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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.

ORIGIN OF THE SHOEN

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.

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.

For the sake of intelligent sequence of ideas, the above synopsis
makes some departure from the chronological order of these pages.
Returning to the early part of the tenth century, the historian may
affirm that the salient features of the era were virtual abrogation
of the Daiho laws imposing restrictions upon the area and period of
land-ownership; rapid growth of tax-free manors and consequent
impoverishment of the Court in Kyoto; the appearance of provincial
magnates who yielded scant obedience to the Crown, and the
organization of military classes which acknowledged the authority of
their own leaders only.

REVOLT OF TAIRA NO MASAKADO

The above state of affairs soon bore practical fruit. In the year
930, the Emperor Daigo died and was succeeded by his son Shujaku, a
child of eight, whose mother was a daughter of Fujiwara Mototsune. In
accordance with the system now fully established, Fujiwara Tadahira
became regent. History depicts this Tadahira as an effeminate
dilettante, one of whose foibles was to have a cuckoo painted on his
fan and to imitate the cry of the bird whenever he opened it. But as
representative of the chief aristocratic family in an age when to be
a Fujiwara was to possess a title superior to that conferred by
ability in any form and however conspicuous, his right to administer
the government in the capacity of regent obtained universal
recognition.

It had become the custom at that time for the provincial magnates to
send their sons to Kyoto, where they served in the corps of guards,
became acquainted with refined life, and established relations of
friendship with the Taira and the Minamoto, the former descended from
the Emperor Kwammu, the latter from the Emperor Seiwa. Thus, at the
time of Daigo's death, a scion of the Taira, by name Masakado, was
serving under Tadahira in the capital. Believing himself endowed with
high military capacity, Masakado aspired to be appointed kebiishi of
his native province, Shimosa. But his archery, his horsemanship, and
his fencing elicited no applause in Kyoto, whereas a relative,
Sadabumi, attracted admiration by a licentious life.

Masakado finally retired to Shimosa in an angry mood. At first,
however, the idea of revolt does not seem to have occurred to him. On
the contrary, the evidence is against such a hypothesis. For his
military career began with family feuds, and after he had killed one
of his uncles on account of a dispute about the boundaries of a
manor, and sacked the residence of another in consequence of a
trouble about a woman, he did not hesitate to obey a summons to Kyoto
to answer for his acts of violence. Such quarrels were indeed of not
uncommon occurrence in the provinces, as is shown by the memorial of
Miyoshi Kiyotsura, and the capital appears to have left them severely
alone, so far as practical interference was concerned, though the
pretence of jurisdiction might be preserved. Thus, Masakado was
acquitted after the formality of investigation had been satisfied.
Naturally this judgment did not prove a deterrent; on the contrary,
it amounted to a mandate.

On his return to Kwanto, Masakado was soon found once more in the
arena. The details of his campaign have little interest except as
indicating that the provincial officials followed the example of
Kyoto in suffering local disturbances to settle themselves, and that
the abuses catalogued in the Miyoshi memorial were true to fact. A
raid that Masakado made into Musashi province is memorable as the
occasion of the first collision between the Taira and the Minamoto,*
which great families were destined ultimately to convert all Japan
into a battlefield. Finally, Masakado carried his raids so far that
he allowed himself to be persuaded of the hopelessness of pardon. It
was then that he resolved to revolt.



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