Han System: The Japanese Warrior Estate

427px-Sengoku_period_battleJapanese warriors like the samurai, ronin, and ninja are portrayed in the modern world as being cunning, skillful, and adept in their fighting prowess with some of the more popular weaponry we know as katana, shuriken, and tanto. These great warriors were essential in Japan’s feudal era. The country was in so much chaos that strong leaders and strict reforms were needed to bring the whole country together during the Tokugawa bafuku.

A han (藩) was the estate of a warrior during the Edo period and early Meiji period.  Preceding the Tokugawa bafuku was the Sengoku period, during which a feudal system arose that was based on the agricultural yield or annual income of a particular han. In 1690, the richest han was recorded to be the Kaga Domain with a little over 1 million koku (Japanese unit of volume, equal to approximately 278.3 liters).

Japanese painting depicting a battle during the Sengoku period.

Under the imperial government’s scheme, ownership of land was consolidated into estates regulated by religious institutions and civil nobility. This heightened the need for samurai warriors who grew in number throughout the 11th and 12th centuries, giving the military class power and importance among Japanese society. The title daimyo were given to military lords who exercised territorial and proprietary control over private estates.


Though the hans were under the authority of the central government, the Tokugawa, they still operated autonomously and were responsible for their own defenses and transportation. Essentially, they should have been economically self-sufficient. The Tokugawa shogunate were in control of a third of the country’s hans. However, others were still against the local government. An alliance between the hans that opposed the Tokugawa eventually overthrew military rule and a new central government was established under the emperor in 1868. This led to the abolition of the han system on August 29, 1871.

Japanese farmers planting rice. | NYPL