The kuge (公家) was a Japanese aristocratic class that dominated the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto until the rise of the Shogunate in the 12th century at which point it was eclipsed by the daimyo. The kuge still provided a weak court around the Emperor.

The word means literally "public house" or "public family" and originally described the Emperor and his court. The meaning of the word changed over time to designate bureaucrats at the court. Later, in the Kamakura period, kuge became an antonym to buke (warriors' house), that is, samurai who swore loyalty to the Shogunate. At this point, kuge began to be used to describe those who worked in the Court; both aristocratic noblemen and commoners.

Two classes formed the kuge: the dojo (堂上) noblemen who sat on the floor with the Emperor and the jige (地下) who where unable to sit with the Emperor. Although kuge included those two classes, mainly this word described the Dojo, the noblemen.

The highest offices at the court were called Kugyo (公卿) and eligibility was limited to members of dojo kuge. During Edo period there were about 130 families of dojo kuge. The highest members of the kuge class were known as Sessho or Kanpaku, acting as imperial regents; this was restricted to members of the Fujiwara family.

Though they lost the most of their political power, they sustained the court culture and had cultural influence. In particular after the Sengoku period they lost most of their financial basis and couldn't be financial patrons of the culture anymore. But they instructed their knowledge as master of particular fields like creating waka, playing instruments like biwa and had disciples among daimyo and sometimes rich commoners. As master of a certain field, kuge gave their disciples many of licences which assured that disciples learned alreaady so-and-so and allowed them to do practice in public or sometimes to teach others. Disciples should pay their master as application for each issued licence. During Edo period payment of those disciples was an important source of income of the kuge.

In 1869 during the Meiji restoration the kuge merged with the daimyo to form a single aristocratic group, the kazoku.

Others associated with the kuge included Buddhist priests, Kyoto cultural patrons, geisha, and actors.


In the 12th century among dojo conventional differences were established. They separated into some groups according to their offices at the court. It determined their highest office to which they could be appointed in their life. The groups were:

  • Sekke: possible to be appointed Sessho and Kampaku: Highest class of kuge. Only five familes belonged to this class. All of them derived from Fujiwara no Michinaga.
  • Seigake: possible to be appointed daijin (minister), including daijodaijin, the highest one among four daijin of the court. They derived from Fujiwara clan or Minamoto clan, descendants of emperors.
  • Daijinke: possible to be appointed naidaijin, if this office became absent. In reality, the highest office they could achive was dainagon.
  • Urinke: military class; possible to be appointed dainagon. Rarely to naidaijin.
  • Meika: civilian class; possible to be appointed dainagon. Sometimes referred as Meike.
  • Hanka: the lowest class among dojo. Created in the Azuchi-momoyama period. They could be appointed to only lower classes than sangi or chunagon. Sometimes referred as Hanke.

Most of highest classed kuge belonged from Fujiwara clan and Minamoto clan. But there were still other clans like Sugarawa clan, Kiyohara clan or Oe clan. Most of those lower class kuge were descendants of ancient clans who lose the power in the early Heian period.

de:Kuge ja:公家


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