably
from the old cash in intrinsic value, was arbitrarily invested with
ten times the latter's purchasing power. The profit to the treasury
was enormous; the disturbance of values and the dislocation of trade
were proportionately great. Twelve years later (772), another
rescript ordered that the new coin should circulate at par with the
old. Such unstable legislation implies a very crude conception of
financial requirements.

RECLAIMED UPLANDS

It has been shown that the Daika reforms regarded all "wet fields" as
the property of the Crown, while imposing no restriction on the
ownership of uplands, these being counted as belonging to their
reclaimers. Thus, large estates began to fall into private
possession; conspicuously in the case of provincial and district
governors, who were in a position to employ forced labour, and who
frequently abused their powers in defiance of the Daika code and
decrees, where it was enacted that all profits from reclaimed lands
must be shared with the farmers.* So flagrant did these practices
become that, in 767, reclamation was declared to constitute
thereafter no title of ownership. Apparently, however, this veto
proved unpractical, for five years later (772), it was rescinded, the
only condition now attached being that the farmers must not be
distressed. Yet again, in 784, another change of policy has to be
recorded. A decree declared that governors must confine their
agricultural enterprise to public lands, on penalty of being punished
criminally. If the language of this decree be read literally, a very
evil state of affairs would seem to have existed, for the governors
are denounced as wholly indifferent to public rights or interests,
and as neglecting no means of exploiting the farmers. Finally, in
806, the pursuit of productive enterprise by governors in the
provinces was once more sanctioned.

*The term "farmers," as used in the times now under consideration,
must not be interpreted strictly in the modern sense of the word. It
meant, rather, the untitled and the unofficial classes in the
provinces.

Thus, between 650 and 806, no less than five radical changes of
policy are recorded. It resulted that this vascillating legislation
received very little practical attention. Great landed estates
(shoen) accumulated in private hands throughout the empire, some
owned by nobles, some by temples; and in order to protect their
titles against the interference of the Central Government, the
holders of these estates formed alliances with the great Court nobles
in the capital, so that, in the course of time, a large part of the
land throughout the provinces fell under the control of a few
dominant families.

In the capital (Nara), on the other hand, the enormous sums
squandered upon the building of temples, the casting or carving of
images, and the performance of costly religious ceremonials gradually
produced such a state of impecuniosity that, in 775, a decree was
issued ordering that twenty-five per cent, of the revenues of the
public lands (kugaideri) should be appropriated to increase the
emoluments of the metropolitan officials. This decree spoke of the
latter officials as not having sufficient to stave off cold or
hunger, whereas their provincial confreres were living in opulence,
and added that even men of high rank were not ashamed to apply for
removal to provincial posts. As illustrating the straits to which the
metropolitans were reduced and the price they had to pay for relief,
it is instructive to examine a note found among the contents of the
Shoso-in at Nara.

STATEMENT OF MON (COPPER CASH) LENT

Total, 1700 Mon. Monthly interest, 15 per hundred.

Debtors Sums lent Amounts to be returned

Tata no Mushimaro 500 mon 605 mon, on the 6th of the 11th month;
namely, original debt, 500 mon, and
interest for 1 month and 12 days, 105 mon

Ayabe no Samimaro 700 mon 840 mon, on the 6th of the 11th month;
namely, original debt, 700 mon, and
interest for 1 month and 10 days, 140 mon

Kiyono no Hitotari 500 mon 605 mon, on the 6th of the 11th month;
namely, original debt, 500 mon, and
interest for 1 month and 12 days, 105 mon

The above to be paid back when the debtors receive their salaries.
Dated the 22nd of the 9th month of the 4th year of the Hoki era.
(October 13, 773.)

Another note shows a loan of 1000 mon carrying interest at the rate
of 130 mon monthly. The price of accommodation being so onerous, it
is not difficult to infer the costliness of the necessaries of life.
When the Daika reforms were undertaken, the metropolitan magnates
looked down upon their provincial brethren as an inferior order of
beings, but in the closing days of the Nara epoch the situations were
reversed, and the ultimate transfer of administrative power from the
Court to the provincials began to be foreshadowed.

THE FUJIWARA FAMILY

The religious fanaticism of the Emperor Shomu and his consort, Komyo,
brought disorder into the affairs of the Imperial Court, and gave
rise to an abuse not previously recorded, namely, favouritism with
its natural outcome, treasonable ambition. It began to be doubtful
whether the personal administration of the sovereign might not be
productive of danger to the State. Thus, patriotic politicians
conceived a desire not to transfer the sceptre to outside hands but
to find among the scions of the Imperial family some one competent to
save the situation, even though the selection involved violation of
the principle of primogeniture. The death of the Empress Shotoku
without issue and the consequent extinction of the Emperor Temmu's
line furnished an opportunity to these loyal statesmen, and they
availed themselves of it to set Konin upon the throne, as will be
presently described.

In this crisis of the empire's fortunes, the Fujiwara family acted a
leading part. Fuhito, son of the illustrious Kamatari, having
assisted in the compilation of the Daika code and laws, and having
served throughout four reigns--Jito, Mommu, Gemmyo, and Gensho--died
at sixty-two in the post of minister of the Right, and left four
sons, Muchimaro, Fusazaki, Umakai, and Maro. These, establishing
themselves independently, founded the "four houses" of the Fujiwara.
Muchimaro's home, being in the south (nan) of the capital, was called
Nan-ke; Fusazaki's, being in the north (hoku), was termed Hoku-ke;
Umakai's was spoken of as Shiki-ke, since he presided over the
Department of Ceremonies (Shiki), and Maro's went by the name of
Kyo-ke, this term also having reference to his office.



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