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History Shōen (荘園)

Shōen (荘園 or 庄園) – a manor and its fields.




A shōen (荘園 or 庄園, shōen) was a field or manor in Japan. The Japanese term comes from the Tang dynasty Chinese term "莊園" (Mandarin: zhuāngyuán, Cantonese: zong1 jyun4).

Shōen, from about the 8th to the late 15th century, describes any of the private, tax-free, often autonomous estates or manors whose rise undermined the political and economic power of the emperor and contributed to the growth of powerful local clans. The estates developed from land tracts assigned to officially sanctioned Shintō shrines or Buddhist temples or granted by the emperor as gifts to the Imperial family, friends, or officials. As these estates grew, they became independent of the civil, and administrative system and contributed to the rise of a local military class. With the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate or military dictatorship in 1192, centrally appointed stewards weakened the power of these local landlords. The shōen system passed out of existence around the middle of the 15th century, when villages became self-governing units, owing loyalty to a feudal lord (daimyō ) who subdivided the area into fiefs and collected a fixed tax.

After the decay of the ritsuryō system, a feudal system of manors developed. Landowners or name holders commended shares of the revenue produced (called shiki) to more powerful leaders, often at the court, to be exempted from taxes and to subvert the Chinese-style "equal fields" system, whereby land was redistributed after specific periods. In the Kamakura period , a hierarchy of name holders, manor stewards (jitō), shugo (provincial military governor), and the shōgun in Kamakura had evolved. These shōen were utterly free from interference from the government, which therefore had no say or control of what occurred within the shōen's boundaries.

By the end of the Heian period , virtually all Japanese land had become shōen and continued through the Ōnin War until the Sengoku period .

Shōen appeared in the 8th century and disappeared in the 16th century. They can be distinguished by historical period, and a shōen of each period had specific features in its formation and relationships with the cultivators of its fields. There are two primary periods of shōen development, although smaller and more detailed categorizations exist. The first type, which developed in the middle of the Nara period, is now called shoki-shōen (初期庄園, lit. "early Shōen"). Shōen of the second type, which continued from the middle of the Heian period to the Sengoku period, are called chūsei-shōen (中世荘園, lit. "medieval Shōen"). Note that these names and the distinction between the two are modern concepts and were not used historically and cannot be found in the historical record.

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