Allegiance change in Yamato

How natives and migrants joined the fold

By William Wetherall

First posted 10 April 2006
Last updated 5 August 2014

Some typos and markup fixed 30 June 2021
Related external links added 9 August 2019

Coming and staying Affiliation, status, and registration "Kika" and "toka" (and "kifu" and "raiki") "Ban" as in barbaria First kika notice (mid 200s) Emishi and Hayato affiliate with Yamato court (540) Qin and Han people enrolled in registers (540) 7th century nation building 21st century registers

Related articles on this website (New windows)
Becoming Japanese in the Meiji period: Adopted sons, incoming husbands, and naturalization
Reports from early records: Natives and barbarians at the dawn of Japanese history
Kofun through Nara • 300-794: Conquest, incorporation, integration, and security
Soga and Fujiwara wombs: The violent birth of Yamato harmony
Akihito's Korean roots: The Fujiwara embrace of Kudara

Links to articles by other writers
Shao-yun Yang 2014
Fan and Han: The Origins and Uses of a Conceptual Dichotomy in Mid-Imperial China, ca. 500-1200 (
In Francesca Fiaschetti and Julia Schneider, editors (Asiatische Forschungen 157)
Political Strategies of Identity-building in Non-Han Empires in China, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2014
Nadia Kanagawa 2017
Approach and be transformed: Immigrants in the Nara and Heian State
In Duncan Ryūken Williams, editor, Hapa Japan, Volume 1: History, Chapter 1: pages 1-16
Los Angeles: Published by Ito Center Editions (An Imprint of Kaya Press), 2017
Nadia Kanagawa 2017-08-01
Immigrants, Outsiders, and the Outside World in the Yōrō Administrative Code (
University of Southern California Project for Premodern Japan Studies, 1 August 2017

Coming and staying

The peopling of the lands that are now part of Japan began several tens of thousands of years ago. Some people who arrived -- whether across a land bridge if they walked, or on a shore if they came or drifted by boat -- continued their journey elsewhere. Most, though, settled -- some thrived, some perished -- and some witnessed the coming of others soon or long after they came.

Most of Japan's demographic past is lost in the eons. The geological, paleological, and archaeological record suggests complexity and diversity. But what else would one expect, given the large expanse of lands that came to be part of Japan, and the variety of climates, and the sheer dynamics of the forces of nature that caused the islands, and their mountains and valleys, to form as the seas rose and fell at the glacial paces of time which defy human imagination?

Fortunately -- if talking about "Japan" -- we don't have to worry much about the prehistory of the region. For "Japan" was politically invented well within East Asian historical time. Japan was founded -- to the extent that any country may be said to have been founded -- between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. The earliest surviving regional histories -- Japanese, Chinese, and Korean -- bracket Japan's political origins to this period. And that is where the story "Allegiance change in Yamato" begins.

The story is one of how diverse people joined the Yamato fold -- became Japanese, if you will -- through submission and registration. The same process continues today under the name "naturalization" -- but the Sinific expression remains the same -- "kika" -- graphed Ÿd‰» then, ‹A‰» now, originally "kikwa" with a w-glide -- meaning to submit (‹A) to the moral authority of the sovereign, and change (‰») by adopting the sovereign's ways. Metaphorically, "submission to authority" is what every child does in the process of growing up and becoming a member of any society, no matter who has "sovereignty".

Kika or torai?

The word "kika" is one of a number of expressions used in early Japanese texts to describe what arrivals from the peninsula and continent, and unincorporated native peoples, did when submitting to Yamato authority. The same "kika" is now used to mean "naturalization" into the nation of a sovereign state. But since there was no nation in early Japan, there was no nationality. And because there was no nationality, there were no nationality laws or naturalization procedures -- as we know them today.

The compound "kika" (‹A‰» J. kikwa, C. guīhuà, K. kwohwa) has been used in Chinese since at least the 3rd century as a verb meaning literally "submit and change" in the sense of wanting to accept the moral influence of an emperor or king and assimilate into the realm. As we shall see later, the compound "tōka" (“Š‰» J. toukwa, C. tóuhuà, K. t'uhwa) was used practically interchangeably with "kika" to mean something like "surrender and change" in the sense of throwing oneself down and assimilating.

