Abolition of the han system

Abolition of the han system

The nihongo|Abolition of the "Han" System and Establishment of the Prefecture System|廃藩置県|haihan-chiken was an act, in 1871, of the new Meiji government of the Empire of Japan to replace the traditional feudal domain ("han") system and to introduce centralized government authority (Prefectures of Japan). This process marked the culmination of the Meiji Restoration in that all daimyo (feudal lords) were required to return their authority to the Emperor. The process was accomplished in several stages.

Boshin War

After the defeat of forces loyal to the Tokugawa shogunate during the Boshin War in 1868, the new Meiji government confiscated all lands formerly under direct control of the Shogunate ("tenryō") and lands controlled by daimyo who remained loyal to the Tokugawa cause. These lands accounted for approximately a quarter of the land area of Japan and were reorganized into prefectures with governors appointed directly by the central government.

Hanseki Hokan

The second phase in the abolition of the "han" came in 1869. The movement was spearheaded by Kido Takayoshi of the Chōshū Domain, with the backing of court nobles Iwakura Tomomi and Sanjō Sanetomi. Kido persuaded the lords of Chōshū and of Satsuma, the two leading domains in the overthrow of the Tokugawa, to voluntarily surrender their domains to the Emperor. Between July 25, 1869 and August 2, 1869, fearing that their loyalty would be questioned, the daimyo of 260 other domains followed suit. Only 14 domains failed to initially comply voluntarily with the nihongo|"Return of the Domains"|版籍奉還|hanseki hōkan, and were then ordered to do so by the Court, on threat of military action.

In return for surrendering their hereditary authority to the central government, the daimyo were re-appointed as non-hereditary governors of their former domains (which were renamed as prefectures), and were allowed to keep ten percent of the tax revenues, based on actual rice production (which was greater than the nominal rice production upon which their feudal obligations under the Shogunate were formerly based). [Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, pp344-345]

As governors, the former daimyo could name subordinates, but only if the subordinates met qualification levels established by the central government. Furthermore, hereditary stipends to their samurai retainers were paid out of the prefectural office by the central government, and not directly by the governor, a move calculated to further weaken the traditional feudal ties.

The term "daimyo" was abolished in July 1869 as well, with the formation of the "kazoku" peerage system.


Although the former daimyo had become government employees, they still retained a measure of military and fiscal independence, and enjoyed the customary veneration of their former subjects. This was considered an increasing threat to central authority by Okubo Toshimichi and other members of the new Meiji oligarchy, especially with the large number of ex-samurai revolts occurring around the country. In August 1871, Okubo, assisted by Saigo Takamori, Kido Takayoshi, Iwakura Totomi and Yamagata Aritomo forced through an Imperial Edict which reorganized the 261 surviving ex-feudal domains into three urban prefectures ("fu") and 302 prefectures ("ken"). The number was then reduced through consolidation the following year to three urban prefectures and 72 prefectures, and to the present three urban prefectures and 47 prefectures by 1888.

The central government accomplished this reorganization by promising the former daimyo a generous stipend, absorbing the domain's debts, and promising to convert the domain currency ("hansatsu") to the new national currency at face value. [Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, page 365] The central treasury proved unable to support such generosity, so in 1874, the ex-daimyo stipend was transformed into government bonds with a face value equivalent to five year’s worth of stipends, and paying five percent interest per year. [Bramall, Sources of Chinese Economic Growth, 1978-1996 page 452]

Makino Nobuaki, a student member of the Iwakura mission was to remark in his memoirs: "Together with the abolition of the han system, dispatching the Iwakura Mission to America and Europe must be cited as the most important events that built the foundation of our state after the Restoration."


*cite book
last = Bramall
first = Chris
coauthors =
year = 2000
title = Sources of Chinese Economic Growth, 1978-1996
publisher = Oxford University Press
location =
id = ISBN 0198296975

*cite book
last = Jansen
first = Marius B.
year = 2000
title = The Making of Modern Japan
publisher = Belknap Press
location =
id = ISBN 0674009916

*cite book
last = Lebra
first = Sugiyama Takie
coauthors =
year = 1993
title = Above the Clouds: Status Culture of the Modern Japanese Nobility
publisher = University of California Press
location = Berkeley, California
id = ISBN 978-0-520-07602-0


ee also

*Meiji period

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