Taikō Kenchi Survey Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Taikō Kenchi, a nationwide government survey of farmland in Japan, was ordered by Japan’s de facto ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Growing out of earlier regional surveys, its definitive findings helped establish the Tokugawa system of agricultural organization and national taxation.

Summary of Event

The Taikō Kenchi, a nationwide survey (kenchi) of land in Japan, was conducted under the mandate of the taikō Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the de facto military ruler of Japan. In 1591, Hideyoshi took the title of taikō, created to refer to the father of the kampaku, or chief imperial adviser, when Hideyoshi awarded the position of kampaku to his adopted son Hidetsugu. As Hideyoshi’s forces conquered territory in a series of campaigns from 1570 to 1590, his regime was faced with the need for a uniform administrative system. One of the most basic tasks required was a land survey, to determine the exact amount of land Hideyoshi held, the estimated crop (especially rice) yields, and the potential taxes that could be levied on the rice produced. Taxation;Japan Taikō Kenchi[Taiko Kenchi] Toyotomi Hideyoshi Toyotomi Hidetsugu Oda Nobunaga Asano Nagamasa Ishida Mitsunari Natsuka Masaie Toyotomi Hideyoshi Toyotomi Hidetsugu Oda Nobunaga Asano Nagamasa Ishida Mitsunari Natsuka Masaie Ishida Mitsunari

Feudal rulers of some domains had earlier surveyed land under their control, but varying methods and measurements were used in these scattered surveys. After 1582 until his death in 1598, Hideyoshi conducted a series of uniform land surveys as territories came under his control. Earlier domain surveys were revised to conform to uniform standards and methods. In general, each farming village, together with its surrounding fields, was surveyed as a unit, so tax officials had figures for each village as a whole as well as for individual farms. Distinctions were made between rice paddies and fields growing vegetables, and the number of dwellings was also recorded. Farmers in possession of fields and crops were listed and were held responsible for paying taxes on crop yields. These farmers and their descendants were expected to remain on this land and provide the authorities with tax payments every year.

The surface area and projected crop yield were recorded for each field. The basic units of surface measurement were the bu (3.95 square yards, or about 3.3 square meters), the se (119 square yards, equal to about 100 square meters or 1 acre), the tan (0.245 acre, or about 0.1 hectare), and the chō (2.45 acres, or about 1 hectare). Fields were also ranked by arability and apparent fertility into four grades: high, medium, low, and very low. The average yield of a rice paddy was stated in terms of the number of kyōmasu, “measuring boxes” full of rice grains, based on the standard measures used in the Kyōto area. Farm taxes were paid in the form of percentages of harvested rice crops, and this local information gave government officials a way to make sure the proper amounts of rice were paid. Bulk rice levies collected were measured in koku, a grain measure of approximately 180 liters. Official stipends and salaries were often denominated in koku of rice, certificates for which could later be brokered and converted into cash.

The survey information was recorded in kenchichō, “survey ledgers.” Two copies of these ledgers were prepared for each village, containing both individual farm survey information and total figures for the village as a whole. These copies were jointly examined and verified by a government official and a designated representative of all the farmers in the village. One copy was kept in the village and the other went to the central government’s tax and accounting officials. Although these ledgers did not always contain totally accurate information regarding the number of farmers required to pay taxes at the time, they do provide important information about rural populations for historians today.

Hideyoshi took a personal interest in the land survey. In 1573, he defeated forces led by the Asai family, and his overlord Oda Nobunaga rewarded him with the Asai domain in what is now northern Shiga Prefecture, making him a feudal lord for the first time. Hideyoshi conducted a thoroughgoing survey of this new territory, and after gaining control of most of Harima Province (present-day Hyōgo Prefecture) in 1580, he had an extensive land survey carried out there as well.

After Nobunaga’s death in 1582, Hideyoshi became a national warlord in his own right. A series of campaigns resulted in his de facto rule over the entire country by 1590. Starting in the Kyōto area in 1582, Hideyoshi ordered regional land surveys in each territory he conquered, including modern-day Fukui Prefecture (1583), Shikoku and the Kii Peninsula (1585), Kyūshū (1587), and the Kantō and Tohoku regions (1590). Hideyoshi’s surveys were conducted mainly under the supervision of three of his leading generals: Asano Nagamasa, Ishida Mitsunari, and Natsuka Masaie.