Nihon shoki, written in Chinese after Japan had Sinified to the point of adopting the Chinese sense of moral superiority toward other peoples, uses "kika" and "tōka" in the above sense, to suggest that those who came from the continent did so out of adoration for the emperor's moral authority. The Nihon shoki also uses the character "ki" of "kika" with other characters, in reference both to people from overseas and to local non-Yamato tribes, to describe their "submission" or "rendering of allegiance" to Yamato authority, moral and otherwise.

Kojiki says "torai"

Kojiki [A Record of Ancient Matters], commissioned by Emperor Tenmu in 681 (NKBT 68:446-447, Aston 2:350) and completed in 712, eight years before Nihon shoki, uses neither "kika" or "tōka" but prefers "torai" (“n—ˆ J. torai, C. dùlái, K. torae) -- which means simply "cross and come" from overseas.

Kojiki is more concerned with legendary and historical genealogical details, whereas Nihon shoki -- the first in a series of official histories that Tenmu's "new Japan" begins to crank out -- is notably more prideful in its narration of what must have been the orthodox, self-serving interpretation of the centuries of power struggles both in Japanese Yamato and on the Korean peninsula.

Historians divided

Today, some historians divide themselves between two schools.

  1. kikajin school
    Contends that everyone who came to Yamato and assimilated into the imperial fold are "kikajin" or "people who acceded in allegiance and assimilated"
  2. toraijin school
    Contends that everyone who came to Yamato from the peninsula or continent are simply "toraijin" or "people who came across [the sea]"

The "kikajin" school is more Yamatoist in that the term implies assimilation into the Yamato fold. Some proponents of the "toraijin" school simply wish not to label everyone who came from the continent as assimilators. Others argue, on the contrary, that local people assimilated into the fold of the newcomers, and that migrants from the peninsula had something to do with the founding of the Yamato court.

Conquering by assimilating

A third school might hold that earlier "toraijin" contributed to the establishment of the Yamato court and the spread of its authority, to which later sea crossers submitted and changed -- or were made to submit and change -- their allegiance.

It is very possible that migrants from the peninsula during the earlier centuries of the 1st millennium were involved in the genesis of the Yamato court. The archaeological record strongly points to the peninsula as the inspiration for the mounted military culture that made it possible for Yamato to participate in the wars on the peninsula that drove so many people to seek refuge in Yamato during the 6th and 7th centuries.

I get the impression that refugees from the peninsula came, saw, and conquered -- by teaching and intermarrying, and by otherwise assimilating into the Yamato political and social fold. Continental migrants with aristocratic statuses, and those with highly-valued linguistic and technical skills, were openly embraced by a local polity that yearned to be more like China and Sinified Korea.

I therefore see no reason not to take the received texts at face value. While "coming" does not necessitate a change in loyalties, "submitting" to a host's authority does not itself oblige a betrayal of what one is and believes -- especially if what one is and believes is prized by the host, and if rendering allegiance to the host is merely a ritual of survival.

Is "kikajin" discriminatory?

However, because of present-day racialist sensitivities having nothing to do with political and social reality in the past, it has become politically correct to contend that "kikajin" is a "discriminatory word" (sabetsu yōgo ·•Ê—pŒê). Supposedly its use in history textbooks offends the dignity of early migrants and their descendants, and stigmatizes today's "Koreans and Chosenese in Japan" (Zainichi Kankoku·Chosenjin Ý“úŠØ‘’©‘Nl) by encouraging the mainstream to think that aliens -- especially Special Permanent Residents, most of whom are Republic of Korea nationals -- should politically seal their assimilation by naturalizing.

My impression is that such suppositions attach unwarranted nationalistic and racialist meanings to "kika" -- both as it was used in early histories, and as it is used in law today.

