Han (Japan)

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Han in Japan (ink drawing by Daikokuya Kōdayū ( 大 黒 屋 光 太 夫 ) 1789)

A Han ( Jap. ; sometimes called the Principality or Daimyat) was in the Edo period from Shogun lent fief to a daimyo (princes). It was associated with an income (kokudaka) of at least 10,000 koku .

The complete political system of the Shogunate ( Bakufu ) as the central government and the subordinate daimyats is called bakuhan taisei ( 幕 藩 体制 ) or hansei ( 藩 政 ) for short .



The provinces of Japan were established in earlier times (often in the 8th century) by the Imperial Court. They were originally an administrative division of the central government. Parallel to the provinces and the distribution of land according to the Ritsuryō system, a feudal system of rule developed in Japan as early as the late Heian period (12th century) with the so-called Shōen .

In the Muromachi period , the Bakufu appointed a Shugo daimyo for the government of each province. This persisted until the beginning of the Sengoku period (15th century), when there was no effective central authority and local daimyo fought among themselves for supremacy. Most of the Shugo daimyō lost power and were replaced by the Sengoku daimyō . These were warlords, often from lower samurai ranks, who expanded their lands by warlike means. Some of them, like Shimazu of Satsuma Province, survived into the Edo period . Only the three unified empires Oda Nobunaga , Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were able to gradually pacify the country and build a new central authority. The Han system goes back in particular to Hideyoshi, who institutionalized the allocation of lands as fiefdoms.

Edo period

In the Edo period, the provinces remain as geographical names. The Han, on the other hand, was a local government structure and can be described as the sphere of power of the respective local government. The Han system was determined by the Tokugawa - Bakufu . In addition to the han , there was also the tenryō , land that was administered directly by the Tokugawa shogunate , and smaller fiefs, such as that of the Hatamoto , which were also directly subordinate to the shogun .

The number of daimyats fluctuated somewhat between 250 and 300. The large daimyats included a castle with a castle town below ( jōkamachi ), from which the fiefdom was administered.

The larger fiefdoms became almost independent states in the course of the Edo period, with their own border guards and their own currency, the so-called Hansatsu . The richest Han, with over a million koku, was the Maeda-ruled Kaga , which extended over the provinces of Kaga , Noto and Etchū . The seat of government was the city of Kanazawa , which today is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture , which was formed together with the Noto Province .

Meiji restoration

When the Tokugawa shogunate fell, the land was first under direct shogunate ownership after the Boshin War , and the fiefs of the Han defeated in the war were converted into prefectures. In 1869, under the leadership of Chōshū and Satsuma, almost all of the remaining daimyō returned their lands to the emperor, but were left in their posts by him. From then on, however, the rice collected as taxes went directly to the government, and the daimyo became government employees. Her post was also no longer hereditary. On July 14, 1871, the Han were abolished and converted into prefectures during the Meiji Restoration .

An exception was the Han Ryūkyū , which was formed in 1872 from the kingdom of Ryūkyū, which was dissolved by compulsory order and which existed until 1879.

The term "Han"

The term Han (藩) for the fiefdom of a daimyo has changed in meaning. The Tokugawa Shogunate itself referred to the rulership of their vassals as kachū (家 中). Han , on the other hand, comes from the Chinese classics and was used by educated Confucians like Arai Hakuseki . From 1868 the term han was used by the Meiji government to delineate the fiefs against the possession of the shogun, three years before their abolition. The designation of the fiefdoms of individual daimyo as han can therefore be found in historical works from the Meiji period, not in contemporary sources.

The names of the individual Han are formed according to three different systems, depending on the source, either according to the old province, the name of the castle or the ruling family. The Han Chōshū , for example, has more than three names:

  • Province name: Nagato -han (長 門 藩). The problem with this system is that several hans were often located in one province, or conversely, one han owned lands in several provinces.
  • Colloquial province name: Chōshū-han . The first character in the name of the old province (長) in the On reading is combined with the character shū (州, “province, region”; originally “ ford ”).
  • Name of the castle / seat of government: Hagi-han . This designation is most likely clear, but there are cases like Chōshū, in which the seat of government was relocated, which is why Choshū was also referred to as Yamaguchi-han .
  • The name of the ruling clan: Mōri -han . This naming is problematic in that, on the one hand, there were large families like the Matsudaira , who ruled different Han lines in different lines, as well as several unrelated families with the same name. In addition, the ruling family of an area changed when the line died out or was deposed by the shogunate.

A combination of province and administrative seat or province and family name is therefore often used to uniquely denote Han. Because of this ambiguity, there is often confusion in literature between provinces, ruling families and Han.

In addition, the character han (藩) is translated as “Klan” in some bilingual dictionaries. However, Japanese monolingual dictionaries only list the meaning "fiefdom". Ruling families or clans (based on Scotland ) are, however, called ke (家) or shi (氏) in Japanese , not han (藩). Nevertheless, some of the sources contain questionable names such as “Satsuma Klan”. However, Satsuma is the name of the ancient province that was ruled by the Shimazu clan .

Relationship between Han and Bakufu

The structures of a Han and the Bakufu , the government of the shogunate, were in principle similar, as Tokugawa Ieyasu , the founder of Bakufu, adopted a form of government that his ancestors had developed when they were small local daimyō in Mikawa province . Some daimyo, especially those whose ancestors had already served the ancestors of the Shogun, were masters of the Han and officials of the Bakufu at the same time. Other daimyo had no permanent office, but were appointed to temporary tasks.

Each daimyo served the Shogun and received authority from him. The heir to a daimyo should be approved beforehand by the shogunate. If a natural or adopted son of a daimyo was determined to be the heir of his father, he traveled to Edo to be recognized by the Shogun. If the shogun refused recognition, the fief would revert to the shogun.

Han income

In a redistribution process, the fiefs led by a daimyo were provided by the shogunate with funds that are specified in koku rice, the so-called kokudaka . The minimum size was 10,000 koku, but there were huge differences. The Shogun kept 5 million of the approximately 25 million koku rice national resources for himself, the richest 30 han received half of the remaining 20 million koku. The other 230 han had to share the other half. The Shogun increased or decreased income depending on the behavior of the daimyo, especially in the first half of the Tokugawa period. Exceptions to the minimum:


  • E. Papinot: Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan. Original edition 1910. Reprinted by Tuttle Verlag 1972. ISBN 0-8048-0996-8 .

See also


  1. 日本 百科全書 (Encyclopedia Nipponica), Verlag Shogakukan, 1996. [The first sentence of the keyword 藩]
  2. Example Daijisen : Entry on 藩

Web links