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  • Japanese: 荘園 (shôen)

Shôen were estates or manors held by court noble families, Buddhist temples, or Shinto shrines in the Heian period through the medieval period. Their exemption from obligations of paying tax to the Imperial court was a significant factor in the decline of the financial stability, and thus overall power, of central authorities (i.e. the court) in this period.

The system of shôen emerged as early as 743, in the Nara period, as the privatization of reclaimed lands was made permanent. The court had made a policy of granting private ownership rights to those who worked to "reclaim" lands, making them arable, as a means of encouraging such expansion of arable land and thus of agricultural production. However, as these tax-exempt, privately-held, lands grew over the centuries, the amount of taxable land - and thus, court revenues - declined, eventually creating considerable trouble for the court.

The largest of these estates was Shimazu-shô, located in Hyûga province and owned, successively, by members of the Taira, Koremune, and Hôjô families. It was from this estate that the Shimazu clan, descendants of the Koremune, took their name.[1]

Following the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate in 1185, the shogunate acquired authorization from the court to install its own administrators, known as jitô, into private estates, extending shogunate authority into those territories, and helping to guard against uprisings or rebellions. In the 1220s, if not earlier, the shogunate also began to confiscate estates, giving them over to jitô to administer. This led to many estate-holders or former estate-holders organizing attacks against the jitô, and coming to be labeled "akutô" (brigands, or "evil bands") by the court.[2]


  1. *"Shimazushô," Satsuma Shimazu-ke no rekishi, Shôkoshûseikan official website.
  2. Conrad Schirokauer, David Lurie, and Suzanne Gay, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 75.; 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.