People's Republic of China

Of interest here is that the People's Republic of China (PRC) -- the successor since 1949 to the Chinese civilization that introduced the word "kika" (‹A‰») to the classical language -- chose not to use the term in its own nationality law. Its implication of submitting to, and being an allegiant of, a dynastic authority doesn't sit well with communist ideology, which prefers to believe that the Party is subservient to the People. So PRC, instead of 归化 (guīhuà), uses ‰Á“ü‘Ð (jiārù guójí) -- literally "join [the state's] nationality" or "enter the state's [national] register".

PRC eschews the use of ‘–¯ (guómín), meaning "national" for the same reason. ‘–¯ implies that a person is an "affiliate" (–¯) of the "state" (‘). But as socialism advances, the "state" is supposed to wither away, leaving the "people" (l–¯ rénmín) a sovereignty unto themselves. PRC thus refers to its people as "citizens" (Œö–¯ gōngmín), which implies that a person is an "affiliate" (–¯) of a collective "public" (Œö).


Affiliation, status, and registration

The cement that holds together all polities is a system of tribute or taxation that results in a flow of wealth to the political center of the polity -- in this case the Yamato court. Very early in its history, the court discovered the utility of population registration as a means of determining how much it was owed by local rulers, who the court legitimated in return for their recognition and allegience.

The basic unit of population other than the individual was the "ko" (ŒË) or "household", which consisted of a single family or group of related families. Each household had a head, who spoke for, and was accountable for, the household.

Aristocratic families and clans maintained genealogies, in effect household registers (koseki). Eventually all families and households came to be defined by registers which recorded the names, sex, age, and in some cases the status of members of the household.

Local registers, from their start, were instrumental in governing the use and allocation of cultivated land, levying taxes on landlords or tenants, and conscripting labor for court or public projects. Most people were settled in the sense that they lived in households associated with specific plots of land. Itinerants moved from place to place as required by their vocations and bedded and boarded where they could, at times in lower class communities, some of them on the outskirts of villages and towns.

The first extensive mention of registers used to account for people in relation to the land they worked is found in an historical account associated with the mid 2nd century in the Christian era (see below).


"Kika" and "tōka" (and "kifu" and "raiki")

The Nihon shoki has a rush of accounts from 687-690 about people coming to Yamato from various Korean entities, apparently as refugees, who were settled in various provinces after submitting to the authority of the court.

New arrivals who submitted to the authority of the court and changed their allegiance were typically settled somewhere -- provided with land in an existing or new village, and duly registered as members of the local community. Nihon shoki accounts of such successive acts typically use the following terms -- the first two of which most clearly express the act of submission to, and acceptance of, the sovereign's authority.

For the texts and contexts of "kika" and "tōka" reports in the Nihon shoki,
see 687-689 Four accounts of "tōka" (“Š‰») change of allegiance
and 690 Four accounts of "kika" (‹A‰») change of allegiance
on the "Reports from early records" page in the "History" section.

kika Ÿd‰»A‹A‰»

Structurally this means "to submit and change" -- in this case "to submit (oneself to the moral authority of a sovereign) and change (one's allegiance).

The Yamato translation is typically just "mauomobuku".

"Mau" (‚Ü‚€) is an assimilation of "mai" (ŽQ mawi, mai) with a following verb. As such it makes the action of the verb deferential, as when proceeding (ŽQ‚é mawiru, mairu) to a person or place that is sacred, revered, or otherwise highly esteemed -- in this case a sovereign or a court. "Omobuku" (‚š‚à‚Ô‚­) reflects "omomuku" (‚š‚à‚Þ‚­), which means to orient (Œü‚­ muku, buku) one's front or face (–Ê omo) toward something, as when going someplace or presenting oneself before someone with a purpose (•‹‚­ omomuku, Žï‚­ omomuku).

"Mauomobuku" becomes "mauomobukeri" in conclusive past tense (mauomobuke + ri) and "mauomobukeru" in attributive past tense (mauomobuke + ru).

tōka “Š‰»

The structural meaning of this compound action is "throw and change" -- here in the sense of "throw" (submit, present) oneself before a sovereign or a court), and "change" oneself (one's allegiance and related behavior).

