Immigrants, Outsiders, and the Outside World in the Yôrô Administrative Code

by Nadia Kanagawa, June 2017
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This document brings together the clauses in the Yōrō administrative code that have to do with foreign people in or entering the realm, people of the realm going to foreign lands, and interactions with other polities. Clauses that are particularly relevant have been translated in full with the original Sino-Japanese text, a classical Japanese reading (kundoku) of that text, and an English translation. Less relevant clauses have been listed with only an abstract of their contents.

All of the originals are from Inoue Mitsusada’s 1976 edition of Ritsuryō, the standard reference work for the Yōrō penal and administrative codes. 1

Laws on Appointments to Offices and Posts


7 - Royal Storehouse Bureau
職員令7内蔵寮 (Kuraryō)
Responsible for managing foreign tribute goods, also employed Paekche artisans and Paekche residence units.  

16 - Ministry of Civil Affairs
職員令 16治部省 (Jibushō)
Responsible for designations and genealogies, as well as receiving foreign envoys.

18 - Bureau of Buddhism and Foreigners
職員令 18 玄蕃寮 (Genbaryō)

玄蕃寮 頭一人。〈掌。仏寺。僧尼名籍。供斎。蕃客辞見讌饗送迎。及在京夷狄。監当館舎事。〉助一人。大允一人。少允一人。大属一人。少属一人。史生四人。使部廿人。直丁二人。


Bureau of Buddhism and Foreigners 2
1 Director {Responsible for Buddhist temples; the registers of the names of monks and nuns; meal offerings 3 ; the greetings, send-offs, banquets, entertainment, and audiences for foreign guests; and the aliens living in the capital, including supervision of their accommodations.}
1 Second-level manager
1 Senior third-level manager
1 Junior third-level manager
1 Senior fourth-level manager
1 Junior fourth-level manager
4 Clerks
20 Attendants
2 Corvée laborers 4

Laws on Residence Units

16 – Captured or Shipwrecked in a Foreign Land
戸令 16没落外蕃条


Captured or Shipwrecked in a Foreign Land
As for those who have been captured or shipwrecked in a foreign land but are able to return, as well as people from outside the transformative influence 5 who submit and are transformed, let the provincial and district officials provide them with food and clothing. Record their appearance with great care, and dispatch an express messenger to memorialize the throne. People from outside of the realm should be settled in a plentiful province and be added to the registers there. If they were captured or shipwrecked, use their former register. If they do not have a former register, add them to the register of close relatives. Also, forward provisions to the aforementioned place [ie. where the person or people will be settled], and ensure that they arrive. 6
26 – On Marriage
戸令 結婚条 26
Marriages can be voided if one party is absent due to being detained in foreign state for over a year, among other reasons. 7

41 – Residence Units of Official Servants Returning on their Own
戸令 41官戸自抜条



Residence Units of Official Servants Returning on their Own
Regarding those in residence units of official servants, hereditary household servants, and official and non-official bound servants who were taken as plunder and ended up in foreign lands, if such a person is able to escape and return on his or her own, he or she shall be released them and made a free person. If they were not taken as plunder or if they have disobeyed their master in entering a foreign land, then return them to their official master if they return.


44 - Bound Servants from Outside the Transformative Influence
戸令 44化外奴婢条


Bound Servants from Outside the Transformative Influence
Regarding slaves from outside the transformative influence, if they approach and submit, release them all and make them free people. Then add them to the residence unit registers. Even if the master says that he or she approached and submitted before [the bound servant], [his or her claim] will not be recognized. If a person from outside the borders has already been assigned [the status of] bound person within our realm, then relatives of the second degree of kinship and closer 8 who later approach and submit shall be made free people as an atonement.

Laws on Rice Fields

18 – Royal Business
田令 18王事条
Discusses how to handle rice fields assigned to people who are sent abroad on royal business and are not able to return for some time, as well as what to do if such people do eventually return.


Laws on Taxes

10 – Peripheral Polities

Peripheral Polities
Regarding peripheral polities where there are various uncivilized peoples 9 and whether or not they should forward tax paid in goods and corvée laborers, make allowances according to the circumstances. Do not necessarily treat them the same as civilized people 10 .

