The Yōrō Code (養老律令, Yōrō-ritsuryō) was one iteration of several codes or governing rules compiled in early Nara period in Classical Japan. It was compiled in 718, the second year of the Yōrō regnal era by Fujiwara no Fuhito et al., but not promulgated until 757 under the regime of Fujiwara no Nakamaro under Empress Kōken.[1][2]

Premodern Japan
Imperial seal of Japan
Part of a series on the politics and
government of Japan during the
Nara and Heian periods

Chancellor / Chief Minister
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 penal code portions (ritsu) were largely lost, although they have been reconstructed. The content of the civil code portions (ryō) are preserved nearly fully, copied out in later texts.[1][2]


The Yōrō Code was a revision of the Taihō Code of 701,[3] and differences may have been limited.[4] Still, when Nakamaro put the laws into effect in 757, it was unpopular among the nobility as it "slowed down the promotion schedule for officials."[5]

State of preservationEdit

While the precursor code (Taihō Code) does not survive, a substantial amount of Yōrō Code is preserved in the exegitical piece, Ryō no gige (令義解) (833), especially the civil codes. In English-language scholarly literature, some commentators merely state that the code is preserved in a fragmentary state,[6] but other academics do note preservation is nearly complete for the civil code portion.[7] The Ryō no gige contains the full text of the ryō (or civil/administrative code part) except for two chapters according to a Kadokawa publishing house history dictionary,[a] the missing portions being the warehouse statute (倉庫令, sōko-ryō) and the medical service statute (医疾令, ishitsu-ryō), and even this lacuna can be partly be filled from a collections of fragments of the codes.[2]

The ritsu or the penal code portion was largely lost, but a compilation of fragments from various codes, entitled the Ritsuitsu (『律逸』), in 8 volumes, was compiled by Ishihara Masaaki (石原正明) 1760–1821. The resulting text, including the fragments, are printed in the volume on Ritsuryō texts in the Kokushi taikei (国史大系) historical text series.[2][8] Other sources agree, adding that for the civil code, almost all of the text that runs to Article 955 has been restored.[9][10]

Relying on the Tang dynasty penal code that survives, a complete reconstruction of the Yōrō penal code has also been undertaken.[11]

Tang dynasty modelEdit

The ritsuryō codes were modeled after the civil and penal codes of the Tang dynasty, in particular, the code of the Chinese: Yonghui era passed in 651 which was then current is named by scholars as the basis of the two ritsuryō codes.[1][12]

Period in forceEdit

The Code remained in effect until the early 10th century,[1] after which it became an obsolete dead letter law code, but not formally repealed and hence valid at least "in paper" until the Meiji Restoration.[2][11] During the feudal age in Japan, various ministerial offices were awarded to as formality to samurai (e.g., Ishida Mitsunari as jibu-no-shō; Furuta Oribe, Ii kamon-no-kami, Sakai uta-no-kami etc.) without any responsibilities or authorities vested in the office under the code.

See alsoEdit

Explanatory notesEdit

  1. ^ out of 30 chapters, 10 fascicules


  1. ^ a b c d "Ritsuryō system" (snippet), Kodansha encyclopedia of Japan, Kōdansha, 6, p. 331, 1983
  2. ^ a b c d e 高柳, 光寿 (Takayanagi, Mitsuhisa); 竹内, 理三 (Rizō, Takeuchi), eds. (1974) [1966], 角川日本史辞典 (2 ed.), 角川書店, p. 976, ISBN 4040305027
  3. ^ Sansom 1932, p. 69
  4. ^ "The major difference between the Taihō and Yōrō administrative codes seems to be limited to an introduction in the latter of a more precise terminology for about two hundred terms." (online summary) to Ooms 2013
  5. ^ Piggott, Joan R. (1987), "Chapter II: Politics in the Age of Shōmu", Tōdaiji and the Nara imperium (snippet), Stanford University, pp. 65–66
  6. ^ Ooms 2013
  7. ^ Smith, Robert J. (2004) [1963], "Stability in Japanese kinship terminology: the historical evidence", Japanese Culture: Its Development and Characteristics, Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology, Routledge, 34
  8. ^ Vol. 22 of the new expanded edition of Kokushi taikei (Kuroita 1966)
  9. ^ 朝尾, 直弘 (Asao, Naohiro) (1976), 岩波講座日本歴史 (Iwanami kōza Nihon rekishi ) (snippet), 3, Naoki Kōjirō, 岩波書店, p. 3
  10. ^ 青木, 和夫 (Kazuo, Aoki) (1992). 日本律令国家論攷 (snippet). p. 245. ISBN 400001692X.
  11. ^ a b Steenstrup, Carl, A History of Law in Japan Until 1868, p. 35, crediting Niida Noboru and Shiga Shūzō for the reconstruction from the T'ang.
  12. ^ Farris, William Wayne (1998). "Trade, Money, and Merchants in Nara Japan" (snippet). Monumenta Nipponica. Sophia University: 319.

Further readingEdit

Texts and translations
  • (Book review) Ooms, Herman (2013). "Translating the Corpus of Ancient Japanese Law". Monumenta Nipponica. 68.1: 69–77. doi:10.1353/mni.2013.0021.
Additional reading

External linksEdit

  • Yoro Civil Code (養老令) (.Lzh compressed file) by Yoshiki Koizuka (恋塚嘉) and Katsuya Miyoshi (三好克也), available at the Open Database page, admin Takehiko Yoshimura (吉村武彦), Meiji University Research Institute for Japanese Ancient Studies site.