The Yamato translation is usually something like "onodzukara ni mauomobuku".

"Onodzukara ni" (‚š‚à‚©‚ç‚É) -- "mizukara" (Ž©‚ç) in present-day Japanese -- signifies "oneself" or "personally" or "on one's own accord" -- and "mauomobuku" is as explained above.

kifu Ÿd•A‹A•t

This compound action -- meaning "submit and attach" -- is rendered "maukishitagafu" -- the deferential verbal prefix "mau" with "ki", the continuative form of the verb "ku" meaning "to come" and the familiar verb "shitagau" meaning "to follow" or "obey" or "follow" or "accede to".

raiki ˜ÒŸdA—ˆ‹A

Here we see the graphs for "come" and "submit" -- which, if used at the end of a sentence, is typically read "maukeri" in Yamato -- the deferential verbal prefix "mau" with the continuative "ki" form of "ku" meaning "to come" and the conclusive "ari" of "aru" meaning "to be" -- hence "mau" + "keri" expresses a conclusive past or perfected action of "came" to an exalted place.

The first two expressions in particular -- "kika" and "tōka" -- imply both that one becomes a subject of the local sovereign or court and, as such, follows official orders and instructions, and otherwise abides by the laws and customs of the land.

Three patterns of usage

Several patterns of usage appear in the Nihon shoki. The following three patterns appear among the four accounts of "tōka" and four accounts of "kika" between 687 and 690 (see below).

Note that Aston's translations distort the original text in two ways. (1) He does not render patterned expressions consistently. (2) He characterizes the actors and their behaviors in present-day terms like "immigrants" and "immigrated".

ˆÈ“Š‰» XXX ‹˜° YYY

Structural translation of kanbun

takes XXX, who had thrown [themselves at the court] and changed [their allegiance], and has them reside in YYY

Yamato translation

Onodzukara ni mauomobukeru XXX o mote YYY ni haberashimu

haberashimu (‚ׂ͂炵‚Þ) is the causative conclusive form of "haberu" (Ž˜‚é haberu),
which means to attend or serve a person of higher status ("habera-" + "-shimu".

Translation of Yamato translation

takes XXX, who themselves had proceeded [to the court] and faced [the sovereign], and has them serve [the court] in YYY

Aston's translations

immigrants from XXX were settled in YYY

XXX ‹A‰»

Structural translation of kanbun

XXX submitted [to authority of court] and changed [allegiance]

Yamato translation

XXX mauomobukeri

Translation of Yamato translation

XXX proceeded [to the court] and faced [the sovereign]

Aston's translations

(1) XXX persons immigrated to Japan
(2) immigrants from XXX arrived

ˆÈ‹A‰» XXX ‹˜° YYY

Structural translation of kanbun

takes XXX, who had submitted [to authority of court] and changed [allegiance], and has them reside in YYY

Yamato translation

mauomobukeru XXX o mote YYY ni haberashimu

Translation of Yamato translation

takes XXX, who had proceeded [to the court] and faced [the sovereign], and has them serve [the court] in YYY

Aston translations

(1) XXX persons, who had come as immigrants, were settled in YYY
(2) XXX immigrants were settled in YYY


"Ban" as in barbaria

Typical Yamato translations of the terms ””× (shoban) and ”× (ban) are "tonari no kuni no" or "tonariguni no" -- meaning "of a neighboring land". As used in China to describe people in peripheral lands regarded as less civilized, "ban" has nuances of both "barbaria" and "barbarian" -- reminiscent of words used by Greek historians in antiquity to characterize places and people who lived beyond the reach of Greek civilization.

The term ””× (shoban) was used in Shinsen Shōjiroku (Vï©Ž˜^), a peerage compiled around 815, to designate Japanese clans known to be of continental descent. The term ”×•Ê (banbetsu) began to be used in secondary works in reference to such clans during the Tokugawa period (Miller 1972:30, note 13).

The compilers of the NKBT edition of Nihon shoki made the following observation about the meaning of ”× (NKBT 68:65, note 28).

