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The Shizoku (士族?, Shizoku, lit. "warrior families") was a social class merged with former Samurai on 25 July 1869, as part of the Meiji Restoration. It was a class distinct from the Kazoku (a merger the former Kuge and Daimyo classes), and heimin (commoners). Shizokus had no special privileges, so the title of Shizoku was solely on the register. After the Empire of Japan lost World War II, the name Shizoku disappeared under the revised civil code in 1947.[1]


During the Meiji Restoration, the oligarchs of Japan required Daimyo domains to be abolished. In 1869, the daimyo of Satsuma and Chōshū agreed to make a formal declaration of returning their land and population registers to the emperor, with the understanding that he would then confirm their holdings as governors. The government put all the retainers above the level of foot soldiers into a single category called former samurai (Shizoku, SHE-zo-ku).[1]

Abolished domains[edit]

The domains of the Shizoku were abolished, leading to roughly 2 million shizoku disinherited. This was the Meiji state's attempt to streamline local administration and centralize tax collection. In 1871 the oligarchs abolished some 270 domains and established prefectures. All they received were small stipends later changed to government bonds. Oligarchs urged them to find other lines of work, in agriculture, forestry, business and the colonization of Hokkaido. Some succeeded, many did not. [1]


In January 1873, the government issued a conscription ordinance crafted by Yamagata Aritomo based on German and French models that summoned all males over the age of twenty to serve on active duty in the armed forces for three years, followed by four years in the reserves. Shizoku opposed conscription and led demonstrations in sixteen localities in the months after the ordinance's announcement. Samurai opposition cost lives. Between 1874 and 1877, more than thirty rebellions erupted in defense of samurai privilege. The largest and last, in Satsuma, was led by Saigo Takamori. This rebellion required the mobilization of sixty-five thousand troops and took eight months to suppress. Saigo committed suicide. In 1878, samurai counterrevolution ended with the assassination of the oligarch Okubo Toshimichi, also from Satsuma, because he had opposed invading Korea and initiated reforms installed by the Meiji state.[1]

Economic impact[edit]

In 1880 the government faced financial disaster. It had printed money recklessly during the 1870s to finance its projects, and private banks issued their own notes. It spent heavily suppressing shizoku rebellions, and was one of the reasons why Japan faced the most serious economic crisis of the Meiji period.[1]

Notable Shizoku[edit]

  • Saigo Takamori - Leader of the largest Shizoku rebellion, Satsuma Rebellion.
  • Okubu Toshimichi - Assassination marked the end of the Shizoku counterrevolution
  • Itagaki Taisuke - Successfully petitioned the government to establish an elected national assembly. Promulgated a constitution after due deliberation. Lead to the creation of the Popular Rights Movement.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ebrey/Walthall. Modern East Asia from 1600 A Cultural, Social, and Political History (Third ed.). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. pp. 349–353. ISBN 978-1-133-60649-9.