Court Offices, Titles and Ranks

The structure of the Japanese court government was laid out in two documents Taihō Ritsuryō 大宝律令 ‘The Code of the Taihō Era’ (701) and Yôrô Ritsuryô 養老律令 ‘The Code of the Yōrō Era'(718). Some alterations were made in 927 by the Engi Shiki 延喜式 ‘Regulations of the Engi Era’, but thereafter the government remained largely unchanged, although wielding less and less real power as the court declined in influence and the samurai in the provinces took over control of the country.

Having a position in the government, though, was all important to the aristocrats in the capital, as it brought with it rank and, in the early years before the government became impecunious, wealth. A man was most often referred to by the position(s) he held, which situated him precisely in the elaborate hierarchy of status relationships which governed aristocratic life.

Here, then, is an outline of the structure and offices of the imperial government.

Department of Shintō
Great Council of State
Controlling Board of the Left
Controlling Board of the Right
Ministry of Central Affairs
Ministry of Ceremonial
Ministry of Civil Administration
Ministry of Popular Affairs
Ministry of War
Ministry of Justice
Ministry of the Treasury
Ministry of the Emperor’s Household


All of the above (with the exception of the Emperor, of course) had their own officials, and the eight ministries were divided into bureaux with responsibilities for different areas within their remit.

Senior officials within the government were divided into four general classes: Head (kami 長官), Assistant (suke 次官), Secretary ( 判官) and Clerk (sakan 主典). Within these four classes there were a range of different titles for officials, depending upon the department, ministry or bureau in which the person worked. Senior official positions also carried with them court rank, and the most important ones had various emoluments as well. In addition to the senior officials, there were also cohorts of junior officials attached to the various ministries and bureaux in order to carry out the essential menial tasks of the government.

If you click on the various links above, you can find out the structure and officials of the various branches of the government.

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