”× originally means a "spreading of grass" (‘‚̍L‚ª‚éˆÓ kusa no hirogaru). In China it is an appellation referring to "countries of different [exotic] [ethnic] races" (ˆÙ–¯‘°‚̍‘ iminzoku no kuni), looking down on them as uncultivated land where grass has extensively grown. However, in Nihon shoki it is used to mean something like neighboring country (—׍‘ rinkoku), hence the old kun [Yamato] reading "tonari no kuni" (ƒgƒiƒŠƒmƒNƒj).

However, there is more to ”× than meets the eye and ear. Here is a table of characters that are graphically, phonetically, and semantically similar, and which are easily confused when writing and reading.

Graph Pronunciations Meanings
”Ô C. fān, bō
J. ban
paw; foreign, native, aboriginal, barbaric, savage, warlike tribe, people
”Ԑl barbarians, foreigners
”Ô’n place where barbarian tribes live
”ÔŒË barbarian population registers
”Ô˜b barbarian speech
”M”Ô cooked [cultivated, assimilated] barbarians [savages]
¶”Ô raw [uncultivated, unassimilated] barbarians [savages]
”× C. fān, bō
J. ban
a place or condition of luxuriant growth of vegetation; the people who live in such places; numerous, to increase
”×”n breed horses
Œ”× western tribes
“ì”× Sichuan [seen from northern capitals like Chang'an]
”M”× cooked [cultivated, assimilated] barbarians [savages]
¶”× raw [uncultivated, unassimilated] barbarians [savages]

See wookblock drawings of "cooked savages" and "raw savages" in
Meiji Taiheiki: Meiji Great Peace Chronicle
under "Articles" on "News Nishikie" website.

”Ë C. fān
J. ban
hedge, boundary, frontier; to protect, to screen; provincial, feudatory
”ˈæ border region, frontier
—”ˉ@ Department of Tibetan and Mongolian Affairs


First kika notice (mid 200s)

The first notice of people coming from overseas and giving their allegiance to the Yamato court appears in the chapter on Sujin (’_), the legendary 10th emperor in the early 8th century Nihon shoki, Japan's first so-called "national history" (‘Žj kokushi). The text is in kanbun, but over the centuries scholars have read the text as they think it would have been read in the contemporary Yamato or Japanese language (Nihon shoki, Sūjin 12, Sakamoto NKBT 67:248-249, Aston 1:160; transcription, romanization, and structural English translation mine).

Kanbun   ÙA’œ . . . B–’‚‹³AŽ§ãVr‘­Aš•ºˆÈ“¢•s•žB¥ˆÈAŠ¯–³œEŽ–A‰º–³ˆí–¯B‹³‰»—¬sAOŽžÙ‹ÆBˆÙ‘­d桘ҁAŠCŠOŠùŸd‰»B. . . B(Sakamoto, NKBT 67:249).

Romanization of Yamato translation   Mikotonori suraku [Note 7], "Ware, . . . Mata nori wo tarete, araburu hitodomo wo yasumi shi, ikusa wo agete matsurohanu wo utsu. Koko wo mote, ohoyake ni [Note 9] sutaretaru koto naku, shimo ni kakururu tami nashi. Omobukuru koto yukiokonaharete, ohomitakara waza wo tanoshibu. Atashi kuni no hito [Note 11] mo wosa wo kasanete mauku. Watanohoka made mo sude ni mauomobukinu. . . . (Sakamoto NKBT 67:248).

Structural English translation   [The sovereign] commanded, We . . . [We] also have passed down [our] teachings, and moreover have appeased the rioting people and with raised troops addressed [their] disobedience. Consequently, in government there is nothing wasted, below there are no idle people. Cultivation is spreading, and the masses enjoy their work. Exotic people with interpreters have come, and [people from] beyond the sea have already submitted and changed.

The received lunar date of the above notice converts to the 86th year before the birth of Christ. Historians, however, associate Sujin, and the events surrounding his legendary life, with the 2nd century after Christ. So we talking about the mid 200s.

Sakamoto makes the following remarks regarding this notice (Nihon shoki, Sujin 12, Sakamoto NKBT 67:248, note 11, my translation).

