Friday Night History for 11 September 2020: Jito 地頭

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may know me for my Friday Night History threads! Here is a sample of one of the recent ones, originally written for my audience on Patreon. To support this and the rest of my work, sign up at http://patreon.com/riversidewings or send a few dollars my way via Paypal at paypal dot me slash riversidewings

(Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, in Kamakura, Kanagawa. Image from Unsplash)

SALUTATIONS you magnificent shining stars of the Twitterverse! It is time once again for the felicitous event of #FridayNightHistory and a thread about JITO 地頭, a local office in the Kamakura era and an interesting point of history to help understand how the system that came before was unraveled, and how the foundations of many Warring States clans were laid.

So before we talk about jito, we need to talk about shoen 荘園. Shoen were estates across Japan in the Heian era (794-1185) from which the imperial court, the court nobles, and major temples drew their income. But the thing is that shoen are way out in the sticks, and if you’re a court noble, it’s kind of a drag to be away from the capital where all the culture and political power is. So, little by little, the administration of shoen got assigned to the people who worked for the nobility, and the nobles didn’t usually go all the way out to inspect their shoen in person.

To simplify a long and complicated train of events, eventually, these people, who also had weapons, realized “hey, we have swords, we don’t have to care much, do we?”– and thus you had the birth of what became the warrior caste. Some of these warriors rose to great political power themselves, and it’s one of those leaders, Minamoto no Yoritomo, who was appointed shogun in 1192. This was the start of what we call the Kamakura era, the first of several eras of warrior rule. Kamakura, in eastern Japan, was Yoritomo’s seat of government.

The thing is, the imperial government and the shoen system didn’t instantly go away. The court still named provincial governors who still went out to the provinces, and Yoritomo’s power was, ostensibly, at the emperor’s pleasure. What happened was that Yoritomo gained the ability to name his own people to greater or lesser positions of local or regional governance, and thus meant he could reward followers to whom he couldn’t grant land rights outright. There’s more than one of this kind of position, but for now, let’s just focus on the jito– spelled 地頭 (“land-head”).

A jito’s job was ostensibly to protect the proprietary rights of those landholders who were absentee– the emperor, the nobles, the temples, etcetera. A jito ensured collection of rents from people on shoen land, ensured that the proprietor received their share, possessed the power to maintain order on the land and render criminal punishment, settled disputes among cultivators, and managed the land in general. This was originally more in eastern Japan, but over time, spread to western Japan as the shogunate’s control solidified there. While in theory, this was just a managerial position for an absent landlord, in practice, this solidified control of the land in the hands of these appointees, who answered to Kamakura more directly than to the emperor or the courtiers in Kyoto. As the centuries wore on, it was those local rulers, and not the absentees in Kyoto, who had the actual power and claim to that land.

As such, this– and other, higher offices held by Kamakura vassals– is where many local warrior clans of later prominence had their origins. It was an ending, and a beginning. And it may surprise you to note, but it turns out that women could also be jito!

A relatively low office, to be sure, but it’s one of those things that helps to understand, to make sense of transitions between eras and systems of administration.

I’m Nyri and this has been a bureaucratic #FridayNightHistory!

Now, questions?

SOURCES

  • Peter Duus, Feudalism in Japan (New York: Knopf, 1969), p. 116
  • RHP Mason & JG Caiger, A History of Japan (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1997), p. 130
  • Nihon no Rekishi 4: Kamakura Bushi (Tokyo: Yomiuri Shinbunsha, Showa 38 [1965]), pp. 81-85
  • “Bushi no Seikatsu: Josei no Jito”  武士の生活(女性の地頭)Available at Yamaguchi Prefectural Archives, accessed 10 Sept 2020 http://archives.pref.yamaguchi.lg.jp/user_data/upload/File/ags/2-1-3-010.pdf

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