The han ( han?), or domains, were the fiefs of feudal lords of Japan that were created by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and existed until their abolition in 1871, three years after the Meiji Restoration. The number of han varied; typically, there were around 300 han in the Edo period. Most were led by a daimyo whose territory had an agricultural assessment of 10,000 koku or more. The daimyo swore loyalty to the shogun. Sometimes a powerful daimyo let a man govern a domain over 10,000 koku. Those men were not daimyo but their domains were sometimes called han.

The richest han was the Kaga Domain with slightly over 1 million koku.[1] It was situated in Kaga, Etchu and Noto provinces.

In July 1871, all the han were disbanded in favor of the formation of prefectures. (see: abolition of the han system)

Comparison with provinces

Provinces ( kuni?) were settled in an earlier era (mostly the 8th century) by the imperial court. The province was originally an administrative division of the central government. The Muromachi Bakufu appointed a shugo daimyo to govern each province. Most of the shugo daimyo declined in power in the late Muromachi period and were replaced by the sengoku daimyo. Most sengoku daimyo were samurai of lesser rank than shugo daimyo but some shugo daimyo like Shimazu in Satsuma Province survived until the Edo period.

In the Edo period the provinces remained as geographical names. In contrast, the han was a local governmental structure and, therefore, described the area over which each local government could exercise its power. The han system was determined by the Tokugawa Bakufu (Shogunate): The size of a han varied but according to the Tokugawa Shogunate definition, each han was a dominion from which at least 10,000 koku were harvested each year; a daimyo was defined as the head of a han and served the Shogun directly. If a retainer of a daimyo had a fief of over 10,000 koku (e.g. Katakura Kagetsuna of Sendai, or Inada Kurōbei of Tokushima), he served not the Shogun but the daimyo—he was therefore not a daimyo, by definition. However, the government and dominion of such samurai were still called han, as a matter of convenience.

When the Tokugawa Shogunate fell, the han system remained in force for a few years into the Meiji period, but was subsequently replaced with the prefectures which remain in use today.


The structures of a han and the Bakufu were principally similar because Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the bakufu, kept the governmental structure which his ancestors had developed when they were small local daimyo in Mikawa Province. Some daimyo, especially those whose ancestors had served the ancestors of the Shogun, were lords of the han and also bureaucrats of the bakufu. Most of them governed fiefs rated from one to twelve koku. Other daimyo had no permanent office in the bakufu but were appointed to a temporary office.

Each daimyo served the Shogun and received the right of governance from the Shogunate. The heir of each daimyo was recognized in advance by the Shogunate. When a son of blood or an adopted son of a daimyo was determined as the heir of his father, the son went to Chiyoda castle in Edo and met the Shogun for recognition and permission to succeed. If this procedure was ignored, the succession was cancelled by the Shogunate, and a han was abolished in a practice called toritsubushi (scrapping) in Japanese.

Though every daimyo swore loyalty to the Shogun, their relationships varied. Aside from personal factors, the relationship between each han and the bakufu was determined and influenced by the relationship between the founder of the han and the shogunate or the ancestors of the Tokugawa. Roughly there were three classifications: Shinpan (Tokugawa's relatives), Fudai (those who had been friendly to Tokugawa from before Sekigahara) and Tozama (those who were against Tokugawa at the time of Sekigahara). There was another classification by size of domain.


Han varied by size and therefore by income. Every han was classified by the shogunate mainly by size. But the classification was determined by political significance, and han and daimyo were expected to behave suitably to their class.

The largest han occupied domains wider than a province and their daimyo were called kokushu, provincial lord. In Mutsu and Dewa provinces major daimyo were also granted this class, as their han occupied the whole province. Maeda, Shimazu, Ikeda, Date and other major daimyo were classified as provincial lords.

Some han were assigned to the highest rank provincial lord, even though their han were small, which could become a financial burden in some situations.

The lowest ranked daimyo were forbidden to build a castle. In the early years of the Edo period the Shogunate enacted the one province, one castle policy but later multiple castles were built in a province.

See also


  1. Totman, Conrad. Early Modern Japan. 1993: University of California Press, Los Angeles. 119.
ca:Han (Japó)ko:일본의 번

it:Han (Giappone) nl:Han (grondgebied)pl:Han (Japonia)ru:Хан (владение) fi:Han (Japani) uk:Хан (Японія) zh:藩

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