There are no entries about foreigners (ŠO‘l gaikokujin) coming to the court (—ˆ’© raichō) or submitting and changing (‹A‰» kika) until this. Or does this refer to the account of the subjugation outside the [sovereign's] dominion (‹EŠO•ž‘® kigai fukuzoku) by the generals of the four roads (Žl“¹«ŒR shidō shōgun)?

Sakamoto is alluding to a slightly earlier account in the Sujin chapter concerning the suppression of rebellions by the rowdy tribes "beyond the seas" (ŠCŠO) or "wata no hoka" (rather than "umi no soto"). This, in Sakamoto's opinion, referred to uprisings in the "kigai" (‹EŠO) frontier beyond the settled and peaceful "kinai" (‹E“à) provinces -- not literally to people across a large sea.

See Reports from early records: Natives and barbarians at the dawn of Japanese history for full particulars on reports and sources in kanbun, Yamato, romanization, and English, with commentary.


Emishi and Hayato affiliate with Yamato court (540)

The Nihon shoki (“ú–{‘‹I), completed in the year 720 in the Christian era, chronicles numerous instances in which the Yamato court used local population registers to embrace not only migrants from overseas, but also local settled peoples whose roots were as ancient as those claimed by the Yamato imperial family. The latter included the Emishi (‰ÚˆÎ) and Hayato (”¹l) -- both of which had a long history of contact with the emergent Yamato court, by which they were gradually domesticated through registration.

The progenitor of the imperial family, after descending from heaven, had intermarried with the progenitors of the earthly Hayato. By my calculation, Jinmu -- the legendary 1st emperor of the Japan's imperial family -- was 1/8 heavenly god and 7/8 earthly gods -- 1/8 mountain god (Hayato) and 6/8 sea god.

A 540 notice in Nihon shoki reports that, during the spring of the first year of Emperor Kinmei, contingents of Emishi, a northern frontier people possibly related to ancestors of Ainu, and Hayato, a southern Kyushu people who became imperial guards, submitted and attached themselves (Ÿd•A‹A•t kifu) to the court. (Nihon shoki, Kinmei 1-3, Sakamoto NKBT 2:64-65, Aston 2:38).

See 540 Emishi and Hayato affiliate with the court on "Reports from early records" page under "History".


Qin and Han people enrolled in registers (540)

The Nihon shoki reports that, in the fall of 540, envoys from the Korean polities of Koma (‚—í Kōrai) or Koguryŏ (‚‹å—í Kōkuri), Paekche (•SÏ Kudara), Silla (V—… Shiragi), and Imna (”C“ß Mimana) paid tribute. Qin people (`l Hatabito), Han people ( Š¿l Ayahito), and others who had come from frontier [neighboring, barbarian] countries (””× shoban), threw themselves at the court and changed (“Š‰» tōka). The court summoned and gathered them, and settled them in the provinces and districts, where they were enrolled (•ÒŠÑ henkan) in household registers (ŒËÐ koseki). Nihon shoki, Kinmei 1-8, Sakamoto NKBT 2:68:65, Aston 2:38-39).

Qin (Chin) and Han people has been coming to Yamato for about two centuries, but this is the first record that any had been registered. Notices about earlier migrations, before Chinese writing had taken root in Yamato, say only that the people who came from the peninsula submitted themselves to local authority (‹A‰» kika, —ˆ‹A raiki). By the mid 6th century, however, the lineages of the most powerful families in Yamato were being recorded in registers. And even people of a certain status who had come from the peninsula, whether on their own accord, or having been sent, or as war refugees, were embraced by Yamato localities by enrollment in a domicile register.

The 540 notice observes that 7,053 Qin households were registered. No figure is cited for Han or other households. The Qin and Han migrants, as their name implies, might have been the descendants of Chinese who had settled on the peninsula in earlier times, when Chinese from these dynasties, or remnants thereof, settled in, or fled to, Korean territories, and contributed to the Sinification of the various Korean clans. Or they might have been, or may have included, Koreans who had served Qin and Han families on the peninsula. Whatever their lineage, most were undoubtedly bearers of skills then in demand in Yamato, whose turn it had become to undergo Sinification, through Korea, which had already adopted Chinese writing and culture, including Buddhism.

