is the historical law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 system based on the philosophies of Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

 and Chinese Legalism
Legalism (Chinese philosophy)
In Chinese history, Legalism was one of the main philosophic currents during the Warring States Period, although the term itself was invented in the Han Dynasty and thus does not refer to an organized 'school' of thought....

 in Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

. 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 and an .

During the late Asuka period
Asuka period
The , was a period in the history of Japan lasting from 538 to 710 , although its beginning could be said to overlap with the preceding Kofun period...

 (late 6th century – 710) and Nara period
Nara period
The of the history of Japan covers the years from AD 710 to 794. Empress Gemmei established the capital of Heijō-kyō . Except for 5 years , when the capital was briefly moved again, it remained the capital of Japanese civilization until Emperor Kammu established a new capital, Nagaoka-kyō, in 784...

 (710 – 794), the imperial court, trying to replicate China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

's rigorous political system from the Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

, 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.

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

Major re-statements of Ritsuryō included the following:
  • Ōmi-ryō
    Omi Code
    The are a collection of governing rules compiled in 668AD, hence being the first collection of Ritsuryō laws in classical Japan. These laws were compiled by Fujiwara no Kamatari under the order of Emperor Tenji....

    (近江令, 669) – 22 volumes of administrative code, of disputed existence
  • Asuka-kiyomihara-ryō
    Asuka Kiyomihara Code
    The refers to a collection of governing rules compiled and promulgated in 689, one of the first, if not the first collection of Ritsuryō laws in classical Japan...

    (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
    Yoro Code
    The was one iteration of several codes or governing rules compiled in early Nara period in Classical Japan. Major work on the Yōrō Code was completed in 718....

    (養老律令, 720, enacted in 757) – 10 volumes of administrative code, 10 volumes of criminal code, revised edition of the Taihō-ritsuryō

Government and administration

In the latter half of the seventh century, the was introduced, dividing the regions of Japan
was the name for ancient administrative units organized in Japan during the Asuka Period , as part of a legal and governmental system borrowed from the Chinese...

 into several administrative divisions.

In 715 CE, the was introduced, resulting in the following.

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
    , also known as the Department of Shinto Affairs, was a Japanese Imperial bureaucracy established in the 8th century, as part of the ritsuryō reforms.-History:...

     (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: 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....

Court pharmacists....

Establishment of court rank

A global system of ranking for all public posts was introduced with over 30 ranks (官位 Kan'i), 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, proceeding downwards to the eighth rank, held by menials in the court. Below this, an initial rank called soi existed, but offered few rights. The top three ranks were considered true aristocracy, and were subdivided into "upper" and "lower" ranks (e.g. third-rank lower, second-rank upper). Below the third rank, a further subdivision between "junior" and "senior" existed, allowing for ranks such as “junior fourth rank lower” or “senior sixth rank upper”. 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 aristrocrats (fifth-rank and above) and the menials (sixth-rank and below).

Additionally, income in the form of koku (石), or bushels of rice from the provinces, increased dramitically 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.

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 Soyōchō). 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
were officials in Classical Japan sent from the central government to oversee a province from around the 8th century, after the enactment of the Ritsuryō system. Kokushi held considerable power and responsibility according to the Ritsuryō, including tax collection, etc.The highest level for a...

), 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 .
Depending on the severity of the crime, 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 strikes on the buttocks.: 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.: Depending on the severity of the crime, imprisonment for 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5 or 3 years.
  • Exile
    Exile means to be away from one's home , while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return...

     (流 ru) Depending on the severity of the crime, , , or .: Depending on the severity of the crime, death by or .

It defined that were exempt from amnesty. The code was based on the Ten Abominations
Ten Abominations
The Ten Abominations were a list of offenses under traditional Chinese law which were regarded as the most abhorrent, and which threatened the well-being of civilized society. They are listed below. The first three were capital offences:...

 of the Tang code, but two crimes related to family life—family discord and disruption of the family (through incest, adultery, etc.) —were removed.


