Chūnagon (中納言) was a counselor of the second rank in the Imperial court of Japan.[1] The role dates from the 7th century.

Premodern Japan
Imperial seal of Japan
Part of a series on the politics and
government of Japan during the
Nara and Heian periods
Minister of the LeftSadaijin
Minister of the RightUdaijin
Minister of the CenterNaidaijin
Major CounselorDainagon
Middle CounselorChūnagon
Minor CounselorShōnagon
Eight Ministries
Civil AdministrationJibu-shō
Popular AffairsMinbu-shō
Imperial HouseholdKunai-shō

The role was eliminated from the Imperial hierarchy in 701, but it was re-established in 705. This advisory position remained a part of the Imperial court from the 8th century until the Meiji period in the 19th century.[2]

This became a Taihō Code office in the early feudal Japanese government or daijō-kan.

In the ranks of the Imperial bureaucracy, the Chūnagon came between the Dainagon (major counselors) and the Shōnagon (minor counselors).[3] Imperial honors included the sometimes creation of a temporary or "acting middle counselor" (権中納言, gon-chūnagon).[4]

The number of Chūnagon has varied, from three in 705 to four in 756. There were eight in 1015; and in later years, there were up to ten Chūnagon at one time.[2]

Chūnagon in contextEdit

Any exercise of meaningful powers of court officials in the pre-Meiji period reached its nadir during the years of the Tokugawa shogunate, and yet the core structures of ritsuryō government did manage to endure for centuries.[5]

In order to appreciate the office of Chūnagon, it is necessary to evaluate its role in the traditional Japanese context of a durable yet flexible framework. This was a bureaucratic network and a hierarchy of functionaries. The role of Chūnagon was an important element in the Daijō-kan (Council of State). The Daijō-kan schema proved to be adaptable in the creation of constitutional government in the modern period.[6]

Highest Daijō-kan officialsEdit

The highest positions in the court hierarchy can be cataloged.[7] A dry list provides a superficial glimpse inside the complexity and inter-connected relationships of the Imperial court structure.

The next highest tier of officials were:

  • Dainagon (Major counselor, chief counselor of state[9]). There are commonly three Dainagon;[8] sometimes more.[10]
  • Chūnagon (Middle counselor).[11]
  • Shōnagon (Minor counselor); there are commonly three Shōnagon.[8]

Other high-ranking bureaucrats who function somewhat flexibly within the Daijō-kan were;

  • Sangi (Associate counselor).[12] This office functions as a manager of Daijō-kan activities within the palace.[3]
  • Geki (外記) (Secretariat). These are specifically named men who act at the sole discretion of the emperor.[3]

The Eight MinistriesEdit

The government ministries were eight semi-independent bureaucracies. A list alone cannot reveal much about the actual functioning of the Daijō-kan, but the broad hierarchical categories do suggest the way in which governmental functions were parsed:



The specific ministries above are not grouped arbitrarily. The two court officials below had responsibility for them as follows:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Nagon" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 685, p. 685, at Google Books
  2. ^ a b Nussbaum, "Chūnagon" at p. 128, p. 128, at Google Books.
  3. ^ a b c d e Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, p. 426., p. 426, at Google Books
  4. ^ Kodansha. (1983). "Ukita Hideie", in Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, Vol. 8, pp. 137–138.
  5. ^ Dickson, Walter G. et al. (1898). "The Eight Boards of Government" in Japan, pp. 55–78., p. 56, at Google Books; excerpt at p. 56, "Klaproth has given in his "Annals of the Emperors" a sketch of these eight boards, with the offices under each. It is ... a concise account of the government of Japan. The study of such a subject is rather dry and uninteresting, but it is necessary for any one who wishes to make himself acquainted with Japanese history, either of the past or of the present day ..."
  6. ^ Ozaki, Yukio. (2001). The Autobiography of Ozaki Yukio: The Struggle for Constitutional Government in Japan pp. 10–11., p. 10, at Google Books
  7. ^ Titsingh, pp. 425-426., p. 425, at Google Books
  8. ^ a b c d e f Titsingh, p. 425, p. 425, at Google Books; Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, p. 272.
  9. ^ Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, ISBN 4-7674-2015-6
  10. ^ Unterstein (in German): Ranks in Ancient and Meiji Japan (in English and French), p. 6.
  11. ^ Dickson, p. 60., p. 60, at Google Books
  12. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Sangi" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 817, p. 817, at Google Books.
  13. ^ a b Titsingh, p. 427., p. 427, at Google Books
  14. ^ Titsingh, pp. 429., p. 429, at Google Books
  15. ^ a b Titsingh, p. 430., p. 430, at Google Books
  16. ^ Titsingh, p. 431., p. 431, at Google Books
  17. ^ Titsingh, p. 432., p. 432, at Google Books
  18. ^ Titsingh, p. 433., p. 433, at Google Books
  19. ^ a b Varley, p. 272.


Further readingEdit

  • Dickenson, Walter G. (1869). Japan: Being a Sketch of the History, Government and Officers of the Empire. London: W. Blackwood and Sons. OCLC 10716445