Daimyō

The Daimyōs were the territorial lords or barons of feudal Japan. The word means literally "great name." Accordingly, during the Middle Ages, warrior chiefs of less degree, corresponding, as one might say, to our knights or baronets, were known by the correlative title Shōmyō, that is, "small name." But this latter fell into disuse. Perhaps it did not sound grand enough to be welcome to those who bore it. Under the Tokugawa dynasty, which ruled Japan from A.D. 1603 to 1867, the lowest Daimyōs owned land assessed at ten thousand bales of rice per annum, while the richest fief of all-that of Kaga-was worth over a million bales. The total number of the Daimyōs in modern times was about three hundred.

It should be borne in mind that the Daimyōs were not the only aristocracy in the land, though they were incomparably the richest and the most important. In the shadow of the Mikado's palace at Kyōto, poor but very proud of their descent from gods and emperors, and looking down on the feudal Daimyō aristocracy as on a mere set of military adventurers and parvenus, lived, or rather vegetated through centuries, the Kuge, the legitimist aristocracy of Japan. The revolution of 1868, in bringing about the fall of the Daimyōs, at last gave the Kuge their opportunity. With the restoration of the Mikado to absolute power, they too emerged from obscurity; and on the creation of a new system of ranks and titles in 1884, they were not forgotten. The old Kuge took rank as new princes, marquises, and counts, and what is more, they were granted pensions.

Books recommended - The Feudal System in Japan under the Tokugawa Shōguns, by J. H. Gubbins, printed in Vol. XV. Part II. of the "Asiatic Transactions." Reference to Mr. Gubbins's learned essay will show that the subject of Daimyō is not so simple as might appear at first sight.- T. R. H. McClatchie Feudal Mansions of Yedo, in Vol. VII. Part III. of the same, gives interesting details of the "palaces" in which the Daimyōs resided while attending on the Shōgun at Yedo.