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Shimazu Nariakira, Daimyo of Satsuma Domain appears in this 1857 daguerreotype by Ichiki Shiro Shimazu by ichiki.jpg
Shimazu Nariakira, Daimyō of Satsuma Domain appears in this 1857 daguerreotype by Ichiki Shirō

The daimyō(大名, Japanese pronunciation:  [daimʲoː] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen )) were powerful Japanese feudal lords [1] who, until their decline in the early Meiji period, ruled most of Japan from their vast, hereditary land holdings. In the term, dai() means "large", and myō stands for myōden(名田), meaning private land. [2]

Lord is an appellation for a person or deity who has authority, control, or power over others acting like a master, a chief, or a ruler. The appellation can also denote certain persons who hold a title of the peerage in the United Kingdom, or are entitled to courtesy titles. The collective "Lords" can refer to a group or body of peers.


Subordinate to the shōgun , and nominally to the Emperor and the kuge, daimyō were powerful feudal rulers from the 10th century to the middle 19th century in Japan. From the Shugo of the Muromachi period through the Sengoku to the daimyō of the Edo period, the rank had a long and varied history. The backgrounds of daimyō also varied considerably; while some daimyō clans, notably the Mōri, Shimazu and Hosokawa, were cadet branches of the Imperial family or were descended from the kuge , other daimyō were promoted from the ranks of the samurai, notably during the Edo period.

<i>Shōgun</i> de facto military dictator of feudal Japan (1185-1868)

The Shōgun was the military dictator of Japan during the period from 1185 to 1868. In most of this period, the shōguns were the de facto rulers of the country, although nominally they were appointed by the Emperor as a ceremonial formality. The shōguns held almost absolute power over territories through military means.

The kuge (公家) was a Japanese aristocratic class that dominated the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto. The kuge were important from the establishment of Kyoto as the capital during the Heian period in the late 8th century until the rise of the Kamakura shogunate in the 12th century, at which point it was eclipsed by the bushi. The kuge still provided a weak court around the Emperor until the Meiji Restoration, when they merged with the daimyō, regaining some of their status in the process, and formed the kazoku (peerage), which lasted until shortly after World War II (1947), when the Japanese peerage system was abolished. Though there is no longer an official status, members of the kuge families remain influential in Japanese society, government, and industry.

Feudalism combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe

Feudalism was a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour. Although derived from the Latin word feodum or feudum (fief), then in use, the term feudalism and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the Middle Ages. In its classic definition, by François-Louis Ganshof (1944), feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs.

The term daimyō also sometimes refers to the leading figures of such clans, also called "Lord". It was usually, though not exclusively, from these warlords that a shōgun arose or a regent was chosen. Daimyō often hired samurai to guard their land and they paid the samurai in land or food as relatively few could afford to pay samurai in money. The daimyō era ended soon after the Meiji Restoration with the adoption of the prefecture system in 1871.

A regent is a person appointed to govern a state because the monarch is a minor, is absent or is incapacitated. The rule of a regent or regents is called a regency. A regent or regency council may be formed ad hoc or in accordance with a constitutional rule. "Regent" is sometimes a formal title. If the regent is holding his position due to his position in the line of succession, the compound term prince regent is often used; if the regent of a minor is his mother, she is often referred to as "queen regent".

Samurai Military nobility of pre-industrial Japan

Samurai (侍) were the military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan.

Meiji Restoration restoration of imperial rule in Japan

The Meiji Restoration, also known as the Meiji Renovation, Revolution, Reform, or Renewal, was an event that restored practical imperial rule to the Empire of Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji. Although there were ruling emperors before the Meiji Restoration, the events restored practical abilities and consolidated the political system under the emperor of Japan.


The shugo daimyō(守護大名) were the first group of men to hold the title daimyō. They arose from among the shugo during the Muromachi period. The shugo-daimyō held not only military and police powers, but also economic power within a province. They accumulated these powers throughout the first decades of the Muromachi period.

Shugo (守護) was a title, commonly translated as "(military) governor", "protector" or "constable", given to certain officials in feudal Japan. They were each appointed by the shōgun to oversee one or more of the provinces of Japan. The position gave way to the emergence of the daimyōs in the late 15th century, as shugo began to claim power over lands themselves, rather than serving simply as governors on behalf of the shogunate.

Muromachi period division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573

The Muromachi period is a division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573. The period marks the governance of the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate, which was officially established in 1338 by the first Muromachi shōgun, Ashikaga Takauji, two years after the brief Kenmu Restoration (1333–36) of imperial rule was brought to a close. The period ended in 1573 when the 15th and last shogun of this line, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, was driven out of the capital in Kyoto by Oda Nobunaga.

Provinces of Japan former administrative units of Japan

Provinces of Japan were administrative divisions before the modern prefecture system was established, when the islands of Japan were divided into tens of kuni, usually known in English as provinces. Each province was divided into gun.

Daimyo Matsudaira Katamori visits the residence of a retainer. Mannequins in building in Aizuwakamatsu. AizuWakamatsuKatamori.jpg
Daimyō Matsudaira Katamori visits the residence of a retainer. Mannequins in building in Aizuwakamatsu.

Major shugo-daimyō came from the Shiba, Hatakeyama, and Hosokawa clans, as well as the tozama clans of Yamana, Ōuchi, and Akamatsu. The greatest ruled multiple provinces.

Shiba clan

Shiba clan was a Japanese clan.

Hatakeyama clan noble family

The Hatakeyama clan was a Japanese samurai clan. Originally a branch of the Taira clan and descended from Taira no Takamochi, they fell victim to political intrigue in 1205, when Hatakeyama Shigeyasu, first, and his father Shigetada later were killed in battle by Hōjō forces in Kamakura. After 1205 the Hatakeyama came to be descendants of the Ashikaga clan, who were in turn descended from Emperor Seiwa (850–880) and the Seiwa Genji branch of the Minamoto clan.