See 540 Hata and Aya titles on "Reports from early records" page under "History".


7th century nation building

The Sinific graphs “ú–{ -- referring to the east, the origin (–{) of the sun (“ú), appears to first replaced ˜` as a graphic representation of "Yamato" -- before it came to be read "Nippon" or "Nihon". One early Chinese text writes both ˜`š  and “ú–{š , and wonders if they refer to different entities, or if the former changed its name to the later, or if they merged into the latter.

From about the middle of 7th century to the early 8th century -- i.e., by the start of the Nara period in 710 --- "Nippon" or "Nihon" had become the usual name of the country, as in the title of its first historical chronology, Nihon shoki (“ú–{‘‹I), also known as Nihongi (“ú–{‹I), completed in 720.

In the late 7th century, concurrent with the defeat by Silla of Paekche and Yamato on the Korean peninsula -- and after decades of court intrigue and civil war in Yamato -- victorious clans adapted to their own visions of social order a Chinese-inspired administrative and legal system that included the idea of domicile registration as a means of keeping track of people and their status. Yamato became Nihon, a new name for new country. Under the reformed government system -- which consisted of offices and codes (—¥—ß ritsuryō) that reached throughout the provinces --- the new Japan came closer to being a nation than Yamato had been. The clannish divisiveness of the Yamato centuries would prevail for another millennium, however, and prevent the emergence of a true nation, until the late 19th century.

Under the new codes -- developed during the last decades of the 7th century, and adopted in 701 -- being registered was tantamount to being assigned a place in the social and political hierarchy, often of a particular territory. The affiliation of whole villages, too, might be changed simply by associating their registers with another territory. This principle of territorial affiliation continues to define the relationship between populations and polities in Japan today -- beginning with local municipalities.


21st century

In Japan today, the most elementary unit of sovereignty is an individual family register affiliated with a municipality -- a ward, city, town, or village of Japan. Possession of such a register signifies possession of Japanese nationality, and possession of Japanese nationality both enables and obliges possession of a family register.

A family or household register defines the smallest and most primary "demographic territory" or "nexus" within the nested municipal, prefectural, and state polities that add up to the sovereign nation and territory of Japan. This way of thinking about population and territory provided the rationale for territorial nationality in the Japanese Empire of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Nationality and citizenship

In Japan as in other countries, nationality as a civil status denoting affiliation with a state, and citizenship as a quality of democratic participation in the governing of the state, are two different matters. Japan's nationality is predicated on membership in a Japanese territorial register. Japan's Nationality Law, in conjunction with the Family Registration Law, determines who acquires and loses Japan's nationality through enrollment into and removal from a family register in a polity in Japan's sovereign dominion. Japan's Nationality Law determines who qualifies for Japan's nationality and is thereby a national of Japan, i.e., Japanese. Rights and duties of citizenship, for Japanese and foreigners alike, are determined by other laws, including the Constitution.

Suffrage, as a right to vote and a right to hold office, began for some Japanese males from the 1890 Constitution. Suffrage for all Japanese males -- Interiorites, Taiwanese, Karafutoans, and Chosenese -- began from 1925. In December 1945, three months after the end of the Pacific War, universal sovereignty was introduced for Japanese whose nationality was predicated on membership in a family register affiliated with a municipal polity in Occupied Japan. The first election in which women could vote and hold office was held in 1946, and the principles of universal sovereignty were embedded in the 1947 Constitution. Over the years, absentee voting has became possible for Japanese residing outside Japan, the age of eligibility to vote and hold office has been lowered. And the debate as to whether and how alien municipal and prefectural citizens should be allowed to participate in municipal and prefectural elections, if not also national elections, continues.

For a look at how "citizenship" has evolved in Japan after the start of the Meiji period, see
Japan and the United States: 1. Affiliation and status of nationals and aliens (Article)