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Ritsuryō (律令), pronounced [ɾitsɯɾʲoː], is the historical law system based on the philosophies of Confucianism and Chinese Legalism in Japan. The political system in accord to Ritsuryō is called "Ritsuryō-sei" (律令制). Kyaku (格) are amendments of Ritsuryō, Shiki (式) are enactments.

Ritsuryō defines both a criminal code (, Ritsu) and an administrative code (, Ryō).

During the late Asuka period (late 6th century – 710) and Nara period (710–794), the Imperial Court in Kyoto, trying to replicate China's rigorous political system from the Tang dynasty, created and enforced some collections of Ritsuryō. Over the course of centuries, the ritsuryō state produced more and more information which was carefully archived; however, with the passage of time in the Heian period, ritsuryō institutions evolved into a political and cultural system without feedback.[1]

In 645, the Taika reforms were the first signs of implementation of the system.[2]

Major re-statements of Ritsuryō included the following:[3]

  • Ōmi-ryō (近江令, 669) – 22 volumes of administrative code, of disputed existence
  • Asuka-kiyomihara-ryō (飛鳥浄御原令, 689) – 22 volumes of administrative code
  • Taihō-ritsuryō (大宝律令, 701) – of major influence, 11 volumes of administrative code, 6 volumes of criminal code
  • Yōrō-ritsuryō (養老律令, 720, enacted in 757) – 10 volumes of administrative code, 10 volumes of criminal code, revised edition of the Taihō-ritsuryō

Main achievements

Government and administration

In the later half of the seventh century, the Kokugunri system (国郡里制, kokugunri-sei) was introduced, dividing the regions of Japan into several administrative divisions.

  • Provinces (, kuni, composed of numerous districts)
  • Districts (, gun, kōri, composed of 2–20 neighbourhoods)
  • Neighbourhoods (, ri, sato, composed of 50 homes)

In 715 CE, the Gōri system (郷里制, gōri-sei) was introduced, resulting in the following.

  • Provinces (, kuni, composed of numerous districts)
  • Districts (, gun, kōri, composed of 2–20 townships)
  • Townships (, , composed of 50 homes total, and further divided into two or three neighbourhoods)
  • Neighbourhoods (, ri, sato, usu. composed of approx. 10–25 homes)

This system was abandoned in 740 CE.

Centralization of authority

The ritsuryō system also established a central administrative government, with the Emperor at its head. Two departments were set up:

  • The Jingi-kan (神祇官, Department of Worship), in charge of rituals and clergy
  • The Daijō-kan (太政官, Department of State), divided into eight ministries.

Posts of those public Departments were all divided into four ranks (shitō): kami (長官), suke (次官), (判官) and sakan (主典). This ubiquitous pattern would be replicated consistently, even amongst members of the court whose functions had little to do with those kinds of powers and responsibilities which are conventionally associated with governing – for example:

Court musicians
  • Chief court musician (雅楽頭,, Uta no kami).[4]
  • First assistant court musician (雅楽助,, Uta no suke).[4]
  • Second assistant court musician (雅楽允,, Uta no ).[5]
  • Alternate assistant court musicians (雅楽属,, Uta no sakan).[5]
Court pharmacists
  • Chief court pharmacist (典薬頭,, Ten'yaku no kami).[6]
  • First assistant to the chief pharmacist (典薬助, ,Ten'yaku no suke).[6]
  • Second assistant to the chief pharmacist (典薬允, ,Ten'yaku no ). (, Ritsu) and an administrative code (, Ryō).

    During the late Asuka period (late 6th century – 710) and Nara period (710–794), the Imperial Court in Kyoto, trying to replicate China's rigorous political system from the Tang dynasty, created and enforced some collections of Ritsuryō. Over the course of centuries, the ritsuryō state produced more and more information which was carefully archived; however, with the passage of time in the Heian period, ritsuryō institutions evolved into a political and cultural system without feedback.[1]

    In 645, the Taika reforms were the first signs of implementation of the system.[2]

    Major re-statements of Ritsuryō included the following:[3]

    In the later half of the seventh century, the Kokugunri system (国郡里制, kokugunri-sei) was introduced, dividing the regions of Japan into several administrative divisions.

    • Provinces (, kuni, composed of numerous districts)
    • Districts (, gun, kōri, composed of 2–20 neighbourhoods)
    • Neighbourhoods (, ri, sato, composed of 50 homes)

    In 715 CE, the Gōri system (郷里制, gōri-sei) was introduced, resulting in the following.

