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 is the historical law system based on the philosophies of Confucianism and Chinese Legalism in Japanmarker. The political system in accord to Ritsuryō is called "Ritsuryō-sei" (律令制). Kyaku (格) are amendments of Ritsuryō, Shiki (式) are enactments.

Ritsuryō defines both a and an .

During the late Asuka period (late 6th century – 710) and Nara period (710 – 794), the imperial court, trying to replicate Chinamarker's rigorous political system from the Tang Dynasty, created and enforced some collections of Ritsuryō. Over the course of centuries, the ritsuryō state produced more and more information which was carefully archived; however, with the passage of time in the Heian period, ritsuryō institutions evolved into a political and cultural system without feedback.

In 645, the Taika reforms were the first signs of implementation of the system.

Major re-statements of Ritsuryō included the following:

  • Ōmi-ryō (近江令, 669) – 22 volumes of administrative code, of disputed existence
  • Asuka-kiyomihara-ryō (飛鳥浄御原令, 689) – 22 volumes of administrative code
  • Taihō-ritsuryō (大宝律令, 701) – of major influence, 11 volumes of administrative code, 6 volumes of criminal code
  • Yōrō-ritsuryō (養老律令, 720, enacted in 757) – 10 volumes of administrative code, 10 volumes of criminal code, revised edition of the Taihō-ritsuryō

Main achievements

Government and administration

In the latter half of the seventh century, the was introduced, dividing the regions of Japan into several administrative divisions.

In 715 CE, the was introduced, resulting in the following.

This system was abandoned in 740 CE.

Centralized and systematized

The ritsuryō system also established a central administrative government, with the Emperor at its head. Two departments were set up:
  • The Jingi-kan (神祇官, Department of Worship), in charge of rituals and clergy
  • The Daijō-kan (太政官, Department of State), divided into eight ministries.

Posts of those public Departments were all divided into four ranks: kami (長官), suke (次官), (判官) and sakan (主典). This ubiquitous pattern would be replicated consistently, even amongst members of the court whose functions had little to do with those kinds of powers and responsibilities which are conventionally associated with governing – for example:
Court musicians
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
Court pharmacists
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .

A global system of ranking for all public posts was introduced with over 30 ranks (官位 Kan'i), regulating strictly which posts could be accessed to which rank. Ranking was supposed to be mostly merit-based, the children of high-ranking public officials were nonetheless granted a minimal rank. This provision (蔭位の制 on'i no sei) existed in the Tang law, however under the Japanese ritsuryo ranks for which it was applied were higher as well as the ranks obtained by the children.

Registration of the citizens, updated every 6 years (戸籍 koseki), as well as a yearly tax book (計帳 keichō) were established.Based on the keichō, a tax system was established (租庸調 Soyōchō). Tax was levied on rice crops but also on several local products (cotton, salt, tissue...) sent to the capital.

The system also established local corvée at a provincial level by orders of the kokushi), a corvée at the Capital (although the corvée at the capital could be replaced by goods sent) and military service.

Criminal code

A criminal system was introduced, with .

  • : Depending on the severity of the crime, 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 strikes on the buttocks.
  • : Depending on the severity of the crime, 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100 strikes on the buttocks, performed in public, using a slightly thicker cane than was used for chi.
  • : Depending on the severity of the crime, imprisonment for 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5 or 3 years.
  • : Depending on the severity of the crime, , , or .
  • : Depending on the severity of the crime, death by or .

It defined that were exempt from amnesty. The code was based on the Ten Abominations of the Tang code, but two crimes related to family life—family discord and disruption of the family (through incest, adultery, etc.) —were removed.


Land as well as citizens were to be "public property" (公地公民). One of the major pillars of the Ritsuryo was the introduction of the Handen-Shūju (班田収受制) system, similar to the equal-field system in China. The Handen-Shūju regulated land ownership. Based on the registration, each citizen over 6 was entitled to a , subject to taxation (approx. 3% of crops). The area of each field was 2 for men (approx. 22 ares total), and two-thirds of this amount for women. (However, the Shinuhi and Kenin castes were only entitled to 1/3 of this area). The field was returned to the country at death.Land belonging to shrines and temples was exempt from taxation.Collection and restribution of land took place every 6 years.


Main article :Japanese castes under the ritsuryō
The population was divided in two castes, Ryōmin (良民) (furthermore divided into 4 subcastes ) and Senmin (賤民) (divided into 5 subcastes), the latter being close to slaves. Citizens wore different colors according to their caste.

Evolution of Ritsuryō application

Several modifications were added over time. In order to promote cultivation, a law allowing the ownership for three generations of newly arable fields was promulgated in 723 (三世一身の法, Sanze-isshin Law) and then without limits in 743 (墾田永年私財法, Konden Einen Shizai Law).This led to the apparition of large private lands, the first shoen.

Strict application of the Handen-Shūju system decayed in the 8th and 9th century. In an attempt to maintain the system, the period between each collection/distribution was extended to 12 years under Emperor Kanmu. At the beginning of Heian period, the system was almost not enforced. The last collection/distribution took place between 902 and 903.

The caste system was less and less strictly enforced. Some Ryōmin would wed Senmin to avoid taxation, and Senmin/Ryōmin children would become Ryōmin. At the end of the 9th century / beginning of the 10th, the cast system was practically void of its substance.

Hereditary high-ranks for public posts led to the monopoly of occupation of the most important posts by a limited number of families, in effect a nobility, amongst which the Fujiwara clan, Minamoto clan, Taira clan and the Tachibana clan.


  1. Mesheryakov, Alexander. (2003). "On the Quantity of Written Data Produced by the Ritsuryō State", Japan Review, 15:187–199.
  2. Asakawa, Kan'ichi. (1903). The Early Institutional Life of Japan: A Study in the Reform of 645, p. 324 n.3.
  3. Asakawa, p. 13.
  4. Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, p. 429.
  5. Titsingh, p. 430.
  6. Titsingh, p. 434.


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