daimyo house codes


Many writings about warriors and “warriorship” come from the Samurai of feudal Japan. While most people refer to the “Bushido Code” and the Hagakure as refrences to warrior thought, those works were actually written during the long Tokugawa peace (or even later) and were somewhat idealized representations of what the Warrior should do and think. For an interesting glimpse into the “functional roots” of Bushido one needs to look at the “House Codes” of the earlier Samurai houses. These were the basic rules laid down by the Daimyo of a Samurai clan that outlined how he believed his Samurai should act. Here are a few:

ASAKURA TOSHIKAGE
From the Toshikage Jushichikajo 1480

  • Do not give a command post or an administrative position to anyone who lacks ability, even if his family has served the Asakura family for generations.
  • Post intelligence agents (metsuke) in both near and distant provinces, even if the world may be at peace. In so doing you can spy on the conditions of these domains without interruption.
  • Do not excessively covet swords and daggers made by famous masters. Even if you own a sword or dagger worth 10,000 pieces (hiki, equivalent of 10 mon), it can be overcome by 100 spears each worth 100 pieces. Therefore, use the 10,000 pieces to procure 100 spears, and arm 100 men with them. You can in this manner defend yourself in time of war.
  • Those retainers who lack special talent or positions, but who are steadfast must be treated with compassion and understanding. Those who are effeminate may still be used as attendants or messengers if their demeanor is outstanding, and they must not be dismissed lightly. However, if they lack both [steadfastness and good deportment], then it is useless to retain them.
  • Regrettable is the practice of selecting an auspicious day or considering a lucky direction in order to win a battle or take a castle, and even shift the time and date accordingly. No matter how auspicious the day may be, if you set sail your boat in a storm or confront a great host alone, your effort will come to naught. No matter how inauspicious the day may be, if you can discern between truth and falsehood, prepare for the orthodox and surprise attacks secretly, be flexible in all situations, and depend on a good stratagem, then your victory is assured.
  • Do not permit any castle other than that of the Asakura to be built in this province. Move all high-ranking retainers without exception to Ichijo-ga-tani (the Asakura castle). Permit their deputies (Daikan) and lower officials (gesu or shitazukasa) to remain in their districts and villages [to manage their estates].

CHOSOKABE MOTOCHIKA
From the Chosokabe-shi Okitegaki 1596

  • It should be the primary concern of everyone to train himself unceasingly in military accomplishment. Those who tend to excel their fellows in this should be given additional income. Particular attention should be paid to musketry, archery, and horsemanship. The military code is contained in a separate document.
  • It is only natural that services are demanded of those who hold fiefs, and they must be carried out to the letter regardless of whether they are large or small. Anyone late for logging or construction work will be required to repeat the duty period as punishment. And anyone who comes short of the food and provisions requested of him for work detail will be required to supply as much again.
  • In regard to those who abscond: offenders must be punished whatever their excuse and so also their relatives. Proper reward should be given neighbors or friends who report anyone whose behavior causes suspicion that he is planning to desert. Those who have knowledge of such intent and fail to report it will receive the same punishment as the offender. Furthermore, a man who reports late for lumbering or construction and leaves without getting permission from the magistrate will have his lands declared forfeited. If a man deserts directly to another province, punishment will also be imposed on his relatives. Similarly, if a man’s retainer (hikan) deserts [from labor duty], the master will be penalized threefold.
  • Heavy drinking is prohibited for all people, high and low, to say nothing of all magistrates. Furthermore: With regards to drunkards, the fine for minor offenses will be three kan of coins, and appropriate punishment (seibai) will be imposed for severe offenses. A man who cuts or strikes others [while drunk] will have his head cut off.
  • As to illicit relations with another’s wife: Although it is obvious, unless the guilty pair kill themselves, both of them should be executed. If approval of relatives is obtained, revenge may be undertaken, but unnatural cruelty will constitute a crime. If the husband fails to kill the man, or if he is away at the time the offense becomes known, the people of the village should kill the offender. In addition: If a woman has a reputation, the [marriage] contract is to be broken.
  • When there is not a man in the house, no males-masseurs, peddlers, traveling sarugaku performers and musicians, solicitors for religious contributions (banjin) or even relatives-shall set foot in the house. If someone is ill and if the relatives approve, a visit may be made, but then only in daytime. Even the magistrate must carry on his business outside the gate. However, this does not apply to parents, sons, and brothers [of the household head].
  • Whoever discovers that anyone, whether vassal or farmer, is concealing the existence of [untaxed] fields and reports it to the lord, will be rewarded strikingly. Acting on such information, the magistrate will base his ruling on the land survey register. If it becomes clear that a vassal concealed the field, he will be severely punished. And if it is a farmer who concealed it, he will be forced to pay double the tax due since the land survey, after which he will be banished. If he pleads hardship at this, he will have his head cut off.
  • With regard to family succession: It is necessary to notify the lord and receive his permission, even if the heir is the head’s real child. It is strictly forbidden to decide succession matters privately. Furthermore: One must also request permission to become guardian for a minor.
  • As regards family name and succession designation for loyal retainers: If a vassal commits a crime and has to be punished, his family name will not be affected if the offense was a minor one. But if he commits a major crime, his punishment should include the loss of his family name.