    • Provinces (, kuni, composed of numerous districts)
    • Districts (, gun, kōri, composed of 2–20 townships)
    • Townships (, , composed of 50 homes total, and further divided into two or three neighbourhoods)
    • Neighbourhoods (, ri, sato, usu. composed of approx. 10–25 homes)

    This system was abandoned in 740 CE.

    Centralization of authority

    The ritsuryō system also established a central administrative government, with the Emperor at its head. Two departments were set up:

    • The Jingi-kan (神祇官, Department of Worship), in charge of rituals and clergy
    • The Daijō-kan (太政官, Department of State), divided into eight ministries.

    Posts of those public Departments were all divided into four ranks (shitō): kami (長官), suke (次官), (判官) and sakan (主典). This ubiquitous pattern would be replicated consistently, even amongst members of the court whose functions had little to do with those kinds of powers and responsibilities which are conventionally associated with governing – for example:

    Court musicians
    • Chief court musician (雅楽頭,, Uta no kami).[4]
    • Fi

      In 715 CE, the Gōri system (郷里制, gōri-sei) was introduced, resulting in the following.

      • Provinces (, kuni, composed of numerous districts)
      • Districts (, gun, kōri, composed of 2–20 townships)
      • Townships (, , composed of 50 homes total, and further divided into two or three neighbourhoods)
      • Neighbourhoods (Centralization of authority

        The ritsuryō system also established a central administrative government, with the Emperor at its head. Two departments were set up:

        • The Jingi-kan (神祇官, Department of Worship), in charge of rituals and clergy
        • The Daijō-kan (太政官, Department of State), divided into eight ministries.

        Posts of those public Departments were all divided into four ranks (Jingi-kan (神祇官, Department of Worship), in charge of rituals and clergy

      • The Daijō-kan (太政官, Department of State), divided into eight ministries.

      Posts of those public Departments were all div

      Posts of those public Departments were all divided into four ranks (shitō): kami (長官), suke (次官), (判官) and sakan (主典). This ubiquitous pattern would be replicated consistently, even amongst members of the court whose functions had little to do with those kinds of powers and responsibilities which are conventionally associated with governing – for example:

      Court musicians
      • Chief court musician (雅楽頭,, Uta no kami).kanshoku) was introduced with over 30 ranks (位 i, 位階 ikai), regulating strictly which posts could be accessed by which rank. Ranking was supposed to be mostly merit-based, the children of high-ranking public officials were nonetheless granted a minimal rank. This provision (蔭位の制 on'i no sei) existed in the Tang law, however under the Japanese ritsuryo ranks for which it was applied were higher as well as the ranks obtained by the children.

        The highest rank in the system was the first rank (一位 ich-i), proceeding downwards to the eighth rank (八位 hachi-i), held by menials in the court. Below this, an initial rank called so-i (初位) existed, but offered few rights.[8] The top six ranks were considered true aristocracy (貴 ki), and were subdivided into "senior" (正 shō)[7] and "junior" (従 ju)[7] ranks (e.g. senior third-rank [正三位 shō san-mi], junior second-rank [従二位 ju ni-i] ). Below the third rank, a further subdivision between "upper" (上 ) and "lower" (下 ge) existed, allowing for ranks such as “junior fourth rank lower” (従四位下 ju shi-i no ge) or “senior sixth rank upper” (正六位上 shō roku-i no jō). Promotion in ranks was often a very gradual, bureaucratic process, and in the early days of the Codes, one could not advance beyond sixth rank except by rare exception, thus causing a natural cut-off point between the aristocrats (fifth-rank and above [貴族 kizoku]) and the menials (sixth-rank and below [地下 jige]).[8]

        Additionally, income in the form of koku (石, 1 koku = about 150 kilograms), or bushels of rice from the provinces, increased dramatically as one advanced in rank. The average sixth-rank official might earn 22 koku of rice a year, but the fifth rank might earn 225 koku of rice, while a third rank official could earn as much as 6,957 a year.[8]

        Registration of the citizens (戸籍 koseki), updated every 6 years, and a yearly tax book (計帳 keichō) were established. Based on the keichō, a tax system was established called (租庸調 So-yō-chō). Tax was levied on rice crops but also on several local products (e.g. cotton, salt, tissue) sent to the capital.

        The system also established local corvée at a provincial level by orders of the kokushi (国司), a corvée at the Capital (although the corvée at the capital could be replaced by goods sent) and military service.

        Criminal code

        A criminal system was introduced, with five levels of punishment (五刑, gokei).

