Last updated
A Kuge in 1873
Regions with significant populations

The kuge (公家) was a Japanese aristocratic class that dominated the Japanese Imperial Court in Kyoto. [1] 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. [2]



Kuge (from Middle Chinese kuwng-kæ 公家, "royal family") originally described the Emperor and his court. The meaning of the word changed over time to designate bureaucrats at the court. During the Heian period, the relative peace and stability provided freedom for the noble class to pursue cultural interests, and the kuge became leaders and benefactors of arts and culture in Japan. [3] Most of the Kuge resided in the capital city of Kyoto. [4]

Later in the Kamakura period (1185–1333), 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 dōjō (堂上) noblemen who sat on the floor with the Emperor; and the jige (地下) who were unable to sit with the Emperor. Although kuge included those two classes, mainly this word described the dōjō, the noblemen.

The highest offices at the court were called kugyō and eligibility was limited to members of dōjō kuge. During the Edo period there were about 130 families of dōjō kuge. The most prominent members of the kuge became regents to the emperor ( sesshō or kampaku ). These daijō-kan offices were restricted to members of the Fujiwara family.

Though they lost most of their political power, they sustained the court culture and maintained a cultural influence. In particular, after the Sengoku period they lost most of their financial basis and were no longer in a position to act as patrons of culture, but they passed on their knowledge as masters of particular fields such as writing waka poetry and playing instruments such as the biwa, and they had disciples among the daimyō and sometimes rich commoners. As masters of a certain field, kuge gave their disciples many licenses certifying that the disciples had learned a certain field and allowed them to perform in public or sometimes to teach others. Disciples were expected to pay their master a fee for each issued license. During the Edo period, this was an important source of income for the kuge.

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

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


The kuge were divided into two classes, the higher dojo and the lower jige. In the 12th century conventional differences were established among the dōjō, separating them into groups according to their office at court. These determined the highest office to which they could be appointed. Within the dojo class, the groupings were:

  1. Sekke (摂家): could be appointed as Sesshō and Kampaku: This was the highest class of kuge. Only five families belonged to this class, all descended from Fujiwara no Michinaga.
  2. Seigake (清華家): could be appointed daijin (minister), including daijō-daijin (chancellor), the highest of the four ministers of the court. They were descended from the Fujiwara clan or Minamoto clan, descendants of the emperors.
  3. Daijinke (大臣家): could be appointed naidaijin , if this office became vacant. In reality, the highest office they could normally achieve was dainagon .
  4. Urinke (羽林家): was a military class; they could be appointed dainagon or rarely to naidaijin.
  5. Meika (名家, also pronounced "Meike"): was a civilian class; they could also be appointed dainagon.
  6. Hanke (半家): was the lowest class among the dōjō, created in the late Sengoku period. They could only be appointed to lower ranks than sangi or chūnagon .

The jige class was associated with but not a part of the dojo:

Most of the highest-classed kuge belonged to the Fujiwara clan and Minamoto clan, but there were still other clans like the Sugawara clan, the Kiyohara clan, and the Ōe clan.

See also

Related Research Articles

Emperor Yōzei Emperor of Japan

Emperor Yōzei was the 57th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.

Fujiwara clan Powerful family of regents in Japan

Fujiwara clan, also shortened to Tōshi (藤氏), descending from the Nakatomi clan and through them Ame-no-Koyane-no-Mikoto, was a powerful family of regents in Japan. The 8th century clan history Tōshi Kaden (藤氏家伝) states the following at the biography of the clan's patriarch, Nakatomi no Kamatari (614–669): "Kamatari, the Inner Palace Minister who was also called ‘Chūrō,’ was a man of the Takechi district of Yamato Province. His forebears descended from Ame no Koyane no Mikoto; for generations they had administered the rites for Heaven and Earth, harmonizing the space between men and the gods. Therefore it was ordered their clan was to be called Ōnakatomi"

Fujiwara no Michinaga

Fujiwara no Michinaga was a Japanese statesman. The Fujiwara clan's control over Japan and its politics reached its zenith under his leadership.

Heian period Period of Japanese history from 794 to 1185

The Heian period is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyoto. It is a period in Japanese history when Chinese influences were in decline and the national culture matured. The Heian period is also considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, especially poetry and literature. Although the Imperial House of Japan had power on the surface, the real power was in the hands of the Fujiwara clan, a powerful aristocratic family who had intermarried with the imperial family. Many emperors actually had mothers from the Fujiwara family. Heian (平安) means "peace" in Japanese.

