Sword Hunt

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  • Date: 1588
  • Japanese: 刀狩り (katana gari)

Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered a "sword hunt" in 1588, ordering that weapons be taken from all the peasants of all the provinces. Along with a few other policies, this was a key element in the creation of a more fixed class structure, in which individuals were strictly peasants, or samurai. This division between samurai and peasants is known in Japanese as heinô bunri (兵農分離, lit. "soldier farmer division."), and resulted in the samurai class (roughly 5% of the population) seizing a monopoly on violence which they would then use to more thoroughly dominate the archipelago for nearly the next 300 years (i.e. until the abolition of the samurai class following Meiji Restoration).

Hôjô Yasutoki during the Kamakura period, and Shibata Katsuie much more recently, had undertaken sword hunts as well, but Hideyoshi's was unprecedented in its scale. The order itself, known as the "Sword Hunt Order," or katanagari rei, was issued on 1588/7/8. In one county (gun) of Kaga province alone, consisting of only around 3,400 households, authorities collected 1,073 swords, 1,540 short swords, 700 daggers, 160 spears, and 500 suits of armor, along with a number of other objects.


  • Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, Second Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 63.
  • Kodama Kôta and Ôkubo Toshiaki, Shiryô ni yoru Nihon no ayumi, Volume 3, 1960, 48.