Jôri System in the Nara Basin

Land Information System in Ancient and Medieval Japan

Jinson, a Buddhist priest in the 15th century, was the chief of Daijô-in Monzeki Temple in Kôfuku-ji (Buddhist monastery) in Nara. A monzeki was a Buddhist temple headed by a priest from noble lineage, and Jinson was from the Ichijô family among the Fujiwara Regental Families. In those days, the Muromachi (Ashikaga) shogunate in Kyoto was in decay and, in 1467, the Ônin War broke out, which caused a disturbance in the Kansai district. He wrote a journal called Daijô-in Jisha Zôjiki, which is a famous record of social unrest and uprisings amidst the people of the time. Since Daijô-in owned many estates in and around the Nara Basin, Jinson also recorded every sort of minute affair concerning the management of the temple.

On the 28th day, 5th month, and 11th year of the Bunmei era (June 19, 1479 by the Julian calendar), Jinson wrote in his journal that a priest of another temple in Kôfuku-ji came to show him "an old chart of rice fields." The chart, a copy of which he drew in his journal (below), illustrated the framework of how the land parcels were laid out and numbered.

 An illustration from Daijô-in Jisha Zôjiki and its interpretation (right)

He also noted the conventions of layout and numbering of land parcels as follows.

The above illustration and description gives the synopsis of the so-called jôri system i.e. the land partitioning and indication system in ancient and medieval Japan.

An aerial photo over Hieda village in Yamato-Kôriyama City overlaid by the jôri plan.
In the aerial view over the Nara Basin, the square grid-pattern of rice fields based on the jôri system is one of the most remarkable features of the region. According to recent studies, the jôri system, as well as the jôbô system, was derived from the ancient ritsuryô (legal) system and had been implemented since the 8th century. Under the ritsuryô system, the entire land was owned by the state and granted to the people, but such a system soon fell dysfunctional. Nevertheless the jôri system continued to be used in management of private estates throughout medieval times. Today the traces of this system can be found in many districts of Japan but most typically in the Nara Basin as shown in the above aerial photo taken in 1961. Inferencing the numbers originally given to land parcels from the place names, the jôri plan in the Nara Basin is almost completely restored by scholars.

By Noboru Ogata, Kyoto University


Related websites on grid-based land partitioning systems in other parts of the world

Last updated: 23/Jan/2004