For the Japanese author, see Sei Shōnagon.

Shōnagon (少納言) was a counselor of the third rank in the Imperial court of Japan.[1] The role dates to the 7th century. This advisory position remained a part of the Imperial court of Japan 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.

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

In the ranks of the Imperial bureaucracy, the Shōnagon came between the Chūnagon (middle counselors) and the Sangi (associate counselors).[3]

Typically, the office was held by three fifth-rank members of the kuge. These officials were responsible for reading ordinary reports and for making of Imperial travel arrangements.[2] The Shōnagon are said to help the memories of the principal officers, to put seals to deeds, and carry communications to others within the daijō-kan. They are both military and civil.[4]

Shōnagon 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 Shōnagon, 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 Shōnagon 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). There are commonly three Dainagon;[8] sometimes more.[9]
  • Chūnagon (Middle counselor).[10]
  • 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).[11] 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, "Shōnagon" at p. 855, p. 855, 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. ^ Dickson, Walter G. et al. (1898). "The Eight Boards of Government" in Japan, pp. 55-78., p. 56, at Google Books
  5. ^ Dickson, 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. ^ Unterstein (in German): Ranks in Ancient and Meiji Japan (in English and French), p. 6.
  10. ^ Dickson, p. 60., p. 60, at Google Books
  11. ^ Nussbaum, "Sangi" in p. 817, p. 817, at Google Books.
  12. ^ a b Titsingh, pp. 427., p. 427, at Google Books
  13. ^ Titsingh, pp. 429., p. 429, at Google Books
  14. ^ a b Titsingh, pp. 430., p. 430, at Google Books
  15. ^ Titsingh, pp. 431., p. 431, at Google Books
  16. ^ Titsingh, pp. 432., p. 432, at Google Books
  17. ^ Titsingh, pp. 433., p. 433, at Google Books
  18. ^ a b Varley, p. 272.


  • Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric and Käthe Roth. (2005). Japan encyclopedia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01753-5; OCLC 58053128
  • Ozaki, Yukio. (2001). The Autobiography of Ozaki Yukio: The Struggle for Constitutional Government in Japan. (Translated by Fujiko Hara). Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691050959; OCLC 45363447
  • Ozaki, Yukio. (1955). 尾崎咢堂全集. 第11卷, 咢堂自伝: 日本憲政史を語る (Ozaki gakudō zenshū. 11, Gakudō jiden: nihon kenseishi o kataru) Tokyo: Kōronsha. OCLC 672920518
  • Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Nihon Odai Ichiran; ou, Annales des empereurs du Japon. Paris: Royal Asiatic Society, Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. OCLC 5850691.
  • Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki: A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-04940-5; OCLC 59145842