Hosokawa clan samurai clan

The Hosokawa clan was a Japanese samurai kin group or clan.

The Ashikaga shogunate required the shugo-daimyō to reside in Kyoto, so they appointed relatives or retainers, called shugodai , to represent them in their home provinces. Eventually some of these in turn came to reside in Kyoto, appointing deputies in the provinces.

The Ashikaga shogunate, also known as the Muromachi shogunate, was a dynasty originating from one of the plethora of Japanese daimyō which governed Japan from 1338 to 1573, the year in which Oda Nobunaga deposed Ashikaga Yoshiaki. The heads of government were the shōgun. Each was a member of the Ashikaga clan.

Kyoto City in Kansai, Japan

Kyoto, officially Kyoto City, is the capital city of Kyoto Prefecture, located in the Kansai region of Japan. For over a thousand years, Kyoto was the Imperial capital of Japan but is now a major part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area.

Shugodai were officials during feudal Japan. Shugodai were representatives of provincial shugo when the shugo could not exercise his power, being often away from his province. Unlike shugo, who were appointed from the central power, shugodai were locally appointed.

The Ōnin War was a major uprising in which shugo-daimyō fought each other. During this and other wars of the time, kuni ikki , or provincial uprisings, took place as locally powerful warriors sought independence from the shugo-daimyō. The deputies of the shugo-daimyō, living in the provinces, seized the opportunity to strengthen their position. At the end of the fifteenth century, those shugo-daimyō who succeeded remained in power. Those who had failed to exert control over their deputies fell from power and were replaced by a new class, the sengoku-daimyō, who arose from the ranks of the shugodai and ji-samurai .


Map of Japan around 1570 (Genki) Map Japan Genki1-en.svg
Map of Japan around 1570 (Genki)

Among the sengoku daimyō(戦国大名) were many who had been shugo-daimyō, such as the Satake, Imagawa, Takeda, Toki, Rokkaku, Ōuchi, and Shimazu. New to the ranks of the daimyō were the Asakura, Amago, Nagao, Miyoshi, Chōsokabe, Jimbō, Hatano, Oda, and Matsunaga. These came from the ranks of the shugodai and their deputies. Additional sengoku-daimyō such as the Mōri, Tamura, and Ryūzōji arose from the ji-samurai. The lower officials of the shogunate and rōnin (Late Hōjō, Saitō), provincial officials (Kitabatake), and kuge (Tosa Ichijō) also gave rise to sengoku-daimyō.[ citation needed ]

Daimyō in the Edo period

The Battle of Sekigahara in the year 1600 marked the beginning of the Edo period. Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu then reorganized roughly 200 daimyō and their territories into han, which were assessed by rice production. Those heading han assessed at 10,000 koku (50,000 bushels) or more were considered daimyō. Ieyasu also categorized the daimyō according to their relation to the ruling Tokugawa family: the shinpan were related to the Tokugawa; the fudai had been vassals of the Tokugawa or allies in battle; and the tozama had not allied with the Tokugawa before the battle (did not necessarily fight against the Tokugawa).

A Daimyo paying a state visit, illustration from ca. 1860 A Daimio paying a state visit-J. M. W. Silver.jpg
A Daimyō paying a state visit, illustration from ca. 1860

The shinpan were collaterals of Ieyasu, such as the Matsudaira, or descendants of Ieyasu other than in the main line of succession. Several shinpan, including the Tokugawa of Owari (Nagoya), Kii (Wakayama), and Mito, as well as the Matsudaira of Fukui and Aizu, held large han.

A few fudai daimyō, such as the Ii of Hikone, held large han, but many were small. The shogunate placed many fudai at strategic locations to guard the trade routes and the approaches to Edo. Also, many fudai daimyō took positions in the Edo shogunate, some rising to the position of rōjū. The fact that fudai daimyō could hold government positions while tozama in general, could not was a main difference between the two.

Tozama daimyō held mostly large fiefs far away from the capital, with e.g. the Kaga han of Ishikawa Prefecture, headed by the Maeda clan, assessed at 1,000,000 koku. Other famous tozama clans included the Mori of Chōshū, the Shimazu of Satsuma, the Date of Sendai, the Uesugi of Yonezawa, and the Hachisuka of Awa. Initially, the Tokugawa regarded them as potentially rebellious, but for most of the Edo period, marriages between the Tokugawa and the tozama, as well as control policies such as sankin-kōtai , resulted in peaceful relations.

Daimyō were required to maintain residences in Edo as well as their fiefs, and to move periodically between Edo and their fiefs, typically spending alternate years in each place, in a practice called sankin-kōtai.

After the Meiji Restoration

In 1869, the year after the Meiji Restoration, the daimyō, together with the kuge, formed a new aristocracy, the kazoku . In 1871, the han were abolished and prefectures were established, thus effectively ending the daimyō era in Japan. [3] In the wake of this change, many daimyō remained in control of their lands, being appointed as prefectural governors; however, they were soon relieved of this duty and called en masse to Tokyo, thereby cutting off any independent base of power from which to potentially rebel. Despite this, members of former daimyō families remained prominent in government and society, and in some cases continue to remain prominent to the present day. For example, Morihiro Hosokawa, the former prime minister, is a descendant of the daimyō of Kumamoto.

See also

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  1. Katsuro, Hara (2009). An Introduction to the History of Japan. BiblioBazaar, LLC. p. 291. ISBN   1-110-78785-5.
  2. Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, entry for "daimyō"
  3. Frédéric, Louis; Roth, Käthe (2002), Japan Encyclopedia, Harvard University Press Reference Library, Belknap, pp. 141–142, ISBN   9780674017535