        • Caning (, chi): Depending on the severity of the crime, 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 strikes on the buttocks.
        • Public caning (, ): Depending on the severity of the crime, 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100 strikes on the buttocks, performed in public, using a slightly thicker cane than was used for chi.
        • Imprisonment (, zu): Depending on the severity of the crime, imprisonment for 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5 or 3 years.
        • Exile (流 ru) Depending on the severity of the crime, nearby exile (近流, konru), semi-distant exile (中流, chūru), or distant exile (遠流, onru).
        • Death (, shi): Depending on the severity of the crime, death by hanging (, ) or decapitation (, zan).

        It defined eight heavy crimes (八虐, hachigyaku) that were exempt from amnesty. The code was based on the Ten Abominations of the Tang code, but two crimes related to family life—family discord and disruption of the family (through incest, adultery, etc.) —

        The highest rank in the system was the first rank (一位 ich-i), proceeding downwards to the eighth rank (八位 hachi-i), held by menials in the court. Below this, an initial rank called so-i (初位) existed, but offered few rights.[8] The top six ranks were considered true aristocracy (貴 ki), and were subdivided into "senior" (正 shō)[7] and "junior" (従 ju)[7] ranks (e.g. senior third-rank [正三位 shō san-mi], junior second-rank [従二位 ju ni-i] ). Below the third rank, a further subdivision between "upper" (上 ) and "lower" (下 ge) existed, allowing for ranks such as “junior fourth rank lower” (従四位下 ju shi-i no ge) or “senior sixth rank upper” (正六位上 shō roku-i no jō). Promotion in ranks was often a very gradual, bureaucratic process, and in the early days of the Codes, one could not advance beyond sixth rank except by rare exception, thus causing a natural cut-off point between the aristocrats (fifth-rank and above [貴族 kizoku]) and the menials (sixth-rank and below [地下 jige]).[8]

        Additionally, income in the form of koku (石, 1 koku = about 150 kilograms), or bushels of rice from the provinces, increased dramatically as one advanced in rank. The average sixth-rank official might earn 22 koku of rice a year, but the fifth rank might earn 225 koku of rice, while a third rank official could earn as much as 6,957 a year.[8]

        Registration of the citizens (戸籍 koseki), updated every 6 years, and a yearly tax book (計帳 keichō) were established. Based on the keichō, a tax system was established called (租庸調 So-yō-chō). Tax was levied on rice crops but also on several local products (e.g. cotton, salt, tissue) sent to the capital.

        The system also established local corvée at a provincial level by orders of the kokushi (国司), a corvée at the Capital (although the corvée at the capital could be replaced by goods sent) and military service.

        A criminal system was introduced, with five levels of punishment (五刑, gokei).

        • Caning (, chi): Depending on the severity of the crime, 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 strikes on the buttocks.
        • Publi

          It defined eight heavy crimes (八虐, hachigyaku) that were exempt from amnesty. The code was based on the Ten Abominations of the Tang code, but two crimes related to family life—family discord and disruption of the family (through incest, adultery, etc.) —were removed.

          Handen-Shūju

          In accordance with Chinese legal codes, land as well as citizens were to be "public property" (公地公民). One of the major pillars of the Ritsuryō was the introduction of the Handen-Shūju (班田収受制) system, similar to the equal-field system in China. The Handen-Shūju regulated land ownership. Based on the registration, each citizen over 6 was entitled to a "distributed field" (口分田, kubunden), subject to taxation (approx. 3% of crops). The area of each field was 2 tan () for men (approx. 22 ares total), and two-thirds of this amount for women. (However, the Shinuhi and Kenin castes were only entitled to 1/3 of this area). The field was returned to the country at death. Land belonging to shrines and temples was exempt from taxation. Collection and redistribution of land took place every 6 years.

          Castes

          The population was divided in two cas

          In accordance with Chinese legal codes, land as well as citizens were to be "public property" (公地公民). One of the major pillars of the Ritsuryō was the introduction of the Handen-Shūju (班田収受制) system, similar to the equal-field system in China. The Handen-Shūju regulated land ownership. Based on the registration, each citizen over 6 was entitled to a "distributed field" (口分田, kubunden), subject to taxation (approx. 3% of crops). The area of each field was 2 tan () for men (approx. 22 ares total), and two-thirds of this amount for women. (However, the Shinuhi and Kenin castes were only entitled to 1/3 of this area). The field was returned to the country at death. Land belonging to shrines and temples was exempt from taxation. Collection and redistribution of land took place every 6 years.

          Castes