Much of the land in Japan had thus been surveyed by the time Hideyoshi consolidated control of the country in 1590, but he had a new and more comprehensive nationwide survey planned and implemented. Most of the consolidated survey took place in 1594-1595, and it was known at the time as the Taikō Kenchi, or “Land Survey of the Taikō, Hideyoshi.” This term later also came to refer loosely to all the land surveys conducted by Hideyoshi throughout his career. The later, consolidated survey was also called the koku-naoshi, or “koku revision,” because it involved recalculation of the number of koku of rice produced and it revised estimates of the number of koku to be taken as taxes.

Ishida Mitsunari, a leading military figure and civil administrator under Hideyoshi’s command, was instrumental in planning and conducting the consolidated land survey. In 1594-1595, Ishida was in charge of a model survey of territory in Hitachi Province (modern Ibaraki Prefecture), in the Kantō region. The Tokugawa Mito domain in this area subsequently became a model of enlightened administration and efficient farming, which may be partly attributable to the groundwork established by Ishida’s survey.

Significance

Many of the administrative practices and procedures in the following Tokugawa era (1603-1868) were introduced by Hideyoshi. The land survey system is a prime example of this. Prior to Hideyoshi’s time, a considerable amount of land in Japan was in the actual or nominal possession of religious institutions, and the crops were used to support a particular Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. In recurring times of civil disorder and social upheaval, some government officials appointed to administer regional areas came to regard their positions as permanent, and they took possession of large amounts of land as their own property. Hideyoshi’s land surveys dramatically changed this ownership system.

By Hideyoshi’s time, the Ashikaga shogunate and the Imperial Court had little real authority to grant or assign land to anyone. The last Ashikaga shogun was deposed by Oda Nobunaga in 1573, the same year that Oda made Hideyoshi a domain lord. The warfare carried on by Oda, and then Hideyoshi, cleared the land titles of many large holdings by eliminating the owners, such as the Asai family. These holdings were then given to victorious generals. The nationwide Taikō Kenchi survey system legitimized the taxation rights of Hideyoshi’s new central government, identified local farmers, village by village, made them responsible for their own land, essentially bound them to that land, and put them under the authority of assigned village leaders. This nationwide land survey process became the basis for the entire Tokugawa system of taxation and of social control at the local level.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989. This is the definitive biography of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in English, written by a leading American authority on Japanese history in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and based on original sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hall, John W., Nagahara Keiji, and Kozo Yamamura. Japan Before Tokugawa: Political Consolidation and Economic Growth, 1500 to 1650. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981. A standard authoritative work on pre-Tokugawa Japan, from the combined perspectives of Japanese and American scholars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hall, John W., and Toyoda Takeshi. Japan in the Muromachi Age. Ithaca, N.Y.: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 2001. A revision of an authoritative work combining Japanese and American scholarly perspectives.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lamers, Jeroen. Japonius Tyrannus: The Japanese Warlord, Oda Nobunaga Reconsidered. Leiden: Hotei, 2000. A highly readable and substantial biography of Oda, Hideyoshi’s mentor, who was the source of many of the ideas Hideyoshi later implemented on a national scale.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Totman, Conrad D. Pre-Industrial Korea and Japan in Environmental Perspective. Boston: Brill, 2004. A detailed institutional study from economic and ecological perspectives by a leading authority on life in Japan during the late sixteenth century and the subsequent Tokugawa era.

1457-1480’s: Spread of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism

1467-1477: Ōnin War

1477-1600: Japan’s “Age of the Country at War”

Mar. 5, 1488: Composition of the Renga Masterpiece Minase sangin hyakuin

Beginning 1513: Kanō School Flourishes

1532-1536: Temmon Hokke Rebellion

1549-1552: Father Xavier Introduces Christianity to Japan

1550’s-1567: Japanese Pirates Pillage the Chinese Coast

1550-1593: Japanese Wars of Unification

Sept., 1553: First Battle of Kawanakajima

June 12, 1560: Battle of Okehazama

1568: Oda Nobunaga Seizes Kyōto

1587: Toyotomi Hideyoshi Hosts a Ten-Day Tea Ceremony

1590: Odawara Campaign

1592-1599: Japan Invades Korea

Oct., 1596-Feb., 1597: San Felipe Incident

Oct. 21, 1600: Battle of Sekigahara

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