Yamashiro Keichō Uprising


Suō Province

Memorial to the Shōya

The Yamashiro Keichō Uprising occurred in 1608 and 1609 during the Keichō era (1596 to 1615) of the early Edo period in Yamashiro in Suō Province. 

Background of the region

Yamashiro was located around the provincial border between Aki Province and the eastern end of Suō Province.  During the Sengoku period, this area was nominally governed by the Ōuchi clan, but, in fact, powerful jizamurai or local samurai, referred to as tone, exercised self-rule.  Later, accompanying the expansion of influence by the Mōri clan over the territory of the Ōuchi in a campaign known as the Subjugation of Bōchō, around 1556, Yamashiro came under the governance of the Mōri.  This led to the Siege of Jōkunjiyama Castle while the local samurai fought against the Ōuchi and the Mōri forces.

Following their defeat as members of the Western Army at the Battle of Sekigahara in the ninth month of 1600, the territory held by the Mōri clan was reduced by Tokugawa Ieyasu from 1,200,000 koku across eight provinces in the western region to 290,000 koku in Suō and Nagato provinces.  Notwithstanding this reduction, the Mōri continued to govern the Yamashiro region.

Course of events

In connection with the nationwide land survey ordered by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Mōri conducted a survey of their territory between 1587 and 1590.  Based on this survey, the Yamashiro area was determined to have a yield of 5,300 koku.  Thereafter, after a survey in 1600, the yield was determined to be 11,901 koku.

To respond to the reduction in their fief after the Battle of Sekigahara, the Mōri clan conducted another land survey over the period from 1607 to 1610.  Suō and Nagato provinces had a combined yield of 539,268 koku, but the clan reported 369,411 koku to the Edo bakufu which became the book value of the territory.  Based on a survey of Yamashiro in 1607, the yield was 28,325 koku amounting to 2.5 times the yield from the survey performed in 1600.  In just ten years, the production of this territory was not likely to grow by so much.  The increase owed to raising the kokumori, or modern estimate of yield, with respect to each one-tenth hectare of fields, in addition to the inclusion of secondary crops, thereby resulting in a higher calculation of the total yield.

The result was 73% higher than the annual tribute of the Mōri clan, causing an unbearable burden for the farmers.  This extraordinary level of taxation was the catalyst for the Yamashiro uprising.  The details of the uprising are uncertain, but, in the tenth month of 1608, many farmers, led by eleven shōya, or village heads, joined in the uprising.  Outnumbered, the officials in the governor’s office could not suppress the uprising, so they sought to placate those involved by agreeing to reduce the taxes, after which the uprising subsided.  As a result, the increase to the annual tribute was reduced from 73% to 40%.

On 3/28 of Keichō 14 (1609), the governor’s office sent a letter to Kitano Magobei, the leader of the uprising, requesting all of the shōya who led the uprising to come to the office the next day.  Soon after their arrival, the shōya were apprehended, taken to an execution site at Hikiji Pass, and beheaded, while their severed heads were exposed on the Monokawa embankment.  A burial mound for the head of Kitano Magobei remains near the Jōkun Temple.

Sōkyūden, who was staying at the Anyō Temple (affiliated with the Jōdo sect), conducted a memorial service for the eleven shōya executed in connection with the Yamashiro Uprising.  In 1662,  the Anyō Temple was renamed as the Konryū Temple on the approach of the fifty-year anniversary of the death of the shōya (a designated interval for a Buddhist memorial service).  Mortuary tablets are enshrined at the Konryū Temple for the eleven shōya. It also flourished as a family temple of the Mōri and holder of mortuary tables for generations of the clan.

Historical consequences

From Meiji 6 (1873), the new government implemented land tax reforms to increase revenues.  In Yamaguchi Prefecture, a survey commenced in 1872.  At this time, a wealthy landowner and official of Ogōri from the Chōshū domain named Hayashi Yūzō conducted the survey according to his own methods.  This resulted in a re-examination by the Meiji government.  Yūzō participated in this exercise conducted by the Ministry of Finance with resolute determination, which validated the accuracy of his conclusions.  This is because he learned from Sanbun-no-ichi Kensaku, an ōjōya, or administrator of a group of villages, from Yamashiro of the Keichō uprising.  In the second month of 1874, the Meiji government approved the land tax reforms for Yamaguchi Prefecture in advance of the rest of the nation.  Thereafter, Yūzō served as the assistant director and director of the Suō Cooperative Association to collect and transport rice for land taxes.

In the sixth month of Meiji 15 (1882), Yūzō sent a letter to Kensaku requesting further details in regard to the Keichō uprising.  In response to this request, on 12/14 of the same year, a segaki, or service for the benefit of suffering spirits, was held for eleven people at the Zenshō Temple (affiliated with the Rinzai sect) on Mount Saba in the Yoshiki District of Yamaguchi.  In Meiji 32 (1899), the abbot of the Jōkun Temple reached out to the heads of each village in Yamashiro to raise funds for a stone monument with a eulogy to the eleven shōya.

To mark the 400th anniversary of their execution, in 2009, a stone monument with the phrase “heart of honor” was installed by the Yamashiro Committee for Public Spirit in the City of Yamakuni in the eastern portion of Yamaguchi Prefecture.