Minamoto clan Prominent noble family in feudal Japan

Minamoto (源) was one of the surnames bestowed by the Emperors of Japan upon members of the imperial family who were excluded from the line of succession and demoted into the ranks of the nobility from 1192 to 1333. The practice was most prevalent during the Heian period, although its last occurrence was during the Sengoku period. The Taira were another such offshoot of the imperial dynasty, making both clans distant relatives. The Minamoto clan is also called the Genji (源氏), or less frequently, the Genke (源家), using the on'yomi reading for Minamoto.

Emperor Konoe was the 76th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.

Emperor En'yū was the 64th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.

Emperor Suzaku was the 61st emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.

Emperor Ichijō Emperor of Japan

Emperor Ichijō was the 66th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.

<i>Sesshō</i> and <i>Kampaku</i>

In Japan, Sesshō (摂政) was a title given to a regent who was named to act on behalf of either a child Emperor before his coming of age, or an empress regnant. The Kanpaku (関白) was theoretically a sort of chief advisor for the Emperor, but was the title of both first secretary and regent who assists an adult Emperor. During a certain period in the Heian period, they were the effective rulers of Japan. There was little, if any, effective difference between the two titles, and several individuals merely changed titles as child Emperors grew to adulthood, or adult Emperors retired or died and were replaced by child Emperors. The two titles were collectively known as Sekkan (摂関), and the families that exclusively held the titles were called Sekkan-ke or Sekkan family. After the Heian period, shogunates took over the power.


The Naidaijin, literally meaning "Inner Minister", was an ancient office in the Japanese Imperial Court. Its role, rank and authority varied throughout the pre-Meiji period of Japanese history, but in general remained as a significant post under the Taihō Code.

Daijō-kan Highest organ of the imperial Japanese government in the Nara period and Meiji Restoration

The Daijō-kan or Dajō-kan, also known as the Great Council of State, was (i) (Daijō-kan) the highest organ of Japan's premodern Imperial government under the Ritsuryō legal system during and after the Nara period or (ii) (Dajō-kan) the highest organ of Japan's government briefly restored to power after the Meiji Restoration, which was replaced by the Cabinet.

Fujiwara no Tadahira

Fujiwara no Tadahira was a Japanese statesman, courtier and politician during the Heian period. He is also known as Teishin-Kō (貞信公) or Ko-ichijō Dono (小一条殿) or Ko-ichijō daijō-daijin.

Fujiwara no Michitaka, the first son of Kaneie, was a Kugyō of the Heian period. He served as regent (Sesshō) for the Emperor Ichijō, and later as Kampaku. Ichijō married Michitaka's daughter Teishi (Sadako), thus continuing the close ties between the Imperial family and the Fujiwara.


Kugyō (公卿) is the collective term for the very few most powerful men attached to the court of the Emperor of Japan in pre-Meiji eras. The kugyō was broadly divided into two groups:

The Saionji family was a Japanese kuge family related to the Northern Fujiwara branch of the Fujiwara clan and the Imadegawa clan.

Konoe Iezane, son of Motomichi, was a court noble (Kugyō) of the early Kamakura period. His sons include: Takatsukasa Kanehira, Konoe Iemichi and Konoe Kanetsune.

Fujiwara no Korechika

Fujiwara no Korechika, the second son of Michitaka, was a kugyo of the Heian period. His mother was Takashina no Takako, also known as Kō-no-Naishi (高内侍). His sister Teishi (Sadako) was married to Emperor Ichijō, and Korechika aspired to become the regent (Sessho) for his young brother-in-law after his father's death. Korechika's ambitions pitted him against his powerful uncle, Fujiwara no Michinaga, and the resulting power struggle continued until Empress Teishi's unexpected death. This left Michinaga's daughter, Shoshi, as Ichijō's sole empress, solidifying Michinaga's power at court.

Nakayama Tadachika was a Japanese court noble and writer during the late Heian and early Kamakura period and a member of the influential Fujiwara family. His works are valuable historical documents describing a pivotal period in Japanese history when power shifted from aristocratic families at the Heian court to regional military rulers such as daimyōs and shōguns.

Fujiwara no Uchimaro was a Japanese noble of the Nara period and early Heian period. He was the third son of the dainagon Fujiwara no Matate and thus a member of the Hokke. He reached the court rank of ju ni-i (従二位) and the position of udaijin, and posthumously of ju ichi-i (従一位) and daijō-daijin. He was also known as Go-Nagaoka-Daijin (後長岡大臣).


  1. Louis Frédéric. (2005). "Kuge" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 570.
  2. Lebra, Above the Clouds: Status Culture of the Modern Japanese Nobility.
  3. Lorraine Witt, "Poetry and Processions: The Daily Life of the Kuge in the Heian Court", accessed 30/4/2012
  4. John Whitney Hall, Jeffrey P. Mass, "Medieval Japan: Essays in Institutional History" Stanford University Press, 1988, accessed 30/4/2012