Nanboku-chō Period - Rise of The shugo Lords - Shugo and Public Lands (kokugaryo)

Shugo and Public Lands (kokugaryo)

A largely missing picture until recently, was the fate of public lands (kokugaryo) during the Muromachi period, and the role of the shugo lords in their encroachment on them. Public lands (kokugaryo) during the Heian period were distinguished from private lands of the estates (shōen), because the latter were immune from state taxation. Before the rise of private estates, the only kind of lands were public lands maintained under the old civil administration. With the rise of private estates called shōen, during the Heian period, public lands by no means disappeared: in details, the public lands differed very little from private estates. Both were owned by absentee proprietors. They differed only in terms of administration: private estates were directly managed by noble officials, whereas, public lands were managed by the civil governors (kokuga or kokushi) on behalf of the former.

By the Kamakura period, public lands were owned by different landowners as private holdings (chigyo). These landowners included noble houses, religious establishments and warriors. Whole areas of the Kantō and the northeast were held by warriors not in the capacity as estate managers, but as private holdings. Kantō provinces were granted to the Kamakura regime as private lands (chigyokoku). The Ashikaga regime inherited these lands, and decided, fatefully, to place shugo lords over them.

One of the main functions of the civil governor's office (kokushi) was the oversight of criminal justice in the provinces, and the maintenance of the private holdings within the public lands (kokugaryo), but his function began to change with the advent of the Kamakura regime. With the appointment of shugo constables by Kamakura, all criminal jurisdiction within the provinces passed into his hands. But the civil governor (kokushi) remained as the key officer in the civil administration (ritsuryo), who made sure that rent from private holdings reached the absentee nobles and religious establishments (jisha honjo) in Kyoto and in Yamashiro province. His oversight did not include the private holdings of warriors, most usually concentrated in the Kantō and further north.

With the outbreak of the Nanboku-chō War, the civil administration (ritsuryo) began to break down rapidly, and shugo lords, who had a minor role in provincial governance during the Kamakura period, emerged to usurp the civil governor's functions. This did not happen immediately in every province, but occurred without interruption until the shugo lords had become true governors over public lands (kokugaryo). As they took over the oversight of private holdings within public lands, they established ties to many kinds of landowners: nobles, samurai of various kinds (kokujin, jizamurai), and to religious establishments. They enfoeffed their own followers on these lands, and reconfirmed the lands of existing samurai in exchange for military service, and established shugo contracts with the nobles with predictable results. Along with vassalage ties to local samurai (kokujin) on the estates, vassalage ties on public lands became a key resource that augmented the power of the shugo lords.

Furthermore, in 1346, ten years after the emergence of the Muromachi regime, the shogun decentralized authority by giving the shugo the right to judge cases of crop stealing on the estates, and to make temporary assignments of land to deserving vassals taken from the imperialist forces. This was significant, insofar as traditional areas of Kamakura jurisdiction were "given up" by the Muromachi regime. Previously, all cases of crop stealing or land assignments were strictly under Kamakura administration. Also, about this time, the imperialist forces were suffering their worst defeats, opening up enemy land for confiscation and reassignment. By giving these new jurisdictions to the shugo lords, it further augmented their position as governors over their assigned provinces.

Read more about this topic:  Nanboku-chō Period, Rise of The shugo Lords

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