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
Equal-field system
The Equal-field system land system was a historical system of land ownership and distribution in China used from the Six Dynasties to Mid-Tang dynasty....

 in China. The Handen-Shūju regulated land ownership. Based on the registration, each citizen over 6 was entitled to a , subject to taxation (approx. 3% of crops). The area of each field was 2 for men (approx. 22 ares total), and two-thirds of this amount for women. (However, the Shinuhi and Kenin castes
Japanese castes under the ritsuryo
and were the two main castes of the classical Japan caste system.When the Ritsuryō legal system was starting to be enforced in Japan at the end of the 7th century, it included, as in Tang China, a division between those two major castes. The term Ryosensei describes the whole system...

 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.


The population was divided in two castes, Ryōmin (良民) (furthermore divided into 4 sub-castes) and Senmin (賤民) (divided into 5 sub-castes), the latter being close to slaves. Citizens wore different colors according to their caste.

Evolution of Ritsuryō application

Several modifications were added over time. In order to promote cultivation, a law allowing the ownership for three generations of newly arable fields was promulgated in 723 (三世一身の法, Sanze-isshin Law) and then without limits in 743 (墾田永年私財法, Konden Einen Shizai Law). This led to the apparition of large private lands, the first shoen
A was a field or manor in Japan. The Japanese term comes from the Tang dynasty Chinese term zhuangyuan.Shōen, from about the 8th to the late 15th century, describes any of the private, tax-free, often autonomous estates or manors whose rise undermined the political and economic power of the...


Strict application of the Handen-Shūju system decayed in the 8th and 9th century. In an attempt to maintain the system, the period between each collection/distribution was extended to 12 years under Emperor Kanmu. At the beginning of Heian period
Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...

, the system was almost not enforced. The last collection/distribution took place between 902 and 903.

The caste system was less and less strictly enforced. Some Ryōmin would wed Senmin to avoid taxation, and Senmin/Ryōmin children would become Ryōmin. At the end of the 9th century / beginning of the 10th, the cast system was practically void of its substance.

Hereditary high-ranks for public posts led to the monopoly of occupation of the most important posts by a limited number of families, in effect a nobility, amongst which the Fujiwara clan, Minamoto clan
Minamoto clan
was one of the surnames bestowed by the Emperors of Japan upon members of the imperial family who were demoted into the ranks of the nobility. The practice was most prevalent during the Heian Period , although its last occurrence was during the Sengoku Era. The Taira were another such offshoot of...

, Taira clan
Taira clan
The was a major Japanese clan of samurai in historical Japan.In reference to Japanese history, along with Minamoto, Taira was a hereditary clan name bestowed by the emperors of the Heian Period to certain ex-members of the imperial family when they became subjects...

 and the Tachibana clan
Tachibana clan
Over the course of Japanese history, there have been two families with the name Tachibana:*Tachibana clan - a clan of kuge prominent in the Nara and Heian periods...


See also

  • Law of Japan#Historical Developments
  • Ōmi Code
    Omi Code
    The are a collection of governing rules compiled in 668AD, hence being the first collection of Ritsuryō laws in classical Japan. These laws were compiled by Fujiwara no Kamatari under the order of Emperor Tenji....

  • Asuka Kiyomihara Code
    Asuka Kiyomihara Code
    The refers to a collection of governing rules compiled and promulgated in 689, one of the first, if not the first collection of Ritsuryō laws in classical Japan...

  • Taihō Code
    Taiho Code
    The was an administrative reorganization enacted in 701 in Japan, at the end of the Asuka period. It was historically one of the . It was compiled at the direction of Prince Osakabe, Fujiwara no Fuhito and Awata no Mahito...

  • Yōrō Code
    Yoro Code
    The was one iteration of several codes or governing rules compiled in early Nara period in Classical Japan. Major work on the Yōrō Code was completed in 718....

  • Station bell
    Station bell
    Under the Japanese ritsuryō system, were bells of red copper issued by the central government or by local provincial government offices to travelling officials or messengers known as . Functioning as a proof of identity, they allowed them to procure horses and labour at post stations...

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.