• Japanese: 悪党 (akutou)

Akutô (lit. "evil bands") was a term used in the Nara (710-794) to Muromachi periods (1333-1573), but primarily in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), to refer to bands of brigands, thieves, or others engaging in violent and destructive acts. The term was more of an accusatory label than a true descriptor of a specific phenomenon, and akutô ranged dramatically in size, composition, activities, and motives. Some were brigand bands composed of samurai, others of peasants, revolting against authority in general, while others were organized by dispossessed land managers to strike out against political rivals. While the activities of some akutô are known to have included thievery, arson, and murder, official complaints and other original contemporary documents on the matter simply describe their transgressions as outrages (rôzeki) or evil acts (akugyô).

Still, loose as the category of "akutô" may be, the phenomenon reflects the relative lawlessness at a local level prevalent under the Kamakura shogunate, which was unable to effectively exert its power down to the local level, and had especially weak authority in the western parts of the Japanese islands. Those those accused of being akutô sometimes in fact appealed to the shogunate for aid against their accusers, when it came to Western Japan, the shogunate was particularly unable, or unwilling, to take action. In Eastern Japan, particularly in the early to mid-13th century, the shogunate did make efforts to aid landowners against akutô, but found its efforts often blocked by the loyalties or authority of other elements. Landowners sometimes refused to hand over authority over their own subordinates to the shogunate, and men in the service of the shogunate not only sometimes refused to act against the akutô, but sometimes even collaborated with them, taking part in uprisings and concealing akutô leaders from their colleagues of the shogunal authorities.

Much of this weakness on the part of the shogunate derived from the fact that after the Jôkyû War of 1221, the shogunate's vassals did not all owe their authority on their estates to the shogunate. As they had not been granted their land or authority by the shogunate, there was less incentive to serve fully loyally.

Akutô are explicitly mentioned by that term in the Goseibai shikimoku, a set of laws issued in 1232, though under that edict they are equated with mere thieves, various other crimes or types of criminals apparently not coming under the jurisdiction of the nationwide shogunate government. These other crimes associated with the akutô, including piracy, night raiding, and violent theft were placed under the jurisdiction of the provincial governors (shugo).

Though the term appears in documents as early as the Nara period, and as late as the Muromachi period, akutô activities in the Kamakura period can be said to have focused around Kyoto and Kyushu, in the period immediately following the Jôkyû War. It was after this date that the Kamakura shogunate extended its administrative authority to the west, establishing the post of Rokuhara Tandai in Kyoto, that of Chinzei Bugyô or Kyushu Tandai already in place. Jitô were installed to govern and administer territories (shôen) on behalf of the shogunate, often displacing the former stewards of the territory, known as the gesu.

It was not only the old landholders, seeking to regain their land, who clashed with shôen managers and came to be labeled akutô. Just as often it was officials already legally with some land and/or authority within the estate who initiated clashes in a push for greater power. In addition, due to new policies and other economic shifts, including the rise of the buying and selling of land rights (shiki), others came into local wealth and power and clashed with regional authorities. These clashes, between those who sought to amass local power, and those with wealth or authority on a slightly larger scale, were particularly numerous in the Kinai region around the capital, as the shôen themselves were more numerous, and connections to political authorities and economic developments more strongly felt.

All in all, such uprisings reflect a weakening of absentee authority in the late Kamakura period. Increasingly, those with official de jure rights or claims to land, were not those with actual de facto power on the ground.

Prominent Akutô bands and incidents

  • An incident which took place in 1227, at Toyokuni estate in Yamato province, serves as an example of a clash between a gesu and the jitô appointed to replace him as steward of the estate, who dubbed the former, and his compatriots, "akutô." The gesu, a man by the name of Yukisue, had been dispossessed of his authority over this estate when a jitô was appointed by the shogunate. After trying and failing to regain his authority through the proper legal means, the gesu and a core of his officials led a band of roughly three hundred men in destroying homes, lighting fires, and forcibly expelling the new jitô from the land. The jitô of course filed a formal complaint, but the akutô managed to fight off the official forces sent from Rokuhara. Similar incidents occurred across the country. In some cases, the shogunate, persuaded by the arguments of the dispossessed former official, would remove the new jitô and restore the gesu to his position; this did not happen in the case of Toyokuni.
  • A clash between the Ôe family and Tôdaiji, which controlled the Kuroda estate in Iga province, arose in the wake of economic and policy shifts surrounding shiki (land rights). The Ôe served as gesu on this estate, and held rights over the land, for six successive generations, and were branded akutô on a number of occasions, in connection with incidents ranging from the Heian period down through the middle of the 14th century. The family amassed some small measure of local wealth and power over the generations, administering the lands, overseeing economic activities, and generally looking out for the temple's interests on the estate.

At some point in the 1270s, however, Ôe Kiyosada was accused by the temple of obstructing the payment of certain taxes and other annual dues (nengu), and of various violent deeds besides. He and a number of his associates were exiled from the territory. His son, Ôe Yasusada, however, recovered his ancestral rights to the estate (gesu shiki) by 1300. Though he and other members of his line caused much trouble for Tôdaiji over the centuries, it would seem that the temple was forced to rely upon the Ôe in this manner, on account of the family's local prestige and power.

  • The Terada akutô which formed in the early 14th century on Yano estate, Harima province, is another example of the phenomenon. The group included jitô and other local officials as well as members of the Terada family, and was organized around Nawa Bay, a major port for the shipment of goods between the Inland Sea and the San'yô region. The leader of the group, Terada Hônen, held official posts in the Yanô shôen and was descended from a man who reclaimed that land some generations earlier. Commanding five disparate areas of land, obtained legally, he began in 1314-15 to engage in violent and illegal encroachments on the authority and land of the temple of Tôji, which had just been granted control of the estate in 1313 by Emperor Go-Uda. The temple appointed an additional azukari dokoro agent to counter Terada's activities, but Terada was not fully stopped until 1323, when the temple took to employing force against him and his men.


  • Harrington, Lorraine F. "Social Control and the Significance of Akutô." in Mass, Jeffrey (ed.). Court and Bakufu in Japan: Essays in Kamakura History. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982. pp221-250.

See also