15 – Captured or Shipwrecked in a Foreign Land
賦役令 15没落外蕃条


Captured or Shipwrecked in a Foreign Land
Regarding those who were captured or shipwrecked in a foreign land, but were able to return: if they have been gone more than one year, three years of tax exemption. If they have been gone more than two years, four years of tax exemption. If they have been gone more than three years, five years of tax exemption 11 . For people from foreign lands who submit and are transformed, ten years of tax exemption. If the person is a hereditary household servant or bound servant who has been released and added to the registers, three years of tax exemption.

Laws on Promotion

11 – Courtiers without Posts
選敘令 11散位条
Regulations for the promotion of courtiers of the sixth rank and below who have rank, but no post. Gives limitations on their selection and ranks for promotions in inner part-time official work. Includes a notation that those who have served as envoys abroad for at least four years shall receive evaluations for promotion.


Laws on the Evaluation of Officials

14 - Evaluations
Regulations on the evaluation of officials in the Ministry of Civil Affairs (Jibushō) and Bureau of Buddhism and Foreigners (Genbaryō).


Laws on Defense

64 – Arrival and Departure of Foreign Envoys
軍防令 蕃使出入条 64


[English] 12
Arrival & Departure of Foreign Envoys
When foreign envoys escorting prisoners or transporting military materials require additional troops to guard them as they arrive or depart, local soldiers shall be selected and dispatched.

Laws on Official Documentation

70 – Post-station Messengers to the Capital
公式令 70駅使至京条


Post-station Messengers to the Capital
Regarding messengers authorized to use the post-station system, if they will memorialize the throne regarding military and other secret matters, they shall not speak with other people when traveling to the capital or after arriving. If there are foreigners who wish to submit and be transformed, install them in an official residence and give them the necessary provisions. They are not to be allowed to come and go as they please. 13

89 – People of Other Customs from Far Away
公式令89 遠方俗殊人


People of Other Customs from Far Away Places
Regarding people of other customs who come from far away to enter our realm, the officials in the place where they arrive should create an image of each of them 14 . They should depict the appearance and clothing, and record the names of the person and the country of origin, the location of the country of origin, and their ways and manners. Once completed, memorialize the throne.

Laws on Barriers, Markets, and Trade

6 – Bows and Arrows 15

関市令 6弓箭

Bows and Arrows
Regarding weapons [such as] bows and arrows. They should not be traded at the market with various foreign [people]. Regarding those in the northern and eastern regions, they shall not establish iron forges.


7 - Foreign Guests


Foreign Guests
Regarding the days on which foreign guests first enter the barriers, all of the officials in charge of welcoming the guests and serving them throughout their stay should be recorded and reported to the Ministry of Civil Affairs 16 . After entering the first barrier, they should not be further investigated. If [they arrive in] a place where there is no barrier, they should proceed through the governor of that province, who shall follow these instructions.

8 – Officials
関市令 8官司


Conducting trade with private individuals or various foreign people before official trade is conducted is forbidden. If someone informs authorities [that such trade has taken place] and seizes [the goods], the goods shall be divided in two and one part shall be given to the informant. The other portion shall be confiscated as official goods. If an official seizes goods in his or her area of jurisdiction, they shall all be made official goods.


9 – Forbidden Goods


Forbidden goods
Forbidden goods shall not be taken beyond the borders. 17 For foreign guests who enter the realm, those who are given gifts by edict shall be allowed to take them outside the borders.

Laws on Miscellaneous Matters

29 - Foreign Envoys Traveling to and from the Capital
雑令 29蕃使往還


Foreign Envoys Traveling to and from the Capital
Regarding foreign envoys traveling to and from [the court], foreign people from the same place are not to be settled near the great roads, 18 nor shall bound persons of the same origin be allowed to gather near the great roads. Furthermore, they shall not be assigned as relay horse grooms or support staff.
  1. Inoue Mitsusada, Ritsuryō (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1976).

