Subinfeudation simply means the granting of sub-fiefs by someone out of their own fiefs granted to them by their own lord. In Japan, this occurred within the shôen system, under Sengoku daimyô, and within the Edo period daimyô domains.
Domain retainers in Edo period Japan enjoyed investitures from their daimyô in one of two forms: landed investiture, i.e. subinfeudation, or stipends measured in koku of rice. By the end of the 17th century, 80% of domains eliminated all retainer fiefs and paid their retainers only in stipends. However, the remaining 20% included some of the largest domains, and between them controlled roughly half the land area of the archipelago. In these domains, some portion of the domains' retainers continued to enjoy their own sub-fiefs throughout the period, into the first years of the Meiji period. While scholars have traditionally characterized these sub-fiefs as a holdover from the medieval period, in contrast to the new, early modern, advent of the stipend system, Mark Ravina argues that both should be seen equally as elements of the early modern system, two different ways in which daimyô could manifest their rights and obligations towards their retainers.
The sub-fiefs themselves were called chigyô (知行, "fief"), or jikata chigyô (地方知行, "fief in the form of land"). Whereas other retainers were paid stipends out of the domain's stores, in many domains, landed retainers collected taxes directly from the peasants on their land. In some domains, however, landed retainers were landed in name only, residing in the castle town, and retaining little rights over their sub-fief, though they still received tax revenues directly from the sub-fief, without those funds passing through the domain's coffers.
Domains which maintained landed sub-fiefs included Kaga, Chôshû, Satsuma, Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Hirosaki, Tokushima, and Yonezawa. The privileges and powers held by landed retainers varied from one domain to the next, however. In some domains, such as Tokushima, sub-fiefs were exempt from cadastral surveys conducted by the domain, and peasants living on those lands required permission from their lord (the landed retainer) to sell or transfer any plot of land. Further, in the 17th century, landed retainers in Tokushima were obliged to supply soldiers for military service to the domain, and had the power to demand corvée labor of their peasants otherwise. In some other domains, such as Yonezawa, tax rates were set not by the individual landed retainers, but by the domain, and the retainer's judicial powers over the people of his sub-fief were restricted in certain ways as well.
In those domains with a significant population of gôshi (rural samurai), such as was he case in Satsuma, these formed a significant portion of the landed retainers. In some domains, such as Hirosaki, sub-fiefs were also used as a way for indebted samurai to regain their financial solvency. Life in the countryside was cheaper to begin with, and furthermore, retainers who brought new land under cultivation were permitted to keep 40% of that land as part of their fief, allowing them to gain income to help pay off debts.
In Chôshû, the Edo period opened with retainers of the Môri clan holding as much as two-thirds of the domain in sub-fief. In 1625, the Môri effected a series of cadastral surveys and reallocated many of these sub-fiefs, bringing more of the territory under their own direct control.
- Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, Stanford University Press (1999), 64-67.
- To be more specific, nine of the ten largest domains, including all domains over 500,000 koku. Ravina, 64.
- Martin Dusinberre, Hard Times in the Hometown: A History of Community Survival in Modern Japan, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 20.