Tokikuni family

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The Tokikuni family were a prominent hyakushô family based in the Noto peninsula in the Edo period. Wealthy landowners, they also engaged in maritime trade, salt and charcoal production, and the mining of lead. Historian Amino Yoshihiko cites the Tokikuni as an example of the diverse activities, broad-reaching geographical connections, and relative power & wealth of regional "peasant" families, arguing against the conventional view of hyakushô as geographically isolated & self-sufficient farmers who engaged almost exclusively in agriculture.

Though not of samurai status, the Tokikuni claim descent from Taira no Tokitada, who is said to have fled to Noto following the fall of the Taira clan in 1185.[1]


At the beginning of the Edo period, the Tokikuni held roughly 300 koku worth of land, which was worked by roughly two hundred genin; Genin are often described as slaves, but Amino suggests they should be understood instead as indentured servants.

The family also owned a number of large ships, and engaged in maritime trade activities, trading salt, charcoal, and possibly other commodities produced within their lands for konbu and other goods from Ezo, obtained from Matsumae han and sold in Kyoto and Osaka. The geographic range of Tokikuni trade activities also incorporated areas such as Sado Island, Tsuruga, Ômi, and Ôtsu. The Tokikuni received formal licenses for their mercantile activities from the Maeda, and operated chiefly out of a south- and east-facing harbor at Ushitsu, on the northern tip of the Noto peninsula.

Finally, the Tokikuni also oversaw mining operations at a lead mine they discovered in 1618, and served as the local daikan, managing storehouses holding rice and salt paid as taxes by others in the region.


The family - along with its holdings, wealth etc. - was split in 1634 when the Tokugawa shogunate claimed a portion of the lands the Tokikuni controlled under the lordship of the Maeda clan of Kaga han. This was part of an effort by the shogunate to check the power of the Maeda clan, by designating a number of small pockets of land within the Maeda territory as tenryô (Tokugawa land).

The family's land had previously been assessed at a value of 300 koku; it was now divided between the newly so-called "upper" Tokikuni family, who kept roughly 200 koku of land which remained within the boundaries of Kaga han, and the so-called "lower" family, which now administered the roughly 100 koku worth of land which fell within the newly-created tenryô. It is unclear how common such a division was in the Edo period, but the Tokikuni serve as a stark example that such things did occur, and provide an example of families which were divided in a different manner from the "main" and "branch" families model normally considered quite typical.

The two families continue today, with main houses only a short distance from one another, near the foot of Mt. Iwakura; the lower family's house is said to date from 1634, making it one of the oldest examples of vernacular architecture of this particular type still extant in Japan. The two families maintain a collection of thousands of documents related to their family histories.


  • Amino Yoshihiko, Alan Christy (trans.), Rethinking Japanese History, Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan (2012), 6-12.
  1. Amino, 17.