Yōrō Ritsuryō: The Foundation of Japanese Law and Government

Yōrō Ritsuryō image

During the late 7th to 8th centuries, Japan underwent a significant historical transition from the Asuka to the Nara period, establishing a centralized state system.

Pivotal to this transformation was compiling Japan's first systematic legal code, the "Yōrō Ritsuryō."

This legal code comprehensively covered various aspects of national governance, including political institutions, administrative structures, civil and criminal laws, and fiscal systems.

It consisted of 10 volumes of 12 laws and 10 volumes of 30 ordinances.

Taking approximately 40 years from its promulgation under the Taihō Code, the meticulously studied and revised Yōrō Ritsuryō served as the foundational legal framework for Japan's ritsuryō state for about 400 years, leaving a significant mark on Japanese history.

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Overview of the Yoro Ritsuryo Code

The Yōrō Ritsuryō, created in 757 AD, was an ancient legal code in Japan.

It consisted of ten volumes of "ritsu" (statutes) and ten volumes of "rei" (regulations), serving as a kind of rulebook to establish the framework for the country during ancient times.

Changes in the Ritsuryo system with a long history

The evolution of the ritsuryō system spans several significant milestones:

  • 701 AD: Political figures led by Fujiwara no Fuhito established the Taihō Ritsuryō.
  • Continual Revisions: Even after the passing of Fujiwara no Fuhito, the content of the ritsuryō continued to be revised to adapt to changing times.
  • 718 AD: Following Fujiwara no Fuhito's death, the ritsuryō revision work was temporarily halted.
  • 757 AD: Under the reign of Emperor Kōken, the Yōrō Ritsuryō was implemented, with Fujiwara no Nakamaro playing a leading role.

Differences from Taiho Ritsuryo

While the Yōrō Ritsuryō was based on the Taihō Ritsuryō, it introduced several changes:

  1. Partial Amendments related to household registers and marriage.
  2. Modifications to provisions concerning horses, official buildings, land ownership, and taxation.
  3. Language Adjustments in certain legal terms.

These differences reflected the societal changes that occurred since the establishment of the Taihō Ritsuryō.

Ritsu and Rei

The ritsu covered ancient Japanese criminal law, specifying punishments for crimes such as murder (death penalty), theft (hard labor), and assault (fines).

It consisted of 60 volumes.

The rei, on the other hand, dealt with administrative regulations, defining the structure and systems of the state.

It included provisions related to central and local government offices, household registers, land ownership, and taxation.

The rei comprised 10 volumes.

Philosophy passed down to modern society

The Yōrō Ritsuryō left a lasting legacy, supporting Japan's political system for approximately 1000 years.

Its principles, including the rule of law, centralized governance, household registers, and administrative structures, continue to influence modern society.

The idea of the rule of law

Key Concepts Perpetuated to Modern Times:

  1. Rule of Law: The idea of governing based on laws persists in contemporary legal systems.
  2. Centralized State: The centralized state system, centered around the emperor, forms the foundation of modern Japanese politics.
  3. Household Registers: The precursor to Japan's current resident registration system.
  4. Administrative Structure: The prototype for Japan's modern administrative organization, spanning national, prefectural, and municipal levels.

The Yōrō Ritsuryō's impact remains deeply ingrained in Japan's history and culture, providing essential insights for understanding modern society.

Background and Establishment

The Yōrō Ritsuryō was enacted against the backdrop of the establishment of the Ritsuryō system, changing times, and shifting political circumstances.

Here are the key points:

Ritsuryō System Establishment and Evolution

In 701 CE, political figures led by Fujiiwara no Fuhito drew inspiration from Tang Dynasty legal systems and established the Taihō Ritsuryō (大宝律令).

The Daihō Ritsuryō served as a foundational legal code, emphasizing centralized governance, administrative structures, and population control based on household registers.

Significance of the Ritsuryō System

  • Stable Political System: The Ritsuryō system aimed to establish a stable political structure.
  • Introduction of Rule of Law: It introduced the concept of the rule of law.
  • Centralized State: The system centralized power around the emperor.
  • Administrative Organization: It organized administrative offices at both the central and local levels.
  • Household Registers: Population management was based on household registers.
  • Land Ownership and Taxation: It addressed land ownership and taxation.

Changing Times

After the Daibō Ritsuryō, societal and economic changes occurred.

The Daibō Ritsuryō's provisions became outdated.

Political Shifts and Fujiwara no Nakamaro Rise

In 756 CE, after the death of Emperor Shōmu, power struggles erupted within the government.

Fujiwara no Naka no Ōe gained prominence, aligned with Emperor Kōken, and expanded his political influence.

In 757 CE, the Yōrō Ritsuryō was implemented.

Yōrō Ritsuryō Implementation

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