HOJO SOUN
From the Soun-ji Dono Nijuichi Kajo Ca. 1495

  • Don’t think your swords and clothes should be as good as those of other people. Be content as long as they don’t look awful. Once you start acquiring what you don’t have and become even poorer, you’ll become a laughingstock.
  • Whenever you have a little bit of time for yourself, read a book. Always carry something with characters written on it with you and look at it when no one’s looking. Unless you accustom yourself to them, asleep or awake, you’ll forget them. The same is true of writing.
  • There’s the saying, “Do everything with others, and you’ll have no trouble.” Rely on others in everything.
  • When you have to walk past the elders lined up in the corridor for the master’s audience, you must bend at the hips and lower your hands. It’s absolutely out of the question not to show deference or humility but to stomp past. All samurai must behave humbly, deferentially.
  • Anyone without any knowledge of tanka composition must be said to be untalented and shallow. Study it.
    Always work at reading, writing, martial skills, archery, and horse riding. There is no need to detail this. Hold literary skills in your left hand, martial skills in your right. This is the law from ancient times. Never neglect it.

IMAGAWA UJICHIKA
From the Imagawa Kana Mokuroku 1526

  • In dealing with those who have quarreled, both parties should be sentenced to death, irrespective of who is in the right or in the wrong. In cases where one party to the dispute, although provoked and attacked, controls himself, makes no defense and, as a result, is wounded his appeal should be granted. While it is reprehensible that he should have been a party to the dispute and perhaps contributed to its outbreak, his respect for the law in not returning the attack merits consideration. However, in cases where warriors come to the aid of one or other parties to a dispute and then claim to be an injured party, their claims shall not be entertained, even if they should be wounded or killed.

ROKKAKU YOSHIKATA/YOSHIHARU
From the Rokkaku-shi Shikimoku 1567

  • Taking and keeping the landholdings of others is the worst kind of unlawful act. Those who have taken the domains of others should return them immediately to the lawful proprietor. When such domains are not returned voluntarily, the Daimyô shall order their return. If an order of this kind is not complied with, he shall order his retainers to expel the offender by force. In such cases the retainers must act cooperatively together as a single group in aid of the Daimyô. Even though the offender may be someone with whom they have close ties, a relative, or someone whom it is difficult to ignore, retainers are forbidden to go to the aid of the lawbreaker. On the other hand, even if the one whose lands have been taken is disliked by the retainers, insofar as the Daimyô orders, they must put aside their resentment and cooperate fully and actively in chastising the offender.
  • It is forbidden for the Daimyô to hand down and enforce a judgment in a trial without a full enquiry or without allowing the defendants an opportunity to explain the circumstances…

TAKEDA SHINGEN
From the Koshu Hatto no Shidai 1547+

  • Without a secret understanding with the daimyo, no one is permitted to send messages and letters to another province. However, of necessity, communications by the samurai residents (kokujin) of the Province of Shinano may be continued, as long as they are known to us to be engaged in devising a stratagem. Those who live on the border, who are accustomed to exchanging letters, need not be prohibited from doing so.
  • Concerning the land granted by a daimyo (onchi), even it may have undergone two phases of a natural disaster, both flood and drought, one must not expect a change of land. One must serve the daimyo diligently and in proportion to the amount produced from his land (bunryô). Even placed in adverse conditions, if one can discharge his duties exceptionally well, he may then be given suitable land [in it’s place].
  • Anyone who marries outside of the province, by contracting to take possesion of another’s estate (shoryû), or to send his retainers for the service of another, creates the causes for a great disturbance. Therefore, such a marriage is strictly forbidden. If anyone disobeys this injunction, a severe admonisment shall be rendered.
  • Exchanging oaths privately by relatives and retainers is tantamount to treason. However, on the battlefield, it is permissible to enter into a compact, so as to encourage loyalty.
  • The Pure Land Sect and Nichiren Band (tô) are not permitted to engage in religious controversy within our domain (bunkoku). If there are people who encourage such controversies, both the priests and their parishioners will be punished.
  • Pay proper reverence to the gods and the Buddha. When your thoughts are in accord with the Buddha’s, you will gain more power. If your domination over others issues from your evil thoughts, you will be exposed, you are doomed. Next, devote yourselves to the study of Zen. Zen has no secrets other than seriously thinking about birth-and-death.

TOYOTOMI HIDEYOSHI
From the Osaka jochu kabegaki
[The Wall Writings of Ôsaka Castle] 1595

(Note: While not strictly a ‘House code’, the Wall Writings of Osaka Castle, intended for the realm’s daimyo, demonstrates that the basic concepts and presentation of daimyô law remained the same even as the Sengoku period ended.)

  • Greater and lesser lords are strictly prohibited from entering deliberately into contracts and from signing oaths and the like.
  • If there is a fight or quarrel, the one who exercises forbearance will be favored.1
  • Those who have permission to ride in palanquins are [Tokugawa] Ieyasu, [Meada] Toshiie, [Uesugi] Kagekatsu, [Mori] Terumoto, [Kobayakawa] Takekage, elderly court nobles, venerable and high-ranking monks. As for others, even daimyo-if young-should ride on horseback. Those fifty years of age or more have permission to ride in simple palanquins if the journey is at least one ri. Those who are ill also have permission to ride in simple palanquins.
  • Concerning the management of fiefs throughout the country: after the crops have been inspected, the lord should take two-thirds and the farmer one-third. In any case, orders should be issued which will ensure that the fields do not become devastated.
  • One of lesser status may keep, in addition to his principal wife, one handmaid, but he should not maintain a separate house. Even one of greater status should not exceed one or two concubines.
  • Conform to the limitations of your fief; in all things your actions should be [consistent with your standing].

1.He presumably refers to personal disputes among the daimyô, rather than either war or a brawl between common samurai.

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