  1. See also: George Sansom, “Early Japanese Law and Administration - Part I,” Transactions of the Asiatic Society in Japan 2nd series Vol. 9 (1932): 86; and Joan Piggott, “The Yôrô Ritsuryô Sôniryô,” available on The Project for Premodern Japan Studies website.

  1. Bukkyōgo daijiten, s.v. “供斎,” accessed on July 14, 2017 via Japan Knowledge.

  1. Laborers sent from the provinces were divided into the jikichō (直丁), who were based in the capital, and the kushichō (駈使丁), who operated in the provinces. Kokushi daijiten, s.v. “直丁,” accessed on July 11, 2017 via Japan Knowledge.

  1. The ritsuryō codes divided people into those who were outside the transformative influence of the sovereign (kegai 化外) and those who were within the transformative influence of the sovereign (kenai 化内). Bruce Batten compares these categories to Roman distinctions between inner and outer lands and sees them as zones primarily defined by whether or not they were under the direct administration of the state. See To the Ends of Japan: Premodern Frontiers, Boundaries, and Interactions (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2003), 28-30.

  1. According to the Koki commentary in the Ryō no shūge (a collection of official and non-official legal commentaries completed 859-876 CE), the Taihō code of 701 CE included a provision for the arrival of people with particular talent or ability, who were to be reported to the throne, and regarding whom an edict would be issued.

  1. For a full English translation with key terms and analysis, see Yoshie Akiko, Yōko Ijuin, and Joan R. Piggott, “Gender in the Administrative Code, Part 1: Laws on Residence Units,” Teikyo Journal of History 28 (February 2013): 342-345.

  1. See the administrative code Laws on Propriety (Giseiryō) 25 on relatives of the five degrees. The first degree included father and mother, adoptive father and mother, husband, and children. The second degree included grandfather, grandmother, the official wife of the father, other wives of the father, uncles and aunts on the father’s side, brothers, sisters, the father and mother of the husband, wives, concubines, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and the wife of one’s child..

  1. The Koki commentary in the Ryō no shūge gives the Hayato (隼人) and Ebisu or Emishi (毛人) as examples.

  1. The term kaka (華夏) could be literally translated as “[people of the] Xia and Hua,” but it is used generally to mean civilized, non-barbarian people.

  1. The tax exemption included the tax in goods (chō), tax goods submitted in place of corvee labor (), and the miscellaneous labor tax (zōyō).

  1. See also Karl Friday’s translation available on The Project for Premodern Japan Studies website.

  1. The Bureau of Buddhism and Foreigners (Genbaryō) managed the official residences used for foreign guests.

  1. The Ryō no gige (an official legal commentary that had the force of law once promulgated in 833) and the Ryō shaku (both in the Ryō no Shūge) specifically state that「所在官司」referred to the place where a person had entered the realm. The Taihō code had the phrase「所司」rather than「所在官司」and the Koki commentary interpreted this to mean that the Bureau of Buddhism and Foreigners (Genbaryō) should be in charge. However, the Koki also noted that the provincial governor of the place where people first arrived should be sure to report the arrival.

  1. For a detailed analysis on the markets and trade of Nara period Japan, including a comparative consideration of Yamato and Tang laws on trade, see William Wayne Farris, “Trade, Money, and Merchants in Nara Japan,” Monumenta Nipponica 53, no. 3 (1998): 303–34.

  1. According to the Ryō no gige, “所司” here refers specifically to the Ministry of Civil Affairs (Jibushō).

  1. According to Inoue, “forbidden goods” included weapons of various kinds (listed in the Laws on Defense) as well as astronomical instruments, certain books, and calendars.

  1. “Great roads” here refers to the Sannindō and Saikaidō, or the circuit highways that linked the Dazaifu (where foreign envoys would arrive) and the capital. For a discussion of the official highways of the Nara period and their symbolic significance, see Takeda Sachiko, “Roads in the Tennō-Centered Polity,” in Capital and Countryside in Japan, 300-1180: Japanese Historians in English, interp. Piggott, Joan R. (Ithaca  NY: East Asia Program Cornell University, 2006), 147–65.