Han (Japan)

The Han (藩) were the fiefs of feudal clans of Japan that existed during all the Edo period and for a few years after the Meiji Restoration. The number of han varied; typically, there were around 300 han in the Edo period. Most han were led by a daimyo with an assessment of 10,000 koku or more. The daimyo swore loyalty to the shogun. Sometimes a powerful daimyo let a man govern a domain over 10,000 koku. Those men were definitely not daimyo but their domains were sometimes called han.

The richest han was the Kaga han with 1 millon koku. It was situated in Kaga, Etchu and Noto Provinces.

In July, 1871, all the han were disbanded in favor of the formation of prefectures.

Comparison with provinces

Provinces were settled in an earlier era by the imperial court. It was originally an administrative division of the central government. The Muromachi Bakufu appointed a shugo daimyo for each province and they governed the province. Most of the shugo daimyo declined in power in the late Muromachi period and sengoku daimyo replaced them. Most of the sengoku daimyo were lesser samurai than shugo daimyo but some shugo daimyo like Shimazu in Satsuma province survived till the Edo period.

In the Edo period the provinces remained as geographical names. In contrast, the han was a local governmental structure and therefore meant the area each local government could exercise its power. Not less numbers han had exclaves with some reasons. The han system was determined by the Tokugawa Shoguntate. The size of a han varied but according to the Tokugawa Bakufu definition each han had a dominion from which at least 10,000 koku rice were harvested each year. And the daimyo was defined as the head of a han and served the Shogun directly. If a retainer of a daimyo had a fief of over 10,000 koku, he didn't serve the Shogun but a daimyo, he was therefore definitely not a daimyo. But government and dominion of such samurai were called han, too for convinience.

When the Tokugawa Shogunate fell, han remained for a few years. But they were abolished at last and replaced with the prefecture system which remains today.

Relation between Han and Bakufu

The structures of a han and the shogunate were principally similar because Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the bakufu, kept the governmental structure which his ancestors had developed when they were a small local daimyo in Mikawa province. Some daimyo, especially those whose ancestors had served the ancestors of the Shogun, were lords of the han and also bureaucrats of the bakufu. Most of them governed fiefs rated from one to twelve koku. Other daimyo had no permanent office in the bakufu but were appointed a temporary office.

Each daimyo served the Shogun and received the right of governance from the Shogunate. The heir of each daimyo should have been admitted in advance by the Shogunate. When a son of blood or an adopted son of a daimyo was determined as a heir of his father, the son went to the Chiyoda castle in Edo, the Shogun's castle and met the Shogun to receive the permission to succeed and his recognition. Principally if this procedure was ignored, the succession was cancelled by the Shogunate, and a han was abolished in a practice called toritsubushi (scrapping) in Japanese.

Though every daimyo was a swore loyalty to the Shogun, their relationships were varied. Without personal reliance, the relationship of each han and the bakufu was determined and influence the relationship between the founder of the han and the shogunate or the ancestors' of the Tokugawa. Roughly there were three classifications, named Shinpan (Tokugawa's relatives), Fudai (those who had been friendly to Tokugawa since before Sekigahara) and Tozama (those who were against Tokugawa at the time of Sekigahara). There was another classification by size of domain.

Rank of Han

Han varied by size and therefore by income. Every han was classified by the shogunate mainly by size. But the classification was determined by their political significance and han and daimyo must have behave suitably to their class. Some han were attributed to the highest rank provincial lord, though their han were small. In some situations their highest classification became a financial burden.

The largest han occupied domains wider than a province and their daimyo were called kokushu, provincial lord. But in Mutsu and Dewa provinces major daimyo were granted this class, though their han occupied the whole province. Maeda, Shimazu, Ikeda, Date and other major daimyo were classified as provincial lord.

The lowest ranked daimyo were forbidden to build a castle. In the early years of the Edo period the Shogunate enacted the one province, one castle policy but later multiple castles were built in a province.

See also: Abolition of the Han system, Aizu, List of Han



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